Origins IV: The 1960s


Did you know? is an out of the box column with different surprising stories, to share knowledge around all the video mapping influences! For this fourth article, HeavyM has selected for you original inventions and concepts of pioneers, looking for a communion between light and sound.


In the 1960’s, the United States and the United Kingdom spread their socio-cultural model in the world : on the one hand, the American Way Of Life and, on the other hand, the counter-culture and the hippie movement. The counter-culture sets a fertile ground up for different forms of entertainments: some shows with new light effects and sound vibrations, with themes such as love, hedonism, brotherhood, harmony with nature, community life and personal fulfillment. An alternative way of life, boosted by psychotropic drugs, arises mainly in New York, San Francisco and London, very first counter-culture centers.


Peace symbol


Psychedelism appears in this context. It’s an artistic movement based on the correlations between the senses and psychic activities, seeking the plenitude in audiovisual experiences. Psychedelism leads to the birth of a liberating music combined with a new visual language: the liquid light show.

Liquid Light Shows are the first shows where light art is combined with folk / rock music and avant-garde performances. Like emotional visuals, theses shows are based on an optical amplification principle: a mosaic of elements evolves (graphics and live), perfectly interwoven, constantly flowing with the music. The material can be very basic (some colored oils in clock dials) or very sophisticated with operators, film and slides projectors, color wheels, liquid inks, glass crystals …

Let’s have a look at the artists who invented these mesmerizing shows to accompany the greatest bands of the 60’s such as Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Santana, The Grateful Dead , The Velvet Underground …



Poster for one of the first Liquid Light Show of psychedelic rock Bill Ham, Liquid Sound Dimension, 1965, Fillmore East, New York



> Marc L. Rubinstein, the visual composer

This musician wanted to distinguish his rock group from others and designed his own lighting: light boxes with a few coloured spots, controlled by dimmers and switches panel to create flashing light. In 1965, at Fillmore East New York, he produces his first show, The Pig Light Show. The success is so important that from now on, he will be moreworking for the popular bands than for his own!


Poco on stage

Poco on stage and Pig Light Show. Source


> Glenn McKay, the artist of light

This abstract expressionist painter is quickly inspired by colored liquid light projections. He wants to splash the scenes of San Francisco to the rhythm of live rock’n’roll: “I saw that I could paint with the light bigger than I would ever do on a canvas. I can experience everything and the work is totally scalable”. He has interpreted his light paintings – a thrilling landscape of ever-changing shapes and colors – as a visual accompaniment to the best-known rock songs.


Jefferson Airplane, We can be together/volunteers, 19/08/69


> Bill Ham, Abstract Kinetic Expressionist

After a Fine Arts degree, he spent 5 years in San Francisco, experimenting in his studio all kinds of techniques where he eventually integrated light and electricity. Pioneer of kinetic lighting, he built a wall of lights programmed to work endlessly. In 1965, this piece, called Liquid Light Dimension, enters at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia, Nevada, to perform the first rock’n’roll show of psychedelic light.


The Charlatan’s 50th Anniversary with Bill Ham Light Show at the Red Dog Saloon, 06/21/ 2015


> Joshua White, pioneer of the psychedelic experience

He studied electrical engineering, theatrical lighting, magic lantern technique and film production. The Joshua Light Show is based on four fundamentals: pure color projection, concrete imagery, various color effects and shaping of light. Well-known for its unique psychedelic, interactive and multi-sensory art, this show has been the most famous rock performances backdrop. Joshua created, for the first time, a real stage lighting and not only a light show. Get to know him in this interview


Filmore East Shots, courtesy Joshua Light Show




The counterculture in London is embodied by the UK’s Underground movement, gathered in Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill. Psychedelic British shows are featured with a powerful graphic identity and very focused on technical innovation, thanks to complex tools, lenses and high-performance prisms.


> Mark Boyle & Joan Hills, The Sensual Laboratory

In 1966, at Cochrane Theater, they present Sound and Light for Earth, Air, Fire and Water. A revolutionary lighting show : on the screen, an impressive number of chemical and physical reactions surrounded by various recorded sounds.

Improvements are quickly made: Mark creates with Joan (who will become his wife) The Sensual Laboratory and the musical collaborations are coming one after the other. In 1967, Mark patented a machine with a sensitive screen to divide three colors on any projection surface and turn the light into sound.


Earth, Air, Fire and Water, Mark Boyle & Joan Hills

Reconstruction for Warsaw “Rewolucje 1968” Exhibition, Zacheta, 2008


> Mike Leonard, the architect of light

He is an Art and Architecture Professor at Polytechnic School and hosts for a while the dawning Pink Floyd group. Mike Leonard is experimenting a lighting system synchronized with music, projecting moving shapes, future symbols of Pink Floyd ’s image and characteristic of the psychedelic scene in the United Kingdom. While the teacher manufactures light projection machines with sophisticated assemblies, the students play their instruments and get inspired from the forms displayed on the walls to, later on, conceive new sound effects. When image is the muse of music…


Pink Floyd Instrumental Improvisation, Liquid Light Show Mike Leonard, 1967


Light Fantastic, documentary with Mike Leonard, 1968


Let’s conclude this episode with the 50th anniversary of Summer of Love, 1967

THIS symbolic event of hippie counter-culture gathering thousands of young people from around the world. In 2017, San Francisco organized a beautiful tribute, witnessing a spiritual and aesthetic contribution, still inspiring nowadays. Numerous events occurred in the city during the summer :


Art in the Present Tense: The Kinetic Painting of Bill Ham, Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco


Conservatory of Flowers, in Golden Gate Park, have been lightened during several months by Photosynthesis, the project conceived by Obscura Digital, an artistic and technical studio, expert in awe-inspiring immersive experiences who, obviously, uses video mapping today!


Conservatory of Flowers, ‘Summer of Love’, Obscura Digital, San Francisco, 2017


– Séverine for HeavyM Team

It’s your turn to immerse your event in a mind blowing visual atmosphere