Because Conventional Laser Harps Aren’t Dangerous Enough

In the late 1980s, the French musician [Jean-Michel Jarre] famously toured with a laser harp. The word among teenage fans was that he had to wear special gloves to stop his hands getting burned, because 1980s teens were both impressionable and didn’t know much about lasers. In fact we’re told by a member of our community who was part of his road crew that the glove was a matter of reflectivity, so laser harps remain relatively harmless and French harpists retain their fingers. To add a bit of spice to the laser harp experience, [James Cochrane] hooked up a laser rangefinder to a Tesla coil to make an instrument with a bit more crackling energy in its performance than the [Jarre] model.

It starts with a laser tape measure modified to serve as an Arduino rangefinder, coupled to custom MIDI code to make a laser harp MIDI controller. The Tesla coil in question happens also to be a MIDI instrument, so the one can control the other with ease. The addition of an earthed chain mail glove allows it to be played in close proximity to the coil, and he rewards us with a rendition of the Star Trek theme. Tesla fun and games behind us, he then gives us a demonstration with a more conventional MIDI instrument.

We’ve had innumerable Tesla coil projects here over the years, if you’re hungry for more we suggest starting with this unusual planar PCB coil design. Meanwhile you can see the laser harp coil in the video below the break.

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Square Laser Harp Is Hip

You know, we hadn’t realized how tired we were of vertical laser harps until we saw [Jonathan Bumstead]’s entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize. It’s all well and good to imitate the design of the inspiring instrument. But the neat thing about synths is that they aren’t confined to the physics of the acoustic instruments they mimic. This project elevates the laser harp into functional sculpture territory. It’s a piece of art that produces art.

And this art harp is entirely self-contained, with built-in MIDI, amplifier, and speakers. The brains of this beauty are an Arduino Mega and an Adafruit music maker shield, which give it twenty different instrument voices. Each of the six layers has two lasers, two mirrors, and two photo-resistors mounted in the corners of the plywood skeleton. The lasers and photo-resistors are mounted back to back in opposite corners, with mirrors in the other two corners to complete the paths. [Jonathan] cleverly diffused the laser light with milky slivers of film canister plastic.

This isn’t [Jonathan]’s first optical rodeo. Previous experience taught him the importance of being able to readjust the lasers on the fly, because every time he moved it, the laser modules would go out of alignment. This time, he built kinematic mounts that let him reposition the lasers using four screws that each push a corner.

There are a lot of nice touches here, especially the instrument selector wheel. [Jonathan] explains it and the rest of the harp in a fantastic demo/build video that’s just burning a hole in the space after the break.

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Pulling Music Out Of Thin Air With A Raspberry Pi

Pianos are great instruments, but being rather heavy and requiring a fair amount of space they are certainly not known for their convenience. Sure, there are more portable varieties available, but they rarely resemble the elegance and classiness of a grand piano. One option is of course to build a downscaled version yourself — and since you’re already customizing the instrument, why stop at the way you play it. [2fishy] didn’t stop there either and ended up with a wooden, space friendly, light controlled piano housing a Raspberry Pi.

Inspired by the concept of a laser harp, [2fishy] followed the same principle but chose a simpler and safer alternative by using LEDs instead. For each playable tone, a LED is mounted opposite a light dependent resistor, creating an array of switches that is then connected to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. A Python script is handling the rest, polling the GPIO states and — with a little help from pygame, triggering MIDI playback whenever the light stream is interrupted.

There are enough LED/LDR pairs to play one full octave and have some additional control inputs for menu and octave shifting. This concept will naturally require some adjustments to your playing — you can get an idea of it in the demonstration video after the break. And if this design is still not the right size for you, or if you prefer to play in total darkness, this similar MIDI instrument using ultrasonic distance sensors could be of interest.

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Teensy Laser Harp Has Big Sound

[Johan] has slipped down the rabbit hole of making musical instruments. His poison? Laser harp MIDI controllers. Having never made one before, he thought he would start small and then iterate using what he learned. Fortunately for us, [Johan] documented the process over on .io, essentially creating a step-by-step guide for building a simple but powerful 16-note laser harp.

Laser Harp I is built around a Teensy 3.2 and, of course, lasers pointed at LDRs. [Johan] used fairly low-power laser modules, which are slightly less blinding if you accidentally look at them for a second, but should still be taken seriously. He added four potentiometers to control the sensitivity, scale, octave, and the transposition. The sensitivity pot essentially accounts for the ambient light in the room. Although it only has 16 notes, Laser Harp I is ready to rock with over 30 different scales to choose from. Check out the brief demo that [Johan] put up on his Instagram.

If you try to build your own laser harp and get lost trying to follow [Johan]’s instructions, don’t worry. His well-commented code and lovely schematic will undoubtedly save you. Then you can move on to open-beam designs.

Laser Piano Worthy Of The Band ‘Wyld Stallyns’

Laser Piano uses Arduino

[Robi] and [Kathy] from elecfreaks have put together a how-to article about a Laser Piano they just built. Instead of keys, the user breaks beams of laser light to trigger the sounds.

Several laser pointer diodes are wired in parallel and mounted in a box, cardboard in this case. The laser diodes are aimed at photocells that reside on the other side of the box. Each photocellis connected to a digital input pin on an Arduino. When the Arduino senses a state change from one of the photocell, meaning the beam of light has been interrupted, it plays the appropriate wave file stored on an external JQ6500 sound module.

[Robi] admits that there are some improvements to be made, specifically the trigger response time and the piano sounding too monotonous. If you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments section.

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Impressive Laser Harp

laser harp

We stumbled onto this impressive laser harp setup after browsing random YouTube videos late at night. Besides making an awesome laser harp, [Eric] can even play it too!

If you’ve never seen one of these before you’re in for a treat! A laser harp is a digital instrument that requires a synthesizer to create music. There are two main varieties, framed and open. The framed type use light sensors at the end of the beams to create the digital signal to be converted to the various tones. The open kind is a lot more complex, but much cooler — it relies on the laser light being reflected back from the player’s hand to create the signal. This allows for varying tones depending on the distance to the sensor.

Stick around after the break to see it in action as [Eric] breaks it down, laser style.

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