Exploding Plastic Inevitable
The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (alternatively Plastic Inevitables) were a group of auditory and visual performance artists (to put it vaguely) formed and fronted, on the visual side, by Andy Warhol, and typically involving live performances by the rock band “The Velvet Underground (and Nico).”
EPI was represented in Marshall McLuhan’s chapter on sound in “The Medium is the Massage” because of they directly represent the concepts of the auditory sea, where all sound forms a seamless web, that McLuhan describes. EPI were famous for the barrage of sound and light they confronted their audiences with, sound and light that was composed of films and recordings that may have had traditional significance on their own, but were combined and layered in such a way that sometimes was highly stimulating, if not entirely incoherent.
EPI was active only in the years of 1966-1977. Their first performance, in 1966, was at a dinner for the New York society of Clinical Psychology – during which several of Warhol’s films were screened, The Velvet Underground and Nico performed, and guests at tables were assaulted by a duo wielding a video camera and bright bulb, asked sexually explicit questions and generally demeaned. The event was called “Up-Tight” (The Art of Projection, 76).
In 1968, critic Wayne McGuire called the Velvet Underground “prophets of a new age, of breakthrough on electronic: intermedia: total scale.” Several other critics called the effect of the shows “decadence” or “perversion” (The Art of Projection, 71).
Warhol’s provocative, sometimes pornographic films were projected to accompany the Velvet Underground’s “lengthy, atonal improvisations” and “dark, provocative songs.” EPI shows used 3-5 movie projectors, “often projecting the different reels of the same film simultaneously,” slide projectors “moveable by hand so their images swept the auditorium,” 4 strobe lights, 3 moving spots of different colors, pistol lights, mirror balls on the ceiling and floor, 3 loudspeakers “blaring different pop records at once,” sets by The Velvet Underground and Nico, and dancers enhanced by more lighting to “project their shadows high onto the wall.”
Warhol after performing at Rutgers University in 1966: “We did two shows for over 650 people… It was fantastic to see Nico singin with a big movie of her face right behind her… The audience was mesmerized… I was behind one of the projectors, moving the images around… [The Velvet Underground] were like audio-sadists, watching the dancers trying to cope with the music” (Andy Warhol 365 Takes, 46)
Jonas Mekas on EPI: “The film maker became a conductor, having at his fingertips not only all different creative components – like sound controls, a rock band, slide projectors, movie projectors, lighting – but also the extreme personalities of each of the operators of each piece of equipment” (Warhol [Rainer Crone])
Based on these reactions, it should be apparent why McLuhan would choose EPI to represent the “web of sound:” the barrage of noise, light, and movement that EPI confronted its viewers (experiencers?) with is a perfect analogy to the seamless web sound forms around us. (The Medium is the Massage, 111).
“Any pattern in which the components co-exist without direct, lineal hook-up or connection, creating a field of simultaneous relations [which] is auditory… is a kind of orchestral, resonating unity” (The Agenbite of Outwit).
The EPI represented the “group consciousness” McLuhan described – “a vast electronic environment” – in that is was formulated of countless pieces of sound and light (and people) to create this tremendous, singular entity.
“A demon electric light” said Wayne McGuire.