History of the First Multi-Color Laser Light Shows:
x–y scanning, z–axis modulation, diffraction/refraction, and electronic music

The Laser Systems

1968 | 1969 |
1970 | 1971 | 1973 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1979 |
1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1987

LC meets Professor Carson D. Jeffries (1922–1995), renowned physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, and an innovative builder of kinetic sculptures. LC tells CDJ about his plans for a multi-color x-y laser projection system using a krypton laser and mirror galvanometers, which CDJ greets with enthusiasm. CDJ and LC design a projector and start assembling components borrowed from high-tech firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. CDJ machines custom mounting apparatus in his home sculpture studio in the Berkeley hills.

Lowell Cross and David Tudor setting up for the first laser light show.
May 9
LC, CDJ, and DT perform at Mills College Audio/Video/Laser, the first public multi-color laser light show with x-y scanning and electronic music. CDJ and LC decide to name their x-y laser deflection system VIDEO/LASER (= VIDEO/LASER I), the first of its kind. Not long before this event, the Mills College administrators notify A.J. Gnazzo and LC (in that order) that their respective employments will be terminated effective 1969 June 30.


Video II (L)
With DT’s support, LC and CDJ receive a commission from E.A.T. to build an improved multi-color laser light show for the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion at Expo ’70, Osaka, Japan. CDJ and LC complete the system, VIDEO/LASER II, in December.

LC installs VIDEO/LASER II in the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion at Expo ’70 (CDJ is unable to attend). Expo ’70 is open March 15–September 15; 2,000,000 individuals visit the Pavilion during this time frame. Nora Cross arrives on March 13 in time to attend the opening on March 15.

Unfortunately, the Pepsi-Cola officials do not acquire an adequate understanding of the role of artist-engineer collaborations, or the innovative concepts of the art/technology installation, or the proper maintenance of the sophisticated equipment. One example was the gradual demise of VIDEO/LASER II, for the simple reason that no one affiliated with Pepsi-Cola is able to maintain it, despite LC’s careful instructions.

J. Wilhelm “Billy” Klüver (1927-2004), President of E.A.T., wrote: “On April 25 [1970], at the request of Pepsi-Cola, E.A.T. turned over the programming, operations, and maintenance of the Pavilion to Pepsi-Cola, Japan.” (Klüver, Martin, and Rose, eds., Pavilion, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972, p. xiv.) After the close of Expo ’70, the Pavilion and its installations are dismantled.
[Brief return to Video activities] Nora and Lowell Cross travel to India, with stops in Hong Kong and Bangkok. LC is invited to be a consultant and to train staff at the first electronic music studio in India, installed in the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (NID). Initially using an oscilloscope, LC demonstrates Video II (B) to the staff and to members of the wealthy Sarabhai family, patrons of NID, our hosts, and owners of textile mills and other enterprises, including Telerad, a television manufacturer. LC converts a 23-inch monochrome Telerad TV receiver for x-y display for additional demonstrations.

The interest on the part of the Sarabhais to have a color TV receiver converted for x-y operation did not materialize; a Philips unit (rare indeed in India in 1970) arrived damaged in Delhi. Nevertheless, the Sarabhais propose the marketing of TV sets with x-y display capabilities for music entertainment, utilizing pre-wired audio inputs. Many areas of India in 1970 did not have television broadcasting, and those that did had limited hours of programming. The plan never comes to fruition. Nora and Lowell Cross return to Oakland, CA, after having traveled around the globe.
November 19
Karen Cross is born.
February / June
LC is invited for an interview at The University of Iowa by faculty members in the School of Music, including Professor William Hibbard (1939–1989), Director of the Center for New Performing Arts (CNPA). LC is offered an appointment to establish and direct the Recording Studios in the almost-finished facilities for music (Music Building, Clapp Recital Hall, and Hancher Auditorium), and significantly, to build a new laser performance system under the auspices of the CNPA. Nora, Karen, and Lowell Cross move to Iowa City in June.
UI School of Music

UI School of Music facilities.
1971, autumn–1972, autumn
The CNPA orders the components for VIDEO/LASER III, including scanners, choppers, front-surface mirrors, a direct-vision prism, etc., and a Coherent Radiation 52G (CR-MG) mixed-gas argon-krypton ion laser. The CNPA commissions CDJ to build the custom-machined optical positioning system for VIDEO/LASER III in his home sculpture studio in Berkeley; LC supervises the design and construction of the 12-channel deflection/modulation amplifier, building much of it in his studios in the Music Building and at home in Iowa City. Kenneth Baker, technician for the UI electronic music studios, assists in the component interface and wiring of the amplifier. LC also completes the initial installation of the Recording Studios for the School of Music.

Electro-Acustica setup.
November 29
The première of VIDEO/LASER III with LC’s Electro-Acoustica for soloists, electronic music, symphony orchestra, and laser projections, during the opening season of Hancher Auditorium on the UI campus. William Hibbard conducts the orchestra; CDJ assists LC in the setup and performance of the laser projections.

Performances with VIDEO/LASER III at Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, 1973 February 16; Municipal Art Gallery, Davenport, IA, 1973 April 6–7; University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL, 1974 April 11; and several times on The University of Iowa campus.
March 25
Gregory Cross is born.
Prometheus Program

Prometheus Program from UI performance
September 24
Performance and encore (to accommodate crowd of over 4,200) of Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, The Poem of Fire (composed 1909–1910) take place with The University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra and Kantorei; James Dixon, conductor; James Avery, pianist; with LC’s realization of the “Luce” part in Scriabin’s score utilizing VIDEO/LASER III, takes place in Hancher Auditorium (seating capacity, 2,500).

Faubion Bowers (1917–1999), English-language biographer of Scriabin, attends the dress rehearsal and performances. He writes a glowing review in High Fidelity / Musical America (January 1976, pp. MA-20–MA-21).


UI performance of Prometheus
Franklin Miller’s film commemorating the event is first shown in Hancher Auditorium, 1976 March 21, and subsequently broadcast on the CBS Television Network (“Camera Three,” hosted by Faubion Bowers, 1976 July 11). Later television broadcasts are presented by WDR (Germany), NOS (The Netherlands) and USSR State Television (Moscow).

México. Daily performances of LC’s Laser Environments at IV Festival Internacional Cervantino, Guanajuato, 2-15 May (partly in collaboration with CDJ), and La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F., 21-23 May (partly in collaboration with DT); Joel Carl, assistant.
Germany. Presentations of Free Spectral Range IV (a collaboration by LC, DT, & CDJ), performed by LC and DT at the 1977 World Music Days Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), Bonn, 14, 16, & 17 May; Joel Carl, assistant.
February 28–March 1
Performances and videotaping of Laser Concert (another collaboration by LC, DT, & CDJ) by LC and DT at “Xenon” (a disco in NY, NY), a benefit for Artists for New York and The Institute for Art and Urban Resources.
Additional performances of Scriabin’s Prometheus with LC and VIDEO/LASER III:
  • Tucson (AZ) Symphony, George Trautwein, conductor; James Avery, pianist; 1979 January 11-12;
  • Tri-City (now Quad-City) Symphony Orchestra, James Dixon, conductor; James Avery, pianist; 1980 January 25, 26, & 27, Rock Island, IL;
  • University of Missouri Philharmonic, Hugo Vianello, conductor; Janice Wenger, pianist; 1980 April 20, Columbia, MO;
  • Louisiana State University Symphony Orchestra, James Yestadt, conductor; Nancy Saxon, pianist; 1981 November 21, Baton Rouge, LA.
LC installs VIDEO/LASER IV, a commission to LC and The University of Iowa from The Adler Planetarium, Chicago, in the Planetarium’s large Sky Theatre (the venue of all major shows). Construction of this six-beam system takes place in the Medical Instruments machine shop (Jerry Swails, engineer) and in the Music Building (LC, supervisor; Peter Elsea, electronic technician) on the University campus in 1979–1980. The commission for VIDEO/LASER IV commemorates the 50th anniversary year of The Adler Planetarium (2005 update: VIDEO/LASER IV is now dismantled).
Six Color Laser

A grant from the University of Iowa Foundation allows the conversion of VIDEO/LASER III to six-beam operation. Jerry Swails machines the new components in the Medical Instruments machine shop, following CDJ’s 1969–1972 innovations; Stephen Julstrom (audio engineer, UI School of Music) improves the existing scanner/chopper amplifier circuitry; Michael Babcock (graduate student in music) builds two additional scanner/chopper amplifiers with four channels, utilizing Julstrom’s latest designs.
Tour in Italy and Austria. LC and DT perform Laser Concert with the six-beam VIDEO/LASER III at “La Biennale,” Venice, 29 August; “Massenzio Musica” at the ancient Roman Forum, Rome, 3-4 September; and “Ars Electronica,” Das International Brucknerfest, Linz, 10 September; Stephen Julstrom, engineer and assistant. End of the Lowell Cross - David Tudor collaborations.

Performances of LC’s Laser Events I, II, & III (electronic music with multi-color projections from the six-beam VIDEO/LASER III). Laser Event I, Clapp Recital Hall, The University of Iowa, 1981 November 30; Laser Event II, The Adler Planetarium (for the New Music America Festival), Chicago, 1982 July 9-10; Laser Event III, Nauvoo, IL (outdoors at night), 1983 August 4.
Laser Triangle

Chicago Laser Triangle
June 29–July 1
Chicago Laser Triangle. A feasibility study for creating an environmental laser-beam triangle over Chicago at night, interconnecting the tops of the city’s three tallest buildings: Sears Tower, Hancock Center, and Aon Center (formerly Standard Oil Building). The experiment makes use of a high-power argon laser to send a brilliant blue-green beam from the Sears Tower to the Hancock Center on 30 June, and to the Aon Center on 1 July. Airline pilots approaching O’Hare International Airport comment upon the spectacle. LC proposes that the Triangle, with a total of at least six high-power argon lasers, could be a featured installation for the 1992 Chicago World Exhibition, but that World’s Fair is cancelled owing to funding problems.
Carnegie Program

Prometheus Program from Carnegie Hall performance
Performances of Scriabin’s Prometheus, featuring LC’s realization of the “Luce” part utilizing the six-beam VIDEO/LASER III, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Sergiu Comissiona, conductor; Jeffrey Chappell, pianist; in Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, 10-11 March; and in Carnegie Hall, New York, 12 March.

May 8
Performance of LC’s Laser Space (electronic music in 4-channel surround-sound with multi-color laser projections). Hancher Auditorium, The University of Iowa, the last public performance before a large audience utilizing the six-beam VIDEO/LASER III.