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Science in the Service of Art

The first laser light show was held in Los Angeles in 1969. Last night, Shelly, Dave, Lindy, and I finally got around to seeing one at the Adobe Laser Dome at the Science Center — I am, as they say, on the trailing edge of technology here. It began with just what I imagined, the red Helium-Neon laser familiar to everyone from their cat toys and seminar pointers. Little floating dots. Cheezy pattern stuff like skulls and clocks. I got a sinking feeling that all my worst fears about laser shows were about to be realized with the lamest show ever.

Sneaky, sneaky laser people.

The red beam stuff was a total fakeout; the rest of the show was a delight. I thought of laser shows as strictly entertainment for hippy stoners and burnouts, trippy screensaver stuff. And while the choice of music clearly pointed in that direction, the show itself was far beyond expectations. The technology has advanced (100 MW lasers! splitters! diffusers! resonant scanners!), and this show used He-Ne, Argon and/or Krypton lasers for full effects. Maybe a Ytterbium Aluminum Garnet (YAG) laser? I couldn't say. Copper vapor? Ok, probably not.

It's bone-shakingly loud and completely worth your time. Some of the patterns were so textural, they resembled Japanese fabrics. Some were sheer Moire patterns and diffraction effects, others were impressively soft and diffuse, in a way I wouldn't expect lasers to be. Other patterns were the older, line-drawing stuff used in any number of pranks and hacks. For the soundtrack, I would have preferred U2, the Beatles, or Mozart, but Pink Floyd is more or less burned into my genes at the molecular level, so what the heck, worked for me.

A hell of a time for about $7.


( 4 sutras — Your wisdom )
Apr. 17th, 2005 07:19 pm (UTC)
I tend to agree with your preferences (I grew up with my father's unqualified love for the Beatles; U2 was my own favourite rock band at the age of twelve and that hasn't changed since), and Mozart was a musical genius to be sure. What Pink Floyd stuff did they play, just the obvious songs or something a bit less obvious?
Apr. 18th, 2005 04:33 am (UTC)
Re: Soundtrack
It was the "Dark Side of the Moon". Speak to Me, Time, Great Gig in the Sky, Us and Them, Money, Eclipse, a few others, and (as an encore) the Run song from "The Wall".

I actually liked the obvious choices, but I may wind up going back for Beatles or one of the others.
Apr. 18th, 2005 09:53 am (UTC)
So what you had there was a total of three laser devices:

- Two Krypton/Argon gas ion lasers running at about 4 watts output each -- one in the primary image projector at the rear of the theater feeding 5 scan sets, and a second in front of the seating area directly feeding the center aerial beam scan set, as well as two fiber-fed diffraction gratings shooting aerial beams left and right of theater center;

- One Nd/YAG solid-state laser running at 15 or 20 watts (maybe more if Ivan's been getting along well with it lately), feeding light to four x-only aerial scan heads spaced around the front half of the theater.

And about 13,000 watts of audio, so, that's a good time.

Nice to meet you!

Apr. 20th, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)
Likewise, good to meet you!

The audio was terrific; I enjoyed the very, very clear sound, so even at high volume it wasn't uncomfortable.

And three lasers seems like it did the trick. Of course, to take over the world, you'd need to overclock them into the megawatt range!
( 4 sutras — Your wisdom )

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