Thursday, December 30, 2010

Motion Studio

The ramshackle office/warehouse which was the new home of the Sound Gallery operation was now called Motion Studio, the name reflecting an increased effort on Goodwin's part to create a more effective dance environment in collaboration with Sam Perry's light show. The name chosen for this collaboration, WECO, was a tribute to the multi-media collective in New York, USCO, whose founder, Steve Dirkey, was a very influential on Perry.

Sam Perry was a figure who was both inspiring and perplexing, His pioneering film and projection work was ahead of its time with its multiple layered imagery drawn largely from from Tibetan Buddhist sources. Perry, like the painter Jack Wise, had been to Nepal and met the Dalai Lama. Originally working in 16mm, Perry progressed to creating montages of film loops which were augmented for performances with magic lantern, slide carousels and overhead liquid projectors, anticipating the subsequent development of rock era light shows.

During this period the underground rock scene had been developing rapidly giving the WECO projectionists several gigs accompanying the rock bands at the Afterthought, a club located in the old Pender Auditorium where groups like the United Empire Loyalists held forth to swaying crowds of hippies.The largest and best attended of these early psychedelic era events was the Trips Festival, held in the Garden Auditorium of the Pacific National Exhibition grounds near the eastern boundary of the city.

The Trips Festival was organized by a number of people but was coordinated through the efforts of a number of people. Inside this huge auditorium were 100 rear projection screens for everything from old Chaplin films to abstract 16mm film loops and everything else from liquid overhead projectors to magic lantern slides from the turn of the century.

Poster for the Trips Festival, 1966
Drawing by Jack Wise, design by Michael Sawyer

The Al Neil Trio opened the first set of the evening, which included Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Daily Flash, poet Michael McClure and other Seattle and San Francisco rock bands. This was before these groups achieved any national prominence and were basically still underground Bay area groups. Topping everything off, the Motion Studio played host as a crash pad for the already legendary, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, with their soon-to-be legendary bus. Vancouver was into the 60's full tilt.

WECO Dancers in at Motion Studio performance, 1966
(Photos by Jack Dale)

In the fall of 1966 after the long hot summer of the Trips Festival we had the space at 1266 Seymour almost renovated and ready to open. The weekend before the official opening there was a jam session with the Al Neil Trio plus tenor sax player, Glenn MacDonald, a talented musician who had worked with Neil at the Cellar in the early 60's. In the middle of one tune, probably a bebop standard which is what Glenn favoured, I looked up from the drums at one point to see to my amazement a ring of over coated, fedora-wearing figures all about 6' 4" and very mean looking surrounding the bandstand.

This was none other than the Vancouver Police Drug Squad led by the inimitable Abe Snedenko, who had harassed both Neil and MacDonald throughout the years. I just lowered my head and kept playing. No one actually was arrested, but some people, anyone faintly odd looking, were taken upstairs and searched. The next weekend, the official opening, went smoothly and our old audiences from 4th Ave. made the trek to the new home of multi-media in Vancouver.

The Motion Studio itself was a rabbit warren of rooms, somewhat dimly lit, but generally spacious compared to the 4th Ave. Sound Gallery. The entrance room I made into a small gallery where I displayed works I was doing at the Vancouver School of Art, boxes hung on the wall with back-lit mandala patterns that slowly stobed. These were modest, low-tech works influenced by the more sophisticated electric sculptures made during the Intermedia years by Audrey Doray, Gary Lee Nova and Michael Morris.

The next series of rooms were offices and shops largely devoted to sound and light equipment with experiments going on continually under the resident electronic experts, Ken Ryan and Al Hewitt. Following through to the back the visitor came upon the main performance area which was a large hall, about 30' x 60' with a high ceiling. Suspended from the ceiling was the famous cage for composer Gerry Walker made of L-shaped gray industrial metal.

It became both the control for the sound system which was an early version of quadraphonic and a module for the playing of Walker’s own tape compositions. This ‘sound cage’ looked like something from a B-grade sci-fi movie but was in effect a floating command module for his electronic tapes and for the house sound system.

The sound was manipulated around the speakers and the room via a joy stick similar to an airplane control stick. It was reported by Ken Ryan that the same system literally knocked him over when he walked through the convergent point where the sound from the four speakers crossed during a light show at the Kits Theatre where local rock group Uncle Als' Fantastic Sensations played a double bill with the Al Neil Trio.

Poster for the Al Neil Trio (aka Al Neil and His Royal Canadians) and Uncle Al's Fantastic Sensations, Kits Theatre, 1966

Another innovative development from WECO was the 3 tiered projection tower that was built to house the array of projectors which were utilized in the weekend performances by the Al Neil Trio, Gerry Walker and the WECO Dancers. Controlling the battery of projectors on the tower was a keyboard made from photo cells stuck in a strip of foam plastic. When the fingers of the 'player' lifted up, a rheostat brought on the projector. A kaleidoscope of projections shot forth hitting the turning mirror strips interspersed with strobe flashes. In the relatively confined performance room the effect was totally amazing.

The incredibly dense montage of imagery emanating from this battery included Sam Perry's 16mm films, many with imagery suggesting Tantric Buddhist deities, alongside old magic lantern slides, and footage of the Himalayas, all tied together by the liquid projections and film loops. Sam Perry's films have apparently been lost or are otherwise untraceable now. The only footage remaining was included in Stan Fox's documentary film on the Trips Festival.

Two other special effects were debuted that fall, one being the first strobe light in Vancouver. One of the first experiments involved WECO associate Gordon Bell with red, flowing beard and hair performing with a skipping rope under a fast strobe. It was definitely hallucinatory but in an innocent and experimental way sense. Then there were the lengths of mirror hung by wires from the ceiling which turned and caught the light from the projectors spinning fragmented shards of images around the room. The psychedelic trance for one couple was momentarily broken one evening when a length of mirror crashed down beside them, luckily with no ill effects.

Weekend evening performances continued through the fall of 1966, until the tragic suicide of Sam Perry which ended the existence of WECO and Helen Goodwin eventually renamed her dance troupe TheCo. Aside from the regular appearances of the Al Neil Trio the only other event involving music was the evening given by poet Gerry Gilbert reading from Phone Book with Martin Bartlett's music for Seven Distances. This collaboration in many ways pre-figured the type of work which Bartlett and others would carry on at the Western Front seven years later.

Poster from Seven Distances and Phone Book, Motion Studio, with
Martin Bartlett and Gerry Gilbert

On one particularly great evening that fall saw a distinguished member of the Canada Council in the audience. This was David Silcox, who was in Vancouver to see what the Council could do for this newly emerging multi-media collective. The obvious success of the Motion Studio and Sound Gallery which consistently brought out large audiences offered proof of the interest of the public in multi-media performance. Subsequently several meetings were held which determined the eventual creation of the Intermedia Society.

Over the next few months after we abandoned the Motion Studio the Al Neil Trio which had launched the original Sound Gallery evenings, continued to rehearse and perform locally, notably at Simon Fraser University and the University of B.C. Likewise Helen Goodwin’s THeCo dancers stayed together and perfected their particular approach. Visual artists like Gary Lee Nova and Dallas Selman, who had worked with Sam Perry, forged ahead with new paintings, sculptures and installation projects which would come to full fruition in 1968 and 69 with the Intermedia Nights at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The Intermedia Society formed in 1967, a watershed for the future of Vancouver art.

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