Light Show Legacy

Some Notes on Light Shows.


When the music starts — pour on the lights!

by Darrell Jonsson
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Light shows erupted simultaneously as a visual analogue to the mixture of the modern and esoteric that was taking place in rock music.  Much of the ground work for light shows were pioneered by the experimental film-makers of the early 20th century who demanded that melodrama and vaudeville were not the most natural use of the new media and that far more subtle potentials were to found in the mix of motion media with music.

Artists and Theorists such as Kandinsky, Oskar Fischinger, and perhaps even Artaud would roll over cozily in their graves at the experiencing of bands like PFS, D’Cuckoo, or the Mermen in their more melodic moments in a full-on jam with thier intuitive light artists.  Such 90s S.F. ensembles ideally would like to think of their light artists as equally important members of their group. Unfortunately booking agents and promoters are not yet completely educated/sympathetic to the notion.

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In the 60’s syncronized invention took place on both sides of the Atlantic.  In London at the UFO club, where Hendrix blew his mind and augmented his musical signature forever digging and jamming with the likes of Author Brown, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine — and in S.F. at venues/events that are now also legendary.

Despite the light-show stigma with the 60’s the artform has continued to develop.  Equipped with the theories of Arnheim and Scientific American books on perception light artists have continued to adapt new materials and devices to their art.

Tools have been readily available due to schools, the military, and civic governments dumping their AV gear for video.  Also independent invention of electromechanical and computer contols have been added in recent years. The results of light-artists private R&D is beginning to be seen in contemporary theatre such as George Coates and others.

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In the 90s a new generation of light show art has been an integral part of the Rave Scene.  Unfortunately light art remains a secondary icon of these movements.  As in rap where break-dance, b-box mixing, and graffiti art were dispensed as the music gained global appeal.  The music of the S.F. and London 60’s dropped the visual component of the culture.  The circumstances where light artists have equal footing with their musical factions has yet to be maintained.

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If fireworks are the most appropriate use of gunpowder, light shows and amplified music could be construed as being the most appropriate use of electricity.  Cultures have existed / do exist where musical instruments are the manifestation of the cultures most refined technological development ie. metalaphones.