The Bay Area's counterculture forebears have left behind a lot for us to read, listen to, and sort out. But in the case of one KPIX employee who also happens to be a hobbyist repairer of old electronic instruments, the counterculture came rushing back in the form of some actual, vintage acid.
The station reported Wednesday night on the "long, strange trip" taken by operations manager Eliot Curtis when he was working on the restoration of a modular, analog music-making device that had been gathering dust in a closet in the music department at Cal State East Bay.
The instrument was commissioned by Professors Glenn Glasow and Robert Basart, both pioneers in the avant garde music scene of the 1960s and 70s, and it was built by the late Don Buchla of Berkeley — whose other electronic creations sell for thousands on the internet. KPIX interviewed one of Buchla's students, Suzanne Ciani, who still creates electronic music, who explained that Buchla used a lot of LSD and was friends with local acid king Owsley Stanley, who is also famous for creating the Grateful Dead's sound system.
The instrument, called the Buchla Model 100, also notoriously made it onto Ken Kesey's acid-test bus.
But while taking apart one of the instrument panels on the machine, one that was colored red, unlike the others, Curtis found a crystalline substance that he attempted to move with his finger and clean with a solvent. That was all it took to send him tripping about 45 minutes later, and the trip lasted nine hours.
It's unclear how the drug got there, but the story seems to confirm an urban legend among electronic musicians that there was an instrument that was dipped in acid, and musicians only needed to touch it and lick their fingers to go on a wild ride.
You can hear Curtis's account in the video above, and that of his wife, who witnessed this happen.
As Ciani amusingly sums it up, "It’s a bit like time travel. If you could go back that would be the way to go there."