You’re not cool now? You will be, as your hands dance to the rhythm through the magical lasers.

A few moments of your playing, and nothing could possibly convince me that you didn’t grow up on the streets of Jamaica, banging oil drums you salvaged and hammered into shape.

Whoops, sorry — had to snap out of that for a second.

So, okay — it seems the beamz laser harp we saw last week comes with special algorithmic software that makes music play basically regardless of what you do. The problem with laser harps in general is they tend to the button-pressing variety: that is, you’re waving your arms around like crazy, but really the laser sensor is either off or on. (There are ways around that, but … well, not here.)

Watch closely as someone leaves their hand in front of the harp and does nothing. And this, of course, is what real instruments have going for them — that you have to work hard to play them, and that’s actually kind of the fun of it. It’s like basketball: if you just held down a button the entire game and a robot played for you, it would be easier, but that wouldn’t necessarily be better. Even as a computer game, we expect multiple buttons, and actual difficulty. If you waved your hands around and wore sunglasses and had a $600 gadget from Sharper Image and pretended to play basketball, that wouldn’t be much of an improvement, either. I’m not sure why music is excepted from this rule, but then, many things about this world provide amazement and confusion.

Yes, technically Guitar Hero / Rock Band does the same thing. Except that it has actual difficulty. And has real songs. And is fun. Whereas this is painful. And it’s about as expensive than Rock Band plus a PS3.

That leaves two questions.

First, there’s the academic question of how generative musical algorithms could be controlled via more expressive input devices — so that generative music felt creative, and not just holding down a button and letting the computer figure out what to play. I’m not sure you’ll find the answer in the Euro-Pop-imagical beamz, but I’m just saying.

Second, how come this girl is getting totally dumped on?


Oh, sure. I see how this works. The “everyone sounds great!” caption just happens to go with this poor young woman.

The entire video is nothing but dorky white dudes (yeah, I know — takes one to know one). We’re supposed to believe that by wearing aviator glasses and cheap headphones and pretending to be totally into their own playing, these guys are really rock stars enjoying the new frontiers opened by Sharper Image laser gimmickry.

But the young girl in the penguin-emblazoned vest? It’s sheer technological wonder that she can produce the same crap as the rest of them.

I think the video captions have it backwards. I mean, she has a robot dog and stuff. She’s going to tire of the beamz and go back to programming the Game Boy tracker she coded herself.

Give Penguin Girl a break.


  • The Cody

    No, not a gameboy tracker, but a full reason suite on an MSX.

  • hahahahahahahhahahahahahaha!

  • Chris

    The Sharper Image in the mall near me is going under. I tend to think this thing is a big part of the reason.

  • Wow. Wow.

    It's as if they studied people playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and thought, "These games are fun, despite making people look slightly foolish. Let's make something that makes people look REALLY foolish, and then it will be even MORE fun! Especially if we remove the annoying parts, like gameplay and scoring and real music!"

    P.S. They actually used "MORE COWBELL!" as a caption. That was the moment I started wondering if this was some kind of ironic self-parody.

  • You didn't include the best caption:

    "be a hero"

    Not-so-subtle attempt to cash in on a successful franchise much?

  • To address the academic question…do you really think it's a problem with the input device? It looks to me like some sort of dual theremin that can send digital information, and that's something that sounds like it has a reasonable amount of potential. That said, no more potential than a Guitar Hero controller or any other kind of video game controller. I think the problem with this is really more of a software issue. Crappy sounds, compositions, and too responsive to a lack of input. I think some pretty cool generative stuff could be done using this same hardware set-up, with diferent software of course, only taking more care with the sounds, and–especially important–making sure the responds to the harp-players input–no more, and no less.

    I don't really think it matters that it's not hard. It's possible to make an interface that's easy to get respectable sounds out of, while still offering creative freedom. Electroplankton does this well with some of its levels. Also, there was a speculated Guitar Hero freestyle mode I read about ( that may have done a good job with it, only it was never released.

  • Adrian

    The "be a hero" quote made laugh and say "more like an hero" out loud.

    An Hero

  • m-clis

    This is the best 1st April video could happen, but it's already 6th! Guy playing "hero's guitar" with that little "son" are awesome! It looks like just some MIDI thing with GM sounds, so they just mutes/unmutes some channels with their manipulations, and other beams are tuned step-sequencing stuff – you could make some "mistakes" but it'll sound ok anyway, cause the next pattern turns on in next bar(2 bars?).Really crappy useless thing… Tenori-on rules ^_^

  • There are variations on the plain trigger approach. You can do (x,y), like a bidimensional theremin. Here:

    I use it to do things like modulation.



  • Aretzki

    i liked the smoothjazz preset, with the bald guy. If there's an option to choose which scale you want your "song" to be in, i suppose we're gonna suffer a flood of smoothjazz smashhits any time soon đŸ˜€

  • This article made my day.

  • @David: Actually, I don't think the input device is the problem — I think it's actually how you model input in the algorithm. That is, even a button can be an interesting input device if the algorithm responds to it in challenging ways, if the music generated actually changes. We've got lots of smart input devices. I think the challenge is really on the generative algorithm side, and how to build an algorithm that responds well to input.

  • Oh, yeah, and …

    "More Cowbell"…

    Anyone notice there's not actually a cowbell in that bit?

  • Kyran

    This just made me cry, it's so bad. Makes me think of that r&bmaker app that floated around. But even that one had more options (you could at least select the amount of 'nigga's' saying yeah. I really think this essential feature should be integrated in the laser harp, how could they miss it)

  • I think saying that the Beamz comes with "special algorithmic software" is being entirely too generous. From what I can tell, it comes with a collection of Standard MIDI files triggered by six buttons which either mute/unmute a track or advance another track by one note.

    "Beatnik Blues" rules, though!!! Erm. I think the "MORE COWBELL!" graphic is a last, desperate attempt on the part of the video producer to preserve what remained of his or her sanity after what must have been several hours of weeding through all the available "Beamz" footage to find the "performances" that were remotely "non-vomit-inducing".

  • must be so proud

    damn. if you think about it they would have to work really hard to make this worse. i dont think they could do it.

    nope i just watched it again. couldnt possibly be worse. high fives, dancing silhouettes, sunglassed one-one man rock band, father/son banjo pickin, quiet reverie (my personal favorite), jam sessions (dont touch my beamz!), penguin shirts and musical stereotypes, and more cowbell in just over three min. not to meantion the fact that you either have to doggie-paddle out of water or use spirit fingers to play the thing.

    amazingly terrible.

  • Ugh, make the pain stop!

    This pisses me off. I just started getting into the Theremin, which is a damn difficult instrument to play well, and here are these dorks waving their hands in the air like they don't care.

  • BirdFLU

    I liked the duet performance. It reveals that for $600 you're getting 6 on-off switches to control some crappy MIDIs.

    Be A Hero!

  • FAIL

    When I first saw this device advertised I was intrigued, but this is so incredibly bad. At least we got some fun out of that incredible video.

    I'm quite curious about the academic question about inputs for simple generative instruments.

    The Beamz controller is a tremendous disappointment in that it appears to be only 6 on-off triggers. Obviously they wanted to make Beamz extremely accessible to untrained musicians, but the form factor could easily accommodate 6 proximity sensors of some type which would give you a six input digital Theremin controller. You could do a lot of amazing and accessible things with that. (I've built some really fun instruments with the 9-touch sensitive faders on a Mackie Controller.) At $600 it's not as if keeping the cost accessible was the problem.

    But even given the missed opportunity of the hardware it appears the software is the real failure here. Compare what can be done with the $20 Zizzle Zoundz toy which has a very limited range of inputs.

  • dead_red_eyes

    @ 1:15 – "BE A HERO"

    Screw that. Be a tool is more like it.


  • @amoeba: ah, that could explain the shades. SAFETY sunglasses.

  • Now THIS — this is practical:

  • i want to try one of these.

    i really do…

  • Downpressor

    If it weren't for The Cody's MSX reference this whole post would have left me feeling like I was reading some assenine boingboing bitching instead of CDM.

  • GaryG

    If I was a little more video literate I'd do something with Quiet Reverie section… demands to be remixed methinks…

  • Wow! This video actually made the "Around the Net" segment of G4TV's "Attack of the Show" last night. Does Kevin Pereira read this 'blog? I know he's a big computer music guy.

  • Howdy

    This is very reminicent of Zzounds, the RFID-sensing musical device. I did a piece using Zzounds and Live. I had to dope out how to set initial conditions for the sounds of Zzounds; I wonder if you can reliably set initial condidions on this beast.

    BTW, the apartheid of the ad (little brown girl indeed!) is only offset by the lameness of the "Cool guys". Peter's probably right, she's gonna hack that dog and harp together, building something that can jam out and fetch your slippers.

    Stylin' bald guy. Sheesh!


  • Im gonna name a new song on the album

    "Give Penguin Girl a Break"

    seriously, awesome. thanks CDM!

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  • This must be an outtake from Idiocracy.

  • mallyone

    It looks like 6 tracks playing and the laser acts as a transform, Then let effects trail the sound off to kill the harshness of hard cuts, Go DJ Paid2Much!

    Got to say though, there is a slight attraction to flailing for your music :).


  • Im buying three. Forget MPC's and synths… this is the future of my band and i hope, yours too….

  • paulo

    demeans girl in penguin sweater hahaha, omg, I can't stop laughing

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