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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 15:56 GMT
Lyon's Festival of Light
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

With Christmas just around the corner, there are light displays everywhere. Software improvements have taken one particular display a sensational step forward, as David Reid found out when he visited Lyon's Festival of Light.

Fete des Lumières
"Now, candles have been nudged aside by the high-tech"
At the same time each year, the French city of Lyon's power supply is stretched to the limit.

In addition to the standard Christmas decorations, December is time for the Fete des Lumières - the Festival of Light.

Thousands descend on the city for this party with a past, which has traditionally put the Church well and truly in the spotlight.

The official history of Lyon's Fete des Lumières dates back to 1851, when locals are reputed to have spontaneously displayed thousands of candles to mark a religious celebration.

Now the event has turned secular and the candles have been nudged aside by the hi-tech.

The creepy corridors of the city's hospital, for example, were the appropriate setting for an eerie display of chemical lights.

Laboratory flasks strung up in the courtyard contained Luminol, a chemical that glows when stirred. Increasing the effect was the fact that the building's walls and ceilings were dotted with facial features.

The festival's highlight, however, was a display of video, synthesised sound and music synchronised by a programmable media software package.

Programmable because, as the artist behind the show explained to me, while there is software out there, it only partially meets the needs of a sophisticated sound and light show.

In these displays artists juggle a variety of media, firing out synthesised sound from one source, a projected image from another.

The software, Max MSP, is made by Cycling 74 and is used by theatre companies and composers. The outfit started out in choreography.

Luccio Stiz, Digital Director of Dune, says: "Today, many of us can get our hands on software like Max MSP, which means that disc jockeys and video jockeys can easily manipulate or synchronise different media."

"People posed for a group silhouette on giant luminous screens"
The theme of this year's Festival of Lights was nature and the countryside.

Bernard Misrachi, an artist at Dune, says: "The challenge is to use light, sound and images to make this space more comfortable. What I mean by this is more intimacy, so that people feel at home here."

This year's nature theme gave artists a worthwhile opportunity to play around with Lyon's green open spaces, while the public got a chance simply to play around.

In one installation people posed for a group silhouette on giant luminous screens, which also offered graffiti artists a place to daub.

Madeleine Chiche, Artist: "The notion of light can't be imagined without darkness. When night falls we go into another universe. It is as if we are transformed."

In keeping with the green theme of the festival, one of the most popular shows involved a renewable, albeit exhausting source of energy: pedal power.

It seems when it comes to generating light, low-tech is still hard to beat.

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