The legend that is Mark Boyle is one that reaches far outside the realms of psychedelic light shows and continues to this day where Mark and his entire family are still on the cutting edge of Contemporary Art.
Born in Glasgow in 1934, Mark was already producing art in many forms such as paintings, installations and sculptures and had many exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.
At The Marquee Club on London's Oxford Street in the summer of 1963 Mark Boyle at Michael Horovitz’s ‘New Departures’ Sunday afternoon events was producing 'Lights, Slides and Back Projections' to accompany Avante Garde/Jazz Musicians (including a Pre Soft Machine Robert Wyatt and Daevid Allen...) - Source: Tony Bacon - London Live (page 81)
In 1966 the Son et Lumeniere for Earth, Air, Fire and Water ran at the Cochrane Theatre, London, closely followed by the Son et Lumeniere for Insects, Reptiles and Water Creatures and the Son et Lumeniere for Bodily Fluids and Functions.
These events were ground breaking in respect of projected lighting and consisted of chemical and physical reactions projected onto a screen whilst being surrounded by various taped sounds.
Elements of this light show evolved and performances were made at the legendary UFO club in London’s Tottenham Court Road. Later that year he formed the Sensual Laboratory with Joan Hills, who would later become his wife.
In 1967 the first of many collaborations started with The Soft Machine, with shows at the Edinburgh Festival and also in Holland and France.
Also in 1967 Liquid Light Environments ran at the UFO throughout the year.
During 1967 Mark invented and patented a machine with a light sensitive screen that could do three colour separation on anything that was projected onto it and turn it into sounds, i.e. one colour would create one type of sound and another colour would create a totally different sound.
Unfortunately the Sensual Laboratory did not have the money to develop this invention and the patent lapsed.
More concerts with The Soft Machine followed in Holland and again in France as well as work on the Structure of Dreams at the Arts Lab, London.
1968 took the Sensual Laboratory on tour in the USA and Canada with The Soft Machine and Jimi Hendrix as well as the legendary but controversial production at London’s Roundhouse ‘Bodily Fluids and Functions.
This consisted of a couple copulating on stage whilst being wired up to ECG and EEG which were projected from closed circuit TV onto a huge screen. With heartbeats and brainwaves on display, every second of the experience was shared by the audience.
Another event in 1968 was the Liquid Light Environment produced for the opening of the ICA in London.
The Sensual Laboratory continued producing installations and collaborations with many artists throughout the remainder of the 1960’s.
It goes without saying that the Sensual Laboratory inspired anyone that witnessed their work first hand and you will see from our interviews with other light shows of the time that they are often cited as being a major influence to their work.
For anyone that is interested in other areas of Mark Boyle’s work, please visit the following URL:
Thanks to Neil Rice of Optikinetics for help with some of the historical info for this page.
Press release for Boyle Family - Early Projections,
1 October - 7 November 2004, Calvin St, London:
In the late 1950¹s Mark Boyle and Joan Hills set out to make an objective examination of reality that would not exclude anything as a potential subject.
Whilst the development of the earth studies was one part of this project, Boyle and Hills also worked in other media including events, performance, film, photography and projection.
They began experimenting with basic projections in 1962 and gradually developed a number of ideas and techniques for projection pieces which they initially put on for friends around the kitchen table.
These would include projecting found sweet wrappers and coloured dyes or fizzy drinks such as Coca Cola and Tizer; melting ice, boiling water and burning slides with the heat of the projector.
Their first major event to include projections was Suddenly Last Supper (1964), which also included
random collage films. Subsequently their projection pieces crystallized into three major works: Son et Lumière for Earth, Air, Fire and Water (1966), which presented physical and chemical reactions including evaporation,
corrosion, combustion and effervescence;
Son et Lumière for Insects,
Reptiles and Water Creatures which showed living creatures of the air, earth
and water greatly enlarged; and Son et Lumière for Bodily Fluids and
Functions, which presented fluids such as blood, tears, vomit and sperm which were extracted from Boyle and Hills live onstage during the
Art and popular culture met when John Hoppy Hopkins, founder of UFO, the
first all night psychedelic club, asked the Boyles to perform Earth, Air, Fire and Water at UFO¹s opening night in December 1966.
There, having done their event they stayed on to do some projections for the next band, Soft Machine. Mark Boyle poured some acid onto a piece of perforated zinc in the projector and, as Mike Ratledge, the keyboard player hit a long discord, the acid melted the zinc into terrible distorted shapes which were projected all
over the band.
The projections were such a success that the Boyles were invited to perform at UFO every week and continued to work regularly with Soft Machine. Within a matter of months their melting slides, exploding liquids and colours were a defining part of the underground, psychedelic scene.
After a particularly gruelling tour of the States with Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine in early 1968, Boyle and Hills realized that they could no longer continue to tour, bring up their children and work on their other art
So with a few rare exceptions such as their final event, Requiem for an Unknown Citizen, they gave up live performances and concentrated on other aspects of their project and their family.