Single Wing Turquoise Bird

The Single Wing Turquoise Bird troupe worked in Los Angeles and Venice, California.
They were famous for their wide screen lightshows at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles in 1967 and 1968, and later for their series of evocative multimedia performances at various venues, most notably in the Cumberland Mountain Film Company studio in the loft above the Fox Venice Theatre, 1970 - 1975.
They did lightshows for The Chambers Brothers, Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company, Pacific Gas & Electric, Steve Miller Band, Taj Mahal, Dr. John, Sons Of Champlin, BB King, The Yardbirds, Pinnacle, Traffic, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

This little write-up has changed several times and is bound to change more since it is based on my own memories,. Fortunately many members of the group are in touch again and they have been helping to correct my faulty memories and to provide their own experiences and memories of our collaboration.

There were several people who co-founded the Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show group so I don't think any one of them should be "singled" out as the Founder. I certainly believe Jon Greene to be equally responsible for the birth of the group, and Peter Mays too - and Charlie Lippincott as much as anyone since I believe his network of contacts made it happen! Call him the brains of the group, along with David Lebrun who made wonderful films and acted as business manager. Jeff Perkins was certainly one of the original group.

Jon said when Charlie arranged the first gig they had to come up with a name for the group fast for the first poster. He said one of the group opened a book randomly and put a finger on the page - and there was the Single Wing Turquoise Bird! Jeff said he recalls it as a book of Vedic hymns and that he was the one who pulled out the name.

There are other important people whose names should be remembered too!

Confusion set in about the origins because quite some time later Gene Youngblood wrote up the group in his book "Expanded Cinema" and left many folks out. That was easy to do because so many people made significant contributions but they tended to drift in and out for various reasons. (To read Gene’s description of the work of SWTB access the complete pdf of the book at http://www.artscilab.org/expandedcinema.html )

The first months a number of the Hog Farm members were very active, then departed to go on the road on their famous 1968 trek to the Democratic National Convention. I joined the original SWTB troupe during the early shows at the Shrine Exhibition Hall, and was responsible for high intensity motion picture film projection equipment and techniques, as well as later on arranging for early computer generated imagery transferred to film.

In addition to filmmaker David Lebrun of the Hog Farm was his wife at the time, Helena, who worked liquid projection. David prepared some incredible mandala-like film loops for us which were one of our signature elements.

Other participants included Bob Maestri and Larry Janss, and I hope we can encourage some of the others to come out of the woodwork and describe their roles - everyone was important! It was a wonderful group.

Bert Gershfield contributed footage from his magnificent and award winning UCLA student film "Now That The Buffalo is Gone," and he was a cheerleader for us all.

I recall one of our later standard equipment configurations had 36 projectors of every kind imaginable, including a giant xenon-arc film projector that I modified with asynchronous color and strobe wheels and variable speed motors for everything, Other troupe members provided 4 x 5 and 35mm slide projectors, overhead projectors for fluids and stacked media, and a myriad of other machines to paint light with, modified beyond all recognition. It took about fifteen or more people, including those we drafted as runners and assistants (some literally bottle-washers), to do a big show.
The group moved around and did various presentations after the Pinnacle concerts, including at the studio of Joe Funk in Venice, artist Sam Francis' loft in Santa Monica, and for a while an old ballroom in a hotel on the beach. Then in late 1969 or early 1970 I offered the troupe a more permanent home in my Cumberland Mountain Film Company studio above the Fox Venice Theatre in Venice, California, where we often presented special light shows to select audiences of about a hundred souls at a time. I had leased the big room the year before to house my film postproduction activities, including editing and showing work prints of films on interlock projection equipment.

Later several of us got together and secured a lease of the entire building and took over the theatre, operating it under the company name Cumberland Mountain Theatres, Inc. as the Fox Venice Theatre from early 1973 to February 1979.

SWTB continued the light shows for some time in the studio above. A feature length film called "The Baby Maker" starring Barbara Hershey was shot there and has some Single Wing Turquoise Bird light show footage as well as scenes of us all "doing our thing" as a backdrop for the story, set in the L.A. scene of the time. You can find it in the video stores if you would like a small taste of what we did!

The final performance of the group was about 1976 at a 60's revival show at the Fox called "Freak Night," featuring all kinds of retro-60's activities, including a snake dance led by Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney). I recall Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky climbing onto the projection platform completely beside himself with enjoyment!

By then various members of the group were moving off in different directions. Jon Greene moved to San Francisco and did light show work in a big studio there. Jeff Perkins worked at the Fox Venice doing graphic design for a while then went to New York City, where he is now working on a project chronicling the work of longtime SWTB patron artist Sam Francis.

Mike Scroggins helped at the Fox too and went to school at Cal Arts and eventually ended up teaching experimental video there - and he is still on the faculty. A nice bio of him is at
http://emsh.calarts.edu/fv/faculty/faculty_Scroggins.html
Peter lived in Topanga Canyon by day, making and editing his films, and by night was a
projectionist at the Fox for a long time, and later at the UCLA film archives. Lately he has been doing some very interesting interactive work on the web.

Larry Janss was one of my partners at the Fox, then after we sold the business made his way back to Thousand Oaks where he helped found the beautiful performing arts center there, and where his company produces various shows in it. He also recently reopened an old classic movie theatre in Moorpark, California, and plans to make it a "Fox Venice" kind of eclectic venue. It is called the Theatre on High Street and is absolutely incredible! Visit the neat website at http://www.theateronhighstreet.com .

I served as President of Cumberland, learned to fly, went to grad school at UCLA, did various things including setting up the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport, and have worked in media, management, aviation, and nonprofit association work ever since, currently for the Wolf Aviation Fund (for more see my link at the end).

Charlie Lippincott was the group's initial promoter and he soon got completely immersed in handling publicity, marketing, and product development for Star Wars - certainly a revolutionary film of the time! He was a VP for Lucasfilm and now resides happily in New Hampshire.

Recently iotaCenter, a wonderful media preservation group (see http://www.iotacenter.org), has collected SWTB materials for inclusion in a retrospective of advanced multimedia work in the 60's. Jon Greene also very recently left this earthly existence and so the troupe has dedicated their piece in the iotaCenter traveling show to the memory of Jon. The show is called Kinetica 4 and you can read about it at http://www.kinetica.org/K4/ and see if it will be playing at a venue near you!

I'm not going to get into too many stories (or I'll never get back to the work I'm supposed to be doing right now!) but one interesting one is that the first big lightshow I attended was for Jimi Hendrix at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, a huge and beautiful theatre. I think it seated 6,000. Visuals were billed as provided by Thomas Edison Lights and ACME, and Charlie projected films on a back-projection screen behind Jimi and the band. At a very dramatic and magical moment as a centerpiece for all the visuals he played a film consisting of high contrast dual-mirror-imagery of Toni Basil dancing in oriental/East Indian style - very iconic and beautiful (symmetric double-printed high con footage from the film “Breakaway” by Bruce Connor).

The story goes that apparently some Shriners didn't see it the way the thousands of attendees did (she happened to be nude although being in high-con it was actually very tasteful) so they permitted no more Pinnacle shows in the auditorium. Fortunately for the audiences of the late 60's, however, Pinnacle Productions - the production company - was permitted to continue doing shows in the exhibition hall next door, and since that was a big open hall the audiences were able to dance, and dance they did! We often projected images, including David's loops, onto their masses of gyrating bodies.

The next Pinnacle show was the SWTB's official first show - for the Cream, and in the next months the group was privileged to project for a pantheon of the greatest 60's bands then touring the country.

I think one of the high points of our concert work was the Pinnacle Productions Grateful Dead concert at Shrine Exhibition Hall, probably in late 1968 or early 69. At one point one of the musicians looked around and spotted the drummer working the beat furiously, bathed in a scintillating, flashing circle of David Lebrun's flickering images of snowflakes, Indian pottery, and seashell structures on a black background, surrounded by a surging 60 foot wide sea of amazing imagery stretching the entire width of the hall. Then he tapped Jerry Garcia on the shoulder and pointed. Jerry looked around, then turned around and put his back to the audience and continued as before, gazing up at the expanse of imagery towering over him. Shortly the others followed, and they played the rest of the set facing the imagery - and we played with them. Real magic!

Visit the new SWTB website at http://www.swtb.info

February 6, 2002
Words - Rol Murrow www.murrow.info/rol
Updated November 8, 2002
Additional corrections May 23, 2003

 

SWTB
Those Single Wing Turquoise Bird guys in action.... (Beware LARGE Image!!!)
 
 
 
   

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