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Liquid light shows or psychedelic light shows surfaced in the mid 1960s and early 1970s in America and Europe.Leading names were Glen McKay’s Headlights (Jefferson Airplane's usual light show) The Joshua Light Show/Joe's Lights/Sensefex located in NY), Elias Romero (SF), Mike Leonard (lights for Pink Floyd) (UK) , Mark Boyle's Lights/Joan Hill (UK) , Lymbic System (Mark Hanau) (UK) , The Pig Light Show (NY),, Lights by Pablo (NY), The Brotherhood of Light (SF) , Little Princess 109 (SF) , LSD , Abercrombe Lights (SF), and the Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show. (California)

Brief history

Liquid light shows surfaced on both sides of the Atlantic around 1966 and were an integral part of the Progressive music scene well into the seventies. Shows could be as simple as a single operator and two or three modified slide or overhead projectors and a couple of color wheels or as complex as shows with ten or more operators, 70 plus projectors (including liquid slide, liquid overhead, movie and still image models plus a vast array of highly advanced (for the time) special effects equipment).

The style and content of each show was unique but the object of most was to create a tapestry of multimedia live event visual amplification elements that were seamlessly interwoven, in a constant state of flux and above all, reflected the music the show was attempting to depict in emotional visual terms.

While the shows on both side of the Atlantic had much in common they differed in two important ways. First, the American shows tended to be larger, with seven operators and over thirty projectors not being exceptional. In contrast, the shows in England seldom had more than three operators and ten or so projectors. Second, American shows were generally built around the overhead projector with the liquids in large clock cover glasses. Shows in England and Europe, in contrast, used modified 2" sq. slide projectors which had their Woods glass heat filters (one or both) removed and employed two layers of slide cover glasses with two liquids (oil and water based, in the early days) between each layer. The surface tension of the liquids largely retained the mixtures, but the process was nevertheless very messy indeed and operators had their hands almost permanently stained by the dyes.

Two groups that are associated with the light shows they worked with above all others are Jefferson Airplane and the Headlights light show in America and Pink Floyd with light artist Mike Leonard in England.

Leading shows

Glenn McKay's Headlights' staged "An Evening with Glenn McKay's Headlights" at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1968, after a curator saw his show at the Fillmore Eastmarker. Headlights was one of the largest and most complex light shows and is remembered for the countless shows it performed with Jefferson Airplane. McKay was born in Kansas City in 1936 to a minister's household, attended Kansas City Junior College and the Kansas City Art Institute, and then went to live and paint San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in the early 60's. He is quoted as saying "I’m providing a new door to the consciousness of sound and color to be so in touch with the emotion and the rhythm of the experience losing any sense of separation between the color, moving images and the sound".Glenn McKay creates luminous projected images, a.k.a. light shows, and has been doing this for four decades, starting with Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, then at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and in 1999 with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is also a successful painter and photographer.

Mike Leonard (UK) was the renowned designer of the light shows and lighting effects for Pink Floyd.

The Joshua Light Show (also known as Joe's Lights and Sensefex) located in New York was founded by a film maker called Joshua White.The show was the ‘house lightshow’ at Bill Graham 's Fillmore Eastmarker for almost its entire existence. Formed from a lighting company called Sensefex which had been started by Joshua White, Thomas Shoesmith and Bill Shwarzbach, they moved to the Fillmore and became the Joshua Lightshow. Cecily Hoyt had now joined the team. Later they changed their name to Joes Lights having parted company with Joshua White. A video of Joshua White at work showing how some of the effects were achieved can be found here.

Brotherhood Of Light (SF) was formed in 1968 as a collective group of lighting and multimedia specialists. Brian Eppes, Brother Ed Langdon, Marcus Maximist and Bob Pullum gathered for the purpose of visually enhancing and augmenting the psychedelic music of the day. Unlike standard stage lighting, which was generally static and non-interactive, Brotherhood Of Light utilized liquid dyes, overhead projectors, color wheels, slide projection and 16mm film to produce not just a light show, but a live multi-sensory musical experience. The show performed at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom and Fillmore Westmarker with such classic acts as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Doors,Led Zeppelin, Traffic, Ike and Tina Turner, B.B. King, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Janis Joplin, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Santana, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. On a typical night in 1970 you could see, The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac and John Hammond with Brotherhood Of Light providing visuals for all three bands or on a night later that year,Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and Van Morrison. They also performed at the Grateful Dead New Year's Eve shows at Winterland.

Mark Boyle (light show). United Kingdom. Personnel:Mark Boyle, Joan Hills, Des Bonner, Cameron Hills. Born in Glasgow in 1934, Mark was already producing art in many forms such as paintings, installations and sculptures and had many exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London prior to getting involved with light shows. In 1966, Mark Boyle's, the Son et Lumeniere for Earth, Air, Fire and Water ran at the Cochrane Theatre, London, closely followed by the Son et Lumeniere for Insects, Reptiles and Water Creatures and the Son et Lumeniere for Bodily Fluids and Functions. These events were ground breaking in respect of projected lighting and consisted of chemical and physical reactions projected onto a screen whilst being surrounded by various taped sounds.

Elements of this lightshow evolved and performances were made at the legendary UFO Club in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Later that year he formed the Sensual Laboratory with Joan Hills, who would later become his wife. In 1967 the first of many collaborations started with The Soft Machine, with shows at the Edinburgh Festival and also in Holland and France. Also in 1967 Liquid Light Environments ran at the UFO throughout the year. During 1967 Mark invented and patented a machine with a light sensitive screen that could do three colour separation on anything that was projected onto it and turn it into sounds, i.e. one colour would create one type of sound and another colour would create a totally different sound. Concerts with The Soft Machine followed in Holland and again in France as well as work on the Structure of Dreams at the Arts Lab, London.

In 1968, the Sensual Laboratory toured in the USA and Canada with The Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix as well as staging a controversial production at London’s Roundhouse ‘Bodily Fluids and Functions. This consisted of a couple copulating on stage whilst being wired up to ECG and EEG which were projected from closed circuit TV onto a huge screen. With heartbeats and brainwaves on display, every second of the experience was shared by the audience. Also in 1968 was the Liquid Light Environment produced for the opening of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Artsmarker) in London.

The Pig Light Show (Saint Elmo’s Fire) started by Marc L. Rubinstein in 1965 as Saint Elmo’s Fire. The name was changed after (in his own words) "a strange episode having to do with a Mothers of Invention concert at the Garrick Theatre in the Village", which resulted in Marc being given the local nickname "Pig", and the light show was known as Pig’s Light Show.

The first Pig Light Show was at the Fillmore Eastmarker under the direction of Marc L. Rubinstein” with Larry Wieder on reflectives, Patrick Waters on liquids, Mark Miller at the controls and in charge of slides. Later they were joined (for a while) by, Joe Lipton and Marvin Chanes, who had had a show called London Lights.

The Single Wing Turquoise Bird lightshow troupe worked in Los Angeles and Venice, California.Famous for their wide screen lightshows at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles in 1967 and 1968, and later for their series of evocative multimedia performances at various venues, most notably in the Cumberland Mountain Film Company studio in the loft above the Fox Venice Theatre, 1970 - 1975.They did lightshows for The Chambers Brothers, Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Pacific Gas & Electric, Steve Miller Band, Taj Mahalmarker, Dr. John, Sons of Champlin, BB King, The Yardbirds, Pinnacle, Traffic, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Elias Romero light shows featured Elias Romero and Ray Andersen (who was also the manager of The Matrix at the time). Although he never went on to work the ballrooms, Romero was a long-time "light artist" with his own distinct approach utilising a unique, all-liquid show. Famous shows include the 9 March 1966 Big Brother and the Holding Company show at the Firehouse, 3763 Sacramento Street, San Francisco.

Lights by Pablo are best remembered for the Liberation News Service Benefit at the Hotel Diplomat in NYC in May 1969. The concert featured the MC5 (Motor City Five).

Little Princess 109 became the house light show for Bill Graham Presents in 1968. Little Princess 109 worked at Fillmore West and Winterland continuously from December 1968 until Fillmore West closed in July 1971. According to the records of the Bill Graham Presents archives, they worked for Graham longer than any other light show, and performed more nights of light than any show for the entire Fillmore/Fillmore West/Winterland period.

Light Sound Dimension (LSD) was possibly the first psychedelic lightshow and was operated by the legendary Bill Ham.Bill pioneered kinetic lighting and actually used this technique at the Red Dog Saloon back in 1965. It was also at the Red Dog Saloon where Chet Helms first met Bill and asked him to produce lightshows at the Avalon Ballroom.

Abercrombe Lights were formed in 1966 and did many shows at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium. The man behind it all is George Holden, who is still very much a key player on the Bay Area lighting scene. Abercrombe Lights lit most of the SF bands over the years including the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish and Jefferson Starship.

See also


  1. Video of liquid light show.
  2. Glen McKay.
  3. The Garden: Ahuka's Choice: Volume 3
  4. Mike Leonard video.
  5. Marc Boyle Light Show.
  6. Arts | Tripping the lights
  7. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Optikinetics)
  8. The Pig Light show.'s%20Pages/Welcome.html
  9. Pig Light Show gallery.
  10. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Brotherhood Of Light)
  11. pOoTer's pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Little Princess 109)
  12. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Bill Ham)
  13. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Abercrombe)
  14. Light Shows.
  15. The Single Wing Turquoise Bird
  16. pOoTer's pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Single Wing Turquoise Bird)
  17. Mike Leonard video.
  18. Glenn McKay: About the Artist
  19. Video clip showing how some of the effects were created.
  20. Welcome
  21. Firehouse
  22. MC5 concert posters
  23. pOoTer's pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Little Princess 109)
  24. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Bill Ham)
  25. pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK - Lightshows (Abercrombe)

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