Laser Harp

Laser Harp

Radium Audio’s Radiumphonic Lab designs and builds polyphonic, velocity sensitive Laser Harp for Live Lab experience at Promax in London and F5 Festival in New York.


Design and Build by Radiumphonic Lab

At Radium we have often talked about creating something beautiful and magical using two of our favourite things, lasers and sound. When we are invited to represent sound at the inaugural F5 Motiongraphics event in New York, we decide the time is right to finally get on and build it!  

We are now at the end of a period in time when electronics and micro-processors have emerged as a major tool in musical instrument design – samplers, synthesizers and much more are all around us. However, we are still waiting for the Stradivariuses … especially in software-based devices. So, we decide to take a step forward into what we believe is the next phase – developing really good designs. We are still waiting for the electronic instruments that you can buy at the age of 17 and live with for a lifetime – still evolving and finding out new things when you are 75. You can do that with a violin. Why not with an electronic instrument?

We undertake an audit on existing laser harps, from the first ones built in the 1970′s by Geoff Rose and Tim Walsh, via Jean-Michel Jarre and his followers up to the modern ones described on internet DIY sites, and we found that all of them were basically showpieces designed for visual effect, and not intended to be played as a serious musical instrument. They were all monophonic – only able to play one note at a time. They were not ergonomically designed for smooth and fast playing, rather for stage show visual effects.

We decide we want to create a true instrument, for live playing, not just a showpiece. We make a “wish list” of all the features we would ideally love to include in our own laser harp, most of which are not available in any other laser harps we’ve seen. These include

• Ergonomically easy to play
• Polyphonic – can play more than one note at once, like a guitar or piano
• Dynamic expression – the laser beam reacts when it is intersected, but also the reaction may be different depending upon where along the laserbeam the intersection happens, so we can play soft and hard notes, or vary the timbre.
• Velocity sensitive
• Portable – easy to travel with

We create a diagonal design for the harp, so that the sides of the player’s hands can connect with the sound generating laser beams in a way that is very natural in context of playing an instrument. We then design the technical build in such a way that it operates as a type of MIDI keyboard, and build in the ability to control graphics as well as sound with the laser beams, to add to our performance options.

The Radiumphonic Laser Harp has proved quite a hit with appearances at F5 Creative Festival New York, Promax UK, Ogilvy Creative Labs, and a number of other sound and technology showcase events.