Laser Harp 2010

What is a Laser Harp…?

Version 2.0: Now with dual core Arduino's...

Now with dual core Arduino's...

The laser harp is a musical instrument made of light. A fan of beams shoots up from the floor into the night sky. The performer can create music by placing their hands in the beams. Not only does “breaking” the beam produce notes, but sliding the hand along the beam will also change the sound.

The harp does not produce any sound by itself, but creates MIDI data that can be connected to any modern synthesizer.

The laser harp concept was invented by Bernard Szajner and used extensively by Jean-Michel Jarre, and more recently Little Boots.

Click here for more historical information on the development of the laser harp, including interviews with some of the pioneers.

Possible the first ever laser harp

Possibly the first ever laser harp...

UPDATE: I recently received an email from Geoffrey Rose in Australia. He told me about a laser harp he built in 1976 (four years before Szajner)  -I managed to find this picture of it in Google Images…

I asked Geoffrey if he could explain a bit more about the operating principle, but so far I’ve not received a reply. If you’re out there Geoffrey please let me know!

Note : The laser “harp” is not really a harp in the strictest sense, but a lyre.


Can I buy one…?

Laser Harps are not generally available in the shops, but I occasionally have been known to build them for clients – Contact me directly if you are interested in a light harp installation.

OK, so how can I build one…?

It’s been about a year since I completed the first version of the laser harp. Many of you have bought the plans, and I would like to thank you for your support.

One of the requests I received quite often was for a more step-by-step guide to building the harp. So I decided it was time for a rebuild, and that I would document the process as much as I could.

I will try to show you how I build the laser harp as best I can, but there will still be times when you must reason things out for yourself. It’s a relatively complex project, and so an exhaustive step-by-step guide is beyond me.

As I begin, I’m not even sure that some of these ideas will work, but after a year of gigging this unusual instrument I believe I can make a worthwhile update to the plans.

I would also like to thank all the people that joined the forum and gave their feedback.

Some of these pages have password protection on them – since many people have paid for the plans I can’t really give away that knowledge in a public forum.  It’s my intention that some of the later pages will be public, as these contain new ideas and I would like to get as much feedback as I can.

How long does it take, and how much does it cost?

Both very good questions -

The laser costs the most – you can’t really use a laser pointer so you need something like this. The rest of the parts typically cost under $300.

It took me about 3 months to put together my first “infinite beam” laser harp, the last one took about 3 days. I would expect it to typically take somewhere between this.

Before we begin…

If you are new to electronics, I recommend you buy a “breadboard” and lay out the parts of the harp on this before soldering anything. It will give you a chance to understand how the circuits are connected, and to make changes to the layout without too much trouble. Once you have the circuits working on the breadboard should you think about soldering.

Lay things out like this first, solder later...

Lay things out like this first, solder later...

I recently added the CAD files to create a printed circuit board for the laser harp – this will make building the harp much quicker and easier. You will need to submit the cad files to a manufacturer like www.batchpcb.com.


And I can’t say this often enough :

Please buy eye protection!! Wear the correct safety goggles for the wavelength of your laser.


Contents

For those of you that have bought the plans the password is the first word, in the first paragraph on page 10 of the PDF file.

Chapter one : Driving the Laser (Password required)

Chapter Two : Detecting the beams (Password required)

Chapter Three : Boxing it up (Password required)

Chapter Four : Adding the Wiimote

Chapter Five : Hardware Solution

Addendum: Assembly instructions for the laser harp shield (Password required)

The plans are available from the link at the start of the page.


Little Boots on stage in Leeds

Little Boots on stage in Leeds

The Times newspaper published a review of the Little Boots gig in Leeds -

“At the centre of the backdrop a giant skull gazed forebodingly over the throng. On the skittering Gothic spook-pop of Ghosts it established the requisite emotional temperature. As Hesketh shed her back shroud to reveal an all-gold outfit in the opening chords of New in Town, the skull responded accordingly, beaming rays of multicoloured light on to her back. However, the pièce de résistance came when the lights dimmed to reveal an arc of eight laser beams which, when intercepted by Hesketh’s hands, played different notes.

The laser harp — an innovation that seemed like a rich pop star’s folly when Jean-Michel Jarre popularised it — looked like far more fun in the hands of a 24-year-old from Blackpool who claimed to have only assembled it days before the show. As Hesketh navigated a procession of space-age whooshes into the sherbet-scented explosions of her breakthrough hit Remedy — audience-assisted oh-ah-ohs and all — she seemed to switch gear both musically and emotionally. Performing Kate Bush’s Running up that Hill alone on the piano, she was a revelation, replacing the song’s predatory thunder with an autumnal, childlike vulnerability.”

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/live_reviews/article6955017.ece

She really is rather good y’know…

Any friend of the Stylophone is a friend of mine.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Fiebiger September 11, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Congrats on a remarkable instrument-controller.

Do you sell finished laserharps, all built and ready to play? If so, how much do they typically sell for?

Everyone has seen the Jean Michele Jarre video on You-Tube when the laserharp stopped working correctly for awhile during one of his concerts. Do you know what happened to cause that, and how as it corrected? Or was that a midi-cable short that had nothing to do with your actual laserharp?

Also, are you developing any version of it that has more notes, a wider range, etc?

I’ve always been curious about all that.

P.S: There’s a great example of a Stylophone on a 1969 live album by Austrailian Rolf Harris (of early-60s “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” fame) called “Live at the Talk of the Town”, which is a night club in London. The LP album was never released in America and I don’t think it’s ever been released to CD, but copies of this LP on vinyl turn up on Amazon and eBay from time to time. After he demonstrates it to the audience, the Stylophone is used on two songs, “Moon River” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By”.

I’ve never visually seen a Stylophone, let alone see how it works, but I’d love to see that if you know of any web sites that has that, if you know of any.

Dan Fiebiger
Portland, Oregon

Stephen Hobley September 12, 2010 at 10:59 am

Hi Dan,

Earlier this year I sold the design for the laser harp to Lightwave International (www.lasershows.net) – part of the deal was to no longer offer the plans for sale through my website.

Prior to this I was building laser harp controller devices that connect to laser projection systems using the ILDA standard – this is what Little Boots used in New York and at the Coachella festival.

If you are interested in hearing about updates to my laser harp project – then I started a mailing list to keep in touch with people – you can subscribe to it here:

http://www.stephenhobley.com/blog/laser-harp-plans-and-source-code/

I saw the footage of Jarre’s harp malfunction – to me it looks like notes got stuck (that is to say the detector recognised a note on event, but refused to send the “note off” – everything else you see looks like the results of his attempts to fix the issue – eventually resulting in going over to the Elka and “turning it off and on again”.

Regarding the Dubreq Stylophone – I used to own one of the originals when I was a kid, back in the UK. Unfortunately I kept dismantling and remantling (?) it until it no longer worked. :(

I now own one of the new released Stylophones, but I’m afraid that the tone is not like I remember it (I suspect it’s a digital version of the original analog oscillator). Just like the MiniMoog, older really is better.

I did have the original schematic somewhere – I must see if I can find it, that would make a really good article.

James September 29, 2010 at 9:27 am

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down… Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please reply to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at http://www.stephenhobley.com could post it.

Thanks,
James

Darren Karp October 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Hi Stephen,

As an avid Jarre fan (saw him at the O2 on Sunday with the family), I’m more than keen on building my own harp. I assume you use a webcam for beam detection ,etc?

When will you new model instructions be available?

Cheers
Darren

sylvain kepler October 15, 2010 at 4:47 am

Looking forward to read about your blue laser implementation. My own construction could be finished as I have now all the part here with me , but waiting to save money for the laser. I’ve experienced difficulties in communication with lasershowparts. Since you recently, in your last post on the 11th Oct, have told about the wicked blue laser implementation for the laser hap, I’ll be waiting to read from you about how to transplant that blue laser and if it needs modifications of the previous electronics and cabling of the laser harp 2010 which I purchased the plans from you some months ago (I made on my own the shield PCB and it ‘s now fully populated, waiting for the D-day of my laser and galvo orders)

buy kinect October 16, 2010 at 5:11 am

Greetings,

I have a message for the webmaster/admin here at http://www.stephenhobley.com.

Can I use part of the information from this blog post right above if I give a link back to this website?

Thanks,
Thomas

Corinne Tamez October 24, 2010 at 4:02 am

Hello,

This is a message for the webmaster/admin here at http://www.stephenhobley.com.

Can I use some of the information from your blog post above if I provide a link back to your site?

Thanks,
Mark

Moosedestroy October 25, 2010 at 7:24 pm

My mind was seriously just blown.
I am researching the acoustic harp for a speech, and somehow I got here….I totally had no idea this thing existed! And the first one was made in the late 70′s?! That’s far-out, trippy, groovy, and epicly astounding. Real talk. I so want one so I can trip out all my druggie friends. Forget the Wii, check out what I can do with random beams of light!

…..wow! ^_^

GEOFFREY ROSE December 22, 2010 at 9:22 am

Sorry for not replying earlier…
I invented and built the first the world’s first laser harp ( and coined the name) in
1976…this claim has been howled down by Szajner’s accolytes ad nauseum…
I am happy to provide proof…Jon Anderson of YES played my harp, Simon Alexander, Magician watched me build the harp, Eve Richter of Tarm Laser lent me money for the synthesiser, Robert Sheridan lent me the laser…all of this verifiable and 5 years before Szajner built his first harp…I even met him in 1976 and showed him a photo of my harp…funny, but he denies ever meeting me…the time has surely come to correct this farcical situation ….
The image you found is the original 1976 harp…updated from one 5 mw hene laser to 8 5 mw dpss lasers.It is what is now called a framed laser harp, although I also designed the unframed laser harp at this time but did not build one.
The original harp was designed around a synthesiser chip with attack, decay, sustain and release selected across the 16 intersections of the 8 laser beams…it kind of worked, but I scrapped that esoteric concept for a Korg synthesiser as basis, and connected 5 notes on one axis with variations of a quality on the other axis, for example tremolo, traveller or repeat…
I also used a Roland 727 percussion synthesiser in another variation to create a 16 channel drum ensemble which worked well.
I have some images of the first days of the harp which I will dig out and send to you if you are interested.
It is gratifying to see the passion that the laser harp has generated thru the large number of harps that have appeared down the years…
Yours
Geoffrey Rose

GEOFFREY ROSE December 22, 2010 at 9:24 am

Correction…there were 10 beams with 25 intersections, as the photo shows…it WAS
over 30 years ago….
Geoffrey

Ray Azevedo February 1, 2011 at 6:16 am

dang it you sold the plans :/ I feel you though times are tough especially for us musicians, gotta get money from somewhere

Gothic Jewellery February 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

beautiful and I would love to have a go lol :)

Dani February 21, 2011 at 7:09 am

Hi Stephen!

I have a question about the laser. In a future (when I have some free time) I will make my own laser harp.

What’s the power of your laser? About… 300mW or something? What’s the minimum power I need to build one?

I’m from Spain and I’m looking for green laser modules and prices.

Thanks in advance.

Alexey Romashkov March 4, 2011 at 2:01 am

Hey,
I’m not sure if this is active or not anymore, but I kinda want to build a laser harp. The biggest issue stopping me even THINKING about it is latency. Seems like that’s the main reason you always see videos of people using them strictly for pad and such rather than instruments with quick attacks. Anyways, any idea what the latency on them are?

Thanks,
Alexey.

Stephen Hobley March 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

If you are trying to use a regular video camera then you will run into latency issues – my original design using a photodetector array synced to the laser projector output (ILDA) – there were never latency issues, once the system was calibrated for the venue.

Glenn J. Hill July 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I know that with the 5mw green/red lasers I use, the I get a response time of about 60+ times per second, using a framed design, with optic sensors. In the reflected unframed design, the reaction time may be a bit slower, though I am about to get a ProLight Laser Harp controller, to test it out. I will also see if the ProLight will work with my OptiMus software. And if it will interface with the OptiMusic midi controller, which will register the voltage produced , and trigger accordingly, with a pitch or volume shift, according to where your hand is in the beam. Stephen, have you had a chance to try out the ProLight or Kroma controllers yet? It might be interesting to have you try them out, and do a kinda Laser controller consumers report !!:–) A question for you, you sold your plans,… do you know if the entity who bought them is coming out with a production model ??

Jerome August 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Hello.

How can i do to get the filles for build a laser Harp? What is the price?

I read your paper on Makezine for the laser Harp
The sensors GP2D12 are obselete or very difficult to find.
Can we change it with a GP2YOA21YKOF? and if it’s possible where can we found the output conversion for this sensor?

Regards.

Gothic Dropshipping September 10, 2011 at 3:47 am

I must say that is one of the coolest instruments I’ve ever seen, thinks for making this post :)

Cyberdog September 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Dude, that’s amazing. I’m starting to think about where to put them already haha. That’s really good and would be cool pretty much anywhere!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Angel December 1, 2011 at 11:03 pm

is there like anywhere i could buy one of these??

attilio d'ambrosio February 12, 2012 at 6:18 pm

E’ POSSIBILE SAPERE QUANTO COSTA E COSA BISOGNA FARE PER COMPRARE L’ARPA LASER…..

Jason February 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Dear Stephen,

I recently became interested in electronics, “bitten by the bug” if you would like. I am 18 and about to finish high school. I wanted to build a laser harp and have looked high and wide but have not found any plans. Are all plans removed from the internet once you signed into contract? Any information would help. E-mail me if you can.

atienon September 18, 2012 at 7:21 pm

In your example based on the arduino, why don’t you check if there’s an echo each time the beam is switched on instead of interrupting each time there’s an echo ?

Next you swap the state of a flag for the beam concerned.

Then you send sound or silence thru midi according to this state.

Finally you do the job for the next beam.

Isn’t it?

atienon September 18, 2012 at 7:33 pm

For the sensor, why not use a simple opticle 532nm filter costing nothing, so you elliminate the maximum ambiant light?

If you make you’re beam switch on and off a fiew times when you start a new position, you will detect an echo with the same switching frequency! So you are sure that’s not ambiant light..

Isn’t it?

atienon September 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Of course use a different frequence for each beam, in order to make the difference..

atienon September 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Sorry for the last comment, there’s no need for a different frequency!

Stephen Hobley September 19, 2012 at 5:23 am

Yes that could work, although I seem to remember trying that and moving to an interrupt scheme later in the build. I think that interrupts will be more accurate than a polling strategy.

christin b April 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Hello!! Im building the laser theramin for my electronics lab course. Im about 90% of the way there but im having issues with the code. Im not sure if this is still active but if anyone can help it would be GREATLY appreciated. Here is the issue:

Code reads:

void SendMIDI(char cmd, char data1, char data2)
{
Serial.print(cmd, BYTE);
Serial.print(data1, BYTE);
Serial.print(data2, BYTE);
}

Error message reads:

As of Arduino 1.0, the ‘BYTE’ keyword is no longer supported.
Please use Serial.write() instead.

Can you please tell me how to correctly change the code so that it will work? We didnt learn Arduino Microcontrollers in school, only BS2, so im very lost.

Thank you, thank you….thank you.

(Disgruntled, frantic college student with a week to submit this as a working project)

Paul Kimonides November 20, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Hello,
I am a systems engineering teacher at St Francis Xavier college and one of my year 12 students wishes to make laser harp. could i please purchace the plans so that he may start early next year.

Hope to hear from you soon
Kindest regards
Paul

Jerry December 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm

What is the software you use to help with knowing what to play? It looks like you have some sort of software assistant running and I’d be very interested in that as an aide to help learning how to play.

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