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Thread: Where to start learning laser hard&software

  1. #11
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    Default Re: T4 Laser Synth

    Hi Adam :-)

    Great point! I agree that a copy of LaserShow Express (LSX) plus an Etherdream controller is a *great* way to get started for far less money. Admittedly though, the learning curve for LSX is a bit steep.
    Yes, last year, Swamidog's YT videos rekindled my love of lasers. So, I followed 'the master's' lead by purchasing LSX. But, as an old school Laserium laserist, I am already
    very familiar with cycloids and found myself always 'fighting the bit' of LSX. Apparently Dr Lava has been AWOL for quite a while, so I chose a DIY solution instead of paying to upgrade to Advanced.
    My Achilles heel back in the day (apart from the hassles and expense of touring w/ion gas lasers) was being dependent upon the cooperation of freelance analog electronics gurus to develop the controllers. I wanted everything, but they only wanted to get paid, then move on to other projects.

    Whoa! Seriously? This sounds *very* cool! Would you be willing to start a new thread in the Programming sub-forum to talk some more about this project and maybe post some pictures? I'm sure several people here would like to learn more about it.
    Yes, very serious and very cool.
    I've already mentioned it in a few previous PL threads, but it's difficult to finalize a project that has accumulated 35 years worth of ideas. Lasershow 101: Never attempt to demonstrate a half-baked project. The audience will always notice the loose ends, more than realizing the vision.
    I'm currently still using the Akai APC40 with a 15" touchscreen monitor expanding the controls of the waveform generators. Also, the PC is an old Surface Pro tablet, which provides a GUI for master controls. Again, our pal, Dave, from Notes and Volts provided the details for using Pure Data freeware to accomplish that.

    For that matter, SELEM is coming up in about 6 weeks, and while I recognize that the East coast is a bit of a haul from the American Southwest, I'm sure you'd enjoy the event. Plus it would be a great place to demo your project. Give it some thought! (Details in the Meet and Greet sub-forum.)
    Yes, I'd love to meet everyone in the community. Many, I know by name or reputation, but have only met few old timers, because nearly all of my laser work was in Europe and Great Britain. Now, I'm only the pest on swamidog's YT comments sections. lol!

    Perhaps I'll make it to next year's SELEM, after my design goals have been accomplished. Meanwhile, a 'How to DIY' video is in production. Would like to include some old Laseruim footage, but haven't heard back from my email to Scott Anderson regarding possible copyright restrictions.

    TBH, I really am a hermit. Showbiz cured my lust for travel and humanity cured my need for social acceptance. It's like feeding a monster that's never satified. Now, I'm lovin' the technical challenges of building my own dream system and playing with cycloids to some psychill/tribal trance. Unfortunately, the closer I get to completion, I'm doing more playing than coding.
    Currently consolidating the Teensy audio shields + ILDA differential conversion amps into a single PCB similar to a DAC + show card, but with the entire synth inside, one for each projector, individually controllable as unique MIDI channels via usbMIDI.
    Hankloydright's ESP32 DAC is very similar (w/o the synth). In fact, I used his ILDA conversion amps for my prototypes.
    No plans to get into manufacturing/marketing/shipping/obtaining variances/providing customer support. But, I plan on putting the gerbers, links, instructions, and Arduino code up on github, once everything is problem free for budding enthusiasts, like Whiskymancer.

    But, enough about me. What are you up to? Still doing shows? I've noticed your very helpful PL posts and you've obviously been in 'the game' for a while.

    Thanks for your interest and positive attitude.

  2. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheHermit View Post
    Swamidog's YT videos rekindled my love of lasers.
    Chris has been a genuine inspiration to many people here on PL. I'm thankful that he's a part of our little community here on PL.

    as an old school Laserium laserist, I am already very familiar with cycloids and found myself always 'fighting the bit' of LSX
    LSX is some seriously powerful software, especially when it comes to the expression editor. I've stated before that it's possible to create a complete show using just a single frame consisting of a single point that is then washed through multiple effects and expressions to create a variety of beam, aerial, and abstract elements. But to do this requires a solid understanding of the math behind rose curves, and that's something I never mastered. At least with an analog console you don't need to understand the underlying math to create beautiful abstracts, right? (Although analog consoles have their own learning curves...)

    My Achilles heel back in the day (apart from the hassles and expense of touring w/ion gas lasers) was being dependent upon the cooperation of freelance analog electronics gurus to develop the controllers. I wanted everything, but they only wanted to get paid, then move on to other projects.
    PhotonLexicon was created because Robert (Spec) was dismayed by how hard it was to learn about lasers and laser shows. As you pointed out, many of the old-school laserists were notoriously tight-lipped about their gear. No one wanted to share their knowledge; instead, they hoarded it, fearing that if they let it out, they'd lose their business. Fortunately, this website has attracted a community where the opposite is true. Here, people are happy to share their knowledge and experience, making it much easier for people to get the help they need to get started, or to get past a sticking point on a project.

    Lasershow 101: Never attempt to demonstrate a half-baked project.
    HAHA! It's true that we are our own worst critics, but we also recognize when someone is demonstrating something that is a work in progress. Call me an optimist, but I'd like to think that getting feedback from others while in the process of building something is always a good plan. I'm a huge fan of leveraging the expertise of other people. That way I don't have to do everything myself! (My model for success: Fill a room with people who are smarter than you, then introduce an idea and see what they come up with.)

    I looked back at the CYGN-B thread, and that jogged my memory of your project. It seems that it's quite a bit further along than you implied earlier! Admittedly though, it's also a bit over my head. Looking at the block diagram you posted is like trying to follow the signal path through a Z5, or a Radiator. I just don't have the intuitive grasp of that workflow yet. (Which is painfully evident whenever I start twiddling knobs on any abstract console...) That being said, I am working on it.

    Yes, I'd love to meet everyone in the community. Many, I know by name or reputation, but have only met few old timers, because nearly all of my laser work was in Europe and Great Britain. Now, I'm only the pest on swamidog's YT comments sections. lol!
    I'm sure the community would be equally interested to meet you. The crowd at SELEM is a mix of old timers and new enthusiasts, but we all share a common interest, and that's been more than enough to forge some very tight bonds within this community. I've been a member of several different communities over the years (former Navy "Nuc" Submariner, former Commodore Amiga computer enthusiast, former HAM radio operator, etc) but my closest, dearest friends are all SELEM veterans. That says a lot about this community.

    What are you up to? Still doing shows? I've noticed your very helpful PL posts and you've obviously been in 'the game' for a while.
    I'm flattered! To be honest, while lasers have been a life-long passion for me (literally since middle school), I didn't get into the commercial side of things until the early 2000's, and even then that was only as a "helper" for another company on a very part-time basis. (Like two or three times per year.) Eventually I discovered PhotonLexicon, and joining the community here definitely spurred me to get a lot more serious, but even so, commercial laser shows have never been anything more than a part-time side job for me. I didn't even have my own variance until 2012. (Which, ironically, was a year AFTER I obtained my laser safety officer certification from ILDA!) I've always identified as a hobbyist first, and a commercial laserist a distant second.

    That being said, I have been very fortunate to have been included in some interesting productions. When I was most active, I was doing maybe 6 or 7 shows per year, but right before Covid hit I had cut things back to just 2 or 3 shows per year. Like everyone else, all of my gigs dried up as of March, 2020. In fact, I finally had my first post-Covid show just last month, so that's a 2-year + dry spell. But as lasers were never meant to pay the mortgage, I managed OK. I still have my day job, and I'm actually still working from home for that one, which is great.

    I owe a debt to PhotonLexicon, as my participation in this community is largely responsible for me being offered the chance to participate in larger shows. (I'm sure SELEM also helped, but SELEM never would have happened without PhotonLexicon either.) My success is a testament to Rob's original commitment to creating a community where information is shared freely. I agree with that philosophy, which is why I spend so much time trying to help others. The cool thing is that I don't need to have all of the answers myself. Being "plugged in" to this community means I have a long list of people who are *way* smarter than I am when it comes to a wide range of topics, so more often than not I can just suggest that they reach out to so-and-so to get the information they need. But I also do my best to learn and retain the information posted here by others.

    Adam

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by buffo View Post
    LSX is some seriously powerful software, especially when it comes to the expression editor. I've stated before that it's possible to create a complete show using just a single frame consisting of a single point that is then washed through multiple effects and expressions to create a variety of beam, aerial, and abstract elements. But to do this requires a solid understanding of the math behind rose curves, and that's something I never mastered. At least with an analog console you don't need to understand the underlying math to create beautiful abstracts, right? (Although analog consoles have their own learning curves...)
    Yes, cmb's YT videos guided me through that process. My final tracks using LSX were basic waveforms, generated from vector dots and using idx formulas to manipulate sines, cos, ramps, etc. just to get away from an app that interfered more than helped with my creativity. Plotted 3D vector graphics vs real time playable visual music from a synth. Apples and oranges, my friend.
    Wireframe graphics can't compete with Disney/Lucas HR computer graphics and VR. The effort doesn't justify the visual impact, IMO. I watched lasershow audiences change from "Oooh! Look at that! I've never seen anything like that before. How do they do make it move to the music?" to "Meh, wireframe vector graphic. Let's go watch a 3D movie."
    The instant that 'realistic' imagery is produced, audiences only want more realism, like HR full scale moving holograms. But, visual music is no less entertaining than audible music that has predated humanity.
    Swamidog, gets it. So do you, with regards to promoting this welcoming forum. It's a better community because of your participation.
    Thank you for that.

    PhotonLexicon was created because Robert (Spec) was dismayed by how hard it was to learn about lasers and laser shows. As you pointed out, many of the old-school laserists were notoriously tight-lipped about their gear. No one wanted to share their knowledge; instead, they hoarded it, fearing that if they let it out, they'd lose their business.
    I seem to recall signing a non-disclosure agreement when Laser Images hired me. Ron Dahl once told me that Blue Oyster Cult's laser guy would hide from him, while cleaving optical fibers during their tour's setups.

    Sounds like your experiences with doing shows are very similar to mine. Out of mind while on tour, then reminding folks that we still exist until the next gig pops up. That's why I don't candy coat it as being a glamourous lifestyle nor an easy path to fame and fortune.

    we are our own worst critics,
    Exactly. At the moment, it's only about pursuing the artform I have never stopped loving. Following my passion and imagination, wherever it may lead. Keeping the ole gray matter active.


    Call me an optimist, but I'd like to think that getting feedback from others while in the process of building something is always a good plan. I'm a huge fan of leveraging the expertise of other people. That way I don't have to do everything myself! (My model for success: Fill a room with people who are smarter than you, then introduce an idea and see what they come up with.)
    Very true. That's why I've already reached out to key resources within the community (including the generous late Ed Keefe) and they have been very helpful. I'm more than happy to share with others, but need to satisfy my own standards and goals, first. Gotta be proud of whatever I present and keep the reputation up, don't I? lol
    Please stay tuned.


    I looked back at the CYGN-B thread, and that jogged my memory of your project. It seems that it's quite a bit further along than you implied earlier!
    Yes, gotta keep the project moving forward, 2 steps forward for every step backwards.
    It's coming along nicely and the Teensy MCU is performing far beyond my expectations.

    Admittedly though, it's also a bit over my head. Looking at the block diagram you posted is like trying to follow the signal path through a Z5, or a Radiator. I just don't have the intuitive grasp of that workflow yet. (Which is painfully evident whenever I start twiddling knobs on any abstract console...) That being said, I am working on it.
    OSCs are quadrature waveform oscillators feeding envelopes to collapse the waveforms during sudden image changes. There are 4 X/Y pairs of waveforms that are MIXed down into X & Y, just like musical instruments being combined inside a DJ's mixing desk. Use MULTipliers to add master AM, symmetry & size controls. It's all standard audio technology.

    TBH, I can't wrap my brain around the math beneath 3D vector array rotations. But, don't need to. "Everybody is somewhere".

    I'm sure the community would be equally interested to meet you. The crowd at SELEM is a mix of old timers and new enthusiasts, but we all share a common interest, and that's been more than enough to forge some very tight bonds within this community.
    Cool. I promise to show up when the time is right. But, are we not already forging mutual bonds, w/o SELEM, my newfound laser friend?

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheHermit View Post
    Wireframe graphics can't compete with Disney/Lucas HR computer graphics and VR. The effort doesn't justify the visual impact, IMO. I watched lasershow audiences change from "Oooh! Look at that! I've never seen anything like that before. How do they do make it move to the music?" to "Meh, wireframe vector graphic. Let's go watch a 3D movie."
    I agree that it's difficult for laser graphics shows to compete with film, to say nothing of Virtual Reality. These days you need to pick your audience. Some people still "get" lasers, and those are the ones we need to cater to, at least for any sort of show were the main focus is an image that is displayed on a screen.

    In contrast, I find that beam show audiences are often quite different. I think the demand for beams and aerial effects will always be with us, even as the demand for graphs shows seems to wane. But for the die-hard fans of laser graphics, there are still cool things that can be done to "wow" the crowd.

    That being said, there's a huge difference between the brilliantly animated stories that are found in some of the classic AVI shows of the past, compared to some of the stuff I've found on the Pangolin Show Portal where the laserist simply grabbed stock cues from the default frame library and pasted them together. (Guitar solo coming up? Time for the spinning guitar animation! You know the frames I'm talking about...)

    And before people call me a hypocrite, I admit that I'm guilty of making shows like that myself. Custom animation is *hard*, and I'll be the first to admit that I can't draw with a damn, so sometimes the default frame library is all you have. But if you want to stand apart from the crowd, custom frames and smooth animation is an effective way to do it.

    Fortunately, the renewed interest in abstracts has opened up another avenue for artists to create unique and compelling images, and this method doesn't require any drawing or animation ability. True, the ability to create good abstracts (especially on a console) has a learning curve of it's own, but it's different from learning how to draw. (At least in my experience.)

    Re: The Laser Business -
    I don't candy coat it as being a glamourous lifestyle nor an easy path to fame and fortune.
    I completely agree. There's a lot of hard work involved, and traveling long distances to do a show is never fun. If someone loves lasers and wants to get into the business so they love their job, that's fine, but I always warn them that after a while it's quite likely that the unsavory parts of the job will begin to outweigh the cool parts. And that's not even addressing the fact that it's difficult to make good money doing lasers. The Laser Effects Handbook had the perfect take on the subject. Chapter 2: "Can You Make Money Doing Laser Shows?" NO. (end of chapter)

    That's why I'm glad that I always kept things on a part-time basis. I never felt that I *needed* to take a gig, and as time wore on I found myself doing fewer shows per year. If I thought a gig was going to be more trouble that it was worth, I'd simply pass on the event and suggest a few other laserists to the client instead. But that also meant that the shows that I did take on were very memorable.

    I've already reached out to key resources within the community (including the generous late Ed Keefe) and they have been very helpful.
    Ed was a real treasure. His passing was a tragedy for everyone.

    are we not already forging mutual bonds, w/o SELEM, my newfound laser friend?
    Indeed we are! I stand corrected.

    Adam

  5. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by buffo View Post
    In contrast, I find that beam show audiences are often quite different. I think the demand for beams and aerial effects will always be with us, even as the demand for graphs shows seems to wane. But for the die-hard fans of laser graphics, there are still cool things that can be done to "wow" the crowd.
    Yes, I still enjoy good beam work... more commonly used as stage lighting, to accent and augment a main act. Laser art is as versatile as music. Different strokes for different strokes (and intent). Beam work? Good fog. Projected imagery? Bad fog.
    ... where the laserist simply grabbed stock cues from the default frame library and pasted them together. (Guitar solo coming up? Time for the spinning guitar animation! You know the frames I'm talking about...)
    Exactly, no brainer click on every beat. Look at that, look at this, look again, again, again. Beam zap sequences on the drum riffs. Mirror ball on the cymbal crash.

    And before people call me a hypocrite, I admit that I'm guilty of making shows like that myself. Custom animation is *hard*, and I'll be the first to admit that I can't draw with a damn, so sometimes the default frame library is all you have. But if you want to stand apart from the crowd, custom frames and smooth animation is an effective way to do it.
    Full disclosure, so have I, especially in discos. Did a tour with Cliff Richards, where the previous laser effect for "Ocean Deep" was a static flat scan from above the drummer across the front edge of the stage. During sound check, I added a vertical sine wave to the L&R handed pair and Cliff loved it. Then, I instructed him to use his legs to float up and down with the slowly moving waves. Doubt that it was the first, but it transformed that production number into a realistic ocean.

    Fortunately, the renewed interest in abstracts has opened up another avenue for artists to create unique and compelling images, and this method doesn't require any drawing or animation ability. True, the ability to create good abstracts (especially on a console) has a learning curve of it's own, but it's different from learning how to draw. (At least in my experience.)
    The awe of watching cycloids is the same phenomenal magic as listening to harmonic musical chords, not from forcing the beam to plot precise vectors. Analog (acoustical) musical instruments have evolved over millennia, but have always been playable to repetitive rhythms. IMO, laser synths should be intuitively playable instruments, no different than musical synths.
    The only people I know that want vector graphics are advertisers, who cater to the egos of corporate shareholders for advertising. So, those clients' $ became the focus, instead of dedication to artistic endeavors.
    That's my story, anyway... and yes. Just as guilty as the rest. We all need incomes.... until we retire and can do whatever we enjoy, just for the joy of it.

    The Laser Effects Handbook had the perfect take on the subject. Chapter 2: "Can You Make Money Doing Laser Shows?" NO. (end of chapter)
    Wish that book had been around before I foolishly went freelance from Laserium, on a foolish quest for greater fame and fortune touring with the pros, touring with R&R.
    I could fill out that chapter with all the details. lol

    I never felt that I *needed* to take a gig, and as time wore on I found myself doing fewer shows per year.
    Yup, I'm an old retired ex-laser whore, who got by on doing any gig, anywhere, for anyone. But, I've also done a few British Royal parties, 2 Bond films, to name a few memorable ones. How could I forget spending a week at Shepperton Studios, doing one of Maurice Binder's notorious opening title sequences with nude Bond models (ref Octopussy)?

    Nice chat, nice memories.
    Thanks!
    Last edited by TheHermit; 06-24-2022 at 09:00.

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