Revisiting the Old-School Planetarium Laser Show

Years ago, music fans would get stoned and/or drunk and head to the local planetarium on a Friday or Saturday night to watch as some laser specialist projected weird patterns on the dome to a rock’n’roll soundtrack turned up to 11.

I went to many such shows at the Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg, which boasted of its high-end Fostex sound system and its state-of-the-art Zeiss starfield projector. Laser Floyd, a show choreographed to the music of Pink Floyd, was a big favourite–especially when the program got to “Welcome to the Machine” and “One of These Days.”

I have no idea if anyone still stages these things and if they do, I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as cool as I seem to remember them. Still, it was an interesting use of science and technology for its day–and it was a way to lure stoners into a museum where they might, you know, learn something.

If you want to see what it was like. Boing Boing posted this Laserium film.

UPDATE: I received this email from Craig McCaw, a guy who was intimately involved in those old laser shows.

Hi Alan,

Wow it’s great to see someone that remembers those early days of Planetarium laser shows, and the vintage video of Laserium at the Griffith Planetarium is a real gem. Ivan Dryer is an old pal and it’s amazing to see him looking so young. Laserium made 6 million (1979) dollars in the first three years of operations, and lost it all a few years later through a bad manager…ahh the music business.

I use to visit Winnipeg occasionally in the days when Audio Visual Imagineering ran the shows at the Winnipeg Planetarium. Doug and Joanne are longtime acquaintances. I and my old Poppy Family band mate Terry Jacks both hail from Winnipeg and we toured through there many years ago. Frank Shinn was the Planetarium Director there.

Our company ran the Laser and Light Shows at the Macmillan Planetarium in Vancouver non stop for 30 years, running everyone from Rachmaninoff to Radiohead, Pink Floyd to Pearl Jam. Having done years of Planetarium Astronomy show production we liked to shoot and use panoramic abstract and real world environments mixed with the lasers.

After a 3 year tech. development break we have designed a new multi camera 360 video shooting and projection system, designed RGB diode laser projector technology,  refurbished an existing Planetarium at BCIT, and have returned to operations here in Vancouver again. We had to start with VidLaser Dark Side Of The Moon of course, and are in now production on a VidLaser Gorillaz show.

If you ever make it out to Vancouver please let us know, we’d love to comp you and some friends into the shows.

Thanks for writing such a great piece!

All the best,

Craig McCaw
Roundhouse Productions Inc

Craig F. McCaw


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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