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Monday, 18 April 2011

Kenwood: Nothing Boxes.


Maureen Cleave described it thusly: "In the sitting room are eight little green boxes with winking red lights; he bought them as Christmas presents but never got round to giving them away. They wink for a year; one imagines him sitting there till next Christmas, surrounded by the little winking boxes." For Peter Brown, it was this(ly): "Across one of the cabinet doors (in the sunroom) John had stuck an advertising sticker that said "Milk Is Good". On the top shelf was a set of black light boxes, twinkling silently, while on the table in the corner a green lava lamp slowly undulated."
And so it goes on... the Nothing Box is a must-have feature of any self-respecting description of Kenwood; as we've seen, John owned several, and liked them too, so the story goes, largely because on acid one can apparently think of nothing better than a box that blinks lights on and off at random until the battery runs out. Look the thing up on t'internet, and you'll be told that Magic Alex was the inventor; this was what first drew John to him, for reasons outlined above.
The question, as ever, is "How much of this is bullshit?" The answer, as ever, is "Probably a fair bit". John must have bought them (if Christmas presents they were) sometime in 1965, and possibly in (or from) the US; they were certainly on sale there, as the following advert proves:


Peter Brown (who manages to get at least two things wrong in the above quote) said that Alex invented a "light box" for the Rolling Stones stage show; I can't have been the only one to have read accounts of the Nothing Box over the years, and imagined something spectacularly psychedelic. Which it isn't. And it's clearly not suitable for drawing attention away from the prannying antics of Sir Mick Jagger. So Alex's light box and the Nothing Box are unlikely to be the same thing.
Curiously, of all the photos taken inside Kenwood, not a single one shows a Nothing Box.
Now, you're obviously thinking "Yes! I must have one!" But as far as I know, to do so you'll need to acquire a bent for at-home electronics, and then make yer own. Here's the schematic:


...and more details (and a completed one) can be found on the site of a Mr Mike Ellis HERE.
Interestingly, the Nothing Box wasn't the only such thing at Kenwood. In February 1967, John bought H. Garcia Rossi's Boite Lumineuse No. 19 (that's Light Box No. 19 to you and me, unless you are French), a canny investment:


Horacio Garcia Rossi was the key figure in the group GRAV, whose idea was to create art not for “the eyes of the cultivated, the sensitive, the intellectual, the aesthete or the connoisseur”, but rather to construct a new kind of universal art that could be appreciated by anyone with a functioning eye or two. Light was, therefore, the medium of choice. Also interestingly, if you read Hunter Davies's biography, largely constructed around at-home interviews conducted in 1967, the GRAV manifesto, applied to music (and ears), is almost exactly what the Beatles were espousing (though John, for one, had changed his tune a little by the end of the following year).
Anyway, here's one of Rossi's light boxes, though not the one John bought:


Here endeth the bullshit (for today). (PS If any of you crazy kids out there can actually make a Nothing Box (let alone a Boite Lumineuse), do write in.)

4 comments:

  1. I wonder why he thought to take the (no)thing to the David Bailey photo session? Macca didn't have a prop there, did he?

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  2. I think this pic was taken by Brian Duffy. There are a few more which I'll stick up.

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  3. So did the magic greek have anything to to do with the nothing box? Did he design and license the thing to a US company?

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  4. I suspect he had nothing to do with them; he helped design some stage lighting for the Stones, and then somehow that got turned over time by various people into him inventing the Nothing Box (though I may well be wrong about that).

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