The September 9, 1966, cover of Life magazine carried the image of a half-naked man wearing bug-eyed goggles, leaning back in a chair, his face and body streaked with reflected color. The caption read: "LSD ART: New Experience that Bombards the Senses," but what was this strange man doing on the cover of America's family magazine, assuming a place normally reserved for presidents and astronauts? His name was Richard Aldcroft and he was a new kind of American hero, an inner astronaut, explained the editors of the magazine. Aldcroft's heightened state of awareness was achieved not with drugs but through the barrage of spectral colors that shot out of his own "Infinity Machine," a souped-up kaleidoscope crudely fabricated, but highly effective. A bright bulb shone through a Plexiglas cylinder filled with celluloid strips, shards of colored glass, and strips of shiny metal suspended in mineral oil. The cylinder, powered by a small servo-motor, would rotate at varying speeds while the reflective objects would tumble and dance in the light, mimicking the shimmering filigree of an acid hallucination while suggesting "infinity of mind". Aldcroft was one among a growing tribe of "psychic artists" who were employing all technical means to forge cosmic consciousness in real time and real space, extending the body and expanding the mind with all manner of lights, mirrors, goggles, prosthetic head expanders, and other contraptions rigged for optic and aural exploration. It was an unexpected twist in the late industrial age: art and technology combining to produce a new kind of mysticism.

Chapter 1 - Enchanted Loom
Chapter 2 - Infinity Machines
Chapter 3 - Crash Pads
Chapter 4 - Soft City
Chapter 5 - Unsettlers
Chapter 6 - Magic Circles
Chapter 7 - Frontier Mystics

© 2009 Alastair Gordon
Top left: Fly Head, Haus-Rucker-Co., 1968

Top right and above: "Death of the Mind" light show by Jackie Cassen & Rudi Stern for Timothy Leary's Psychedelic Celebration at the Village Theater, New York, 1966.