I think the last time I went to one was also my first time. It was around 1998 and looking back laser shows were probably already dated when I got around to checking them out. All I can recall of that first experience were extremely basic cartoons that seemed to quiver uncomfortably accompanied by flashing images of items like guitars and musical notes. It wasn't very good... but I don't recall the music that was played with it being very good either, so when I saw that there was a laser show at Seattle's Pacific Science Center that would be animating Tool's seminal album Aenima it seemed like a good time to re-visit this unlikely art form.
The technological shift that has occurred since 1998 is one of the most remarkable since the Industrial Revolution, computers have moved from large, clunky luxury items reserved for big business and the wealthy to things that everybody now casually has in their pockets and devices that were cutting edge in my youth are now archaic novelties. We are living in the future and I naturally wondered if laser shows had been swept up in all the advancements. You'd assume that there must have been improvements, right? It can't still be a series of twitching stick figures rocking out, imposed on someone else's music...
Good news, it's not... at least not at the Pacific Science Center. Laser shows don't seem to have made the same monumental leaps as some of their fellow technologies but there have been significant improvements. The era of basic representational simplicity is over and this show's designers (a team with the following stage names: JoJo, Ziggy, Lazar Wolf, and OB-1) have created something far more engaging...
You sit down, look up, the lights darken, and the laser show begins. Simple imagery develops into something more involved with the rhythms of the music, occasionally exploding into moments where the song and visuals meet in a sweet spot of intense unity. It's fun. It has its limitations but it's still thoroughly enjoyable. One of the remaining vestigial organs of the older laser shows is the more representational work. While this show's animation is certainly more involved from what I remember from that first show I saw in '98 it still seems like a hurdle that may be too high for the medium to completely jump. The strongest moments are those involving building patterns that can induce a hypnotic spell as the laser dome pulses into a cross between a starry night sky seen on psychedelics and an animated computer screen-saver circa 2001. The experience is particularly effective when they successfully create dimensions of depth through the use of stage smoke that captures a lower field of rolling beams shoot across the audience as the main stage patterns form on the ceiling above. Those are the moments that are easiest to get lost in and where you don't have to chase the trip but can just relax and expand into it.
I'm not sure if the same design team will be involved with future laser shows at the Pacific Science Center but if the upcoming presentations share this one's quality and apparent level of dedication then it's well-worth the novelty of the experience. While it's too late to catch Laser Tool (which wrapped this past weekend) Laser Bowie starts next month and if you like David Bowie then listening to his music on a solid sound system complimented with the visuals of a laser show leaves plenty of room for the imagination to flourish.
...and if you don't like David Bowie then you should reconsider every decision you've made in your life.
For more information visit: https://www.pacificsciencecenter.org/laser-dome/?package_id=9495