"Moonrock," an upbeat multimedia laser show that premiered at the Griffith Observatory on Saturday, showcases the latest techniques for combining computer graphics with laser light, while also revealing the limitations of such entertainments.
The Laserium shows began at the observatory in 1973 with programs consisting of loops of colored light revolving in time to rock songs. The technology has grown considerably more sophisticated in the last 14 years: For "Moonrock," the artists draw recognizable figures in lines of glowing color by reflecting laser beams off tiny, computer-controlled mirrors. These figures seem to move in three dimensions, gradually shrinking as they retreat into the starry dome of the planetarium.
The technique is most effective when used to create abstract figures, like the rectilinear pattern that continually redraws itself to the Rolling Stones' "2000 Light Years From Home," or the construction of turquoise loops that hop about to "Walking on the Moon" by the Police. The unique beauty of these non-objective shapes makes the attempts to produce recognizable images--like Neil Armstrong's footprints--look awkward and silly.
The most striking visuals in "Moonrock" are a series of rapidly spinning patterns that juxtapose wedges and rings of brilliant color with bands of deep black. (The intensity of the pure laser light gives the contrasting darkness an almost tangible presence.) As these images retreat, they seem to draw the viewer into a lengthening tunnel--an uncanny illusion that induces a mild sense of vertigo.