Clipped from the Net...

Question: "A friend of mine tells me that in one of the old Whole
Earth Review magazines there was an advertisement for a book devoted
exclusively to the preparation, maintenance, and presentation of classic
liquid light shows (you know, with oil emulsion slides, etc.). I was
wondering if anyone knows the title of this book or any similar
instructional materials?? I'd love to get started with homemade freakout

"I have read that the light show, which involved liquids
pretty early on for England, was on loan from the Animals. Can anyone cast
any light on these maybe facts?"

How to produce a psychedelic light show

The psychedelic light shows involved several pieces of equipment to produce. Strobe lights, blacklights (long wave ultraviolet light), film projectors were all used, but the central piece of equipment that is used is the overhead projector. This is the type of projector that it is used in schools and businesses usually to give some type of presentation. It uses transparencies the size of a normal sheet of paper.

This type of lighting technique is known as liquid projection. A clear container (usually a glass clock face crystal) is placed on the overhead projector and a liquid consisting of water and colored oil is placed in the container. The container is rocked in time to whatever music happens to be playing. To keep the light show from becoming boring, different liquids are switched out during the show. It works best if you have several projectors and if you have two people on each projector, one to operate it and one to make up the mixtures to project.

Another useful item to have on hand are stage lighting gels. These can be used to produce a background color and food coloring added to the water has the same effect. There is an art to doing good light shows and you have to practice to get the technique down so you can produce an interesting show. The liquid projection part of the light show has to synch well with the other aspects of the show.

As I said, liquid projection is just one aspect of psychedelic lighting. It is combined with slide projectors, film projectors strobes, blaclkights, mirrored balls and many other devices. The trick is to have so many stimulating devices going at once that it causes the condition of sensrary overload, and simulates an acid trip. I think it was the Trips Festival that was billed as an LSD trip without the LSD. Of course, there was LSD there, but it was a nice little saying to fool the cops, and for a few, it may have very well been an acid trip without the acid.


There was a "light show manual" issued in L.A. in the late '60s (Pericles Press, 1966) which was written by Bob Beck.


You can find anything on the internet. Here's something relevant I found at a Anyway, they are into using old technology:

Liquid Oil Projections

(thanks to Chris Beaumont,

A widely available overhead projector may be used to project kinetic liquid projections..

:ambient effect.. Use a overhead projector with bottom lighting, preferably with a quartz-halogen lamp. Put a dimmer on the main power, and if you can, add a supplemental fan to insure adequate ventilation. Mask off the edges of the stage, (note: the glass top of an overhead projector, the part where you put what you want to project, is called the stage) place the dishes (old glass clockfaces) on top (a small one in a larger one) and add the water and oil based dyes, usually just to the space between the two dishes. For oil dye, I use Keystone anilyne dyes, and for water, I use photo retouching colors... 91% alcohol can be added to the water solutions to enable the water based liquids to become darker as they evaporate. For clear oil, of course clear mineral oil. With the colors, you'll learn less is more.

Then you're ready to go, turn up the dimmer slightly and focus. Mask off the edges of the screen area, remembering to cover the edges of the screen-area as much as possible... Are your dyes ready? Then turn the overhead up and BLOB-O-RAMA!!!... Remember.. easy does it...

Good luck!


A few comments...You can use clock glasses as he mentions, or petrie dishes.

With the petrie dishes, you place the smaller one upsidedown inside the larger, which is on the bottom. Either way, you get some areas where you're projecting white light. To soften this, most people use a colour wheel or at least a coloured gel. An alternative is to put water in the upper level, the smaller clockglass/petrie dish, and tint it, giving a coloured cast to the whole thing. Put just a few drops of uncoloured oil in this and the effect is better. Food colouring is the traditional way to colour water in these solutions. When dying the mineral oil, heat it slowly, adding the anilyne dye slowly and stirring constantly. A little is enough, alright, I've been told one tenth of a gram per litre/pint of oil. This type of dye is known to be cancer causing in it's powdered form, so use gloves and a mask, do it outdoors, don't use containers you'll cook food in.

You don't need to dye the oils, though. Water, food colouring and undyed mineral oil makes a great liquid. Baby oil works just as well, but I hate to think of them squeezing babies for it.

Liquids can also involve much more elaborate chemical soups. Some were done that included great effects, like blobs of some colours repelling blobs of others,or pushing other colours around. The problem is that the chemicals utilised required extra ventilation and constituted a fire hazard. Every light show company had some trick, and even to this day, some of those people guard those formulas. There is a book with an article about doing these chemical liquids, which I have a photocopy of, but I don't have the name of the book. Something about kinetic art. Interestingly, this guy, Dennis Weir, who used to do light shows in the L.A. area, used different coloured P.H. indicators, and changed the colours by taking his solution from being basic to acidic.


Regarding light shows:

One very important aspect of a good light show is how well the changes in light follow changes in the music. The classic example of this is the color-organ, where the bass, mid-range and treble drive three different colored lights. This is not very mind-expanding, but illustrates the basic concept.

One of my favourite examples of this was when the Grateful Dead put an electric-discharge (lightning) globe on top of the bass monitor. The vibrations from Phil's bass set up standing waves in the discharge gas, causing it to glow in a fashion which directly followed the bass line.

This also applies to oil-water liquid displays. If the colour globs vibrate to the music they have a much more artistic and stimulating effect.

The cross-stimulation between the audio and visual enhances the perception of 'the fundamental interconnectedness of all things'.


Glenn McKay's light-projection art gives SFMOMA the acid test.

By Glen Helfand

'IT'S A MAGIC DAY," Glenn McKay says in his funky but well-ordered Sausalito studio. The bearded 62-year-old artist who created the throbbing psychedelic visuals for Jefferson Airplane at their mid-'60s apex and at Ken Kesey's legendary "acid tests" smiles and tinkers with brightly colored slides on a light table as he reveals that he just found out San Francisco's Catharine Clark Gallery will show one of his digital "millennium paintings," a narrow computer monitor that displays images of vibrant abstract brush strokes that slowly morph and dissolve into new images.

But McKay, known to some as the Altered Statesman, is clearly more excited about his retrospective exhibition that opens next week at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "It's every artist's dream, to have a one-man show at MOMA," he admits.

Fittingly, then, his exhibition, titled "Altered States," includes dreamlike content. With state-of-the-art slide and video projectors, McKay will turn SFMOMA's media arts gallery into a theater of time-traveling trippiness. An hour-long compilation of his light pieces from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s (most re-created from live performances) will screen continuously on a cineplex-size screen, with blobby, throbbing liquids on overhead projectors, op-art geometrics, and pulsating slide shows blending into what they used to call an experience. Each section is set to a different soundtrack; the '60s portion, for instance, is set to Airplane's "Plastic Fantastic Lover."

It's the kind of visual expression that seems more appropriate for a rock show at Maritime Hall than a pristine cultural institution, but this isn't the first time it's happened for McKay. In 1968 he staged "An Evening with Glenn McKay's Headlights" at the Whitney Museum in New York, after a curator caught his show at the Fillmore East. McKay still seems to enjoy the incongruity of his popular form in highbrow institutions. "There's gonna be people toking out in the parking lot and then going up to see the show. It's called 'Altered States,' and that's exactly what it is."

Considering the show's strong connections to the music world and hippie culture, some museum visitors may contest its status as art. Robert Riley, SFMOMA's media arts curator, views McKay's work in a historical context as it relates to multimedia.

"I remember seeing Glenn's shows with the Airplane, and they were so successful," Riley says. "Sometimes, when the conditions were right, the shows were incredibly composed. They couldn't be that good without being organized." (McKay, fortuitously enough, is one of the few light artists of the period who kept comprehensive archives of his projects.)

"I'm taking this seriously, in terms of relationship to other art," Riley continues. "His work not only comes out of a use of machines of its era, it's related to process art. Nothing is meant to last -- it's all about transparency. His work becomes an animated field of light, color wheels, moving mirrors, and surfaces." At the same time, Riley also seems pleased to announce that a mention of the show is already up on the Grateful Dead Web site.

McKay, an engaging, forthright character, isn't shy about revealing that he isn't a Deadhead. A formalist at heart, he prefers performances that are more structured. "I've done light shows, but I'm basically a painter," he says. He describes his use of hand-painted transparencies, film, inks, and dyes with various art-world references. Some of his more recent pieces, he says, are examples of "21st-century abstract expressionism," while others are live, animated versions of Josef Albers's color theories. "The thing that's really consistent in my life is that I'm studying light -- all the time. The quality, the way it affects colors, the way it affects me."

In his gallery statement, Riley nods to the performative and ephemeral aspects of McKay's work in more academic terms. "Each projection emphasizes light and time as content in art, explores the changing nature over several decades of temporal expression, and expresses inquiry into the philosophical notions of transparency and illusion."

The artist, a practicing Buddhist, might add a reference to the notion of paring things down to a simple essence. "All it is, is light, form, color, and movement," he states. "I had an epiphany in Thailand eight years ago in front of the Buddha. From then on [my art] became part of my spiritual quest. I'm not preaching nothin' except being present and opening the mind to an altered state of consciousness."

These days McKay arrives at his visions naturally, but this wasn't always the case. "In the '60s and '70s, the pieces were totally drug orientated. That's what was happening. I still think psychedelics are one of the best things in the whole wide world," he says. "My first psychedelic experience when I went to the acid test was the thing that really formed me as an artist. I was painting abstractly then, and I thought I knew what abstract was. But a good load of acid made me realize, wait a minute, this is abstract."

His current works, the aforementioned millennium paintings, are as abstract as ever. Their form, however, attest to McKay's newfound interest in digital technology. Having just started working with computers last year -- and complaining that "I find things that are created on the computer have no soul, they're cold" -- he has nonetheless produced work that addresses real aesthetic issues. As with his early work, McKay paints his gestural, liquid, and very analog abstractions on slides and then digitizes them. Then he imports the images into a computer program that allows him to create sequences of fades and dissolves that can be played continuously on a high-resolution monitor. The result resembles a melting stained glass window, an effect true to his past.

McKay seems to be entering the next century in his own style, not that of a younger generation. When asked if he had any connection to rave culture, a scene that McKay's light shows have had a clear influence on, the artist scoffs. "I did a show at a rave over in Oakland about a year ago," he says, slipping on a pair of rose-tinted aviator glasses. "It didn't really work; the kids were more intrigued by the lasers." In that regard, McKay may be of the old school, but where would they be without him? 'Glenn McKay: Altered States -- Light Projections 1966-1999.' Feb. 4-June 1, SFMOMA, 151 Third St., S.F. $4-$8. (415) 357-4000.