Brett Whiteley – Alchemy – The picture on the Alchemy cover

Posted on 12 CommentsPosted in Misc

This blog post is not about guitar, not even about music, instead it is about a piece of art – Alchemy by Brett Whiteley, the painting that gave its name to Dire Straits’ first live album in 1984, and appeared on the cover.

Brett Whiteley (1939 – 1992) was an Australian artist who is represented in the collections of all the large Australian galleries.

Brett Whiteley - Photo by Jacqueline Mitelman


For your pleasure, here is a collection of some of Whiteley’s paintings. Interestingly one of his most famous pictures – The Jacaranda Tree (1977) – which sold for almost $ 2 million, cannot be found in the whole web.


Brett Whiteley Screen as the bathroom window 1976 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
The Olgas for Ernest Giles, 1985, sold for $ 3.48 million in 2007 - the highest price paid for an Australian artwork at auction


These pictures appear on the screen courtesy of the estate of Brett Whiteley. More info on



The original Alchemy painting was done between 1972 and 1973. It was composed of many different elements on 18 wood panels.


Alchemy is the ancient progress to transform ordinary components into gold. Transformation –  “Alchemy is seen as an allegory of life’s journey, from birth to death, and the ultimate transmutation. It wanders from darkly sexual surrealist forms through beautiful Australian landscapes with native animals and birds, to the flashing sun against a golden sky.”

The parts on the Dire Straits Alchemy cover can be found on the right. The guitar and the lips and some other details of the cover are not original.

This is what the Wikipedia writes about it:

Part of his work Alchemy was featured on the cover of the Dire Straits live album Alchemy although it had the addition of a guitar with lips held by a hand. Alchemy is the ancient process of turning ordinary compounds into gold.The original painting, done between 1972 and 1973 was composed of many different elements and on 18 wood panels 203cm x 1615cm x 9cm. Reading from left to right it begins with an exploding sun from a portrait of Yukio Mishima that Whiteley had started but never completed. The famed author Mishima had committed seppuku in 1970 and the literary mythology that arose of his apparent final vision of enlightenment in the form of the exploding sun,as he pressed the knife into his body inspired and became the basis for this work. In terms of media it used everything from feathers and part of a birds nest to a glass eye, shell, plugs and brain in a work that becomes a transmutation of sexual organic landscapes and mindscapes. It has been regarded as a self-portrait, a giant outpouring of energy and ideas brought forth over a long period of time.According to art writer Bruce James the self conscious inclusion of the austere pronoun ‘IT’ that also makes up part of the work compacts life, passion, death and faith in a single empowering word and unites the notional wings of an altarpiece to nascent addiction. Alchemy

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Mark Knopfler’s effect rack of the Making Movies tour in 1980/81

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Effects, Mark Knopfler gear

One of the commentators to my previous blog post (on the Rock Pop TV gig Dire Straits did on December 20, 1980) asked for Mark’s effect rack. He triggered this blog post in which I would like to put together all information I have about it.

The Making Movies ( On Location) tour was the first tour on which Mark used a fully loaded 19″ effects rack. Some of the devices were probably  still  used on the Alchemy tour, and some of them even on the Brothers in Arms tour. Later Knopfler had a rack built by Pete Cornish.

The rack was on the right side of the stage, near Knopfler’s two Music Man HD 130 amps. It was visible from the audience but almost all pictures we have from the various gigs of the tour do not let you see anything more than some control lights and some knobs. The main source of information we have is the On Location tour book that does not only contain the closest picture of the rack but also a list of the built-in effects. Unfortunately the list is not too accurate and only mentions a handful of devices, but no concrete model numbers or such.

The list reads like this (see explanation below):

Customised rack comprising:

Deltalab Delay Unit
Master R Reverb
Roland Equalizer
Mantec Switch Unit
Roland Choms Echo
Mantec Preamp Main Transformers
Morley Volume Pedal
Mantec Remote Switching Unit

With the help of the picture I managed to identify most of the devices. Here  is what I found out:

Deltalab Delay Unit: Deltalab DL-4 Time Line

The Deltalab is a very early digital delay – this was really high tech stuff in 1980!


Master R Reverb: MicMix Master Room Reverb XL-305

The Master Room Reverb was a stereo spring reverb, typically used in studios instead of in guitar racks. Both channels had different decay times to create a very special reverb. In fact MicMix modified the common Accutronis springs to get exactly the result they wanted.

Flanger: MicMix Dynaflanger

MicMix was a US company that was mostly known for studio reverbs and this special flanger device. The Dynaflanger was also used by Frank Zappa who created some astonishing sound effects with the help of two of these flangers. A unique feature was that the delay time could be controlled by the envelope of the incoming signal – in other words a loud note lead to a different flanger setting than a soft tone, the effect reacted musically to what you were playing.


Roland Equalizer

I could not determine the exact model number of this graphical equalizer. It seems to be a mono device with  31 bands with a height of two rack units – like the common EQ-131 but this one was only one unit. It was possibly used for the National resonator guitar.

Roland Choms Echo: Roland SRE 555 Space Echo

This one is another representative of Roland’s Space Echo series, basically an RE-501 as 19″ rack version. Like all the other space echos, it makes use of a tape loop to record and playback signals, something that modern devices do digitally. A tape loop was the only way to create long delay times since analog delays became duller with rising delay time, and digital devices costs a fortune and mostly did not have enough memory for long delays.

The SRE 555 also features a chorus effect which sounded great in combination with the delay.


The Morley volume pedal is the same model he used before, we don’t know at which point it was inserted into the system.


The rack itself was said to be from “Mantec”. Unfortunately I did not find anything about such a company. Nevertheless, it seems to be evident that the first stage of the rack was a pre amp that boosted the signal to line level which was required to drive the following studio effect devices. Probably the effects were not in a direct one-after-the-other chain but were used inparallel – just like you do with studio effects connected to a mixing desk.

Knopfler controlled everything with a foot controller that featured big coloured foot switches so that everything was easy to operate – especially on a dark stage.

It seems the rack had 8 effect ways – at least there are 8 control lights. Interestingly these can easily be seen from the audience, even on the dark stage.  Checking videos from this era, it might be possible to tell which effects were switched on or off on different songs, compare the two yellow lights on the pictures below. If  someone finds the time to do so, you can use the comment form for this blog post to let us know.


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