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Your Own Electric Light Orchestra

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If Spock played a futuristic-looking lyre aboard the USS Enterprise, it might look something like the Beamz Music Performance System, a new musical instrument that functions like a laser harp. Fortunately, you don't have to possess the finger expertise of Andreas Vollenweider to play the W-shaped instrument. And the computer-based system doesn't necessarily have to sound like a harp, either.

The principle is simple. The instrument has six invisible lasers that function as strings. Each one is preprogrammed with musical notes or sounds or looped progressions so that the harpist can create a song by triggering beams with a Marcel Marceau-worthy mime of a pluck or strum. The Beamz software comes equipped with a range of musical genres – from heavy metal to classical to bluegrass – so that one can play just about anything short of a kazoo symphony. (For demonstration video, do a YouTube search.)

The Beamz Music Performance System isn't exactly the first electronic instrument that relies on invisible waves. The Theremin, invented in 1919 and most famously utilized in recordings by The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Goldfrapp, creates squealing and screeching sounds whenever a musician waves his hands near its antenna to modulate the frequency of emitted signals. Even in the right hands, it can sound like an alien death cry. By contrast, the Beamz instrument boasts that it doesn't allow for any bum notes since everything is programmed to be in tune. The system, which debuted this week, retails for about $600 and is only available at The Sharper Image.


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