A Laser Harpist Wears No Periwigs [video]

The Laser Harp being played

EDIT (Jan. 3rd, 2010): Mr. Geoffrey Rose, inventor of the laser harp, has enlightened us about the harp’s history in the comments below.

When I imagine a harp I’m inclined see men wearing white periwigs and court-dressed baronesses listening to the royal harpist through clinging of crystal glasses. But not after this. Click through to see an interactive, musical laser array and have cyberpunked visions of the future augment your seventeenth century harp idiosyncrasies.

Think Artificial's Laser Harp

The term “Laser harp” was invented and first used by Bernard Szajner in 1980, according to Wikipedia:

The first model was constructed with a matrix of 5 X 5 laser beams in an octagonal frame. It has subsequently been used in a number of different designs, including a MIDI version invented by Philippe Guerre, and a recent one created by Yan Terrien. They have also been used in public art installations such as those created by Jen Lewin on display at Lincoln Center in 2000 and Burning Man 2005.

And now for the main event. Do you have your periwig on?

From the video’s description:

The harp is driven by an Arduino (Boarduino varation) and connected to the impOSCar VSTi software synthesizer, the TAOS sensor array sits on the floor in it’s own stand.

The summary goes on to state that the harp does respond to hand-distance from sensor, but that it’s still a bit buggy and was thus excluded from the demo. The creator of the harp, Stephen Hobley, has DIY instructions on his site, in case you want to make a laser harp of your own.

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10 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. I haven’t seen one of these for a while now. It’s one of those must haves I couldn’t justify spending money on.

    I remember seeing Jean Michel Jarre using a laser harp and I was pretty blown away at the time. It’s quite funny how something over 20 years old still seems so ‘futuristic’

    The electronic instrument manufacturer Roland incorporate the concept in some of their instruments, which allows you to control various filters/effects in real time by raising or lowering your hand over the sensor. I haven’t bought one of those either – it’s harp or nothing!

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. A very fun post, with a great picture of a Louis the XVI Laser Harp!
    Perhaps if Marie Antoinette had played one of these, then she would not have lost her head.:-)

    Stephen Hobley has a cool new version of his laser harp that is using a Wii set up to detect his hand moves.

    Inspired by Stephen, I am working on trying out using low powered green lasers, in a ‘frame less’ laser harp, reflecting back at an array of sensors mounted on a harp body. This approach will be much safer,( won`t put out your eyes), with the 5 mw lasers I use. The analog response ability ( change of intensity of laser light reflected to the sensors changing the volume and or pitch of the resulting signal), of the OptiMusic software I use, combined with an array of mutible sensors, should produce some intresting effects! ;-)

    Up to now I have just built framed laser harps with fixed location sensors. One important elements of both kinds of laser harps, is to use filters over the sensors to just admit laser light.

    Now a Really cool thing would be to have a laser harp to control Holograms, as projections on the type of screen you describe in the story here (Hologram Hosts Conference) !

  3. Hi Glenn—thanks!
    Your harps look great, hope you’re catching attention. The music you wrote for the children’s hospital sounds good; for some reason it reminds me of the film A Series of Unfortunate Events (a good fit at the hospital, I’m sure).

    How’s the development of the low powered harp going; are you far from having a working product? Let me know when you have a demo.

  4. geoffrey rose

    I think the record needs to be set straight about the origin of the laser harp.
    The original laser harp was made by Geoffrey Rose in 1975, and he coined the name laser harp at that time.This can be verified by Simon Alexander, leading British illusionist, and Jon Anderson of Yes. Jon Anderson played my harp several times in 1975.
    I showed a pic to Bernard Szajner at that time…..Laser Spectacles have an image of my harp on their website…although they accidently claim the invention as theirs.

  5. Thank you for setting that straight Mr. Rose, and for your visit. I understand the frustration of not getting credit when it’s due. The post has been updated with a reference to your comment at the top.

  6. Hi there,

    just to correct this: Geoffrey Rose is not the inventor of the laser harp. The laser harp was invented by Bernard Szajner. See my laser harp pages for more details.



  7. Geoffrey Rose IS the inventor of the laser harp (and coined the name )in 1975.
    He also took out a provisional patent with the British Patent Office at this time…..there ar at leastfour very creditable witnesses of the timing of this event…
    Thank you Hrafn…

  8. Hi All!

    I just had a custom harp with 8 green lasers installed in the National Science Center of Malaysia, in their new Children’s Museum. It is a stand alone installation, with the harp shaped laser harp, mounted onto a cabinet that houses the electronics and sound system. On my Youtube site, cusotmlaserharps, you can see some videos of it being played with fog, so the green lasers jump out in view really well

    I am getting closer to building a prototype ‘infinite beam’ harp, using low powered green laser, latter in the summer. I have some other projects in the works as well.

    Last fall I completed a harp with both strings and lasers. It is a custom carved and sculpted 33 string, acoustic-electric-midi harp, with 6 green lasers. Two of the lasers shoot up the sound board to sensors hidden under carved leaves. The other 4 lasers act as the bottom 4 bass ‘strings’.

    Good to see the info about who was the first builder.

    I wonder if anyone has collected all the laser harp patents that have been awarded ? I was just looking at the ‘Beamz’ info, and they claim to have 5 patents on it, with more pending ?? Does anyone know how they could do this, when the Laser harp was patented already in the past ?? :-)

  9. I have just come across this site. My born name is Simon Alexander and my stage name is Simon Drake. I work as a professional illusionist and consultant and built The House of Magic, the UK’s only permanently themed public magic venue. In the mid 1970ies I was sharing a flat with Geoffrey Rose in West London and he built and named the very first laser harp. It was an octagonal frame utilising half mirrored discs and sensors. I can verify that Jon Anderson (musician) played on it and several other artists including Richard Sharah (make up artist and painter) and Brian Chatton (musician) also witnessed this invention at that time. Many years later JM Jarre used one in his shows.

  10. Synthex

    Here the link to the Patent of Bernard SZAJNER


    Szajner has a Patent, it means that the Office Patent of Paris, never found a evidence of another inventor of the same/similar instrument before him.
    Otherwise the invention was not accepted.

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