Pre-Multimedia: The Light Show

The first glimmer of multimedia spectacle was the light show, which originated in San Francisco during the early and mid-'60s hippie scene. As LSD was abundant and still legal in California in 1966, Ken Kesey and his followers took full advantage and traveled across the United States and Mexico conducting “acid tests,” advocating LSD as a mind-expanding tool. Early mixed-media events soon sprang out of this movement, creating an environment within music that would mimic and enhance the drug experience.

One of the most memorable, the Trips Festival, was held at the Longshoremen's Hall in San Francisco for three days in January 1966. Soon, Bay Area light shows began popping up all over, with trippy names like Garden of Delights, Head Lights, and Pacific Grass and Electric. The shows used overhead projectors, dishes, and colored oils to create bubbling, swirling images that seemed to ooze and pulsate on huge screens.

Ray Anderson, formally of the Holy See light show, now owner of Grooves Records on Market Street, says, “The idea was to creatively manipulate what you found in the dumpster and then juxtapose that with what pictures you shot of the band or what you might have shot when inspired by the music.

“We used about 15 to 20 projectors simultaneously in an evening. We used overhead projectors and color wheels, strobes, clock faces, and dishes in various sizes. We mixed dyes, liquids, and oils and manipulated them. We used as many as a dozen carousel slide projectors or other slide projectors and as many as five movie projectors that would run either reels or loops. We used everything; you really had to work the limit.

“We would have Polaroid cam-eras with transparency film. If one worked quickly, one could take a picture of the people in front of the bandstand and in two or three minutes get it down to the projector and on the screen.

“When we did shows at Winterland — those screens were just huge — we made the largest rear-screen projection in California out of waterbed plastic. Our source for equipment was the Army Surplus Store.

“In England, they would use a slide projector with a glass envelope filled with crushed artist oils and colors. Then they would put a curling iron underneath to make it bubble. Someone else I met, working again with the glass envelope, used laboratory staining dyes. He had half a dozen syringes in a case at the top and more syringes at the bottom. It pushed colors in the top and pulled them out the bottom.

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