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Laser Show News


Laserium Ends 28-year Run
At Griffith Observatory; Next Stop: Cyberdome
By David Lytle

It was the end of an era, and perhaps the start of a new one. Crowds thronged Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles last month to mark the occasion, with automobile traffic so thick that police closed the steep roadway leading to the city’s landmark Griffith Park, site of the observatory. Even the man who was at the center of the commotion had trouble getting past security guards. “They closed the park and wouldn’t let me in until I showed them my business card,” said Ivan Dryer, who launched a new era of art and entertainment at Griffith Observatory when he premiered the first Laserium show there in November of 1973. The 45-minute long laser light shows drew crowds through the decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, until Laserium became the longest running theatrical attraction in Los Angeles. In the process, Dryer’s shows paved the way for laser displays around the world and inspired countless artists and technicians to become laserists themselves.

The shows came to an end last month when the entire Griffith Observatory facility was closed for a $66 million renovation. When the observatory reopens in three years, a state-of-the-art Zeiss-Schneider laser video projector will be used for the planetarium’s science shows—but no laser entertainment shows are planned. That fact didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of crowds that packed the front lawn of the observatory and filled all of the planetarium’s 600 seats for Laserium’s farewell performance. Dryer introduced the final show to a standing ovation, announcing that viewers would first see The Blue Danube, a selection from Laserium’s original show in 1973.

Although a wake of sorts was held after the final show, (with about 100 VIP guests attending), Dryer, 62, was not dwelling on the past. He is excited about an upcoming show with the Los Angeles Philharmonic that features Laserium’s Steve Shapiro. Seated on stage in white tie and tails, Shapiro will provide live laser imagery for Scriabin’s Prometheus, a tonal poem that specifically calls for the projection of colored lights during the performance. It’s the first time, Dryer said, that a laserist has been seated on stage with a classical orchestra. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen was an enthusiastic backer of the idea and treats Shapiro like a professional musician. “It’s terrific to be included at that level,” said Dryer.

A bigger project is in store this spring, when Laserium plans to unveil its new Cyberdome venue that will combine live music, lasers, theatrical lights, digital video projection and a host of other special effects. Cyberdome will be far different from the planetarium shows and will emphasize a more immersive environment. “We had a great run at the planetarium, and now it’s time to reformulate Laserium for the new millennium and introduce elements that will push the boundaries way outside the box—maybe even create a new box,” he said. The new box will take the shape of a 90-foot dome brimming with interactive features that create visual and auditory effects in response to the crowd. The audience will be given freedom to move around, sit, or even lie down—but there will be no chairs to get in the way.

Laserium will use the Cyberdome to host “morning meditations,” dance parties and regular evening performances with a live musician who plays digital music through a hands-off infrared interface. Dryer predicts that the audiences will have a “mind blowing, overwhelming experience.” Longtime Laserium fans hope for nothing less.

Laserium: (+1) 818-997-6611; www.laserium.com

(Photo of Ivan Dryer by John Hare)


Related Stories:

-- Closing Night

-- Laserium Performs
with LA Philharmonic






Laserium's Last Night Brings Laserists Together
By John Hare

On Saturday evening, January 5th, the final performance of Laserium was presented at the Griffith Planetarium in Los Angeles. Linda [Hare] and I cashed in a ton of frequent flier miles to make the 36-hour jaunt to Los Angeles and back to our home in Florida for the occasion.

The show closed not because of faltering attendance or any other reason, except that the entire planetarium was to be closed beginning two days later until 2005 for extensive renovations. Laserium opened at the Griffith in 1973 and had played continuously since. It was the longest running production of any kind in Los Angeles and unquestionably the longest running laser show anywhere in the world. Insiders in the laser and planetarium community are fully aware of the far-reaching implications of Ivan Dryer's successful endeavor, which opened the floodgates for laser presentations in planetariums and other venues, so I won't rehash those details.

Ivan advised that we should arrive early because of the anticipated crowds. We left our hotel by taxi at about 6:30, (for the 9:45 show!), with assurances that it was only a 5 or 6 minute ride. After sitting in a traffic jam for nearly a half hour at the foot of the hill on which the planetarium is situated, we decided to walk. I'd highly recommend it for anyone wanting a good workout. That's not exactly what we had in mind but at least it got us there by about 7:30. The front lawn of the planetarium was packed. People were lined up by the hundreds and others were milling about. We were fortunate to run into Ivan out front and were invited to see the 7:45 star show. Once in the theater, Ivan suggested that we remain thru all the shows since to exit and attempt reentry would be chaotic. he planetarium lecturer mentioned that the VERY uncomfortable planetarium seats were also scheduled for replacement and we could understand why after just the first show. After enjoying a well-presented feature on Mars and the first laser show, Dark Side of the Moon, we waited in anticipation for the final show.

As we watched the crowd file in we noticed a number of familiar faces. Ivan had invited laserists from all past Laserium venues as well as production and support staff and others, and a large number were in attendance. Barbara and Seiji Inatsugu, John Tilp, Mitch Hartman, Ron Hipschman, Benjamin Mendelsohn, past and current Griffith staff including Ron Oriti, and representatives from the media among others, were there. After the customary pre-show announcements, Ivan took the mic and welcomed the audience. He gave a brief synopsis of the history of the show, then announced that the final show, Laser Visions, would open with The Blue Danube, a selection from the original Laserium show. Laserist Tim Barrett gave an inspired performance to an enthusiastic capacity crowd of over 600!

Following the conclusion of the show and the departure of the general public, the invited guests were told of plans for the next generation of laser entertainment that Dryer has already began working on. A freestanding facility, Cyberdome, will incorporate interactive displays, live performers, lasers, and other innovative forms of stimulating sensory media. He urged all to visit their web site to follow the project as it develops.

Finally, we all adjourned to a nearby pub and restaurant for food, libation, and reminisces of past times. All in all it was an exhausting but thrilling experience.


Related Stories:

-- Laserium Ends
28-year L.A. Run

-- Laserium Performs
with LA Philharmonic

Live with the LA Philharmonic
By Ivan Dryer, President, Laser Images

In its season calendar last fall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its plan to perform Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus: Poem of Fire with "special lighting design." I wrote the Executive Director and set up a demo at Griffith Observatory, which was a success. We were contracted to perform on January 16, 18 and 19, pending another successful demo at the Music Center for renowned conductor Essa Pekka Salonen.

At that time, a debate about losing most of the rear back wall acoustic panels in favor of the big RP screen was quashed by Salonen, who said "I'll sacrifice the acoustics for that look!" "That look" was a battery of 18 lumia effects generated by a Laserium CSL Projector and two Coherent Ar/Kr lasers combining for 10+ watts (and burning some mirrors and wheels in the process). Lumia were chosen to approximate Scriabin's rather vague instructions for color washes to accompany the music--he actually wrote a line in the score for a light performer, who was intended to be an onstage member of the orchestra.

Our light performer was long-time Laserist and choreographer Steve Shapiro, who as far as we know was the first to be featured as Scriabin wished: onstage in tux, tails and white tie. During rehearsals, Steve was called out by Salonen for performance nuances, along with the violins, trumpets, woodwinds, etc. He was highly honored to be directed like everyone else. Before each performance, Salonen introduced Steve and explained Scriabin's gift (or affliction?) of synesthesia, which is the triggering of a second sense (like sight) by a stimulus to another sense (like sound). Scriabin saw specific color wavelengths for specific musical keys. Unfortunately, his intentions for the notes in the score are indecipherable because there are so many keys operating simultaneously! Accordingly, Steve choreographed his arsenal of colors and effects to his interpretation of the score (just like we always do, no?).

Following the musical dynamics, he played his MIDI controller and beam torquer, sometimes furiously, to elicit color, form and speed changes to match the continuous ebb and flow of Scriabin's complex tone poem. Behind the scenes was Tim Barrett, who would kick in the second laser for the crescendos, which are mighty and many. At the finale, Salonen added two banks of white landing lights to reach a blinding level not even 10 watts of laser power could approach. The audiences gave standing ovations, and Steve was asked to take a bow along with the piano soloist and other featured artists. He said it was a "peak experience"

More text about "Prometheus", Scriabin and our very early involvement with his music (pre-Laserium) is available on our Web site (www.laserium.com), which the Phil was kind enough to excerpt in the
program notes. When it was all over, a representative of the L.A. Opera took my card. So maybe we'll be back at the Music Center for another adventure with fine music.


Related Stories:

-- Laserium Ends
28-year Run

-- Closing Night
at The Griffith