The Beamz system has been around for several years, mainly marketed in the USA as a controller for DJ’s and home musicians. Its UK debut was at the BETT Show in the late 2000’s, but it failed to catch the attention of more than a few people. It was relaunched at the BETT Show in 2013, with a selection of education resources, an iPad app and a new interface.
This review was written after a session using the equipment at the Dales School.
Essentially the Beamz is the Jean-Michele Jarre laser harp we all wanted as children. Four lasers are housed in the trident shaped controller which when interrupted can be used to trigger sounds in the supplied software. The controller is connected via USB to a PC or MAC, which supplies power and communicates with the software. A small switch on the back of the controller changes it from working only with the software (HID) to becoming a generic MIDI instrument.
You can also plug a USB-to-Bluetooth dongle into the Beamz controller, so that you can use it with an iPad app. In this configuration you still need to supply power to the Beamz via a USB power supply, somewhat negating the wireless aspect.
The Beamz was introduced to a group of children as part of a music making session involving acoustic and electronic instruments. Across a day it was used by those with the most profound needs through to much more able students.
As with all instruments this is not a controller that is suitable for everyone and it took a while before it was really embraced by any of the groups. The video below shows our first breakthrough. You can clearly see the young boy making piano fingering motions in the Beamz to trigger the piano sounds. He stays engaged with the unit for quite a long time.
Clamping the Beamz down is a must. You should also be aware that those beams are lasers (all be it low powered) and the gap between is easy to get a small curious head into.
Several versions of the Beamz controller exist, but the only difference is the included software and accessories. An ‘Education and Healthcare’ kit is targeted at the special needs market. This include a range of songs and a pdf booklet on methods of use.
Tobii also offer an eye gaze enabled version of the software, which has much larger on-screen targets. Unfortunately you have to opt for this version to begin with and there is currently no way to ‘upgrade’ the standard version.
An interesting instrument that can be used as a MIDI controller for other software. The included software is fun to get going but leaves little room for musical growth.
- Non-contact instrument requires no pressure to operate.
- Downloadable songs with precomposed elements mean little musical skill required.
- Operates as a MIDI controller with other software.
- Good co-ordination required to only break one beam.
- Included software offers no way to switch off the control buttons on the unit meaning curious fingers can end up changing software parameters.
- Light weight plastic construction can be bent easily causing false triggering when the lasers go out of alignment.
- Large to transport.
- Difficult to get own music into the system.
There are a range of packages available, all with different sound sets but with the same controller. Take some time to look through the different options and find the most cost effective solution.
If you’re use to technology we’d recommend picking up the MIDI version from Amazon when it’s on offer.
Also look to invest in a case if you are going to transport it around.