Plenty of twinkle to delight in floating display

OLYMPIA - After a one-year absence, the Dancing Lights Christmas Show presented by Olympia Yacht Club member Jerry Budelman is back, bigger and better than ever.

Once again, Budelman has decorated the starboard side of his 50-foot yacht with 10,000 computer-controlled lights, all set to music.

The lights illuminate Dora the sea dragon, a Christmas tree, snowflakes, candy canes, the star of Bethlehem and an angel in a dizzying array of colors, precisely synchronized to the music.

This year’s floating showpiece of illuminagraphy makes its public debut at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the yacht club’s Lighted Ships Parade in Budd Inlet.

From Thursday through Dec. 22, Budelman will offer the free 30-minute show to the public, three times a night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The boat will be moored at the yacht club’s 100 Dock, which is visible to the public from the southern end of Percival Landing.

Why is Budelman willing to spend 600 hours and a lot of money designing and preparing this holiday extravaganza?

“First of all, I just love music — I like to sing and I play the clarinet,” the retired Intel executive said. “Plus, synchronized light and sound excites me.”

Just as important, the affable electrical engineer and inventor likes to share his finished product with the public.

“The whole idea behind the Lighted Ships Parade and the Dancing Lights Christmas Show is to get people to come out and enjoy them,” he said. “We’re just trying to give back to the community and get them out to enjoy the waterfront.”

The computerized program features 64 channels with 20 events per second on each channel, all entered individually by Budelman.

“Every minute of the show requires about five to eight hours of work,” he said.

The show is five choreographed pieces, interspersed with narrative by Budelman, explaining some of the details that go into the show’s creation.

The music is eclectic, ranging from Amy Grant’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride” to the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

In addition to sharing a holiday theme, all five pieces have distinct musical features that can be synchronized to lights, Budelman explained.

The original dancing lights show by Budelman debuted in 2006. The show was updated in 2007, but shelved in 2008.

“It was so much work that I got burned out,” Budelman said. That was probably good timing, since 2008 featured some severe snowstorms that would have made a mess of the display and the boat, he said.

But in 2009, Budelman is re-energized, literally and figuratively.

This year’s version is about 70 percent re-engineered. About 40 percent of the lights are LEDs, which use less energy than the incandescent bulbs they replaced and offer richer, more brilliant color.

The entire show is waterproofed for late fall weather in South Sound and the sound system designed and built by Budelman is crisp and powerful enough to be heard clearly by the audience that gathers at Percival Landing about 200 feet from the boat.

Sometimes when the show plays, Budelman slips into the crowd, just to watch the reaction of the audience.

“There’s no hidden agenda with the show, and it’s not done for any commercial reason,” he said. “I’m just captivated by synchronized light and sound.”