Illuminatus Lasers History
Illuminatus Lightshow c. 1976. L-R: Jerry Steele, Eric Cole (?), Wayne Gillis, David Doty, Steve Innes, and Mike Gould, pointing to our custom-made (and very heavy) lighting console.
This is largely a memory dump of Mike Gould, Illuminatus head honcho. Various details have been lost/smudged in the mists of time; if you have more complete info on anything, please get in touch.
I got into playing with light in 1967 as a freshman at Kalamazoo College. I exhibited quintessential Sixties behavior up the ying yang; my college dorm room sported a black light, posters, and a small mirror ball suspended from the light fixture, lit by a modified reading lamp.
I saw my first lightshow on June 22, 1968 at the Kaleidoscope Club in Los Angeles. This was a converted theater where the TV show "Hullaballoo" was once broadcast. On the bill were the Byrds, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and Frumious Bandersnatch. The lightshow was an incredible maelstrom of liquid light, shown on an enormous screen, augmented by an large mirror ball. This, I thought, was the life for me. Photons under duress awoke something deep inside, and the rest is history.
I went back to my sophomore year at K determined to light some screens of my own. I teamed up with my buddy Charlie Davis, and we became the Light Opera, putting on shows at campus dances using projectors borrowed from the AV department.
In 1970 I studied in France as part of the K College Junior Year Abroad program. On class trips I hit up all the art museums, buying slides of all the surreal and colorful art I could find. And all the nudes.
Charlie and I visited the Paradiso Theater in Amsterdam. We talked our way into the lightshow booth and spent the evening absorbing European techniques that would be the mainstay of our show for years to come. The melty-ink Amsterdam Effect came from this experience.
We also visited discos in Italy, where we learned the float-the-colored-oils-on-the-overhead-projector trick, which we called the Florence Effect.
Mike Gould and Charlie Davis, 1971. College yearbook photo, incorporating an Amsterdam projector beaming down the Davis Effect.
After graduating from K College in '71, I returned to Ann Arbor and continued building up an arsenal of modified slide projectors and the like. I met Mike Lutz (the lab tech, not the rock star) and we did parties and the occasional concert. I remember shows with Alice Cooper, Traffic, and a host of smaller bands. I met a photographer named Henry Seggerman, who worked with us and provided us with slides of the A2 Hash Bash, Ozone Parade, and other local events.
In '72 I met Wayne Gillis at an East Quad dorm acid party ("Birdland") when my blues band played there. He was into the same things I was, and had amassed a collection of Edmunds Scientific projectors. We did some shows at the Ann Arbor People's Ballroom (Click here for More Info about the People's Ballroom). I was also playing bass in the Martian Entropy Band, and the lightshow became an adjunct of that. We did many shows at ConFusions: conventions put on the Stilyagi Air Corps, the UM science fiction club.
Zita Kutkus, who joined the Stilyagi at ConFusion 13 in 1975, hooked up with Wayne in 1976 and married him in 1982, made our banner, and our friend Mal Morrison air-brushed it.
Around that time I bought my first laser, a .5mw HeNe from Edmunds Scientific. I got this by doing a Son et Lumiere show at the UM School of Education as part of an alumni event.
In 1976, after being inspired by the book series of the same name, we re-named ourselves Illuminatus. Besides Wayne and myself, other people drifted in and out of the show as roadies, assistants, and such: Sandi Lopez, Dave Doty, Jerry Steele and Steve Innes, all helped out in various ways. If I've forgotten someone, please let me know and I will update this. Our big show in '76 was the World Science Fiction Convention, MidWestCon, where Robert Heinlein was guest of honor.
We did the opening ceremonies show and were given a room to set up and do lights from time to time. We also perfected the hit and run lightshow, where we would load up a borrowed hotel cart with projectors, and go from room to room lighting up the many parties.
At this time Wayne and I built the Interociter, a laser-powered spirograph projector that is still part of the show 3+ decades later. We built a 12-channel dimmer board to run our lamps: 4 circuits of 3 projectors each, all powered from separate power lines to avoid overpowering the electrical systems of the venues we played.
We performed at the UM Union Ballroom at a gay rights ball, the Second Chance with Ron Ashton's Dark Carnival, and at the Michigan Theater with the Martian Entropy Band.
The Great Hiatus
By the late Seventies, interest in lightshows began to peter out, and we put all the gear into storage (where it remains to this day: overhead projectors slowly mouldering away under Wayne's basement stairs...). Wayne and Zita represented Illuminatus as Special Guests at ConFusion XX in 1994, at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza in Romulus. They did a regular lightshow during the dance, but had a balcony room overlooking the lobby from which they had fun projecting onto the lobby walls. This probably resulted in lasers being permanently banned from the lobby area there, but not much else was happening.
Then, in February of 2009, I got an email from David Bloom asking if we would like to put a show together with him at Penguicon 7, a science fiction/open source software convention. I jumped at the chance to get back into things, because by this time, lasers were cheap and easy to work with, and the Internet had happened so we could find the parts we needed to put together a new series of laser and video effects. Wayne and I had 4 Mac laptops between us, which we used to project graphics of visualizers and science fiction magazine covers onto the screen, accompanied by David's synth keyboard work.
The laser devices we came up with were built into lunch boxen, because those were the cheapest metal enclosures we could come up with. I wrote about the construction of these in Make Magazine #20.
The lunch boxen and video projectors (bought used from the UM School of Education) were supported by the Ladderal Support System, specially-made shelves suspended between two step ladders. The idea for this came from a show I saw in 1970 at the Fishmonger Arms in London, where I saw Mott the Hoople accompanied by a small lightshow run from projectors on a single stepladder.
The lunch boxen worked OK, but they were hard to aim and the shelving system was a pain in the back to haul around and set up. So I hit upon the idea of using antique spotlights and slide projectors to house the lasers, mounting them on massive tripods of similar vintage. The upgrade from the lunch boxen brought us to 2.1. We performed at the first Ann Arbor Mini Makers Faire, and Steve Rich and his son Jacob joined us at this point.
Our first outing as Illuminatus 2.1 came at I See By My Confusion in January of 2010. This was followed by Penguicon, World Steam Expo, and Youmacon. We also showed off our stuff at the 2010 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire and the massive Maker Faire Detroit in July of 2010.
Scott Bowditch joined us for the summer of 2010, and helped out with electronics and performances at the Henry Ford Museum.
Krunal Desai joined us in time to help out at Youmacon, and is working on getting our show under digital control.
2.2 and Beyond
Our first graphics projectors, ExtraLux 1 and II, bring us into the ILDA-compatible scanning realm that is Illuminatus 2.2. Further upgrades and expansion are in the works. We are working on adding DMX control to all our existing projectors, which will bring us to 2.3. Or maybe 3.0; haven't decided yet.