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Monday, May 13, 2019

Sky Lights

From the Vault Dept.: It was pretty cutting-edge when I wrote about this melding of music and lights at the Schenectady Museum and Planetarium in 1987. Everything has moved on since then – including Raytel founder Alan Jackson, who co-founded an outfit called Voxon that’s exploring 3D volumetric display.


YOU SIT BACK AND OBSERVE the stars of a clear, dark night. The throb of music begins: drums, twangs and vocal of a Pink Floyd number. A red beam of light hits that sky, wiggles, expands to a shimmering beam, forms the pattern of a singing face. Behind it a mosaic of iridescent green winks in a changing geometry, a spider-web twisting to the beat.

The sky is the inside dome of the Schenectady Museum Planetarium; the lights are the lasers of Raytel, a Troy-based company presenting a new Visual Music Festival at the Museum on Nott Terrace Heights at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, and continuing through the following weekend.

Alan Jackson, founder (and licensed laserist) of the company, began building robots when he was a child. “In 1976,” he says, “I was getting interested in building computers. At the same time I saw a laser show and decided that was what I wanted to do.”

He has combined his talents into the design and construction of the units that form the basis of shows that have been presented throughout New England and as far away as Arizona and Oregon.

Partner Roger Savoy joined the company four years ago to put a background in marketing to work for it; he also assists in the construction and design of the programs.

“The principle of moving the lights around is similar to an Etch-a-Sketch,” he explains, demonstrating on that very item. “One knob controls horizontal movement, the other vertical.”

Jackson demonstrates further using a script he devised for the educational programs Raytel performs. “We're moving a dot of light from one point to another. When you do it several hundred times a second, you trick the eye into seeing a continuous line of light.”

The lights are used in combination with a selection of popular songs, illustrating the lyrics sometimes by visual interpretations of scenes or singing faces, sometimes by an abstract dance of colors.

Although the company began performing in planetariums, it has branched out to a number of other venues, including many corporate displays. Locally, Raytel provided the laser presence of Tinker Bell in a recent performance of “Peter Pan” at Proctor's Theatre; they also were called upon to provide laser lights for a fashion show held recently in Albany, creatively highlighting jewels and accessories.

From its very modest start 11 years ago, Raytel has grown to an inventory of many thousands of dollars' worth of equipment, almost all of it built by Jackson and Savoy. “You just can't go out and buy a laser projector,” Savoy explains. “There just isn't this technology on the market. Anyway, the banks regard us as entertainers, so we'd be a very high risk for them.”

He counts 15 to 20 companies in the country engaged in a similar occupation, “although most branch out into other areas of entertainment as well,” he says.

Continuing Raytel's emphasis on the use of light will be exploration of three-dimensional representations, including the use of another recent science, holography.

“When this show in Schenectady ends,” says Jackson, “we're going to spend a month working on new graphics, using some new computer equipment. It's going to be very exciting – like nothing you've ever seen before.”

The Visual Music Festival also will be performed at 2:30, 3:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; the schedule is repeated Nov. 20, 21 and 22.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 12 November 1987

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