Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Objet D'Rad

By Rick Shithouse

I've been looking forward to doing this particular Objet D'Rad for more than a year as my passion for this object in particular and the complete lack of shared knowledge about them on the internet has made it a very difficult to even begin to document. But where there's enough passion and tenacity there's a way and I finally get to share my love of a true icon of 80s style and design with you: the alluringly fascinating Wave Machine.

The Wave Machine was developed by Lava Lite, the same company who had much success marketing Lava Lamps throughout the 60s and 70s. The machine consists of a base and vessel. The vessle containing two liquids that don't mix, the colour being a water base and the clear being a spirit base. This is then mounted on a base that contains a motorised powered mechanism that gently tilts the vessel up and down; causing the fluids create waves as the inertia flows from one side to the other. The result is a very transfixing and highly kinetic aesthetic that soothes as much as it entertains.

I, personally, remembered seeing Wave Machines in a local games shop in the mid 80s. As I began collecting many things from this period that were sold as novelties, puzzles or 'undefinable' I remembered these things fascinating me in the store window and I thusly began my quest to try and get one of my very own. Little did I know, at that stage, that there were really two ages of the Wave Machine and my original discovery was right in the middle of the second wave.

Wave Machines first came about in the mid 70s and were advertised in many catalogues of the day with Lava Lamps and other kitschy classics. These Sears Wishbook pages from 1979 and 1980 are the earliest sightings I've come across at retail, but prior to this a Wave Machine can be seen being used as a thinly disguised prop in numerous episodes of Space 1999 from 1976. Ironically this first introduction of the Wave Machine seemed far less enticing to the general public and history proved that it was released well before its time

For it wasn't until the mid 80s that the Wave Machine received new appreciation and adoration. This definitely came in part from the likes of catalogue stores such as The Sharper Image that seemed to all of a sudden give this object a time and place that was incredibly relevant. This ad from April 1986's The Sharper Image catalogue speaks volumes and now it appeared the Wave Machine had found its true home.

Exactly the same item, marketed in much the same way but now given a time and audience that appreciated these wondeful items and embraced them as truly distinguishing objects of taste, lifestyle and status. And it didn't take long for them to start appearing in music videos and movies and TV series. A spectacular shot, which was the jarring epiphany that ignited my fascination, is showcased in the Eurogliders 'We Will Together' video from 1985. And although I can't provide visual evidence a Wave Machine also appears in an episode of Miami Vice, if I manage to see this again in my rewatching I'll be sure to include it in this post at a later date.

Once one begins 'looking' for Wave Machines I began seeing them in lots of other places inadvertently and it seems the 1988 was one of the high points for Wave Machines to appear in movies. 1988's 80s-design-tastic classic Remote Control focuses on a beautiful Wave Machine in its opening shot, replete with other icons of 80s design.

And revisiting the classic Miracle Mile, also from 1988, one is also seen on the museum counter in its opening scenes.

Perhaps the most famous role of a Wave Machine comes from the 1990 action classic Die Hard 2 where a Sharper Image-alike store in the airport makes sure the Wave Machine is pride of place. Indeed, these two frames are capture seconds apart and it becomes obvious the Wave Machine has moved from the podium in front of the counter to being placed direcrtly on the floor. Whether it be a continuity error or somehow intentional, it certainly makes sure the contrast of the public in panic and the calming waves of the undulating Wave Machine don't go unnoticed.

Thankfully the Wave Machine has not been relegated entirely to history. The 2010 series 'In Treatment' featured a Wave Machine during its introduction and also as a prop in the office. If you look hard in many place you'll see Wave Machines. Indeed, how many hundred times had I enjoyed the video for Stardust's 'Music Sounds Better With You' before I spotted one on the top of the bookshelf in the family's living room.

The sale of Wave Machines continued well into the 90s with numerous variations being produced, including rounder cylindrical models, others with floating objects such as dolphins and even some models with ocean sound effects built in to compliment the visual display. The original style rectangular Wave Machine was also sold in different sizes throughout its lifetime, some up to 30 inches long.

Wave Machines are certainly one of the true icons of the 80s, albeit an unheralded one. These wonderful objects may have dropped of the radar due to many drying up or breaking over time and therefore have only survived in small numbers. Thankfully we have the passionate and devoted Torrey Hughes to come to the rescue as Hughes Wave Machines have been instrumental in rejuvenating vintage machines as well as designing his own Wave Cell that is available for sale in many colour options. Torrey's also developing full Wave Machines of his own design which I can only hope comes on sale as soon as possible. I've been following this wonderful man's work for years now and have had the pleasure of buying a vintage machine off him as well as one of his Wave Cells (which I have customised onto my vintage base). If you have any interest at all in Wave Machines be sure to Like and Follow his page on Facebook. It's been a fascinating journey thus far and promises to be even more so in the future. 

My Wave Machine is easily one of my most favourite objects I own, I've had it for around three years now and always remain fascinated by its movement and colour. These are one of the penultimate 80s Objet D'Rad and I hope you've found my Wave Machine fascination an interesting little insight into one of the lesser popularised icons of decade.

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