It’s a 21st century musical instrument, a piano for the age of the Jetsons. Jerry Riopelle, a recording artist and music producer for more than 25 years in the Valley, invented the HumanBeams laser music player, which creates music when the user simply interrupts a beam of harmless laser light.
Confronted by an array of six laser beams that are connected to a personal computer and sound system, the operator can use his hands — or any other part of the body — to create sophisticated musical arrangements in just about any genre — from classical to rock to hip hop to reggae to jazz.
With a music track playing in the background, the interrupted beams trigger the software to play different sets of sympathetic chords, melodies and rhythms to embellish the piece, resulting in a composition with virtually no bad notes.
“Instead of spending years learning how to play a guitar, you can make music instantly,” said Richard Andrade, general manager of Scottsdale-based HumanBeams, the company that has been formed to commercialize the technology. “It beaks down the barrier between man and music.”
Riopelle demonstrated the patented system Monday at the Emerging Technologies Expo at Arizona State University along with other locally developed technologies that have the potential to make an impact in the marketplace.
ASU is considering installing the system in common areas at the SkySong ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, giving true meaning to the name of the technology complex that will open next year at Scottsdale and McDowell roads.
“We are looking for funding for sculpture or some other interface that would incorporate the HumanBeam,” said Donald Couvillion, vice president of real estate and development for the ASU Foundation. “It is a unique way for people to interact with a building . . . It’s fun, and we want SkySong to be a fun place.”
The system has been installed at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where it is used for physical therapy.
But the company needs to raise several million dollars in venture capital or strategic partnerships to move the technology beyond prototypes and into retail stores, Andrade said.
His plan is to develop a version priced in the $400 to $500 range that could be plugged into a Windows desktop or laptop computer at home, and even nonmusicians could become instant rock stars.
“There has never been this easy an interface with a computer,” he said.
Once funding is found, the device could be available in the retail market within eight months, he said.
Arizona Technology Enterprises, a subsidiary of the ASU Foundation that provides services to start-up companies, is interested in helping Human-Beams bring the product to market because of its commercial possibilities, said CEO Peter Slate.
“It’s something to get a budding musician interested in music,” he said. “Also, there is a whole therapy area . . . It has an uplifting quality for a kid.”
• Examples of music created by the HumanBeam, including a New Year’s Eve concert performed by Jerry Riopelle, are available at