DSU professor sets Christmas light display to music

LIGHTS SING AND DANCE at the home of Cody Welu between the hours of 5:30-11 p.m. Spectators are encouraged to use his driveway to view the Christmas light show located at the intersection of 237th St. and 458th Ave.

There may be no place like home for the holidays, but the traditions from home can be carried anywhere to spread cheer during the holiday season.

With a light show extravaganza, Cody Welu, assistant professor of computer and cyber sciences at Dakota State University, is doing just that -- spreading cheer with a tradition from home.

"Growing up, Mom always had a bunch of Christmas lights," he said.

He always knew he would follow in her footsteps when he had a home of his own. His personal twist is adding the technology piece.

Using 5,654 lights and 16,962 channels of computerized programming, he developed a 20-minute light show with soundtrack at his rural Madison residence. Spectators are invited to drive into his driveway, turn their radios to 94.9 and watch as lights dance to the music he selected.

"Most Christmas lights are incandescent or LED. They emit one color. What I have out here are pixels," Welu explained.

They change color, allowing color to ripple up trees and designs to flash across a window-sized screen.

"I control every single light bulb on my house," he said.

Welu is not only an assistant professor at DSU but also a DSU graduate. Growing up in Milroy, Minn., a small town near Marshall, he wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to do after graduating from high school.

"I knew I wanted to do something with technology, but I didn't know what that would be," Welu said.

At DSU, he found a niche in cybersecurity. Following graduation, he worked for the federal government in Maryland for a few years but returned to the region three years ago to teach.

Last year, he decided to apply his computer skills to his Christmas decorations. Using a program called xLights, a free and open source program, he began to design a light display for his house.

"To me, it felt like the next step over a static display," Welu said. He was inspired by light shows he saw when he traveled. "It was fun to see a lot of lights synced to music."

While it's fun to see, it's also labor-intensive. He didn't actually keep track of his time while working on the programming, but he knows his show was months in the making and recalls reading that it takes about two hours to program 30 seconds.

Then there's the matter of putting the lights in the props, wiring everything, hooking it up to the controller and making sure it works.

"Most any time I had available after work was spent working on this," Welu indicated, noting that he also had a Halloween display and started working on assembling the Christmas display in November. The programming was started during the summer months.

When he was finished, he submitted a portion of his program for a video which is produced annually: "xLights Around the World." According to the website, a song is announced each year and "Christmas lighting enthusiasts" are encouraged to submit their display.

This year's song was "Christmas Every Day," and Welu chose the Simple Plan rendition.

As far as he knows, he's one of only two South Dakota entries. The other is in Sioux Falls. He hopes to locate and view that entry in person.

His light show, located at the intersection of 237th St. and 458th Ave., includes six songs: "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, "Little Drummer Boy" by King and Country, "Into the Unknown" by Panic! At The Disco, "Christmas Every Day" by Simple Plan, "The Christmas Can Can" by Straight No Chaser and "Carol of the Bells" by August Burns Red.

Welu couldn't really explain why he selected those songs. He admits that he's already thinking about what he'll do next year.

"I'm always wanting to add more," he said.

As for his inspiration -- his mother, Cindy Welu -- she's already impressed. With other family members, she drove over to see it a couple of weeks ago.

"She thought it was cool," Welu said.

Those who are unable to drive out to see the display can view it at madlights.net. Welu encourages those who do view it in person to use his driveway rather than parking on the road, which could lead to an accident.

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