Saint Elmo’s Fire,

Pig Light Show

 
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In July of 1967 I was a 15 year-old singer/guitarist in a band and at the time there was no such thing as “Concert Lighting” and most venues provided the lowest cost, effort, form of visibility possible.

I had seen one local band who brought a couple of 10” fresnel spot lights with color media to aid their performance. I thought I could do something similar and built a few short strip light kinds of fixtures and got some speaker stands built to allow the mounting of a public address horn. I also gutted a portable record player and mounted a few household dimmers and pushbutton switches for control.

After a very short period I was getting far more work from other bands than my own band was getting. I had also, in May, been to Expo 67 and seen an impressive production designed by Josef Svoboda, the Diapolyekran, which utilized over a hundred moving screens with many projections of slides and film.

From that, and various photos of burgeoning light shows from the West Coast, I also attempted to get some projections in when I could. But it was all a one-man (one-boy?) operation and was difficult to do it all at once.

From those West Coast Light Show pictures, and the few video cuts on some news footage of concerts, I got a hankering for figuring out how to do the liquids.

With money made from the lighting and some Saturday work for my father in NYC, in a few months I finally got my first overhead projector. Not knowing how those shows were doing their liquids, so not knowing about the availability of large clock glass faces, I silicon sealed the top of the overhead stage where the glass met the metal and built up the edges to hold liquid. I found the largest laboratory “watch glasses” I could find, about 9 or so inches, and with food coloring and water, and first vegetable oil then mineral oil, set out doing the dirty!

By the time school had started in the Fall I was taking separate bookings for my lighting and light show, doing with as much as I could under the name Saint Elmo’s Fire. Eventually I figured out I could use dyes for refillable Magic Marker type pens as a dye for the oil.

Influences? Not sure how to answer!.

My first connections to liquid light show techniques were a rare glimpse of some behind a band on TV or in a magazine.

The first live liquids I saw was Lights By Pablo at The Action House in Island Park, NY. Those got me started in trying to figure out and experimenting in liquid techniques. I started adding slides, police lights, some prisms and basic color wheels over time.

But one night in January or February of 1968 I saw a concert at The Anderson Theatre on Second Avenue in NYC, just across the street from where the Fillmore East would soon open, with Procol Harum on the bill.

They and two other acts were backed by what I found out later was a recently formed Joshua Light Show. Stage lighting was done by, I think, Chip Monck and was very colorful (unusual in those days) and very well focused off the rear projection screen, which in and of itself was a wonder. No projectors visible. A more magical presentation than anything else I’d seen.

And the Light Show, unlike the norm at the time, was highly theatrical, starting and stopping with the music, using slides and liquids in a way which was less the random collages I’d seen before and more cohesive and compositional, a lot like Heraldic art. It WAS theatre, but in close synchronization with the music.

It made me rethink everything about how I was doing Light Shows and what Light Shows could and should be. It sent me off in a way that my early partner, Larry Wieder (now Berger) said was like holding on the the tail of a tornado.

So I guess you could say that early Joshua Light Show was my biggest influence…or perhaps catalyst.

I have worked with pretty much all the bands that were popular at the time minus The Beatles, The Stones, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix (and a number of others) but between 1968 and 1973 there were about 250-300.

Other than “jamming” with Joshua and Glen McKay and doing a little pick-up work with Joshua on some few “Industrial” shows, the only other light show I worked with was a couple of friends’ show called London Lights which eventually was absorbed into Pig Light Show.

Saint Elmo’s Fire was the first name for the light show (Mid-July 1967), referring to an atmospheric effect that had always fascinated me since seeing the movie version of “Moby Dick” as the book version never instilled that strong a visual image and I used a single OHP.

In early October of 1967 a few months after starting the show I went with a couple of high school friends to a very intimate concert at The Garrick Theatre on Bleecker Street in NYC to see The Mothers of Invention a few months after their “Freak Out” album came out.

We sat by Frank Zappa’s amplifier and after a seemingly silly couple of incidents I left the theatre bearing the nickname “Pig.” By the end of school the next Monday the nickname had spread and the light show was being called “Pig’s Light Show.” Since it had only had it’s former name since July I just went with it.

It ran with me as it’s founder/leader till 1973 then intermittently until about 1993. In December of 2006 I restarted it as a one man operation running off a computer using effects created with my original slides, liquids and such which I still do today in 2021.

There have been a number of personnel changes over the early years. The original crew of myself, Larry Wieder (now Berger), Patrick Waters, and Mark Miller changed through arrivals and departures to include at various times Joe Lipton, Marvin Chanes, Robert Cohen, Sandy Frank, Iris Strauss, Lisa Cherry, Jeff Taffer, and Michael Strauss.

In spring 1973 Joe, Marvin, Robert Cohen, Sandy Frank and Lisa Cherry (originally from London Lights) left and for a while they were the house Light Show at The Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

As far as I know they were still working when they bought some of Pig Light Show’s old equipment in 1974/75 when I downsized a bit (needed money) and I lost track of them then but never in all that time actually heard about shows they might be doing as I had left the area in 1973 for upstate New York.

Over my teaching years at various colleges a number of students also stepped in to learn and do occasional shows in New York and Ohio.

I started out with a few home made strip lights, two fresnel spots with color wheels, a Buhl overhead projector, my parents’s Keystone 16mm silent film projector and a couple of Kodak 600 Carousel slide projectors.

Non-standard stuff was 35mm movie flanges (wheels from a reel) turned into strangely shaped color and interference wheels, perforated or punched grating for steam heater enclosures, hair dryers, and who can remember what else passed across lights and projectors over 54 years?

We finished up with 46-50+ projectors but we usually only ever took 42 on the road with regularity.

Marc L. Rubinstein - 2015 (Updated January 2021)