There is usually at least one completely out-there “what exactly is that” instrument at NAMM, and this year that was the SpaceHarp.
It is visually unique, looking a bit like something off the original Star Trek or other early science fiction. Each of the circles contains multiple optical and sonic sensors which respond when the performer moves and blocks the light from above. The input from the sensor arrays is converted to MIDI for controlling an external synthesizer. I’m not exactly sure what the large illuminated crystal does, but it adds the classic science-fiction quality of the instrument.
I did make an attempt to play the SpaceHarp.
It was fun, though not quite as easy to control as the description suggests. Given all the degrees of freedom, it was quite different from a theremin (even an optical theremin) in the way one interacts with it.
At a technical and visual level, the SpaceHarp was interesting. While it didn’t come across as a “must have” for me, I can see others finding this a useful and creative tool for live performance. The tendency towards New-Age hyperbole in their product literature was a bit of a turn-off, suggesting a different target audience. But perhaps it just needs another chance with some harsher and more abstract sounds, like from one of the many analog modules at this year’s show.