et Lumiere for Earth, Air, Fire, and Water
'The presentation of earth, air, fire, and water by the projection of various chemical and physical reactions occurring in special containers in the projectors, with the amplification of the sound of the actual reaction, or tapes of colossal reactions in the same medium or with performed sound using the medium (i.e., rock movement, storm, fire, or waves).
'Earth: Crystallisation, Corrosion, Other chemical reactions, Amplification of sound of the actual reaction, or a tape of the eruption of Vesuvius or an avalanche or a live performance using amplified chemical reactions.
'Air: Project movement of air through the liquids, Various physical reactions are set in motion so that air passes through a variety of liquids with speeds from the gentle to frenetic, Evaporation etc., Sound of actual reaction, Tape of storm, hurricane etc. Performed sound (e.g. compressor).
'Fire: Burn various types of plastic in the projector, Amplified sound of fire (actual or recorded).
'Water: Project melting ice, convection, boiling water, etc., Sound: - sea, rivers, actual sound, etc.
'This is a rough sketch of a possible performance of limited dimensions. There is no rigid score. The performance depends on whatever materials and equipment are available. These events can be performed by one person sitting alone in his room. If he has a microscope or a projector and a tape recorder so much the better, but no equipment is necessary. At the other end of the scale there is no limit to the amount of equipment that may be used.' (27)
After four years of experiments with shows given for friends at home, the first public light shows were put on in 1964. The first public performance of Son et Lumiere for Earth, Air, Fire, and Water was held at the Bluecoats Art Centre in Liverpool in 1966, and many other shows were given in Bristol, London, Amsterdam, and other places. During this period Boyle continued to work at home with his family, repeatedly discovering - via the projector - incredible new images originating from all kinds of chemical and physical reactions, many of them induced by chance.
'. . . again and again we had the experience of quite suddenly realising that we had projected on the wall of our studio visual phenomena that we were pretty sure nobody had ever seen before. The whole family were involved. We had hundreds of bottles of different chemicals and many effects were discovered by chance, mixing chemicals at random. Some of the best things emerged when Cameron and Sebastian and Georgia had a turn. Then we would all try to work out exactly what the mixture had been. When we could repeat it, the formula was written down and we would all dance round the studio screaming and shouting with excitement while our new discovery flared and exploded silently on the wall.' (28)
Son et Lumiere for Insects, Reptiles, and Water Creatures
Images from the microprojector in the performance Son et Lumiere for Insects, Reptiles, & Water Creatures 1966
Aldis projection of a live fish on a 15ft screen, Cochrane Theatre 1966 (below)
1, Select a site at random
2. Remove all the live creatures from the site
3. Project them onto a screen with slide or microprojector or examine them, using whatever equipment is available
4. Amplify the sound made by the insects, etc.
There are a number of possible techniques for selecting the site. They may not be random absolutely but they serve. For example a dart thrown into a map or a computer selection can decide a particular square of earth or water. We can then decide to examine the surface, or to dig down 6 inches or whatever. Or we can decide to use whatever we find under the first large stone in a particular area or whatever you find in a container or a net of particular mesh on being dipped once into the nearest pond. If you don't like these or if they are impractical, invent a technique of your own.' (29)
On the 1st of September, 1966, this light show was put on in the Cochrane Theatre in London as the opening event of a symposium on destruction in art organised by Gustav Metzger. The printed programme carried the following introduction:
'Joan Hills, John Claxton, and I were working on the beach at Camber one day in summer when I noticed a labyrinth of minute tracks in the sand. At the centre an insect lay on its back. I thought, surely even in its death agony this fly could not have created all these tracks. I turned it over with a small stick to see if it was a fly or a wasp and as I did so a number of smaller insects scuttled out of the corpse.
'I don't think I'm specially interested in "destruction in art". I'm interested in destruction as an aspect of everything. The intimations of violence and futility which figure so largely in the destruction movement attract my curiosity, but no more than, say pacifism, or the euphoria at a Conservative Party conference.
Things are created and survive only by the destruction of other things. In this sense, materially or formally, all art is destructive. When Ortiz destroys a chair he is destroying an object which is the record and trace of the ritual destruction of a tree. And I feel that my life and death are neither more nor less futile than the life and death of that three or that fly . . . We are going to take the opportunity provided in this theatre to indulge ourselves by watching and sharing with anyone who cares to stay amoebas, hydras, Daphnes, euglenas, parameciums, cyclops, planarias, various larvae, wasps, sperm, and anything else we find.
'Originally we meant to go on all night, . . . so if the amoeba should decide to perform the ultimate act of auto-destruction, reproducing by splitting its self in two, or if we get particularly involved with any part of the presentation we may well watch it until the theatre closes continuing the rest of the presentation some other time, aware that whether we watch or not, the process of destruction/creation continues everywhere in our universe and in ourselves.' (30)
During the show in the Cochrane Theatre, something went wrong and the audience was directly confronted with destruction and death. At a certain moment, wasps were projected on to a huge screen, which gave them a length of six to seven feet. These wasps had been placed in a specially constructed container in which they were protected from the heat of the projector lamp by a water-cooling system. This system suddenly developed a leak, and water slowly entered the chamber holding the wasps. As the water-level rose, the wasps attempting to reach the air and stay alive began to fight fiercely with each other. Their mortal struggles and the entire process of drowning could be seen in enormously enlarged detail on the screen. It was a terrible spectacle. Many people left in dismay, others begged that the projector be turned off. But Boyle and his collaborators realised that turning off the projector lights would not save the wasps from drowning: that could only be done by releasing them into the theatre. I knew that if I did that, the rest of the performance would be broken up by the audience trying to swat and exterminate them', says Boyle. Because he was also aware that at the same moment everywhere in the world millions of other insects were dying a terrible death by being eaten by birds, poisoned by insectides, caught by spiders, he let it continue. 'So we watched till the end when they were all dead. And it was horrible.' (31)
He also made a contribution to the final evening of this symposium. 'Joan and I managed to get slides of all the artists taking part in the symposium. We projected them one after the other onto the screen, and while they were on the screen we burnt them, one after the other, so that each of the artists, including ourselves, was able to watch his image singe and blister and disintegrate in a glorious, technicolour range of yellows, oranges, and browns.' (32)
Son et Lumiere for Bodily Fluids and Functions
'FLUID ACTION SOUND REACTION PROJECTED ON TO A SCREEN
1. Catarrh Coughing up Contact mIke on throat Examine with microscope dyes
2. Snot Blow nose etc. Contact mike on nose Examine with microscope dyes
3. Saliva Kiss to arouse saliva possibly eat Contact mike in mouths of kissers or on throat if eating Examine with microscope dyes separate starch etc.
4. Earwax Extract Melt and examine,
5. Tears Extract Tape children crying adults howling Crystalize tears in microprojector
6. Urine Piss in can Contact mike on can Sugar test on urine
7. Sweat Exercise furiously Breathing and heartbeat Examine with microscope dyes
8. Blood Extract with hypodermic Loud breathing and heartbeats Examine with microprojector
9. Sperm Extract by copulation or masturbation Attach electrocardiogram and electroencephalogram Televise oscilloscopes of equipment, project using T.V. projector Maybe silence Maybe climatic heart and breathing sounds Project live sperm in microprojector
10. Gastric Juices Swallow sponge on the end of a strIng Pull up Contact mike on stomach Examine with microprojector 11. Vomit Take emetic Contact mike on stomach and throat Examine with microprojector'
1. I think moral shock tends to be a barrier to perception. It is therefore perhaps advisable to leave ouT any section that might cause moral shock To the particular audience.
2. The entire piece may be performed with the continuous rhythm of breathing and heartbeats.
3. Obviously this piece is another that may be performed by one or two people alone, or, it is usually performed in concert halls and theatres, or as an environmental piece with a circular screen.' (33)
Mark Boyle in the first performance of Bodily Fluids and Functions with Aldis projection,
Bluecoats Art Center, Liverpool, 1966.
'The first public performance of Son et Lumiere for Bodily Fluids and Functions was given in Liverpool in 1966, on the evening after the first showing of Son et Lumiere for Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and was put on by Boyle and Joan Hills. They projected their bodily fluids with the microprojector, accompanied by an amplification of body sounds picked up by contact microphones. The performance was well received in Liverpool, but Boyle says that a subsequent show in Bristol, in which John Claxton also participated, caused a scandal, although in his opinion it was an unusually fine performance.
In Bristol when he projected the tears on to the screen, to everyone's surprise they crystallized. The projection of sperm also gave extra-ordinary images. "When we showed the sperm sequence we all waited while John was fiddling with the focus. Suddenly the whole screen was squirming. I said to John, "Is that it?" I could scarcely believe it.
There were so many, all swimming in the same direction, millions and millions. A flash of eternity.' (34)
A few weeks later a performance was given in the Cochrane Theatre in London. The final item in the score was to obtain and project vomit:
'The process of obtaining the fluid was especially awful. Taking an emetic hadn't worked in Liverpool and Bristol, so we had resorted to cruder means. This was a large piece of uncooked bacon fat tied on the end of a piece of string and swallowed. The it got jiggled up and down, lo and behold, very soon you were very, very sick. I had a contact mike fixed to my throat and another mike fixed to my stomach, and as I started to retch and heave I could hear the sound of my retching and heaving enormously amplified throughout the theatre. The sound was so awful that it made me retch and heave even more. A number of people left the theatre running. At the end we put the fluid in the microprojector, it was so beautiful, silver globes floating in a sea of gold. There was a great ovation.' (35)
The whole performance was accompanied by the sound of heart-beats, soft when used as background for other body sounds and loud as main theme, for instance with the presentation of blood. These heartbeats led to an amusing incident. Because difficulties had been encountered with the contact microphones during the preparations, Boyle had suggested that they make a tape of his heartbeats to keep as a standby in case the mike cut out. At the last moment, he remembered that they hadn't made the tape. Peter Schmidt was in charge of the sound department and he said he had managed to get an LP of heartbeats. The contact mike did break down and the LP was used. During the applause at the end, while the audience was swarming over the stage, a man from the audience said to Boyle: 'I don't wish to alarm you but are you aware that you have every known form of heart disease?' (36)
At another performance, given in the Roundhouse in London a year later, a huge circular screen was used. In this show the sperm sequence generated an extraordinary effect:
'In the sperm sequence a couple wired up to ECG and EEG celebrated intercourse, while the oscilloscopes of the ECG and EEG were televised on closed circuit television and projected with an Eidofor TV projector on to a large screen behind the couple. Thus, their heartbeats and brainwaves were instantly revealed . . . Everyone that was there seemed to find the experience very moving. The dirt and the mystique, the secretness and the sacredness were washed away. For me, provided the participants are free, all sexual manifestations are marvellous and from that moment on I knew that it doesn't matter whether people are guilty, lascivious, pure, perverse or promiscuous, the mechanism that drives them is unbelievably complex and totally fascinating.' (37)
The original intention was for the girl to go to sleep afterwards with a strong soporific and to be wakened as soon as the encephalogram showed that she was dreaming. She would then tell her dream, and the dancer Graziella Martinez would attempt to dance it. This experiment failed, because the girl was not put to sleep by the pill. In the end, Martinez and her partner, the artist Graham Stevens, had to dance variations on the theme of a dream one of them had had.
During this period Boyle often worked with theatre people, dancers, and musicians, particularly from the world of the rock culture. What he was attracted by in this world was the exciting sensory stimuli with which they were experimenting and the mass response to these experiments. His collaboration with the musicians of the rock band the Soft Machine, which lasted several years, was especially important for him. He first encountered this group in 1967 in an Irish dance club on the Tottenham Court Road, which functioned every Friday night as a vital centre for the London underground and rock culture and became famous under the name UFO. Boyle gave performances there of his vivid projections of chemical and physiological processes. His projections filled the whole space, which acquired a magical tension. The images became an accompaniment and intensification of the music, the dancing, and the many different kinds of performances given there.
'A typical evening at UFO would begin around 10.30 to 11.00 with Vivaldi very loud on the sound system and our light environment all around the room. Then, when the place was full, the first rock group would appear. Then you might get a theatre group from the Royal Court Theatre doing mime, followed by the Soft Machine or the Pink Floyd. Then I might be asked to make yellow projections while the current hit Mellow Yellow would be played and David Medalla and a group of dancers would fill an arena with more and more yellow objects, yellow cloth, yellow confetti, yellow paint etc. A folk group would follow, then a clown, more rock, more Bach, a theatre group called the People's Show and then at about 7 a.m. a jazz group called the Sun Trolley would play. Most people would be sleeping against the pillars or in little piles on the floor by now. Usually it was just the Sun Trolley and Joan and I who were awake. Then we would go away and get some breakfast.'
'UFO was an instant success, and for that reason it spawned imitations. So did we: within six weeks, according to the International Times, there were 120 groups in London doing similar light shows. But UFO remained unique. Joan and I went up and down the country and to France, Holland, Germany, the USA, Canada, and Mexico at that time, but never found any place that seemed so magical. I was asked on West German TV not long ago what I thought of UFO looking back, and I said, "I think several thousand young Londoners are advancing on middle age with a heavy load of nostalgia." At the time, when we had guests from Scotland or abroad, we would try and get them to come on a Friday evening so that we could tell them to go straight from the airport to UFO, and we would meet them there. When we eventually met them their faces would be alight with amazement and delight. One day we thought maybe my dear friend C. would enjoy it. We took him along when we went, showed him the lighting stand where he could find us if he wanted to, and then started to set up our projectors. We never saw him again all night, although I made several forays into the crowd looking for him. In the morning he was not among the few sleeping revellers left. But eventually we found him having breakfast in a nearby snack bar . . . He never referred to our light show. I was bitterly disappointed, but I didn't ask him about it and he never wanted to come with us again. Then one day he was picked up by the police and committed once again to a mental hospital. He escaped and came to us. The police came to get him and he jumped out of a third floor window to get away. He was taken to hospital in a coma and with many broken bones, I sat there with the police all night waiting for him to come out of the coma. When he did, he grabbed my arm. "I've had a dream", he said, "You should have been there. We went to this vast, underground cave thundering with deafening tribal music. It was full of lovely people who danced as through they were in a strange trance, not in time to the music, but as thought the dancers and the music were both in time to some other unseen event. And on the walls - you should have seen them Mark - they had huge paintings, but not like the paintings you do, these were moving rivers of colour that flowed into one another, erupting foaming, and exploding, all colours, crimson, purple, orange".' (38)
It was at UFO that Boyle first heard the music of the Soft Machine, which made a deep impression on him: ' . . . in fact we thought it was the most exciting sound we had ever heard.' In their turn, the musicians of the Soft Machine were fascinated by his light show, which gave their own performance a splendid extra dimension. They invited him to perform with them in other places as well, and a long series of combined shows began.
'We toured with the Soft Machine up and down the country that Spring. Whenever we came to do a performance in London people from rival light shows would be there. They knew about my supposed paranoia. Whenever I pulled off some new manifestation, they would turn to me and say, "Great! We'll work out how to do that by next week". But also, when we played at the Speakeasy in Margaret Street, Jimi Hendrix would come and watch, sitting beside Joan in the light box, gazing intently at the screen. A very sweet and gentle man.
That summer we went off with the Soft Machine to play in a translucent white plastic pavilion on the beach at St. Aygulf on the Riviera. We were to project from inside on to the whole skin of the pavilion, so that the light show would be seen from outside as well as inside. We were offered a great wage to work there for two months. It was part of a festival. The idea worked. At night it lay like a great space-ship on the beach, made out of rivers of colours and movement like erupting stained glass. With the shattering sound of the Soft Machine it was a fantastic success. But the rest of the festival was a total failure, and at the end of the first week there was no money to pay anyone and the festival closed down. We didn't even have tickets to get home. I made contact with Jean Jacques Lebel, who was directing the Picasso play Desire caught by the Tail in a vast circus tent near the sea at St. Tropez. We were taken on to make an overture for the play each night, one hour of light and sound. I think the Soft Machine rehearsed in that tent all day for two months. Joan and the children and I had a lovely summer at the beach and huge crowds came every night to the circus tent. At one point I went off to work for a couple of days at the Toulon Festival with some dancers led by Graziella Martinez from Argentina. We had previously worked together at the original Mickery Theatre in Holland. We cooked up a little plot together, and when the Picasso play was over we flew straight to the Edinburgh Festival and put on a show with Graziella and the Soft Machine which we called Lullaby for Catatonics. The next morning the paper had the headline "At last psychedelia hits Edinburgh". It was a surrealistic fantasy show. Graziella made unbelievable costumes for herself and her troupe, inflated costumes that were sometimes immensely tall and thin, huge festooned shapes, or with many arms and hands dangling and jutting out. After that we went to Paris for the Biennale. On the first day I heard I had won a prize or painting for the earth pieces. That night we put on the show more or less as it was in Edinburgh. In Paris we had a smash hit, it was the sensation of that Biennale. I was offered a theatre to do whatever I wanted in for as long as I liked. But I was very anxious to work on the earth pieces and I fled back to London. Later we did a series of big concerts with the Soft Machine at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Palais des Sports in Paris and at Olympia in London. The Arts Lab opened in London and we persuaded Graziella to come over and put on another show with us called Studies towards an Experiment into the structure of Dreams. This was supposed to be a constantly changing show that would develop as an expression of our various dreams. But this didn't work out, so the show remained unchanged throughout its run for more than seventy performances. Our children insisted on coming to every performance, two each evening, and towards the end of the late night show could always be seen with their heads together in the front row, sound asleep.' (39)
In 1968, Boyle made a long tour throughout the USA and Canada with the Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix, whom he had also first met at UFO. The tour began in San Francisco, where they had been invited for the second anniversary of the Filmore Auditorium.
'The regular light show at the Filmore Auditorium was competent but not particularly exciting. The following night, however, we were to perform at the Winterland Ballroom, and there we met Glen McKay, the great artist of the West Coast light show. He had a vast army of assistants and huge piles of equipment. He did not use any physical or chemical reaction, but just manipulated bowls of liquid in the overhead projector with great skill. He put on a kind of surrealist show, putting 8 mm films and drawings done on transparent film into his show. Also, he didn't fill the entire screen, like we did, but created constellations of colour and activity that changed slowly, with a huge central area, say of violet, throbbing gently and then frenetically with, at its centre, the image of a golf ball projected by 8 mm film. He seemed to be equally curious and fascinated by what we were doing. At one point in the evening, we split the screen and showed what they called the London style alongside what we called the West Coast style. We had a success. Afterwards we were in the hotel bar and all the hippies were round us trying to find out exactly how we did the show. We didn't want to tell them, bearing in mind our London experience, but also because we knew that if we did, it would be on the soap ads on TV by the time we got to Los Angeles. The alternative society sometimes seemed to me to be a society of underground commercial travellers. They said, "Listen man, you can't own an idea!" Suddenly Jimi said, "In the early days of jazz in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong used to play with a cloth over his hands so that the other trumpeters couldn't see what he was doing!" This made me feel better. I was in good company.' (40)
Although he admired the technical virtuosity of the American forms of light show, he also saw a fundamental difference. The Americans manipulated their material and composed the project images, whereas what he was concerned with was allowing the processes occurring in certain substances and fluids to speak for themselves. All he did was to make them spectacularly visible by hugely enlarged projection and sometimes by the addition of colour, but without affecting the intrinsic structure and dynamics of the process. What amazed him was that despite their autonomous course, the movements and patterns nevertheless invariably proved to form an undeniable unity with the movements and climaxes of the music.
"Although the light environment was not in any way synchronised with the music the audience were invariably convinced that they were synchronised. As the light environment consisted of chemical and physical reactions with no manipulation or interference from the performers the only possibility of genuine synchronization would be that sound waves might interfere with the reaction or that the group were influenced by the lights. However, films of the light performance run with tapes of the Soft Machine invariably produce the same phenomena.' (41)
For Boyle, the nervous energy required to link the music and the images, forcing two disparate sensory experiences to coincide, caused 'excitement, satisfaction, pleasure' (42). The explanation of the 'synchronisation' is probably that the music of the Soft Machine, like the projected images, forms an irregular flow with unexpected interruptions and explosions, like swiftly passing clouds continually suggesting new meanings and relationships, both music and light show being so tenaciously complex and laminar that at any moment there are sounds and images supporting each other, clashing with each other, or responding like an echo.
As part of the process of opening himself up as wide as possible to all of reality, Boyle has included in his studies both the individual and social behaviour of human beings, which acquired special significance for him when he began to suspect that our cities and towns have become organic entities, composite animals he calls Multi Human Beings, and that humanity may be in the process of merging into one gigantic world-covering Multi Human Being. He believes that wherever large numbers of people live close together, this Multi Human Being is already discernible, although a 'non-egocentric' way of observing is required to distinguish it.
Boyle says: 'It's very easy to describe the Multi Human Being as a science fiction monster. This is one of the problems with science fiction. It always seems to see the future in terms of the dramatic and the exceptional, when it will of course be as ordinary and everyday as the present is. It's the same with the Multi Human Being. To describe it, you seem to be obliged to use language that is more appropriate to fantasy or a kind of pseudo scientific language that makes it all seem so dull. What I wish to say about it is this: - In the most ordinary and everyday way, groups of people have organized themselves into social entities, for example London, Brighton, Paris, New York, every village, every town. I regard these social entities, as biological entities, as composite beings, whose animalcules can be independent, separate beings, but in the main they only thrive as cells within the totality. The only reason we have any difficulty perceiving this is because were are educated and trained in anthropocentricity. We seem to need to believe in a world which is entirely created for the benefit of man, that man is the last final flowering of Nature and that the whole evolutionary process was designed to produce him.' (43)