III. Ultracultural


As Bear’s second talk wound down on the Sunday night the crowd of young hipsters dispersed into the night and became electric.

A bloom of trippers to the right were taking photos over by a clump of giant paper mache magic mushrooms, the red and white Amanita Muscaria trip, the whole Alice in Wonderland thing, with colored lights spotlighting them. To the left, huge pillars of fire whooshed into the night from the industrial Frankensteinery of the Mutoid Waste Company’s fire organ, conducted by the Panish trickster Robin Mutoid at the helm.

The vibes were liquid Californian, stronger and cleaner than most of the usual blotter going around. It seemed like there was some sort of, not unconscious homage to Bear, but… entrainment, maybe. It was like we were all in this giant Acid Test ourselves, twenty four years later at the tail end of his-story, the grandchildren of the hippies, living at that moment where the psychedelic wave of the 1960s finally rose again.

Rave culture, global trance culture, modern entheo culture. The same memes were coming to fruition halfway round the world and peaking in the species once more.

It didn’t seem a coincidence that here was this man, the alchemist that lit the powder fuse to the acid revolution, walking amongst us again at this time.

Things have a way of coming full circle, and having the original ‘Acid King’ back on the ground triggered an unconscious tribal collusion to tune back into the group mind. Gestalt mind. Presque Vu. The proof in the magic pudding. Everyone was loaded.

I was phasing in and out of the swirling crowd, watching them wrapped in neo-tek tribal wear and masquerade avatars for the ‘psycorroboree’ harmonic frequency experiment. The word ‘coorroboree’ was coined by English settlers after the Aboriginal word caribberie, meaning a ‘ceremonial meeting’ where people interract with the Dreamtime through song and dance.

DJ Krusty, a wiry, dreadlocked elder of the local trance scene, had set up six points of surround sound around the perimeter of a circular oval at the opposite end of the path from the conference stage. A 12-foot geodesic dome sat at the center and in a clearing to one side was a huge bonfire roaring out into the night.

Under the dome was a massive Ishtar Function 1 sound system, infamous on the Australian renegade party-protest circuit, sandwiched in the middle of two smaller rigs either side. “Four 18 woofers produced output in a sub-frequency range,” Boffin, one of the soundmen told me, “with a big speaker bin outputting the bass frequencies, a couple of Res 2 low-to-high range only speakers, and two full-range JDL speakers stuck in there to make up the six points.” It was a cobbled together thing that was difficult to patch, and when you get that many sources of sound the technicians had to be real careful not to get cancellation or clashes.

DJ Krusty’s idea was that underneath the music would be broadcast tonal notes at the same vibrational resonances as various crystals. The crystals themselves were hanging in front of each speaker box so the sound waves would pass through them, with a seventh crystal in the middle to ground it, so they matched the chakra levels as well. Each crystal was a different chakra color and each tone was matched to a chakra so that the wave was a harmonic frequency that would match the harmonic frequency of the crystal itself, and then ripple out into the space and fill it with that energy.

“In the overlap of the six sources of sound there was meant to be a sweet spot, and it was highly technical to get it to do all that,” Boffin recalled. And with Bear out there listening, they had better get it right. Bear was wandering into the market, mingling with the hippies, going to different stalls, looking at things and talking to the few people who weren’t in shock or awe after his chastising of the audience during his last talk. 

I was melting through the crowd of masked bohemians and roving performers like infamous chaos magician Orryelle Defenestrate Bascule, who was jumping around and doing weird magickal theatre; everywhere I looked there were freaks and ferals all doing their own thing. Gareth with the velvet cape and velvet pants, missing a few teeth, gorgeous in his psyber-pixieness… players everywhere.... It was less a focused dancefloor than a space where trippers were just free to freak against the night and the bush with some low background music to draw you in, lulling the mind along with it.

Starfinder was grazing lightly on the nights festivities, keeping one eye on what Bear was up to whilst letting him have full rein, and Sheilah was wandering around doing her own thing, too. Bear was enjoying hanging out with the tribe and entertaining the different supplicants that mustered the courage to come up and duel with him. He never suffered fools, and didn’t chat long, but you could see that he was digging it. If he didn’t he woudn’t have been there, he would have gone back to the bed and breakfast he was staying at off the property. No, tonight he was in his element.

I wasn’t really able to speak but my gaze followed Bear further up the path to the giant bonfire in the middle of a cleared circular space with a line around it, like a magic circle. A group of young bucks seemed to be one-upping each other by chucking logs on the fire, stoking it higher and higher till the flames licked the night and sparks dazzled everywhere.

Bear eased in up to the fire, and the higher the flames went, the more Bear held his ground, right there on the edge of the inferno. This was his psychic territory and he wasn’t scared a bit, no siree. And those bucks kept throwing huge logs on and the flames kept blazing up and out, tickling the steadfast figure of Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley, holding the space before them.

Those bucks had no chance.

Owsley was checking it all out: his brow narrowed, owl’s eyes and diamond will consciousness filtering the sea of energy and information around him, the swirling tide of trippers and trance. It was just like old times. Was he electric himself, that night, at 74? Who can say? But one thing was certain–he was well aware of the group mind, nonetheless.

 “Once you’ve been in the group mind it’s familiar territory,” Neil Pike told me. “And surely that is the whole art of tripping, to get to know those brain chemicals within yourself, and to get those juices flowing in a manageable way all the time. That was Kesey’s Next Step. To anchor the places that acid took you to. The trick was to learn, as the Pranksters tried, to function on this stuff. Or to be somewhat sensitive to that zone, and to be able to slide into a manageable version of that zone, without taking the drugs. Particularily if you’re surrounded by people that have taken a dose.”

So perhaps Bear didn’t need acid to get into the acid headspace. He knew the culture because he was one of the prime instigators of it.

“For me, personally, I deliberately took acid that night because of Bear, because he was the special guest and all the rest of it,” one of the patrons, Myz Guidance said. “So I was quite pleased to find that the trip I had was quite fabulous. It was really good acid. And when I saw Bear at the fire, the acid was so strong that people in front of me were morphing into different things. And Bear definitely morphed into a little monkey man. There was no conversation to be had; we were IT.

“Bear was sitting at the edge of the fire–and to me it looked like he was holding a box of some kind he was tinkering with, like he was holding a screwdriver and doing something to it. In my vision the box was black and sparkly, half a shoebox in size, and who knew what the hell it could be, with his penchant for weird recording gear and the like…

“At that time my friends Margaret and Shane were standing next to me, high on acid as well. We were drooling at each other and I think we had a hug, and we continued watching Bear. And as he stood there, the flames licking his hunched and wiry frame, Margaret said:

'It’s Hanuman’.

"And she was right. The avatar of the trickster-monkey god had descended and taken human form in Bear, fiddling with his god-box. And we started laughing and laughing as Hanuman stood there before us, playing with his magical box. I mean, we knew, we weren’t so tripped out that we couldn’t say to each other oh, that’s just his hearing aid. 

But as we stood around and watched him play with his hearing gear, we saw the god form take hold, or be revealed within him; it was very magical under the circumstances. The  Alchemist amongst the faerie children. It was great. 

Like everything Bear approached in life he was totally focused on what he was doing in the present moment, consumed in the now with a singular will. And when his hearing aid kicked back onto the frequency, Bear was drawn to the sound of the unspoken thing...

“And so of course around midnight as we’re getting it all together Bear wanders down and sees what we’re doing at the psycoroborree dome,” Boffin remembers. “And he looks around at it all and he just starts losing it:

“‘You can’t have surround sound… This is crap, this isn’t how you run a sound system! You need the stack all in one spot, you need to… If I were you…’”

He was like an old curmudgeon standing there in the middle of the whole crew, telling them that they’d done absolutely everything wrong. “He was sort of like Yoda, ribbing us in a zen-like way,” Boffin continued, “the elder monk whacking the young monks on the back of the head to bring them into line.”

Bear hated multiple points of sound, and he was losing it and loving it at the same time. There he was, the soundman for the Grateful Dead, creator of the Wall of Sound, the most complicated sound rig of the 1970s and beyond, that set in motion modern rock stadium sound delivery, at a backwoods psychedelic gathering and smack-dab in the middle of an audacious experiment not just in sound design, but of harmonic vibration and sonic alchemy.

It was enough to make his bionic hearing aid cream itself. These hippie kids were pissing in his territory, and boy, was he gonna have fun setting them right.

“This is garbage why would you rig up a system this way? Why go to all this trouble, it doesn’t sound good…” he berated them.

Technically, Boffin admitted, maybe they were getting some sound cancelation in some spots. But you have to remember that Bear heard sound differently, he had the ability to hear four-dimensional sound, to feel it. So by all extensions of logic, it must have annoyed the fuck out of him to hear this flat, six-sourced sound messing with the spatial-integrity of the space.

And, shades of Muir Beach, you really don’t want to flip out Owsley with the sound gear, not after the last time that happened so spectacularly...

“So then we tried to steer him away from the system as he continued to berate us,” Boffin confided.

"What is this, what are you guys doing here…?" Bear said. "You’re like a bunch of high school kids who don’t even know how to hold a dance…!"

"Of course he found it interesting, but he had to bag it out at the same time," Boffin said. "It was great, we were in hysterics. He reamed us hard and told us everything we were trying to do was shit, but in the paternal way he delivered those criticisms you couldn’t help but go along with it–and love it.

“We were trying to explain to him about the frequencies of the crystals and it seemed to me that he wasn’t really into the whole hippie/ new age side of things, so I didnt think he was into crystals,” Boffin concluded.

Which is actually untrue, as Bear fully appreciated the practical qualities of crystals, as he told David Gans in 1991: 

“People are attracted to crystals [because] a crystalline substance has a highly ordered electronic behaviour. And the behaviour of thought and mentation has a highly electronic nature to it, it’s a flow of electrons.”

So it should have been right up Bear’s alley. There in the dome, Krusty and Boffin were running sine waves in similar patterns to the frequency pattern of each crystal.

“You can go octaves and octaves and octaves up the scale from which the crystal sits,” Krusty explained, “because the crystal is such a low sine wave it’s not even moving into vibration and you can’t hear it… you can’t hear matter. And then we were playing a similar frequency up the octave at a range that was within hearing. For instance, an earthquake is a vibration that you can feel because it’s much faster than matter, which is stable. Earthquakes usually come in around 7hrz and times it by 2, times it by 2, times it by 2 and go up the octave scale to within human hearing, you find that its actually the note ‘A’. So you can technically say that an earthquake resonates in ‘A’.”

Curmudgeonly old Bear would have none of it, but underneath one sensed a begrudging respect for what was going on, or at least that some of the ideas and principles that he was into and had pioneered were still being explored, even if by incomptetents and dilettantes. Not that he would never be able to say that.

“It wasn’t necessarily an ego trip,” Boffin said, “but he liked to let you know that he was the ‘Obi-Wan’ of the room.” Inscrutable and ornery old Jedi masters never do say it outright, you see, its all about the unspoken thing.

“And so, even though we explained about the crystal frequencies underneath the music, all he could hear was DJ Krusty’s trance being played really loud,” Boffin explained. “The other stuff was there but it was just a physicality coming out into the space along with the music. So there was Bear in the middle of all this being a curmudgeon and we were at the zen master’s feet trying to explain ourselves as the energy got all scattered and hectic at that point. He had walked into the middle of this medatitive thing we had tried to create and was ranting about it.

“And in the midst of all this chaos this typical farmer woman storms in from nowhere and says that she’s the neighbor and she starts telling us we were making way too much noise and that we had to shut the whole thing off–now.”

She was going to send her husband down with an axe if the sound wasn’t stopped, and you don’t want to mess with an axe weilding farmer in the middle of the night in the Aussie bush whilst on acid, no siree.

Krusty was trying to talk her down and he managed to get her to have a smile on her face, but the chaos was peaking. Finally they agreed to turn off the main music till after dawn, and so just like that the music went out. But the crystal frequencies went on.

“We played the frequencies amplified at mid-volume and let the chakra tones ripple out into the night,” Krusty remembers. Bear was still not impressed. And neither was the audience in general, as the more ambient sounds frittered the focus of the crowd away. The collective consciousness was let loose into the night.

And what, can we only wonder, would the prime creator have thought about the scene he had not so inadvertedly helped create? It could have been very nice doof music, electronic trance, but he still wouldn’t dig it. Many a doofer had tried to turn him onto Sphongle back in the day, but when Neil Pike played him their CD, Owsley had replied, “It’s not doing anything for me. I haven’t heard anything yet that I like… Not a round wave amongst it.”

And he was right. As Pike says, “it’s all samples, all square waves. There’s a difference between analogue and digital sound that most audio technicians who have worked with both will tell you. Analogue’s warmer, and kids these days don’t know anything about it, particularlily the iPod generation. Put an MP3 through a PA system and it’s bad sound.”

After the neighbors complained about the amplified noise all the things you need in a shamanic dance ritual–starting at sunset, dancing through the night to amplified music and greeting the dawn, having gone on a transmorgification of the soul, none of those things could happen at EGA that year, in that space.

However there was still this “good thing that happened that came out of that, this… Acid Test of sorts,” Pike remembers. “The culture was still going, there were people exploring these realms, trying to figure them out and do something in that space. It was creative, and artistic, and high, and friendly–all of which were factors he valued in the Dead culture and that he helped create, now here Down Under.”

It was definitely high, I can vouch for that. As I started coming up on a huge wave of my own, I climbed a small hill in the dark and looked down on the conference. It looked like a faerie village at night, awash with colored lights on tipis, domes, and installation art, the whoosh of the fire organ billowing out occasional jets of fire that blazed through the air.

There was also a gentle ambient soundtrack rippling out from the dome, pierced by the glossolalia croon of witches carried on the wind. I couldn’t hear the crystals, but it felt as if every cell of my being could feel them, still vibrating, pulsing their chakra activation energies into the group circuit.

I tilted my head and fell into the sounds of the night, the vibe of the tribe, the electric Atlantean hum that seemed to radiate from us all as we pulsed to the sound and the glow and the moment here and now and way back when and all times as one, in the ever-present NOW––

As I looked up at the clouds a quirk of the wind, or physics, or both, warped the cloudbank directly above the party into an archetypal saucer shape. And as the crowd pulsed to and fro below, eddying and swirling in a tribal flow, I could feel their energy, and that of all those who had come before, all of us awakened on a cellular level by these planetary exo-pheremones. I felt like Bear at Muir Beach, logged into a patchwork gestalt consciousness, hearing the tribe in my head, feeling them dance upon the earth…

A species pattern recognition washed over me then as a great pressure built in my head and in the clouds above me. And I was certain there was this…thing… up there, pushing down, but not from above the cloudbank, from a higher dimensional space entirely.

A cosmic mothership like the tip of a watermelon pushed down, drawn by the vibrational siren-call of the gestalt mind we had become, and I was so so so so close­–to getting it–or losing it?

I looked down at our gestalt tribe, the children of the children of the hippies, of the far-reaching waves of change that acid unleashed on the planet all those years ago.

Oh, how could these bright young ‘ultras’ sitting here in the Australian bush in 2009 have any idea that the Central Intelligence Agency–the CIA–was directly responsible for their whole hippie lineage? Here now, 40 years after Woodstock, were the children of the children of the MK-ULTRA, the third generation whose DNA–as the scaremongering press said in the 60s–has been altered by LSD.

Well what if it had? Not chromosome damage as they tried to slander it, but awakening? What if they were different, all of us that have been touched by LSD, different now? Or as French philosopher Henri Bergson had so wildly speculated, perhaps the universe was a “machine for the production of gods,” after all.

Like the center of a cyclone, or some species-molecular-chain diagram, the crowd down below was amassed in such a way, organically and invisibly, to create a circuit. A human crop circle, ground zero entheogenesis.

…And then it hit me… like lightning, white lightning, out of the blue. Like Kesey on the beach down in Mexico…

"And I went outside and there was an electrical storm, and there was lightning everywhere and I pointed to the sky and lightning flashed and all of a sudden I had a second skin, of lightning, electricity, like a suit of electricity, and I knew it was in us to be superheroes and that we could become superheroes or nothing. - Ken Kesey

And I realized we were an ultraculture, not a counterculture, all of us seeds ignited by Bear’s lightning, like Zeus with his thunderbolts shooting down from Heaven.

We weren’t counter to the mainstream culture, that was a mistake to believe we were in opposition. The ultraculture was the latest evolutionary wave holding the vibration that had been peaking throughout history–the pattern-signal recognition of the planetary mind–anchoring it in our cells, our dreams and our deeds, tuning us in to the greater reality.

What did Bear think then, of this generation, and the psychedelics that had been tuning in the species for three successive generations now?

As he wrote on his website, theBear.org: “...Psychedelics are a gift of nature that brings tribalism to people; they bring an understanding of the ecology of the planet and the interaction of all living things, because that’s one of the first things you become aware of when you take psychedelics–how everything is alive and how everything depends on everything else. You go take a look at every indigenous culture that has a respect for its environment–unlike the hierarchical approach of the feudalistic structures that the world is now run by–and you will find that these people use psychedelics of some sort, usually in a regular, ritualized manner.”

If, as Bear’s theory suggests, that nature herself is in a reciprocal relationship chemically messaging us humans, then her message was loud and clear: go green. Go back to the garden, with all its fruits of consciousness and abundance.

Get back in synch with Mother Earth and our rightful place in the web of life. And as the Acid Tests fueled the Goa Scene, which gave birth to the global trance movement, a more commercial, commodified but still tribal altered state of mind is now experienced by millions of youth that is an antidote to the hierarchical control systems imposed on us by elites who think they run the show.

“The music of the Grateful Dead is an important assistant to the revival of tribality,” Bear said on his website. “Because it has to do with the way things are. It’s not somebody’s idea about the way things might be, or the way things could be or should be. It’s what it is. It’s real music about real things. The whole thing is about a social movement. It’s tribalism. Which is the only social structure that is truly human. The structure of the world today runs on feudalism–governments, companies; all those structures are feudalistic, arranged in a hierarchy which at the root of it follows Parkinson’s law. That is, once you create a hierarchy or bureaucracy, it has only one purpose, and that is: To Continue. There’s nothing else. But that has nothing to do with the tribal entity. The tribal entity exists so as to abide in harmony with its environment. It’s something that benefits everyone, not just this one structure.”

An eternity passed before I walked back down to the gathering below, drawn like a moth to the flame of the bonfire, radiating white light from the centre of the nuculeus. Stray ‘ultraculturals’ were clumped round about five metres out from the white hot center of the flames, circled in a ring. Clusters of paper mache amanita muscaria mushrooms were dotted around, and it hit me then that like the mushroom, these people, too, were spores–all of us, spores. Green laser light-flower of life symbols were projected on the treescapes behind them, the night awash with projections and light.

The 1960s was the first modern generation to fully re-discover the shamanic modality, and the group mind and vibration that underscored it.

And while at times even Bear and the Grateful Dead themselves may have shied away from it, if you could lock in that vibration and start to drive the group mind… Well, who knows where that might have gone? Or where it’s still headed?

Evolution can sometimes seem slow and then surge ahead in an instant. It can’t be stopped–perhaps the only true mistake is thinking that the group mind can forced into being.

When acid saturated the culture of the 1960s “we discovered a new way to think, and it has to do with piecing together new thoughts in your mind,” Ken Kesey told the BBC in 1987. “Why is it that people think it’s so evil? What is it about it that scares people so deeply, even the guy that invented it, what is it? 
Because they’re afraid that there’s more to reality than they have confronted. That there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control.” 

Gestalt consciousness, like acid itself, is all about loss of the individual ego, as it opens up to something larger than itself. Society is the largest group mind we have, and with that example we can see there’s always a push-pull relationship with change, with progress and repression, freedom and control. You need both to work, like an accelerator needs brakes, they’re both an extension of one another. That’s how the rough beast slouching towards Jerusalem to be born always travels. In waves.

It’s the whole Kesey trip on the beach in Mexico, high on acid: it’s all waves, all vibration, and sometimes the wave becomes a tsunami. It’s been waiting, as Kesey would say, the unspoken thing, just waiting for the right set and setting, the critical mass to bring it back to the fore–building, just like Bear’s superstorm…

And that time is near…

This is an extract from the free, non-commercial biography, White Lightning, available for PDF download here.

Bear Owsley’s writings can still be found on his website: http://www.thebear.org/

Support The Owsley Stanley Foundation – a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of “Bear’s Sonic Journals,” Owsley’s archive of more than 1,300 live concert soundboard recordings from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s here: https://owsleystanleyfoundation.org