Culture Monster

1960s art collective stages midsummer party at Young Projects Gallery

1960s light show artists Single Wing Turquoise Bird reunite for group show at Young Projects Gallery

Electronic dance music VJs take heed! Single Wing Turquoise Bird, the great-grandfathers and mothers of the modern-day light show, are back together after a 40-year hiatus.

Its work, which USC professor of cinema David James calls a "spontaneous, improvised composition of visual music," can be seen at Young Projects Gallery in the Pacific Design Center through Aug. 9.

On Saturday, the public can meet the seven-person art collective, whose members are now in their 60s and 70s, during a midsummer's night party at the gallery from 7 to 11 p.m. They are David Lebrun, Amy Halpern, Shayne Hood, Larry Janss, Peter Mays, Jeff Perkins and Michael Scroggins.

Working with old-school film projectors, video mixers and early PowerPoint technology, the collective, which formed in 1968 to create light shows for rock 'n' roll bands at the Shrine Auditorium, projects an ephemeral mix of film, slides and liquids onto a screen accompanied by live or recorded music.

Their early light shows for bands including the Who, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and the Steve Miller Band established the members as notable artists in their own right and planted the seeds for a permanent place for the light show in modern musical performances.

"There was a brief window of time where bands were willing to give themselves over to an improvised light show," Lebrun said over coffee on a recent Tuesday. "But then no more."

During that time at the Shrine, band members would sometimes look over their shoulders at the light show going on behind them and actually react to what was happening on screen. Soon, though, bands began wanting to micromanage all aspects of their shows, and the freedom that SWTB experienced disappeared.

SWTB used a variety of materials for projection purposes — some that they created themselves and others that were archival, like reels of 16-millimeter film that they checked out of the Santa Monica Public Library.

Once, during a John Lee Hooker show, Lebrun began projecting a giant image of a Native American chief in full headdress demonstrating Native American sign language while Hooker played "Born Under a Bad Sign."

"I put it 15 feet over his head on the left side of the screen, and then somebody put up a word from an old science-fiction poster that said 'invasion,' and Peter had a film called 'The Death of the Gorilla' with flying saucers, and that came up under the word 'invasion,' and the sign language is still going," recalls Lebrun. "And it was just one person responding to the next and the next."

The group's ability to collaborate silently in strikingly visual ways came to define it. After it stopped staging performances at the Shrine, it began doing its own thing to packed houses in a loft over the Fox Theater in Venice before disbanding in the early 1970s to pursue individual careers in the arts.

These singular efforts can be seen at the Young Projects Gallery, along with a video recording of a live musical light show by the entire group called "Invisible Writing."

Twitter: @jessicagelt

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