I used to do lighting using volume level sensing on a Radio Shack loop tape, and it looked ok, but I decided that I wanted more control a few years ago, and I wanted to drive it with my computer. I don't have money for some fancy computer interface, and syncing it to an audio track sounded like it was going to take longer than I had. As a result, I came up with the poor mans computer interface, and it worked. Here's what you need:
  • A movie with black and white frames and thunder sounds. Download mine here (right-click and pick download). (this was made in Premiere, but anything that can make a movie would work).
  • A cheap light sensitive switch you can purchase at hardware stores, or on-line. Only the smaller ones respond instantly. I know the Intermatic NE5C to work, and it is easily found on-line for $5 (some are rated 300 watt others 150 watt...may be the same one in reality). I actually cut another hole in the casing and bent the light sensor into a more handy spot (the bottom) so the cords came out on both sides. That way you can put it right next to your screen.
  • A computer with a video player that can loop the movie. Quicktime Player works just fine.
  • A 300 watt halogen work light (or brighter, but the switch is limited to 300 watt, so you'll need a relay* to go higher)
  • A tree in your front yard or a pole to hang the light on.
  • A big stereo system for your front yard (to annoy your neighbors) plugged into your computer audio output.
Now take some, or I just use the extension cord holding the box to hold the light sensor to a corner of your computer screen where the movie is running. The movie has black frames when the lightning should flash. You take it from there...

I actually just use my computer's cd drive to play a music cd I whipped up, and I don't even need my mixer to do music and lightning on the same stereo. People probably love this more than anything I've done.

* I use a variable voltage transformer connected to the light sensor to drive an opticoupler which drives a triac (a solid state relay). Some people have let me know that when they connected an AC driven relay right to the light sensor, they have blown out the light sensor. I can't explain why this is, but maybe a DC driven relay would be a better choice...