MOSH laser shows illustrate the art of science and technology

Brett Jacobs explaining the technology behind MOSH's planetarium.
Brett Jacobs explaining the technology behind MOSH’s planetarium. Photo by DVI.

Brett Jacobs said his job is “the most fun job on the planet.”

Pun intended, no doubt.

As the planetarium manager at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) on Downtown’s Southbank, Jacobs’ role involves wearing many hats. But it’s the hat that combines art and technology that fits him more like a glove.

For several years, Jacobs has choreographed lasers, starfields, videos and photos into MOSH’s signature “Cosmic Concerts,” all set to soundtracks of popular music.

“Yes, it is artistic – it is an art form,” he said. “[But] you can’t just be an artist. You have to understand the technology.”

Every first Friday of the month, his work dances across MOSH’s state-of-the-art planetarium dome, which – fun facts ahead – is 60 feet in diameter and accommodates laser images that move 50,000 points a second. The Bryan-Gooding Planetarium is also the largest single-lens planetarium in the world, using the Konica Minolta Super MediaGlobe II – or in layman’s terms, a system that pumps out images four times sharper than the most advanced high-def TV.

Add 35,000 watts of music by the Beatles, Queen or, yes, even pop sensations to this 360-degree planetarium view, and you’ll feel the only thing missing is the Fab Five or Freddie themselves.

Jacobs said the process of developing a Cosmic Concert takes about two months, from soundtrack selection to the show’s debut. The process begins with deciding on a theme, musician or band to focus on and then choosing the songs. Like a traditional concert, there are a mix of high-energy and lower-tempo songs, culminating on the biggest hit of the chosen focus.

Photo provided by MOSH.
Photo provided by MOSH.

Once the soundtrack is set, Jacobs begins piecing together his show, from hand-drawing laser illustrations on a tablet to pulling stock laser images to researching related photos and video. He said he tries to incorporate both literal and abstract interpretations of songs’ lyrics in each concert.

“If it’s such a familiar song, why try to reinvent it,” he said. “Sometimes [the song illustrations] are so abstract, and sometimes there is a direct connection – or a combo of the two. Sometimes [the music] doesn’t require you to throw in the kitchen sink.”

This Friday at MOSH, you can see Jacobs’ work firsthand. Several Cosmic Concerts are available, and it’s a bargain – only $5 per person:

  • 7 p.m. – Jimmy Buffett
  • 8 p.m. – Laseropolis
  • 9 p.m. – Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon
  • 10 p.m. – Metallica

Meanwhile, while you’re checking out the show, Jacobs will be probably be formulating his next Cosmic Concert idea. The music buff and guitarist who studied science in college can’t wait for another chance to create art through music, technology and a high-tech planetarium at his disposal.

“I’m a music nut,” said Jacobs. “[My job] is total serendipity in every way, shape or form.”

Our guess is that pun was intended, too.