Single Wing Turquoise Bird Panel

Date: November 13, 2010
Location: University of Southern California, The Eileen Norris Cinema Theatre
Moderator: Adam Hyman

The Single Wing Turquoise Bird was the most significant light show in Los Angeles from 1967 to 1975, a "collective improvisation performance group" that used film, slide and liquid projections to marry the artistic possibilities of music, painting, and moving images. SWTB first played behind bands such as The Velvet Underground, The Who and Cream, then conducted its own performances in a loft space above the Fox Venice Theater.

During the past two years SWTB has re-formed to rehearse, perform and record new work.  The current lineup includes original members Larry Janss, David Lebrun, Peter Mays, Jeffrey Perkins and Michael Scroggins, as well as new members Amy Halpern and Shayne Hood.

The program featured old and new work by the group as well as films by the individual members.

Panel Participants: Amy Halpern, Shayne Hood, Larry Janss, David Lebrun, Peter Mays, and Michael Scroggins.



05:01:08 ADAM HYMAN

All right. Everybody please have a seat. Hi, my name is Adam Hyman with Los Angeles Filmforum and we're delighted to have so many of you here on Saturday night for Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show screening and panel discussion [applause]. Since I have you all captive for a moment, I'll take a couple minutes to talk about a couple things and then we'll kick off the show.


This whole event, Alternative Projections, initiated a couple years ago, Stephanie [Sapienza] and I had an opportunity given to us. The Pacific Standard Time is a project of the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Foundation. The whole title is Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945 to 1980, and it's a massive initiative on their part in which pretty much every institution in town, it's over 40 museums, a bunch more galleries and other strange folk—including us—are doing a whole slew of exhibitions from October 2011 to April 2012, sort of like a huge umbrella survey of what made Los Angeles into what someone said is the leading contemporary arts city in the world today, looking at the post-war decades and their development.


Filmforum is probably the smallest organization that had an opportunity to apply to get both a research grant and an exhibition grant for this and I really want to thank Rani Singh for making that possible for us [applause].


We conceived of this project from the beginning basically as a way to look into, as you can tell, the history of experimental media in Los Angeles, looking at it in the broadest sense of experimental alternative cinemas of different sorts as really taking as our base point of I would say the definitive introductory test by David James called THE MOST TYPICAL AVANT GARDE.


We really saw this as a way to broaden and deepen that book in ways, but there’s always limits and so this is a way to examine deeper and also to create an archive for future scholars, historians and people interested in the topic to investigate it further in the coming decades. That's what we've been doing a bunch of oral histories and creating a database that will be online with films, filmmakers, exhibitions in Los Angeles through those decades.


This symposium, which was intended as part of our research to discover new films we already have this weekend, to include in our exhibition series which will be a 16-part series at Filmforum starting next fall as well and running through the following spring. So we hope to see you all back in just under a year to check out a lot more of these really amazing films a lot of well-known ones and a lot more that we hope to discover anew.


So we hope to see you for all of that. I want to thank everybody who's helped us with this. The key addition was to join with Visions and Voices here at USC and they were able to broaden the scope of this symposium, which was a much smaller affair when we originally conceived it, and to make it into really into quite a special event.


I really want to thank everybody involved with Visions and Voices, Alex Ago and Emily Taymor particularly, who have really been spending a huge number of hours on it, and the person who even made it possible for us to access Visions and Voices and of course the sort of critical person in examining the history of experimental film in Los Angeles. I mean, through taking his classes what got me involved in this whole racket, but I think he's really a tremendous person as a documenter and historian and creator of a legacy in experimental film, but I'd really like everybody to give a round of applause to David James [applause].


We also want to thank all the scholars and participants. We had such an amazing array of submissions to our call and on topics which we didn't even conceive of, and then people presented an incredible array of detailed analyses of topics and histories and new discoveries and we really look forward to discovering even more of these over the coming years as we prepare for the exhibition.


Also on the database or the website to come, we hope to be able to print a variety of these papers and other future writings as well, so again get future people interested in the history and the scholarship and just to look at all the films and the art and the relationship with the greater Los Angeles community a chance to continue to discover and explore this through the coming years.


Then I also really want to thank all our team members on the committee the past couple of years as we've been doing everything. Angie Pike, Terry Cannon, Mark Toscano, Amy Halpern, George Baker, Russell Ferguson, David James and most importantly the person who really guided us through the past few years and really kept it all going and did the vast majority of the work to Stephanie Sapienza. Thank you. [applause]


And then finally we just had a great staff working with us this weekend. Andrew Hall, Rachel Main, David Bremen, a variety of people from USC whose names I don’t even know all of yet but thus far it's been moving incredibly smoothly. Something to reduce my level of stress throughout has always been great and it's just been marvelous to be surrounded by so many really superb, competent people so thank you to all of you. [applause]


So now we can begin. The Single Wing Turquoise Bird Light Show was a really fantastic organization that, in its original heyday from 1967 to '75, began both originally behind the rock shows here at the USC Shrine [Exposition] Hall and Shrine Auditorium, and then expanded into other spaces and venues which we'll let them tell you all about.


But to tell you a bit more about the Single Wing as well as an introduction to the works that you're going to see tonight, which come from members both new and old, please join me in welcoming one of the original members of the light show and one of the current members, who's a marvelous filmmaker and has been working in a variety of documentary and experimental modes for the last four decades, and just a marvelous both presence on the scene constantly as a great person, a perky fellow, and smart filmmaker and contributor all around, please join me in welcoming David Lebrun [applause].


My voice is almost gone so excuse me. Thank you all for coming and especially thanks to Adam Hyman and to David James for their incredible patience over the past many months, maybe it's been a year, of herding together the members of the Bird, which they discovered is sort of like herding cats, to organize this event and make this evening possible.


Single Wing was formed in 1968 and has gone through various incarnations. Initially we worked with rock and blues acts at the Shrine [Exposition] Hall, right across the street. Later the group performed on its own in a series of loft and studio spaces. The group ceased projecting all together in the mid-'70s but we reunited in the past two years to create and perform new material. Light shows are an ephemeral art form, one that's seldom been recorded and even less often recorded adequately.


The first piece you'll see tonight is the only film record of Single Wing in its original incarnation, produced in 1970 for use in the shooting of a feature film. The program ends with a new work created by the reunited Bird especially for tonight's event. A few months ago we spend several days in the studio recording our work off the screen with an HD camera. Out of that material we edited the 34-minute film you'll see tonight, thank you, OUT OF OUR DEPTH.


In between these two films you'll see works by each of the current group members. They're very different in style and I think one of the interesting things about this evening will be the way in which you'll be able to recognize the sensibility and imagery of the individual members in the works created by the group. Since you'll not be seeing the light show at work, and since some of you may never have seen the light show at work, let me take a couple of minutes—just a minute—to give you an idea of how these images were made.


The basic components are liquids, film and slides. Anywhere from 10 to 20 or more projectors combined on a single screen. Each projection artist mans one or more projectors. Liquid projection is created through the interaction of colored chemicals in shallow glass dishes on the surface of the overhead projector. You'll see that art in its pure form in Michael Scroggins' ADAGIO [FOR JON AND HELENA], and as the ground and matrix of the group Pieces.


For film projection we used to use high intensity 16-millimeter projectors, often manipulating the image with gels or even hands cupped and shaped around the lens. Now we use digital projectors with live mixing of up to eight streams of prepared content. In the slide department, the technology is pretty much unchanged since the '60s. A bank of six to twelve slide projectors, each with variable speeds; strobe wheels and dimmers, often projecting similar or identical images so that the projectionist is able to manipulate strobe rate, alignment, focus and brightness combinations to create illusions of 3-dimensionality and motion.


Each of these three departments has a wide range of materials and techniques at its disposal. The group may agree in advance of a starting point or a general outline for a performance, but by and large what appears on the screen is improvised moment to moment by each projectionist in response to the unfolding images and sound.


It's a bit like jazz improvisation, but if anything, far more unpredictable and full of surprises, for us as well as for the audience. There's a lot more that could be said about the process, but we'll all be up here after the screen to answer your questions. Thanks, enjoy the program. [applause]

05:12:39 ADAM HYMAN

The current Single Wing Turquoise Bird [applause]. So we have joining us this evening, in front of me Larry Janss [applause], David Lebrun [applause], Amy Halpern [applause], Shayne Hood [applause], Peter Mays and Michael Scroggins, somewhere [applause]. Michael? Has he gone to the booth? He's making an entrance, Michael. [applause]


So actually, we're running late enough. I won't do lengthy introductions but I think almost their films serve as their own brilliant introductions. But one more moment there. Okay. We can dive right into some questions, I'll start with some for them and then we'll go to the crowd and for the audience we have a microphone over there and we'd love it if you can make your way over to it to act questions because we're digitizing, recording, and if it's too much of a problem to get to it then we'll yell it out and I'll repeat it.


We're always documenting. It's all about documentation. So I'll start with, people in this group were part of Single Wing at different periods. Two members, Shayne and Amy are in the current group and David, Peter and Michael and Larry also have been in it in different periods. So first we'll just get a brief history and I'm not sure… well, Peter and David, I mentioned earlier today in my talk performance of something called Ghost Dance at Cinematheque 16 in June 1967.


I think the two of you were both involved in that with Jeffery Perkins, correct? So could one of you please tell me a bit about Ghost Dance as a precursor to Single Wing?


Am I heard?

05:15:22 ADAM HYMAN



Yes. This was at Cinemathque 16. It's actually Lewis Teague's idea. He later directed [THE] JEWEL OF THE NILE. He was running the place. And the Indians were a big deal with the hippies, and we had Burt Gershfield's NOW THAT THE BUFFALO'S GONE and outtakes from it. Yes. We did have outtakes. So we had a bunch of projectors and did early expanded cinema which is just you took a number of movie projectors and projected them on walls. So it was expanded from a single screen.


That was one of many early attempts that were happening throughout the country in nightclubs and so forth that we're trying to make the whole space animated. That was the hippie goal. The actual genesis of Single Wing was that Pinnacle Productions was doing these biweekly—every other week I think—shows at the Shrine. They had a group doing like a light show that they were not happy with.


They came, I believe, to Burt Gershfield and asked him whether he could— I think Charlie Lippincott came to Burt Gershfield and wondered if he could organize some people from the UCLA film school and so forth. He came and there was a meeting at this house where a bunch of folks lived, so based on that sort of invitation to do this job, a bunch of us formed the group and began doing these shows at The Shrine with bands.

05:17:07 PETER MAYS

Yeah, The Shrine—right over here was—had all the great groups except The Beatles and The Stones [audience laughs], but everybody else, you know, Who, Traffic, Velvet Underground, which was when I joined. Just the great English and American groups of the period. So we became the house light show, and they would pay us actually [laugh]. We would develop material for each group as we heard they were going to be the next group.


I was actually the business manager and they paid us 1200 dollars a weekend, which was fair money at the time, and the way we spent it was 25 each person per night and the other 600 dollars, there's 12 people being paid and the other 600 dollars was for the development of materials, for printing, for making slides, for graphics so that over the course of the months that we were doing that, this large library of film and of slides and other materials was built up and equipment was purchased and so on.


We might mention that in addition to our friends who gave us materials who go to the Santa Monica Library and other sources and take films and copy them on an optical printer so we could use them. You could call it appropriation but in fact we incorporated as many things in the culture we found of interest as we could, as a type of collage right? A cultural collage?


Yeah, it was very much collage form, yeah. In relation to collage I will mention like the last piece you saw tonight, there were listed at the end maybe thirty or so people whose films we used, and after doing the titles I thought of another thirty that we had not bothered to mention and people whose stills and other things we used.


That is very much a thing of tonight's showing because we don't have permission to use these things. For a scholarly conference it's, I think, permissible. I would particularly like to thank some people who helped us actively. Chris Casady who actively helped us—right over there [applause]—he helped us get his wonderful animation that comes on the screen with the Jimmy Hendrix piece and stays for quite a bit of that and that was a wonderful contribution.


But, a lot of other folks whose material we used. Of course, we sent out into the wider world and keep going out and seeking permissions and so forth. We also tried to use a lot of Los Angeles and people out of that history that we've been talking about, knowing it was being used in this particular conference.


We were doing that from the very beginning. It was always a collage in appropriation form. If it was in a world where you got rights for everything before you did it, the light show would never have happened, so our thanks and our apologies. [small laughter and applause]

05:20:12 ADAM HYMAN

So there's also a lot of other people involved through the years that you mentioned as well. There were 12 people but briefly, since we're at USC, Pinnacle Productions was largely a USC-based organization so I don't know if you could just give a brief mention of the people involved in that rock ‘n’ roll show, or how was it involved as well?

05:20:32 PETER MAYS

There were three— Pinnacle was the group that promoted. Sepp Donahower, Mark Chase and John Hammersfield, and Hammersfield also did the posters and probably worked with us the closest. The shows lasted about a year and a half. I think the last one they put Joan Baez on as the lead act at the Coliseum and it rained.


It was the Rose Bowl.

05:21:03 PETER MAYS

The Rose Bowl, excuse me the Rose bowl, yeah. And so that ended. We went on. We made a distinct decision at that point, should we go on? And we were fortunate in that the painter Sam Francis became interested at that point and he became our backer for a couple years. Then we finally wound up in the loft of the Fox Venice where Rol Murrow, who I see sitting over there, had rented a space and he gave it to us to work in.

05:21:32 LARRY JANSS

This was the loft of the Fox Venice.

05:21:36 PETER MAYS

Yeah, which later became a theater.


Should we mention Rol was projecting film with us as well so.

05:21:45 ADAM HYMAN

Well there's, again, so many other people to mention.


Jeff Perkins is the one most missing.

05:21:50 ADAM HYMAN

Jeff is in New York and he's also a current member as well.

05:21:54 PETER MAYS



Also Charlie Lippincott

05:22:00 PETER MAYS

Jon Greene had died.


Of course. Jon Greene was the one who taught me liquids. I originally started with Helena Lebrun and then she went on the road with the Hog Farm with David, and John had studied liquids with Helena. Helena had worked with Elias Romero, and Elias had shown her how to do liquids which he had learned from Seymour Locks, so there's a kind of continuity in the thread.


I felt very fortunate to have studied with Jon and Helena, which is why my piece, ADAGIO [FOR JON AND HELENA], was dedicated to them. I was able to develop my own techniques and take what they taught me further, but that was a great foundation for me.

05:22:36 ADAM HYMAN

David, can you talk about the Hog Farm involvement early on?


Yeah, I was part of this communal group, it involved a lot of people who were involved in various kinds of improvisational theater primarily, and my wife at the time, Helena, had been a new liquid projectionist with the [Merry] Pranksters doing the Acid Test and so on. So when this idea of doing a light show came up, the starting group were the people who were involved in film primarily and special effects and all that.


And they didn’t know that kind of— they didn't have a liquid person, and so I pulled in people from the Hog Farm and studied from Rick Sullivan and others who had studied and learned the techniques from Helena. So the original group was half a dozen people from the Hog Farm, half a dozen people from this UCLA related filmmaker community—UCLA/USC related filmmaker community. Then the Hog Farm went on the road for a while, for an extended period of time in 1968 and so the light show basically split in half.


I drove the light show bus across the country and we did light shows in Indian reservations and college campuses and so forth on portable geodesic domes. and we split up the materials. I took some of the films and slides and so forth on the road and the others stayed here and went into lofts and museums and eventually the Fox Venice.

05:24:09 ADAM HYMAN

And who were some of those other people who stayed?


It was Peter, and Michael was involved at that point, and Jon Greene and Rol and Jeff—Jeff Perkins, yes.


Then once we were working in the lofts, Larry Janss joined us.

05:24:31 ADAM HYMAN

Okay, so then Peter you mentioned that you joined for the VU show and also for Michael, you said that was your first week possibly?


My first week was the Cream concert, yeah. What happened was I had talked to Helena in the past about how I wanted to do light shows since I was a young child and I did finger-painting in kindergarten and was interested in liquids and movement and real-time animation all along.


So I talked to her about that and I was trying to make my own inventions. She said well I've got these techniques, you should learn about them. She invited me down to Cream concert and let me start projecting a liquid plate, so that was my very beginning.

05:25:10 ADAM HYMAN

So can you talk a bit about… the Hog Farm was a commune and I know you were on one as well. I was wondering if you could talk about the light show in terms of the notion of sort of collective efforts, or the collective ideal of the '60s and how it potentially related? Because in your performance mode, I think that notion of the collective consciousness almost in your performance mode...


I think it was made possible by the fact that it was that kind of an era. In fact, an era when we could be projecting liquids on the screen as well as on the band, and the band didn’t mind disappearing into the liquids. It was sort of a little pre-star notion. There was a period when the star notion in rock ‘n’ roll kind of went to one side for a while and the band was— [all talking at once]. It was a very short while [laughter].


The bands at The Shrine would sometimes turn around and they'd see something fascinating… They'd turn around and play to the screen so they could see it too. And once you got into an era when you needed big Klieg lights on all the members and it was the dance moves of the star, then the light show had to go somewhere else. Most of the time that it was being performed in lofts and so forth, it was with recorded music with minimalist composers and Michael can speak to that more.


Well, after the rock era we did do that, and we worked with Max Neuhaus' version of John Cage’s “Variations IV,” we worked the Steve Reich’s COME OUT. At one point I actually took a couple of mics and put them out in the marquee of the Fox Venice and we recorded the street and had at right angles to our screen and so it was just the ambient sound, and that was inspired a lot by reading John Cage and thinking about his way of thinking about music.


I think the communal aspect though, we just kind of skipped over. Before going back to that I'll just mention that in these rock shows, most of you who are not familiar with that era and how things worked. In fact, as David was saying, the band was covered with the light show. There were no theatrical lights at all...


[overlapping] There were, but we talked to the people doing the lights, made sure they were— [all talking at once] and kept them reasonably low, you know. We coordinated with them.


I truly remember no other lights but ours, but there you go [laugh].


We always disagree.


David mentioned earlier, it's like herding cats. But the important thing was, there was the [unintelligible], and I noticed the more theatrical bands—The Who for instance—had a good sense of theater and theater rock. So Townsend wore a white jump suit so he would pop out and have some presence. Some bands cared about that, others didn't. Arthur Brown had a flaming helmet and made sure the lights were down for that.


But the communal aspect I think was very important. I took it seriously. I was living on a commune in Topanga Canyon which ultimately that Evan Ingber had started and Evan decided we would merge with Hugh Romney's commune, the Hog Farm, and we went out and I looked at that, but I was in the Santa Monica mountains of Topanga and I just couldn't see moving to smoggy, hot Sunland.


Also they were taking their light show tour on the road, which is something my group had talked about doing. We were going to put together also a kind of a psychedelic carnival and we were going to go, but they were going to go through the deep South, and I had a deep fear of the deep South so that sort of separated the men from the boys to use a sexist term and I stayed behind.


But the fact was, as we did these shows a smaller number of people— which at the Hog farm at times, what? 20 people projecting do you think you'd say?


I'd say 12, but then it would be [all talking at once], but we would [all] help wash plates and so forth to get in, sure.


When we went down to smaller number we began to concentrate more and we also moved around to the front of the screen. David could talk about the iterations we did in terms of screen as we tried to figure out how things would work best. But we got down to a pretty tight ensemble and then we were always rehearsing in our studio in Venice at Joe Funk's litho shop, so every week we rehearsed constantly, we developed new materials and we thought of, we listened to, at least the headliner acts—music—tried to figure out what would be appropriate to work with our music and try to change what we...


We didn't just do the same set every time. We really worked to change the materials. In fact, for the Velvet Underground, we'd determined we would do the whole show of black and white. It was completely monochrome and very fitting.

05:29:46 ADAM HYMAN

Lets do one or two others and then… Peter, actually talk about more—there's a change in effort when it went to the Fox Venice or change in the...

05:29:53 PETER MAYS

[overlapping] Am I on? After The Shrine, we actually got very arty. I mean, Jeff Perkins discovered “In C” by Terry Riley and he started to work with— the problem with a light show is you're doing it spontaneously so that it's music that changes suddenly. You just can't work with— The Doors for example, were impossible to work with. But minimal music which is repetitive was very easy. So we would gravitate towards very slow-moving music.


The hard part to realize about it is that we had no communication among ourselves as to what we were going to do. We didn't say you should lower your light or something. We never did that.


And Peter, that is a part of the collective that we worked not only as a financial collective in terms of pooling our resources, but we were working on the screen as an artistic collective mentally. We weren’t communicating verbally. It was exactly communicating on the screen with what we did and that was something fairly unique I think.

05:31:01 PETER MAYS

Yeah. We should move forward to our current incarnation.

05:31:06 ADAM HYMAN

I’m going to ask Larry a question [laughter]. We'll get there. So Larry, tell me about when you got involved and how, as well.

05:31:15 LARRY JANSS

Well, my first involvement was I was interning with Sam Francis, mixing his paints, and he thought that I should see this group that was performing. Michael's liquids are very Sam Franc-esque, so he brought me around, he introduced me. I tagged along. I was the kid, being substantially younger than the rest of these guys. [laugh]


My first experience actually with the Bird, I was actually at one of the Pinnacle shows, but I was the kid, so one of my favorite little stories is I would be loading 16 millimeter films and threading them through the old gismos as the grown-ups were making their show. On one particular [night], we were up on this scaffolding, this rickety scaffolding that would move around as we would move around.


And I rapidly loaded a big 1,000 foot reel of 16 film and then the projector was turned on and we were watching the screen and all of a sudden there was a pure white rectangle and that didn't seem right. We were all at various stages of light appreciation ourselves at the time [laugh]. I looked up and I saw that the big reel that I'd just loaded was not there anymore and it had wobbled off and fallen 15 feet down into the audience [laugh].


These things weigh 12 pounds or something like that and they have sharp edges so there was a moment there. I looked over and there was the reel of film right on the ground with all the hippies around looking at it, looking up. That was my trial by failure in the day.

05:33:07 ADAM HYMAN

I was wondering if any of you—since you mentioned Sam Francis of course—could talk about Single Wing's relationship with the general art community in Los Angeles. Like, how many people from non-film art say were coming to shows. There's a long section, of course, in Gene Youngblood's book EXPANDED CINEMA, describing some various people who attended.


But in what ways were you all interacting with the general art community and what ways was the art community coming and seeing the show or interacting with you?


Well, I was very happy. Living in Topanga, Wally Berman was there and George Herms, a number of other artists, and they would come to our shows, the shows we're doing in the Los, particularly at Fox Venice but also on Sam Francis' Studio. Ed Moses— what other artists can you guys think of that we were interacting with at the time?

05:34:01 PETER MAYS

Well, Anais Nin was supposedly at Joe Funk’s show...


[overlapping] She was supposedly. She was there. I talked to her.


She wrote about it in her diary.

05:34:12 PETER MAYS

That's good.


She was there with Henry Miller.

05:34:13 PETER MAYS

I don't remember that we interacted with the art world very much, though Sam, the most important artist in the city, was our backer. He introduced us to his patrons and so on. We did a show at the Santa Barbara Museum. We tried out at the Taper but the unions wouldn't let us in. But we had our own little audience, our people who would get stoned and come and watch us [audience chuckles].


I do have to mention them. Out of that grew, if anybody was around in the '70s, the actual Fox Venice Theater which played a repertory cinema, and the light show was kind of behind that, so I don't know. We entertained people. We were more entertainers then, but he says no. We did try, I think we were developing an art form. To jump forward, I think it's very important to realize that our backer now is Mr. Janss [laugh].


I think Adam was going to jump forward later on.

05:35:36 ADAM HYMAN

Let's give a hand to the current backer [applause]. So that's of interest of course as well that this practice still needs a backer. It's not like commercially independently viable?


No, it really never was. I mean, David mentioned the $1200. That's something like $7,000 in today's money. That was pretty good for doing these bi-weekly shows, but when we were working in our loft spaces with smaller audiences, even when we charged a $2 suggested donation at the gate, there was no way we could recoup even the money for replacing the bulbs in the projectors let alone all the other expenses.

05:36:17 ADAM HYMAN

Well Amy and Shayne, sorry to ask to both of you at the same time, but so how was it to join this group at this point in time? What is the learning curve in coming up to whatever, collective improvisation, we'll say?

05:36:39 SHAYNE HOOD

Am I heard? Well, I had about a 19-year learning curve living with Michael, so that helped. I don't know. We're all kind of artists individually and working together has been a great joy these last couple of years and looking forward to more live performances in the future.


We should mentioned that in relation to Pacific Standard Time, we have gotten a grant to do a live performance as part of the live performance aspect of Pacific Standard Time, and so we will be appearing live again which we have not— there was one live show that was done a couple years ago but it was with the light show sort of just beginning to find its sea legs again, so we have good deal of work to do before we're ready to really feel like we're on our game when we turn on the lights. So we need a lot of rehearsal.


I will just mention that. When we're working live, there's an energy that’s different. There's a direct response. In the films, you get some sense of what a live show is but there's an energy between the audience and ourselves, there's a psychic connectiveness that takes place that's quite unique and there's just no replacing that.

05:38:08 ADAM HYMAN

Just to elaborate on point, during Pacific Standard Time in January of 2012—that's right, 14 months from now—they're having a performance and public art festival for ten days. It's sort of like the mid-point of the series and for that we're received a grant from the Getty via LAXART to do another Single Wing Turquoise Bird show live at a venue to be determined, so we'll keep you updated about that.


So let's briefly—and then we'll just go to the audience—so how do you think your collective work in this relates to your works being made individually?


One interesting things about that is that when we were working together in 1968 to 1970, we were all pretty young artists, sort of just out of the egg, and we were very much open to—and also given the nature of the times—very much open to sort of plunging in to whatever was happening. We were sort of inventing who we were as artists at the same time that we were inventing our collaboration.


Later there were a couple of attempts. During the late '70s I believe, there was one occasion when there was a possible gig for several of us to do something where Peter and Michael and I tried to get together to put together a presentation to do sort of a mock-up of a show and eventually we ended up— Michael did a sort of pure liquid piece, Peter did a three-screen slide piece, and I did a couple of film pieces.


It was just too hard because each of us had gone in very separate directions and it was too hard for us to merge our energies. Now, coming back together now, which had several kinds of impetus— renewed interest, a couple of museum shows that included the live show, a lot of requests to see the old film…


Boy, we're only represented by this little three minute thing which is not very great form. It's on DVD now, but the 35 millimeter that it was shot on is pretty much ruined, so could we do something new that we could get out into the world?


And it took a lot of time of getting back together before we were really able to all take a breath and put something up on the screen together. But once it happened, it really felt wonderful to be able to arrive at that place again informed by everything we've become since.

05:40:55 ADAM HYMAN

Any of you wish to add anything to that either in a concrete way, like specifically how do your own individual films do you think relate to the mode of expression?

05:41:04 AMY HALPERN

Somebody today earlier in the panel asked about where's the underground now and I muzzled myself then but I've been thinking about it ever since because there still is an underground but among the fundamental premises on which it was founded— any underground, in particular the art undergrounds, east and west coast. I'm not that familiar with in-between, but I know that it's true that underground is fundamentally non-profit by total design, by intent, by fundamental intention and two, it's dedicated to liberation—visual liberation, mental liberation.


So that being the motivation, everything else flows together if that's your common intention. My background is East Coast so my first light show work was with Ken Jacobs in New York City using three-dimensional Polaroid light. That was our medium then.


So when I first did some liquids, having married into the Hog Farm, Rick O'Patrick Sullivan trained me because he'd been trained by Helena Lebrun, and then this arose. Since working for free for the right reason is always a good idea if you've been fed, and you can afford to do it, that's what this is. [applause]

05:42:19 ADAM HYMAN

Any other response to that question? So please, from the audience, if you're able to reach that microphone, come on down or raise your hand if you're over here or let me know. History or current, technologies, economies, strategies, any questions? You sir, gentleman first.


I saw the Single Wing, and I’m not sure exactly…Canned Heat… [unintelligible]

05:43:08 ADAM HYMAN

So the question had to do with he saw a show of them performing behind Canned Heat at the Fox Venice.


[laugh; all looking around in confusion] We don't remember. We must have been...


[overlapping] We must have been there [laugh]. Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker.


[unintelligible] spectacular show. I went into the bathroom after and I have never seen so much vomit [laugh]. It was beyond belief but in addition to that, I saw Quicksilver Messenger Service with another light show company called the Deadly Nightshade, I think they were called, and they were doing the same song, “Who Do You Love?” with the sound loyal projection behind the band, but you know what? This was better. You guys nailed it.


It's just David's work.


We didn't use salad oil.


I might mention that Single Wing Turquoise Bird became the preeminent light show in Los Angeles. There were other light shows functioning and there were light shows across the country and some were very good. There was particularly there was one in Salt Lake City, Rainbow Jam, that became very famous and moved on to San Francisco.


They were very different, I think, than what we were doing but also had a lot of integrity. The artistic integrity or…the psychological composition, I want to say, of the group and our own esthetic taste as we put things forward it was very much about the esthetic when you're doing this sort of formalist work.

05:44:41 LARRY JANSS

Also there's a distinction in my mind between the Single Wing shows and many of the DJ shows that are becoming popular now. I don't want to sound hippy and hokey but there is a collective consciousness that emerges as the ensemble starts to ramp up, and a collective politeness, I want to say, that if the ensemble recognizes that something's getting really good in one part of the screen, the rest of us will support that.


We'll either dim down or move our slides or projections out of the way so that part can really get cooking or support it by decorating around it. In a live show also there's these wonderful awkward moments where it just all falls apart and it often happens that the music's pounding away and going like crazy and we get out of sync with each other.


At some point in time when we just kind of stop and look at each other and start yelling at each other and that's part of the name of the Single Wing Turquoise Bird. The single wing always just kind of flaps around in circles. Sometimes it works. Oftentimes it works and sometimes it's a spectacular crash.


Yeah, very clearly, when you're improvising that way you're working without a net and what you do is—and as David mentioned in his introduction—we may have a loose idea about what we're going to do, what the materials might be, but ultimately it's improvised through our sensitivity to one another as we're working, and those moments when it doesn't work are very apparent. Luckily we come back from that and continue, but it's a very interesting aspect of working live.


In speaking about the politeness aspect, part of the nature of it is in choosing and creating materials you know that you're going to be sharing the screen space, so the least polite thing to put up there is pure white all over the screen for example. So in choosing, in selecting film materials, creating things, creating slides, we create things that don't have— trying to do things without edges and things that are against black so that when you put them up on the screen, they will appear to be within the environment created by the liquids or whatever else is up there.


And the liquids are trying to work in way in which they have kind of black spaces or dark spaces within that allow other things to come through. So part of it is in seeing what's happening on the screens, clearing a space for something wonderful that's happening in a different projector and trying to do that moment by moment.

05:47:27 LARRY JANSS

Then as something beautiful is developing, the rest of the ensemble gets the clue. If Peter Mays throws up one of his famous Mephistopheles kind of satanic stuff [laugh], and if it's working, it's looking good, then we'll follow that lead as far as it takes us, finding materials—in my case it would be the slides—that would support whatever the lead is at the time.


Actually doing the liquids is interesting because I'm working with the most plastic of the media. I'm improvising. It's not pre-recorded. I can put things where I need to put them or they'll go where they need to go. Sometimes I'm merely a witness. It's really great to work with this chaotic phenomena because at once you have control and you're manipulating it.


On the other hand, it is behaving on its own so there's a really fine balance between chaos and control that makes it interesting. But I do have the ability to shape things on the fly that people running films don't. Slides have a little more adjustability because they can rack their focus, they can move things over. But it is a mix and as we were saying, it's the improvisation where the magic happens.


With film in the old days it was less ability because we'd have like two big arc projectors, like [in] The Shrine we put Cinemascope lenses on them so that we'd be somewhat distorting the image but covering a 20 by 70 foot screen fully covered with the films, with maybe a film loop from one projector to the other. So we'd have something with the tape delay, sort of film delays that loop from one projector to the other.


Now we're working with a pair of digital switchers, a pair of switchers where we'll have four to eight sources so that you can bring in, take out things, or key things into one another or dial things up—the luminous up or need to dial the level of keying up to key into whatever else is happening on the screen. So the current technology, we have a lot more control and more ability to create a sense of myth or story than we used to.

05:49:43 ADAM HYMAN

Let's take another question. Is there somebody?


So actually Michael ended up saying more about this but I was curious if any interaction or at least awareness was there of the other light show groups going on because there were a lot obviously. And also, Burt Gershfield's name came up and I was curious if there's anything more to be said about his connection to the group?


Yeah, Burt provided us outtakes from, what was it from Now that the Buffalo’s Gone. We used that work. Pat O'Neill would bring us outtakes from films he was working on so there was a depth of imagery we had to cull from. Maybe you could expand upon that.


I think Burt sort of initiated the thing but then before we actually did a show he decided… I don't know, it probably was aesthetic reasons. It was kind of the nature, the liquids and so forth were less interesting to him than some other things and it may have been around the time he got involved in [unintelligible] and other kinds of jobs. So he never actually was a projectionist, but he was a catalyst.

05:50:59 ADAM HYMAN

Please, more questions? Robin?

05:51:00 ROBIN

So you mentioned John Van Hammersveld, who was also a collagist in a way. Can you expand around that? And also was Van Schley around…? [all talking at once]


John Van Hammersveld was the most famous guy who had done the poster for the Endless Summer, and did all the Pinnacle things. He's still working. You can Google him and he just did some big thing in Las Vegas.


Yeah, he had most recently been an art director at Capitol Records and then he put together this live concert which was the Electric Wonders and connected with the other guys that ultimately became Pinnacle and moved that forward. So John wasn't involved in the light show directly but he was partially responsible for selecting the people that were in the light show and he really was calling upon film artists, underground artists in LA in order to build something of strength.


In terms of the other light shows that we saw, I saw a few in LA. They weren't that impressive. There were a few that were better than others. Up in San Francisco had a chance to see Jerry Abrams’ and Glen McKay's Headlights which were very, very good I think. In fact, one of the shows we did at The Shrine, we didn't do the show. They had the Jefferson Airplane play and they brought a guest light show which was in fact Jerry Abrams’ Headlights.


Actually the best light show I saw in San Francisco was Black Shit Puppy Farm at the Straight Theater and they were really amazing.


I helped to open the Straight Theater. That was actually the first dance hall that was officially opened specifically to become a dance hall.


Right, because of licensing issues. Reggie [Williams] had invited us up to do a show and we were excited. We rented a U-Haul trailer, loaded it with all our equipment, got up to San Francisco, and unfortunately the headliner which was “Detroit’s answer to Blue Cheer” [had played a free concert in the park the day before, no one wanted to come to the concert. It was an interesting group involved with Sinclair called MC5, if you know that work. Kick out the jams.


Hi. You do beautiful work, I've loved it. You talked about the interaction between you and I wonder if you could talk about your interaction with the audience, in feeling the audience.

05:53:30 LARRY JANSS

Forgive me for my time, but one of the great stories that has probably been expanded upon as it's been retold five million times is a Grateful Dead show that was happening at The Shrine, and the Dead were up playing and Jerry was being Jerry and being wonderful and the light show really was having a mind-meld and the screen was just beautiful. As the story goes—or as the story has been expanded by myself—the Dead noticed that the audience was really engaged with the music but they were looking above the band.


And Jerry looked over his shoulder and saw that the lights were quite cool and so had actually turned around and faced the screen. Then other members of the Dead did that and so pretty soon the entire Grateful Dead had their backs to the audience. The audience didn't care and there was this wonderful triangulation between the lights and the Dead and the audience. Probably at that point it fell apart [laugh]. Did I make that up?

05:54:46 PETER MAYS

It was very similar to what groups— the basic thing that happens with music. The initial period with the audience is tough, they're cold. That's when in booking groups, the local group does that for some group. Like when the Stones used to play in Los Angeles, a local group would play, be sacrificed to the audience to warm them up. Then there's a mid-group, and finally when the headliner comes up the audience is warmed up.


Their vibrations are beginning to connect to the group and the musicians can almost play channeling if you're really good. And we would do this too. We would be part of it, part of this weird triangulation through the audience, music group and ourselves. I think a major reason that light shows stopped is that they did have too much power and by 1970, groups didn't want to— they wanted to know what was going to happen in the show and not be surprised by a light show.


David Bowie had a lot to do with that—creating their own environments. But it's very telepathic, frankly. The group is telepathic within itself, which is why we didn't have to use words, and there's a lot of rapport. We pick up the energy of the group. That's why videoing, as we've done— this was the first time actually we've ever had a large audience see our work, that we weren't doing it. It's projected.


I thought it did pretty well but I would be very curious to get more reactions from this audience verbally about how they feel about what you just saw. I don’t know if there's any way to get a vote or something [laughter].


Actually my old high school art teacher would say all Single Wings’ work is too busy, but I just want to relay one story and then I'll be quiet. So one of the concerts I remember very vividly was one of the Velvet Underground concerts and John Cale was with the band at the time and they were in their most climactic moment when this wall of sound, this incredible drone, and we were all in black and white with our heavy strobe going on.


It was extremely hypnotic and intense and everything was coming together, and then the band just stopped and the light show kept going. It was complete silence and the light show was going and it seemed like 30 seconds—I'm sure it was much shorter—and then we realized, oh, it's over. We stopped and then what seemed like another 30 seconds went by and then the audience applauded and it was complete mesmerization on every count. So it maybe was three seconds but it seemed much more [laughter].


In response to the question how the audience felt, that was awesome. It was much longer than an episode of Seinfeld but significantly more immersive [laugh]. It's like what the Star Gate sequence must have been like in 2001: [A SPACE ODYSSEY] except for you didn't have to drop acid to enjoy it. It was really cool. Let's see here. Oh, I do have an idea for how you guys can step it up and make it cooler. Do it in 3-D. [laughter] Hop on the gravy train of the future here.

05:58:50 AUDIENCE



When the show is live, it's an interesting issue. It is 3-D. One of the difficulties of recording is that you lose some of that. The difference when you have 12 or more projectors going and each of them has their own color spectrum, and each of them has their own strobe rate which is not the 30 per second of video or the 24 frames per second of film but an entirely variable thing that can go from three frames up to 60 frames or more depending on your moving the dials.


And all of these different flicker rates are interacting, and it's black and white on some projectors and color on others and so forth. You actually get things where you are very much seeing 3-D. It’s monocular 3-D, it's not 3-D done with different images in both glasses to both eyes, but you get a lot of binocular 3-D cues and things do sort of begin to go into space. I think that happens a little bit with this but it happens a lot more when you're actually seeing it live.


Yeah, and 3-D is always in the visual cortex so.

06:00:07 ADAM HYMAN

Did you have another one?


Yes, I also wanted to say I think one of the coolest parts was when METROPOLIS came up. If I'm not mistaken, that was a [Giorgio] Moroder's version of METROPOLIS which...


No, why did you think Moroder's version? It’s from the new version but...


Because of the color.


The color was entirely us. Several of those films, in the METROPOLIS material and the FAUST material for example—it's a Murnau's FAUST that you see when Marilyn Manson doing The Doors comes on, and with those films, I took digitizations of the film, increased contrast and then put color gels on them so we had DVDs that had six different colors and we could run them out of phase with one another and then dial in the different ones to see the same action happening on different projectors or they could be keyed one into the other.


So all those colors were happening live on screen and all the interactions were spontaneous. But if we did it again it would be entirely different.


That's awesome. My only question is what's a nuts and bolts way… could you describe quickly how we could do this at home? [laughter]


Practice, practice.

06:01:34 ADAM HYMAN

More questions?


Yeah, that was fantastic. I know that there's probably some telepathic communication between you and the bands and the musicians, especially. I assume when the Grateful Dead turn around and watch the show they're kind of responding to what you're doing. But I'm wondering actually if you've done any shows with improvised music, where the musicians are responding to you as much as you're responding to them.


Yes, we have. When we did our show at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the painter, Dan Citron, played guitar in the opening and he sat back with us so he could watch the screen while he played. That's one example. There are others of course.


We would like to be doing more of that now. Hopefully for the show that we do from the Getty grant we will be doing it with live improvised music and have a chance to rehearse with whoever we end up working with which is not determined yet.


One other quick question. Have you ever worked with…is it usually on a flat screen? I mean, have you played around with, or have other light shows played around with projecting on scrims, for instance?


When we first did the shows at the Shrine it was a 50/50 screen that they already had there so we were projecting from the back so we could see it. It was also coming through to the front, but that meant that the brightness we were producing was being 50/50 split between back and front and we were not seeing what the audience saw exactly.


We quickly moved around to the front and an opaque screen, but we had a V-shaped screen because of the way The Shrine Exposition Hall is, we could project from the balcony on one side to one side of the V, the balcony on to the other side of the V.


And then we had this platform in the middle of the 5,000 dancing people from which the films were coming straight on under the full 20 by 70 width, but it was almost like a curved Cinemascope screen. It was a simple V but it wasn't entirely a flat screen. What we filmed off of was obviously a flat screen. That would have been too much of a challenge to have an odd shape and film it and get it all in focus.


And I'll mention that our studio at the Monaco Hotel in the Ballroom, we had a series of Gesso canvasses that Sam Francis had provided and we were thinking of working multiple screen, but before we could actually develop that we lost the space so we reverted back to a single cinematic screen. We actually like the idea of instant cinema on a single sort of proscenium portal but all those ideas are interesting to us none the less.


My question is sort of going to be a follow-up to that one. Has architectural projection come across your guys' radar at all, or what are you guys' thoughts on that if you've seen any of that stuff done. I mean, your form is much more organic than that, but I don’t know if you guys are familiar with, what I'm talking about at all.


Yeah, it's a fascinating area.

06:04:40 ADAM HYMAN

The question is about architectural projection.


Architectural projection, contemporary work with computer graphics where you actually model the building and then begin to work with changing that architecture, modifying the surfaces. It's fantastic. We did a show at UCLA for a group of architecture students, master’s students, but we once again just did projection on the single screen. It was architectural in one sense but not really reactive to the volume of a building, for instance.


I don't think what we do would lend itself well to doing that just because of my sense of how that work is being done today and how we might fit in but, you know, you could always think about it.


It’s very experimental, right?


Yeah, true.

06:05:21 ADAM HYMAN



Well, I'm really glad you're resurrecting this. It’s been some years since I saw you, but how do we keep this from becoming a dead art form?


By keeping on doing it.


[overlapping] …process because it's so fluid and there's so much experiential nature to it. Have you considered trying to work with other people, or are other groups trying to get together again? How does this move forward after this particular ensemble isn't around to do it anymore?

06:05:53 PETER MAYS

Well, there are a few younger members here.

06:05:58 LARRY JANSS

I've actually been giving a lot of thought at 3 a.m. when I'm spinning in my sheets to the hopefully ongoing nature of what many might see as an archaic art form. I think we've successfully demonstrated that it's not an archaic art form. We took a lot of analog material, we still use clunky old ectographic projectors, we don't use 16 millimeter anymore. We had a young woman helping us when we were first re-assembling and she was helping us because she was young and so understood DVD and video, stuff like that.


She kind of integrated herself into the show and so she started projecting with us and we remember her comments so well after, when we were taking a break. She had really been in tight in with the ensemble and she said, God, I just figured out why you guys do this stuff. So she was 24 or 26 at the time and she truly engaged. So I'm very interested in having the youngsters come along.


I also want to give a shout-out to— I'm the guy that did SLUM GODDESS [GOES TO NEW MEXICO]. Actually, I'm one of the guys. The young Jordan Miller here, who's the editor of the piece. I'm not sure who channeled who, whether I was channeling him from the '70s or he was channeling me forward into the 2000s but that was a case where, talk about expanded cinema. We took this road trip out to New Mexico and I had a half an hour of film but I had about six hours or ten hours of stuff that I wanted to film.


And so I just, in the Single Wing tradition, just ran the film through the camera six or eight times and then I put it on my shelf for 40 years and then this show came up and I said oh my gosh, and so I engaged young Mr. Miller and he took the raw material and perfected it to the degree it's perfected, you know, in humility. But it was so cool that. I mean, I shot this stuff 16 years before he was born and he finished it for me 40 years later. [applause]

06:08:41 ADAM HYMAN

That seems like the way to make it. There's a large community in Los Angeles, I think—well depends on how you define large—but of people interested in just pre-digital forms of media experience. I mean, obviously there are low-sci say like Museum of Jurassic Technology or the Panorama as well.


But it seems to me just the opportunity to have as many performances as possible to younger generations will inherently energize new people to take this up because I think the notions of performance and improvisation continue to be very active and vital. Do we have any final questions because it's time to wrap up?


People came to a rock show obviously there's a lot of excitement about that. Did you guys have groupies? [laughter]

06:09:31 LARRY JANSS

In our dreams.


Yeah, they would say, where's the band? [more laughter]


I actually met a young woman when I was projecting with Helena that first show at the Cream concert and we had never met before. She was taking turns projecting and doing liquid plates. We went down and danced and that led to a three-year relationship. So it wasn't like having groupies at all.

06:09:58 ADAM HYMAN

Good way to meet people, which is a great reason why we're all here as well tonight. Any other final thoughts from any of you? Oh no. So let's wrap [applause]. Thanks to all the members of Single Wing and we'll start tomorrow in SCA 108 again for our panel. It's at 11:30, coffee available at 11:00 and back here in Norris tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. for Los Angeles Independent Film Oasis.

end of tape


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