Speed of Light Show


The Speed of Light Show History

I started the Speed of Light Show while at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. Our first show was on 2/13/78. It was as though a magical portal opened and me and my college colleagues stepped though it together.

Hampshire featured an amazing multimedia library, from which we could borrow equipment, slides and a world-class collection of classic experimental, art films...or, "expanded cinema," as it is sometimes called. My film teacher, Tom Joslin brought the greatest living expanded cinema filmmakers to our college...Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baille, Standish Lauder, (maybe even Jordan Belson), etc.

This had an enormous influence on us. For a while, our Light Show was the backbone of the legendary Hampshire Halloween party, referred to by Playboy as one of the greatest college parties on the planet.

At one of our infamous Hampshire events, Merry Prankster Wavy Gravy ordained our crew into the Phurst Church of Phun. This influenced us to combine a wide variety of art/theatre/experiential art/spoken word into our immersive multimedia experiences…transforming The Speed of Light Show’s productions into something much more than just a Light Show.

This was the start of a 17 year-long run of visionary art experience productions. We specialized both public shows set to both live and recorded music - mostly psychedelic/jam band rock, but also new age/world music - and private, all-night long shamanic visionquests for groups of 25-75 participants.

For many years we produced seasonal, by-invitation-only, visionquest retreats that were focused on the Grateful Dead's legendary "Field Trip" concert that happened on 8/27/72 (the final "Acid Test with the Merry Pranksters).

Side note:
I was the primary protagonist that convinced the Grateful Dead to finally release this show, which is widely considered the most visionary psychedelic live stage music performance in history.

Though private, these specific productions were arguably the greatest work that our collective produced.

Upon graduating, our collective started to do shows publicly.

We connected with light show legend Joshua White, who mentored me, lent/gifted us his equipment (including the clock faceplates he used when performing with Jimi Hendrix!), and with whom we collaborated on a set of Fillmore East alumni shows at the Saint Nightclub in NYC (formerly the Fillmore East), including members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna, The Chambers Brothers, Iron Butterfly (!) and other icons of that earlier era.

What set The Speed of Light show apart from other light shows...especially the more modern electronic music-based Light Shows...was a) our incorporation of classic 16mm film footage spanning many styles of filmmaking, and b) my great effort spent collaborating with live bands before we performed with them...studying their songs, interviewing them, making sure our imagery synergized with their lyrics and musical intentions, d) being mentored by Joshua White, who was exceedingly generous with his time.

The only thing he refused to share were his most special liquid light chemistry secrets, which he insisted should come from direct practice with the materials, not a hand-me-down recipe book. He was right.

Our booking agent got us some high-profile gigs, including a series of high-paying college/university shows with Timothy Leary (we would perform to the classic rock music recordings, then Tim would lecture, then we would perform again).

We were the main stage Light Show for the Woodstock music festival's 10-year anniversary at Yasgur's Farm.

We were hired to perform with members of the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol's private memorial in NYC...all the more amazing because, sight unseen, we rented a film about Warhol that had not been rented since the 1970s.

In that film, Andy was asked how he wanted to be remembered after his death. Andy looked into the camera and said that he wanted his friends to rent a space, hire a Light Show, and play a great dance concert just like in the old days at his studio. It felt like he was talking directly to us from the Great Beyond.

The Speed of Light Show then became the house Light Show at the legendary NYC nightclub Wetlands Preserve.

We did shows there every month for a decade...almost 100 when all was said and done. It was the start of the Jam Band era and we worked with every prominent band, including Phish, Blues Traveler, etc., as well as many icons from the 1960s.

Over the years we did almost 100 shows with a much-loved NYC band, the Zen Tricksters, which was sort of the house band at Wetlands Preserve.

In the mid 1990s, I cofounded a festival production company called Peak Experience Productions, and then moved out West to start producing large, multi-day music and performance art festivals, much like Burning Man (which I have participated in for 23 consecutive years).

The effort required to produce these big events made it impossible for me to continue with Speed of Light, which, over time, gradually faded away.

The spirit of the Speed of Light Show now lives on through another immersive multimedia project I direct; The "L'HA!" laser harp - a futuristic, audience-participatory, immersive sound and light experience which appears at festivals and museums.

It can be found here: www.laserharp.cc

A short Speed of Light Show demo reel can be found here: https://vimeo.com/84076492

In Light,

Johnny Dwork - November 22nd 2021

Speed of Light Show