Ian Anderson 11 a.m., Dec. 9
Operation MINDBLOW to the Rescue
The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well. -- Lewis Carroll
"We put on our own shows, generally. We're the curators. It generally works out that way."
Ake (pronounced Ah - key) Arndt is 41 and lives in Ocean Beach. Josh Bohannon, his business partner, is 36 and lives either on a boat (he sails an 80' wood yacht for a living) or in a Pt. Loma studio apartment. Arndt designs skateboard graphics.
Together, they are Operation MINDBLOW, producers as such of liquid light shows the manner of which have rarely been seen since the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
The two and their show travel, but generally no further than they can drive in a day due to the hassles of getting all their gear and light show chemicals through airport security. For example, they'd like to do their light show at the Austin Psych Fest. In the mean time, Operation MINDBLOW remains close to home.
"L.A. is about as far as logistics will allow," says Ake.
"We just did a show at the HM 157 House in Lincoln Heights in East Los Angeles." Bohannon calls it "the best venue ever. It has couches. You can crash in the back."
Their business model is very '60s: "Let's just put on rad shows. You can't really sell records any more," says Ake. "There's no money in that. In the absence of profit, he reasons that the only thing left to do is make art for the people. "We're turning into the psych rock venue for when people want to play."
"We invent our own devices," Bohannon says. "We use aquarium aerators, glass dishes we've modified."
Ake: "We cut glass."
Bohannon: "We build whatever we can that we think will be cool."
"And everything's gotta be translucent," says Ake, "or it just turns all black on the projector screen."
He says they got some information by referring to the history of psychedelic light shows. "But those guys kept their secrets," says Bohannon. "It took us a year to figure it out and to get it to where we are now."
During an old school liquid light show, the musicians often perform either in the dark or at the fringes of a bath of seething, raging colors pulsating on a giant scrim behind the band. Colors are made to wiggle and dance and sprint across the screen.
"We have these two [clear glass] clock faces that hit each other and spread the chemicals in a woo-woo pattern." Bohannon demonstrates with his hands. "We use dyed oils and purified water in there."
"The toughest part?" Ake says. "Finding dyes that would react right."
In its day, the light show was almost as important as was the band. Liquid light shows were so called because the visual effects depended wholly on various fluid compounds and dies combined and left frizzing in the heat of a projector screen. This was in turn projected onto a large screen at the rear of the stage.
The light show proper came into its own as a multi-media art form during the late 1960s. Some shows were simple: one guy and a single projector. Others involved dozens of slide projectors and film projectors and color wheels and smoke and whatnot.
The idea was to tell in light and color what a given band was playing. Emotion was key. Light shows eventually died out in popularity, as did the manner of drug use that inspired such Technicolor visions in the first place.
"There was different shit available back then, like lead and acids," Bohannon says. "Joshua Lightshow (Joshua White, based in New York,) he'd be making mustard gas basically with all the chemicals he was combining."
"He'd do stuff with sperm," says Ake, "and blood."
"One time they used these live wasps," says Bohannon. "The container they were in began to close down due to the heat, and the wasps panicked and started biting each other's heads off."
"Half the audience left," Ake says.
"The only thing to do was to let the wasps go into the audience," Bohannon says, "or let it ride out."
"I say let it ride out," says Ake.
"Yeah." Bohannon agrees. "Let it ride out."
"Our shows generally cost about $20 bucks in materials." Ake says that Operation MINDBLOW has been doing light shows for four years. They first came into their own at a place called Dreamstreet, a now defunct headbanger's lounge in OB.
"We started Winter's Womb there, an annual psych fest" now four years in the running. "We chose that venue because no one went there anymore and everybody hated it. Our first night was the best crowd that place ever had."
In the beginning, the San Diego school system provided their gear. "We had an inside connection there who turned us on to projectors."
The two find a lot of the supplies needed to invent light-transmitting devices at thrift stores. It takes six projectors of the old-school design to do a show, Bohannon explains. "A lot of guys are using digital overhead projectors," Ake says, "but their stuff looks scanned and pixilated. Us? Just pure light and emotion."
Is their stuff planned out in advance? No, surprisingly.
"We do it to the music," says Bohannon.
"The better the music, the better the show," says Ake. "It's all live. It's all improvised."
"Being musicians always helps, "Bohannon says. It turns out that both he and Ake play in a pick-up rock quartet called California 666.
"It takes us about an hour to get all our overlays color balanced and level," Ake says.
"We're in at 6 p.m., and out by 2:30 a.m.," says Bohannon.
"And we're getting paid as much as the band playing 40 minutes," Ake says. But he's not complaining. Light shows are too much fun.
"Sometimes we use live ants," he says. Or sea monkeys." Those are microscopic live brine shrimp gotten from a bait shop and released back into the bay after a show.
"I've got this thing," says Bohannon, that pumps water in and drains it back out. Add a little soap"….
…"and it gets crazy, Ake says.
"Then, take it out of focus."
Operation MINDBLOW:Casbah, Friday, August 31. Joy record release party with Astra, Dahga Bloom, Shiva Trash, and more.