|Motion Studio and the Trips
|In the fall of 1965, I was an aspiring 18
jazz drummer, who was also a fledgling painter and art student.
Having come from a family
where my mother, Ferne Cairns, was a
soprano and my father, Douglas
Simpson, a pioneering west coast Modernist architect, my
was sealed to either choose between the two mediums of music and painting, or
somehow juggle both of them at
the same time. To me this was something
akin to choosing between breathing and eating so I decided to try
to progress in both mediums. To that end I rented a small (30’ x 60’) storefront at West
4th Avenue and Bayswater in
Sound Gallery, the store front at 4th and Bayswater.
Earlier in the year I had made the acquaintance of jazz pianist Al Neil who I had seen play live twice in Vancouver jazz venues and once on CBC television from the Cellar, a legendary
club which among other claims to fame had been the place that gave the ground breaking Ornette Coleman Quartet their first concert outside of the U.S. in 1958. It had also featured
through the 50's and 60's the groups of Charles Mingus, Art Pepper, Harold Land and many more west coast hard bop bands of that caliber. Al Neil was usually the house pianist for
these visiting greats.
Al Neil at the Cellar in the late 1950's
Significantly the Cellar was also where future Intermedia Director, Barry Cramer, produced plays such as Krapp's Last Tape and other works by the writers of the Theatre of the Absurd. Vancouver, it seems,
has always had a tendency to investigate a mixed media approach to the arts and this has been evident through several decades since Al Neil recorded with the beat poet, Kenneth Patchen, on the Folkways
label producing a very well received album.
Kenneth Patchen Reads Poetry In Canada
(With the Alan Neil Quartet).
In 1965, after an initial introduction to Neil
and his wife at the time, Marguerite,
in their small cottage wedged behind some highrise apartments in the West End, a life long
Marguerite Neil in concert with the Al Neil Trio
at the Intermedia Dome Show, 1970
There was an immediate current of excitement as I realized that after abandoning any regular career choices I might indeed be on the threshold of a unique musical enterprise with Al
and bassist Richard Anstey, who I had been playing with in groups such as the New Dimension Jazz Trio and with Bob Buckley was also playing with Al's group at the Flat Five Jazz
Club on West Broadway.
Our first musical strategy session was an eye opener. Al
pretty loaded the night he hauled out his little electric Wurlizter piano with its fragile
reeds, half of
he managed to break
Although an authentic hard bop musician, Neil worked in so many
influences from pioneer Dadaists like Kurt Schwitters, painters like Bradley
Tomlin and Mark Tobey to
For the first two rehersals the Al Neil Trio was actually a quartet
the presence of altoist Bob Buckley who later went on to fame and fortune
with the rock band Spring and
Because I also need somewhere better to paint than the family
the studio at 4th and Bayswater became a multi-media operation from the beginning.
First I drew from the
Manifestations of Calm
Gregg Simpson: oil on canvas, 1965
(a work installed in the Sound Gallery)
As the little circle of friends who came to the studio expanded there
a movement started to have sessions
and everyone chipped in on the rent to keep the place going. Fledgling
nothing short of extraordinary, combing snippits of melodies like Summertime, or a blues, which appeared through waves of arpeggios, polychromatic chord clusters, whirling dervish modal
lines and atonal passages. We were still playing jazz we all thought, especially in Anstey and my case as we were both very recently influenced by the work of the John Coltrane Quartet and
of Charles Mingus. who we had seen live together at the Blue Horn. Al liked to perplex other musicians when they asked what all this stuff was and he would say, “ I like to think I'm
still playing jazz”!
(photo by Michael deCourcy)
were up to something different though. In fact a year or two later when Al played some of the trio tapes for bassist/ pianist Don Thompson, now a Canadian jazz icon, asked him,
"Al, how do you get those guys to play that way ?"
This was no easy thing to explain. The Trio had a unique empathy for improvisation not unlike a group like the Bill Evans Trio. Although much more frenzied, it did have some of the
interwoven, independent melodic lines of the Evans group . But that was when something like a tune or song form was involved. What was unique to this group was the way it could move
into non-verbal chanting, collaged textures utilizing toy instruments, tapes, records or radios and still keep the feel of a jazz trio. Noise music mixed with political protest was employed on
one of a kind pieces like State of the Union where a radio speech by then President Johnson on Viet Nam was smothered in clattering textures and insane shrieking, all recorded in a totally
darkened Sound Gallery. It was a long way from bebop.
By March, 1966 after a month long hiatus from Al, Richard
Anstey and myself returned from playing an engagement at a Banff hotel and we
were back at the old studio
ready to take
The first new
participant to arrive at the Sound Gallery was composer Gerry
Walker , a new music composer
who worked with tape and prepared piano in the era before synthesizers.
Almost immediately the Saturday night concerts at the Sound Gallery
a place for poets, artists and dancers to collaborate. Among those who
appeared were painter
Gary Lee Nova: Dreadnaught
acrylic on canvas, 1966
Soon after we were joined by dancer/choreographer Helen Goodwin
who had recently worked with New York-based Jean Erdman, a pioneer
performance/ dance artist. The Sound
Poetry was an important medium in the 1960's and readings were given
at the Sound Gallery. One notable one was by Milton Acorn
which was a raucous affair as
The spawning ground for both Helen Goodwin, and most of the
was the University of British Columbia where the remarkable English professor, Warren
The University of British Columbia during the 1960s was a revolutionary
cauldron of poetry, left wing politics and ground-breaking art exhibitions and
festivals. The Fine Arts
The 1965 Armory Show and the1967 Festival of Contemporary
were two other important events which brought together artists, poets and
musicians from B.C. and across
The events at the Sound Gallery were getting increasingly popular and
June we realized that a larger space was going to be necessary. The crowds in
the 30' by 60' store front
TheCo Dancers at Motion Studio, 1966
(Photos by Jack Dale)
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. The dance troupe eventually became known as TheCo.
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 film, Perry progressed to creating montages of film
loops which were augmented for performances with magic lantern, slide carousel, and overhead liquid projectors, anticipating the subsequent development of rock era light shows.
During this period the underground rock scene had been developing
giving the WECO projectionists several gigs accompanying the rock bands
at the Afterthought, a
THE TRIPS FESTIVAL
The largest and best attended of these early psychedellic era
events was the Trips
held in the Garden Auditorium of the Pacific National Exhibition grounds
near the eastern
Poster for the Trips Festival with drawing by Jack Wise
Listen to Psychedelic, a piece played by the Al Neil Trio at the Trips Festival
The Trips Festival was organized by Linda Crane, Ken Ryan, the
late Doug Hawthorn, and Sam Perry and
a co-founder of WECO. Inside
this huge auditorium were 100 rear
Daily Flash, poet Michael McClure and other Seattle and Bay area acts. 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 to the already legendary Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters with their soon-to-be legendary bus.
Vancouver was into the 60's full tilt.
In the fall of 1966 after the long hot summer of the Trips Festival, we had the space at 1236 Seymour almost rennovated 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 overcoated, fedora-wearing figures all about 6' 4"
and very mean looking surrounding the bandstand. They looked like the cops in a 1940's detective B-movie.
This was none other than the Vancouver Police Drug Squad led by the
Abe Snedenko, who had harassed
both Neil and MacDonald throughout the years. I just lowered
where I displayed the work I was doing at the Vancouver School of Art. These were boxes hung on the wall with back lit mandala patterns, modest hommages to the more sophisticated
electric sculptures made by Vancouver artist, Audrey Doray. The most popular LP we played around the studio at the time was the Beatles Revolver.
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 built for composer Gerry Walker made of L-shaped grey industrial metal. It became both the control for the sound system which was an early version of quadrophonic
surround sound, a perfect vehicle for Walker's tape compositions.
The sound was manipulated around the speakers and the room via a joy
similar to an airplane control stick. It was reported by Ken Ryan that this
system knocked him over when he
Another innovative development from WECO was the 3 storied
tower that was built to house the array of projectors which were utilized
in the weekend
The incredibly dense montage of imagery emanating from this battery
Sam Perry's 16mm films, many with
imagery suggesting Tantric or Hindu deities, old campy magic
Two other special effects were debuted that fall, one being the first
light in Vancouver. One of the first experiments involved WECO associate Gordon Bell with red,
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
a concert with Martin Bartlett and Gerry Gilbert
The Formation of the Intermedia Society
On one particularly great evening that fall saw a distinguished member
in the audience from the Canada Council. This was David Silcox who was in
Vancouver to have a look at
Over the next few months , after we abandoned the Motion Studio, the Al
Trio, which had launched the original Sound Gallery evenings and steadily drew
in the crowds, continued
There was a feeling of expectancy in the air as if we hadn't quite seen
the total fulfillment of the promise of
multi-media. When many of the artists from the Sound Gallery and Motion
Two groups had been meeting to help create the entity which became the
Intermedia Society. One was centred around Victor and Audrey Doray 's
circle which contained one of
The name Intermedia was arrived most likely at the suggestion of its
director, the late Joseph
Kyle. Kyle, also
an accomplished hard-edge abstract painter, was then a devoted
With painter Jack Shadbolt as the head of the Board, the
Society was formally constituted and dedicated to forging new links between
art and technology. Canada
visual artist bill bissett.The top floor contained more technical and fabrication spaces including tape recording and editing rooms. The truly interesting thing about this interface between art
and technology is that, by today's standards, there was hardly any technology available. Beyond a few cheap tape recorders, a 16mm film editor and some other very rudimentary equipment
there was not a lot to build a technological art experiment on. What Intermedia really represented was collaboration between like minded artists and performers, just as it had been at the
Sound Gallery and Motion Studio.
The year 1967 was a watershed for the future of Vancouver art. Intermedia was
about to begin.
-Gregg Simpson, 2014