IASLonline NetArt: Theory

Thomas Dreher

History of Computer Art

IV. Images in Motion
IV.1 Video Tools

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IV.1.1 Video Cultures

Since the mid of the sixties video is an emerging film system usable to produce and to store electronic signals. The mobile elements of the video system are the camera and the recorder meanwhile the player is not moved to the recording location and remains connected with a cathode ray tube (of a TV set). Signals stored on magnetic tapes contain information being sent by players to cathode ray tubes for video presentations.

The sequence of shots (frames) on a film stripe is transformed by a projector into a movie: Meanwhile the film is screened as a moved sequence of images and a light projection, the video system directs electron beams in a vacuum tube. A light emitting video presentation replaces the film projection in a dark room.

The celluloid stripes being editable shot by shot (the frame as a phase image) at cutting tables were substituted by magnetic tapes, video recorders for editing and the `tools´ for `electronic image processing´. The transformations of electronic signals by mixer, sequencer, switcher, keyer and other means replaces film animation techniques developed since the end of the 19th century for the editing of frames and their montage. 1

In the sixties Stephen Beck, Tom DeFanti, Tom DeWitt, Ed Emshwiller, Bill Hearn, Barbara Aronofsky Latham, Phil Morton, Nam June Paik, Eric Siegel, Barbara Sykes, Stan VanDerBeek, Steina und Woody Vasulka, Jim Wiseman and others experimented with processors, synthesizers as well as analogue and digital computers. 2

The signals can be produced with video cameras. They conduct the signals to the storing on magnetic tapes, but storing is not necessary: Systems processing signals can transform the data input of several sources into data controlling the electronic beams in vacuum tubes. Not only video cameras but also music synthesizers (developed by Robert Moog, Don Buchla 3 and others) supply video systems with input for transformations in signals controlling monitor presentations. An example offers Stephen Beck using audio signals produced by a Buchla synthesizer as an input for his "Direct Video Synthesizer" (1970) to produce visual signals (see chap. IV.1.2).

Before these and other kinds to produce signals via analogue computing processes of video synthesizers have been developed video became known by recording devices being light compared to the weights of professional motion-picture cameras. The video cameras being acquirable since 1965 were still connected via cable with a heavy weight, unportable recording device for magnetic tape storage. Intermediary production steps like the film processing were dropped. The reach of the camera was dependent from the length of the cable to the recorder. The video system was offered with a monitor mounted on the recorder for the filming of persons who kept themselves within the reach of the camera meanwhile they could observe themselves on the monitor: home video tape recording. 4

Sony VCK 2000 Firmenwerbung

Sony VCK 2000, since 1965. A woman with microphone and a man with the video camera mounted on a tripod. Behind it: Recorder with magnetic tape and monitor. Photo: Sony.

Since 1968 the Sony Porta Pak Ensemble (Sony Porta Pak CV 2400) with a light-weight video recorder portable on the shoulder and a video camera became a mobile system for live film recordings. Sequences taking up to a duration of 20 minutes were storable on magnetic tapes. With a video player connected to a television set it was possible to play the tape immediately after the recording. Since 1970 takes were observable in real time at the recording locations by playing back the tape with the portable video recorder. The take was then presented in the camera search field (Sony Porta Pak AV 3400). 5

Sony CV 2400 Porta Pak Firmenwerbung Sony VCK-2400 Video Camera, ab 1968

Sony Porta Pak CV 2400, since 1968. Left: Woman with video camera and portable video recorder. Right: Video camera. Photos: Sony.

The video recording system was cheaper and more light weight than the recording devices used at the early seventies by camera teams of television channels before they migrated to video systems. 6 Video was a chance for persons in social contexts neglected by television stations to produce videos documenting their social situation and criticising the origins of their problems. In workshops activists offered not only to use the video equipment but also possibilities to learn the technical skills that were necessary for the filming of documentations. 7 In addition to the distribution of video documentations by sending copied tapes the expansion of the cable systems in the United States offered in the seventies possibilities to install non-commercial advertising-free local channels whose programmes were created by the inhabitants (Community TV).

For antenna reception the famous private TV startions used channels in the high frequency spectrum. To avoid interferences only a limited number of frequencies was available. In their fight for usable frequencies the private TV channels payed high prizes. These restrictions of the commercial broadcast didn´t exist for the use of cable TV. George Stoney became a pioneer of the video activists´ use of cable TV. In 1972 he realised the first programme for the Austin Community Television (ACTV): He was filmed in front of the antennas used to feed the recorded film live into the cable network. Stoney reported about his experiences with cable access in Mexico. 8

Video und TV: George Stoney, Stan Vanderbeek, Radical Software

Beside the activists efforts to develop programmes for community TV some artists succeeded to interest program directors of terrestrial channels in their experimental videos. It was planned to use video techniques to develop new ways of filming and to include them into new programmes integrating audience participation. In 1969 the Boston station WGBH-TV produced videos and programmes planned by artists and supported their realisations technically.

In the "Boston-Cambridge area" WGBH-TV had installed a camera network for real time transmissions (closed-circuits) from public institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1969 Allan Kaprow used this camera network in "Hello". The participants´ actions in front of external cameras were presented in the studio of WGBH-TV on 27 monitors. The video "Hello" documents some of Kaprow´s actions in the studio: He switched between the cameras and interacted with the participants acting in front of the cameras. 9

Allan Kaprow: Hello 1969

Kaprow, Allan: Hello, TV broadcast "The Medium is the Medium",
WGBH, Boston, video, 1969.

In March 1969 WGBH-TV presented in The Medium is the Medium" six videos realised by artists for this programme: Beside "Hello" Nam June Paik´s "Electronic Opera #1" was broadcasted. In Paik´s video act a female bare-chested dancer, two persons kissing each other, Richard Nixon, Hippies and others in TV-images being manipulated by a magnet. On or before these sequences floated transformations of three green-blue figure-eight loops laying on or above each other. The figure-eight loops were created by direct processings of the electronic signal. 10

Paik: Electronic Opera #1 1969 Paik: Video Commune - The Beatles From Beginning to End 1970

Paik, Nam June. Left: Electronic Opera #1, WGBH-TV, Boston, video, 1969.
Right: Video Commune – The Beatles from Beginning to End, WGBH-TV, Boston, video, 1970.

The TV channel WGBH-TVfinanced the development of Nam June Paik´s and Shuya Abe´s "video-synthesizer". The studio of the station received the first "synthesizer". It was utilised for the first time in the programme "Video Commune – The Beatles from Beginning to End". 11 Under David Atwood´s direction Paik realised with the synthesizer video animations to the Beatles´ oeuvre. Following Paik´s invitation into the studio passersby operated the synthesizer, too.

In 1970 Stan VanDerBeek combined in "Violence Sonata" participation TV, presented in "Hello" as documented action only, and experimental film. It was produced by WGBH-TV and broadcasted simultaneously on the station´s channels 2 and 44. Only observers with two television sets next to each other were able to view on channel 2 footage edited with "overlays and color saturation" and, simultaneously, on channel 44 live broadcast of an audience in the studio discussing the shown experimental films. Furthermore each TV viewer could communicate via telephone with three participants of the discussion in the studio. Stan VanDerBeek expanded his experiments with electronic image processing, that he began in 1964 creating "Poem Fields" in collaboration with Kenneth Knowlton in the studios of the Bell Telephone Company (see chap. IV.2.1.2), to the TV-experiment "Violence Sonata". 12

Experimental filmmakers and artists understood their concepts for alternative uses of media as a provocation of the established cinematic presentation of fictional films and of the mass medium of television. The viewers should be liberated by participation from a passive consuming and observing position. Thus, Nam June Paik wrote in 1971:

Communication means the two-way communications. One-way communication is simply a notification...like a draft call. TV has been a typical case of this non communication and mass audience had only one freedom, that is, to turn on or off the TV. 13

Between 1970 and 1974 eleven issues of the video journal "Radical Software" were published. The journal edited by Phyllis Gershuny, Beryl Korot, Michael Shamberg and others contained informations on projects by media activists and experimental filmmakers. 14 The video-activists informed about groups offering conveyable documentations of critical social imbalances and injustices filmed by concerned persons as well as about community TV, meanwhile the experimental filmmakers presented new technical possibilities. Alternative strategies to develop new media and new forms of media utilisations complementing each other in a common search for new TV forms were on the one hand the use of video by the experimental filmmakers augmenting their technical equipment with tools developed for their needs and on the other hand the use of standard video equipment by activists concentrating themselves on the production of documentations in situ with the persons concerned by social problems as well as on the short-term processes of editing and distributing.


Radical Software, Vol.1/Nr.1 and Nr.2, 1970.

The activists´ goal of a "participatory democracy" with possibilities for all citizens to express themselves in a community TV was the result of a criticism of the use of media in a "consciousness industry" and its "one-way communication". 15 Furthermore video tools could become publicly accessible, as Paik demonstrated in "Video Commune".


IV.1.2 Video Synthesizers

Lee Harrison III developed "The Bone Generator" (the late fifties) further to ANIMAC (between Christmas 1959 and New Year 1960). The tool for animations was constructed with tube technology and included included "a patchy panel, potentiometers, joysticks, dance interfaces, and a flying spot scanner. Analog and simple digital circuits were patched together physically through the patch panel..." With ANIMAC´s "patch panel" stick figures were realisable. They were presented on XY oscilloscopes. These sticks were "basically line segments" and constituted the "bones" of the represented figures. With "`spinning vectors´ called Skin" the "surface characteristics" were stored. These vectors were constituted by "high frequency sin/cosine oscillators." Their outputs "created the three electronic signals representing the animation´s image." The perspective of an animation produced with this "3D-output" could be determined by the "Camera-Angle Network". This network transformed "three signals" of an animation "into two signals" ("2D perspective"). The two signals of the animation were emitted to the oscilloscope and its screen was filmed. The recordings were colorised by filters being placed "in between the oscilloscope and the camera".

Participants with sensors fixed to their bodies could navigate the motions of the figurative line patterns in real time. The sensors reacted to body movements and changed the voltage. That caused the animation to react. The changing voltage navigated control signals that moved the lines of the figure on a 3D rotation matrix.

When Harrison started in 1969 to develop SCANIMATE on the basis of ANIMAC then he chose analog computers (with transistors) and a two-dimensional animation system to transform scanned drawings. Harrison integrated a light table and a camera to capture drawn figures. SCANIMATE made it possible to transform these figures, to present them on a cathode ray tube and to record them with "a monochrome NTSC video camera". ANIMAC´s colour-filters were substituted by "electronic colorizers". The results could be stored on magnetic tape. 16

Lee Harrison III: ANIMAC 1962

Harrison III, Lee: ANIMAC, 1962. A dancer controls the line patterns of a figure by activating sensors mounted on her body. Denver 1962 (photomontage).

In 1972 Ed Emshwiller built the video "Scape-mates" with SCANIMATE in the TV Lab of the New York station WNET/Thirteen. At the start the image processing was constituted by 24 black and white cells in five different shades of grey. Two cameras of the two computers of SCANIMATE provide the input for the cells. The cells were animated as well as colorized in real time. A computer processed the background and the other one the foreground. Recordings of dancers have been partially edited with "SCANIMATE" before they were included via chromakey procedures in the fore- and the background. 17 Emshwiller utilised the Paik/Abe-Video Synthesizer (see below), too. The video distributor "Electronic Arts Intermix", founded in 1971 by Howard Wise, explains the importance of "Scape-mates" for the development of video films:

With its witty interplay of the `real´ and the `unreal´ in an electronically rendered videospace, and the skilfull manipulation and articulation of sculptural illusion of three-dimensionality, scape-mates introduces a new vocabulary of video image-making. 18

Emshwiller, Ed: Scape-mates, video, 1972.

The central focus of the video tools´ developers is directed to the control of the electron beams´ motion in the cathode ray tube. A bundled electron beam is directed in the vacuum tube between anode and cathode to a screen coated with phosphorous. Electronic impulses constitute an electromagnetic field directing the electron beam. The electron beam is controlled along horizontal and vertical axes, the "xy plotting coordinates". 19 The horizontal and vertical steering between two magnet pairs constitutes either the vector images in oscilloscopes as well as early computer monitors or the raster images in television and later computer monitors (since the midst of the seventies). Raster images are a special form of vector images. For "bitmaps" raster images require memory capacities not available for the early computers.

The manner to provoke the optical effect of motion pictures changes from film to video. Meanwhile the film is constituted by frames for motion phases and these frames are moved mechanically by the projector, the videofilm activates the screen by the writing of the raster image´s "scan lines" with steered electron beams to create the impression of moving images. The possibility to create "transformation images" 20 stored on magnetic tapes becomes the technical basis of experimental videofilms.

Paik/Abe Synthesizer 1972

Abe, Shuya/Paik, Nam June: Paik/Abe Video Synthesizer, model of 1972, WNET/Thirteen, New York (Courtesy Nam June Paik Studios, Inc. In: Joselit: Feedback 2007, p.47).

The first version of the Paik/Abe video synthesizer from 1970 (see chap. IV.1.1 with ann.11) was not a synthesizer. It could be used to mix seven external image sources, to invert and to manipulate colours: "Combining video feedback, magnetic scan modulation and non-linear mixing followed by colorizing, generated its novel style of imagery." 21

External sources (cameras) are used by scan processors like the Paik-Abe synthesizer and the tools by Dan Sandin, Bill Etra and Steve Rutt (presented below) as an input to start signal processes. In contrast, Stepehen Beck´s "Direct Video Synthesizer" (1970) and Eric Siegel´s "Electronic Video Synthesizer" (1970) generate signals. Both synthesizers can mix these internally generated signals with external camera input.

Eric Siegel am EVS Funktionsdiagramm EVS

Siegel, Eric: EVS Video Synthesizer, 1970.
Left: Eric Siegel in the office of Electronic Arts Intermix, New York, ca. 1971.
Right: function diagram by Jeffrey Schier.

Siegel´s "Electronic Video Synthesizer" used generators and oscillators to process moving patterns. Two mixers conflated the waves of the oscillators and the generators. A third mixer united the input of two cameras. A "color encoder" combined the three to build the "color video signal" 22 Siegel described the possibilities of the "EVS" to process patterns as selectable symmetrical and asymmetrical "geometric formations". Furthermore a video creator could decide if the patterns, the colors or both remain constant or changing. 23 In 1973 Siegel utilised the "EVS" in the performance "Yantra Mantra" at New York´s "The Kitchen". The difficulties to find film documents created with the EVS can be traced back to Siegel´s lack of interest in the production of video documents. Furthermore he prevented Howard Wise in his efforts to produce and to sell the synthesizer. 24

Stephen Beck: Direct Video Synthesizer 1970 Funktionsdiagramm Direct Video Synthesizer

Beck, Stephen: Direct Video Synthesizer, 1970. Left: top view.
Right: function diagram by Jeffrey Schier.

Stephen Beck´s prototype of the "Direct Video Synthesizer" ("Direct Video #0") included a modified television set with possibilities to control the cathode ray tube´s colour generation. The components for the colour generation were audio signals, oscillators and external analogue mixers. A Buchla synthesizer provided the functions for the colour setting. 25 The Buchla synthesizer was developed for musicians to generate sounds. Beck added to it a further analogue synthesizer with capacities to visualise sounds. But the frequency spectrum of audio synthesizers was not appropriate for interesting visualisations. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Beck was able as "artist-in-residence" in the National Center for Experiments in Television (at the station KQED-TV, San Francisco) to solve his problems to visualise sounds and to develop his prototype further. The modules for form, motion, texture and colours of the "Direct Video #1" could be controlled via voltage regulators in real time, for example in live performances. 26

Stephen Beck, Live Electronics Stepehen Beck: Illuminated Music 1973

Beck, Stephen/Jepson, Warner: Illuminated Music 2 & 3, video documentation of a PBS broadcast (Public Broadcasting Service), 1973. Left: Beck at the Direct Video Synthesizer. Right: Beck´s visualisation of Jepson´s music.

In "Illuminated Music 1", a live broadcast of the station KQED-TV (San Francisco) at 19th Mai 1972, Beck visualised Yusef Lateef´s improvisations on "Like It Is". In 1973 the National Center for Experiments in Television recorded "Illuminated Music 2 & 3" for a broadcast of the PBS/Public Broadcasting Service, Arlington/Virginia. The recordings show Warner Jepson at the Buchla Synthesizer in a live performance with Stephen Beck at the "Direct Video Synthesizer". Meanwhile Beck controlled the output on a little cathode ray tube, the public could follow the visualisations of Jepson´s music on big screens. 27 Coloured areas with wave-like contours overlapping and concealing other planes, wave-like moving particles and continuous as well as broken waved lines dominated the visualisation of a music accelerating and slowing down the tone sequences like ascending and descending waves. Several times the visualisation reacted only after a number of sound waves with perceptible changes of the visual patterns.

Sandin, Dan: 5 Minute Romp Through the IP [Analog Image Processor], video, 1973.

Dan Sandin presents the technical basis of his "Analog Image Processor" (1971-73) as a "general purpose analogcomputer" being programmable via "patch cables". Sandin has "optimized" the analog computer "for processing video information...[and] television information". 28 The "processing modules" can be activated via "patch cables". With these modules image sequences from an external source can be transformed by the manipulation of controllers: "The instrument is programmed by routing the image through various processing modules and then out to a monitor or video tape recorder." 29 Between "processing modules" and the output for the monitor the "output color encoder" adds colours. 30

In 1973 Sandin demonstrates in the video "Triangle in Front of Square in Front of Circle in Front of Triangle" that the signal processes in the cathode ray tube being controlled with his video tool contradict the concept of perspectival image space:

A demonstration of the fact that thinking of video keying as putting one thing in front of another is inaccurate and limiting. The Analog Image Processor was programmed to implement the logic equations if triangle and square show triangle, if square and circle show square, if triangle and circle show circle. 31

Dan Sandin: Triangle in Front of Square in Front of Circle in Front of Triangle 1973

Sandin, Dan: Triangle in Front of Square in Front of Circle in Front of Triangle, video, 1973.

Meanwhile Steina and Woody Vasulka used a "George Brown Multi-Level Keyer" (1973) to provoke the impression of three-dimensionality by the layering of levels (cf. "Golden Voyage", 1973), Sandin tried to proove that the result is not an adequate design for the cathode ray tube. 32 The vocabulary of the video technology should – as Sandin demanded – supersede the perspectival image space.

In 1973 Tom DeFanti developed GRASS (Graphics Symbiosis System) for the digital minicomputer PDP 11/45 of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC, since 1972). 33 It was possible to build two-dimensional elements as vectorial animation in black and white by typing instructions on a keyboard and to control the result in real time on the cathode ray tube. David Sturman characterises the possibilities of GRASS: "With GRASS, people could script scaling, translation, rotation and color changes of 2D objects over time." 34 At the University of Illinois in Chicago the colour animation could be realised with a "Sandin Analog Processor" (see above): The digital animation was followed by an analogue animation.

DeFanti, Tom/Morton, Phil/Sandin, Dan/Snyders, Bob: Ryral, video of a live performance at the University of Illinois, Chicago 1976.

In 1976 Dan Sandin and Tom DeFanti presented their video animation system in "Ryral", a computer performance with music and animations processed in real time at the second "Electronic Visualization Event" organized at the University of Illinois in Chicago: Bob Snyder´s music processed by an "analog EMU Synthesizer" was to hear simultaneously. The dancers oscillating in Emshwiller´s "Scape-mates" (see above) between fore- and background recur in "Ryral" changed into an actrice sometimes recognizable as a silhouette: Camera recordings of a dance performance are transformed in a two-dimensional image processing creating perceptual tensions by contours and colours especially in cases if the planes merged together. These tensions provoke difficulties to sort out the levels between fore- and background. In some colour constellations patterns with circles and spirals in moving dotted lines provoke flickering effects. 35

Rutt/Etra Model RE-4 Scan Processor Funktionsdiagramm Rutt/Etra Model RE-4 Scan Processor

Etra, Bill/Rutt, Steve: Rutt/Etra Scan Processor, 1973.
Left: Rutt/Etra Model RE-4 Scan Processor.
Right: function diagram by Jeffrey Schier.

Gebrauchsanweisung Rutt/Etra Model RE-4 Scan Processor

Etra, Bill/Rutt, Steve: user manual for the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor with "system information flow".
(Rutt/Etra: RE Video Synthesizer Systems Models RE 4A and RE 4B 1974, p.3).

In 1973 Steve Rutt, Bill and Louise Etra developed a "scan processor" that was utilised in video productions by Nam June Paik, Steina and Woody Vasulka as well as Gary Hill. 36 With the "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor" signals of a black-and-white monitor can be modified. The signals are modified by controlling the voltage along the horizontal and vertical axes. It is possible to locate the images of a video input on different places of an image raster. Furthermore the dates of the image portions´ screen presentations are modifiable – Bill Etra:

The Rutt/Etra changes the time in which you see parts of the picture. It is a machine that manipulates images in time. 37

Etra, Bill /Rutt, Steve: Rutt/Etra Scan Processor, 1973. Demo by Bill Etra, video.

Since 1975 the scan processor was distributed commercially with waveform generators, four-quadrant multipliers and a summing amplifier. Optionally it could include a ramp generator for the processing of many motions. Seizes, localisations, zoom and intensity could be adjusted on 15 turning knobs. The monitor was integrated into the scan processor and presented the transformed images. Deflection yokes were mounted around the monitor. The "sine, triangle, or square waves" processed by deflections appeared on the monitor whose images were recorded by a camera, colorised and led to a videotape recorder of a broadcast system. 38

Woody Vasulka: C-Trend 1974

Vasulka, Woody: C-Trend, video, 1974.

In the "Vasulka Effekt" (see below) the brightness of the video input determines the positioning on the vertical axis. Zones becoming brighter and darker move up and down: "When combined with other synthetic waveforms, the raster forms a three dimensional contour map where video brightness determines elevation." 39

Woody Vasulka transforms in "C-Trend" (1974) driving cars into disturbed sinus waves. Street scenes were recorded with a camera placed in a window. The recordings are "scanned again" and are "modulated" in the "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor" via "retiming and repositioning" with "deflections" whilst the sound is reproduced unchanged. 40 The staggered wave lines facilitate observers to structure them visually in a spatial manner as the layers are successively arranged behind each other: Disturbances in multiple layers appearing simultaneously or following in short distances one after another provoke the impression of moving bodies. Because the recorded driving cars are not easily recognisable, an "intermediate sphere" ("Zwischenreich") appears situating the recognition of moving objects between still recognisable recordings and already constructed images. When the black background is substituted by "video `noise´", then it is "created by blackout intervals which normally fill the `gap´ between the scanning of singular fields." 41

Woody Vasulka: Artifacts 1980

Vasulka, Woody: Artifacts, video, 1980.

Woody and Steina Vasulka bought a minicomputer DEC LSI-11 (since 1975), a version of the PDP-11 (PDP-11/03). When their student Jeffrey Schier developed concepts, how to use the minicomputer in video image processing, he initiated the construction of the "Digital Image Articulator" (1976-77). 42 The result of the programming can be seen and corrected without a recognisable time delay. The "Digital Image Articulator" processes images by combining rectangular basic elements: The partition into discrete basic components substitutes the waveforms of the "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor". Woody Vasulka constructs in "The Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU)" the relations between discrete elements "A" and "B" in following the Boolean algebra. 43 The new structure creates "unusual patterns of color and box-like textures without equivalence in analog video". 44 In 1980 Woody Vasulka demonstrates that in "Artifacts": The structure is relatively rough and appears today again relatively uncommon. The creation of super-signs and textures with microstructures built by rectangles alternately attract the observer´s attention. An optical flicker constituted by discrete elements forms recognisable formations again and again in the course of the film. 45

Woody Vasulka: Didactic Video 1975 Woody Vasulka: Syntax of Binary Images 1978

Vasulka, Woody. Left: Didactic Video, Tableau IV, 1975 (Vasulka/Nygren: Video 1975, p.13), demonstration of the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor.
Right: Syntax of Binary Images, Tableau 3 & 4, 1978 (Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.423), demonstration of the relations between the discrete elements "A" and "B" in "The Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU)"..

In "Artifacts" Woody Vasulka demonstrates the differences between the analogue image processing of the "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor" and the digital image processing of the "Digital Image Articulator" by picking up a hand as subject again that he used earlier to demonstrate the video vocabulary made possible by the "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor": "Tableau IV" of his text "Didactic Video" (1975) presented four transformation phases of a hand. The hands appeared in concave and convexe reliefs built by the waveforms in inclined planes constituted by staggered horizontal lines. In contrary, a hand is presented in "Artifacts" on a sphere whose outline is multiplicated meanwhile the surface of the hand is dissipated into optical flicker. In a comparison with an earlier video it becomes easier to recognise that the flicker elements in "Artifacts" are rectangles and not flickering signals as in "Noisefields" that was realised in 1974 with analogue video tools: In both videos a circle is raised from the ground and then again merged with it, but in "Noisefields" the circular outline given by the video input remains preserved also and especially in positive-negative inversions, meanwhile in "Artifacts" the circle forms can be recognised sharper or weaker because their outlines are constituted and dissipated by combinations of rectangles. "Electronic Snow" is in "Noisefields" the basis of audio noise as well as of visual flickering. 46

Woody Vasulka: Noisefields 1974

Vasulka, Woody: Noisefields, video, 1974.

In "Artifacts" the digital processing is presented in real time, without the acceleration of the images in film sequences as it is usual in computer animation. Vasulka points "in a spirit of exploration" (voiceover at the start of the video) the oberservers´ attention to the new functions to build and to transform images. The video includes varying modes of presentation close to pointillism, cubism and surrealism, meanwhile the sound underscores the unitary technical basis of the signal processes of all kinds of image and audio processing. Vasulka explains at the beginning of the video:

By artifacts I mean that I have to share the creative process with the machine. It is responsible for too many other elements in this work.

For the distribution of video synthesizers and processors their authors didn´t only choose the usual ways of sale:

In the seventies Dan Sandin and Phil Morton augmented the "Analog Image Processor" to an open developers´ platform called "Distribution Religion". The construction plans of the "Sandin Analogue Image Processor" were available (by paying the expenses for copies) for reconstructions and further developments by constructors and users were welcome. These developments could be integrated into the plans. The plans of the "Sandin Analogue Image Processor" and Phil Morton´s videos were distributed with Morton´s licence "Copy-It-Right" inviting the production and distribution of copies. 47

After Seth Siegelaub´s contract published in the catalogue of the documenta 5 (Kassel, 1972) expanded the artists´ exploitation rights and obliged the owners of works to share future income with their creators 48, Dan Sandin and Phil Morton choose the opposite strategy by eliminating the restrictions that have been installed via copyright and the contracts for the distribution and further developments.

Dan Sandin´s practice to disseminate the construction plans of his "Analog Image Processor" and the commercial distribution of the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor are counter-models. This opposition continues to determine the discussions on copyrights until today. Sandin wrote:

The Image Processor may be copied by individuals and not-for-profit institutions without charge, for-profit institutions will have to negotiate for permission to copy.

Nowadays the alternative propositions to use copyrights published by Creative Commons offer authors ways to announce how they differentiate between releases of restrictions for non-commercial users and restrictions for commercial users of their files. Permissions for non-commercial multiplications and distributions can be announced via links to the relevant propositions of the site "Creative Commons". Then the determination of the amount of fees for commercial distributions remains a task of negotiations with the author. 49

The video practice of the activists and the experimental filmmakers continues the development of alternatives to the role play in movies. This development was driven by the experimental filmmakers of the fifties and sixties in frame-by-frame animation procedures. The camera as a reproducing technology and image creating procedures constitute the opposite ends of a scale. In the sixties these both ends of the scale of experimental filmmaking can be found in films realised by people of Andy Warhol´s factory ("Sleep", 1963 and others) on one side and on the other side in structural films by Peter Kubelka ("Arnulf Rainer", 1958-60), Tony Conrad ("The Flicker", 1966) or Paul Sharits ("Ray Gun Virus", 1966). 50 The camera fixated at a static place in Warhol´s Factory is substituted in the seventies by the mobile video equipment of activists and the self-presentation of actresses or actors in front of the camera is transformed into a critical self-embedding of the filmmaking and filmed persons into their social context. Warhol´s negation of a director-dependent language is substituted by renewed forms of film documentations and TV news. The cutting procedures for the combination of frames in structural films substitute the authors of experimental videos by tools directing the motions of electron beams in the cathode ray tube. This causes in "Noise Fields" a change in the function and meaning of the "flickers" being produced in structural films by the thematisation of film as material via filmcuts and the combination of frames. The criticism of the cinematic film language by non-narrative film forms is augmented by the video practices to a television criticism (see chap. IV.1.1). "Commercial broadcast" appears reduced in forms and contents if it is compared to the explored possibilities of video technology.

On the one hand the constructors of video tools developed new means of production and partially they demonstrated themselves the possibilities to develop a video-specific film language. On the other hand the video activists used the video camera as a means to create critical statements and broadcasted the documents produced by the persons living under the criticised conditions or sent copies on videocassettes. On the experimental side the signal processes were central, on the activist side the mobile camera. The experiments with the new medium resulted in new means of production and new methods to distribute these means ("Distribution Religion", see above), meanwhile the media activists thematised the contemporary social conditions by utilising available means of production and the distribution of the results in uncommon ways.


Dr. Thomas Dreher
Schwanthalerstr. 158
D-80339 München
Homepage with numerous articles on art history since the sixties, a. o. on Concept Art and Intermedia Art.

Copyright © (as defined in Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0) by the author, January and April 2012, June 2014 (German version)/October 2013 and June 2014 (English translation).
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1 Russett/Starr: Animation 1988, p.32-177. back

2 Dunn/Vasulka/Weibel: Eigenwelt 1992; Miller Hocking: Principles 1978; Russett/Starr: Animation 1988, p.178-210; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.46-57,89-112. back

3 Dunn/Vasulka/Weibel: Eigenwelt 1992, p.96-103. back

4 Sony CV/VCK 2000, since 1965: without author: Sony CV 2000 (undated); without author: Sony CV Series Video (undated); Sherman: Birth 2007. back

5 On the Sony Porta Pak video equipment and its different meanings for activists as well as experimental filmmakers: Vasulka: Sony CV Portapack 1992.
Sony CV 2400 Porta Pak, since 1968: without author: Sony DVK-2400/VCK 2400 (undated); Miller Hocking: Texts 1992.
Sony Porta Pak AV 3400, since 1969/70: Bensinger: Video 1981, p.157ss.,161,164,166s.,172,174; without author: SONY AV-3400 PORTA PAK (undated). back

6 Murphy: Television 1997, chapter "Local Television News Archives": "In the mid-1970's, a period marked by the transition from 16mm news film to 3/4-inch U-matic cassettes, about 700 commercial television stations were operating in the United States. Less than 10% of the stations transferred their news film to public archives. The rest was mostly destroyed." back

7 without author: Program Guide 1972, unpaginated: "In issue one, volume one of Radical Software (Summer, 1970) we introduced the hypothesis that people must assert control over the information tools and processes that shape their lives in order to free themselves from the mass manipulation perpetrated by commercial media in this country and state controlled television abroad. By accessing low cost 1/2" portable videotape equipment to produce or create or partake in the information gathering process, we suggested that people would contribute greatly to restructuring their own information environments: YOU ARE THE INFORMATION...Through such decentralization of the information medium, we asserted that the overall information environment of this country could be humanized and revitalized." back

8 Stoney, George: First Transmission of ACTV, Video, b/w, sound, 8 min., 1972. back

9 Video, 4 min. 23 sec., b/w, sound, in: Nadeau: Medium 2006, p.53,57-62; Youngblood: Cinema 1970, p.343s. back

10 Barzyk, Fred: The Medium is the Medium, WGBH-TV, Boston, 3/23/1969: Nadeau: Medium 2006, p.34-72.
Paik, Nam June: Electronic Opera #1, WGBH-TV, Boston, 3/23/1969: Decker: Paik 1988, p.150,152,193,200, ill.99; Fifield: Paik/Abe Synthesizer 2000; Joselit: Feedback 2007, p.48s.; Nadeau: Medium 2006, p.64-67; Youngblood: Cinema 1970, p.306. back

11 Paik/Abe Synthesizer at the WGBH-TV, Boston: Decker: Paik 1988, p.151; High: Mods 2014, p.367. Previously the broadcast WNET (Channel 13 in New York City) is said to have bought a prototype (without author: Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer (undated)).
Paik, Nam June/Atwood, David: Video Commune – The Beatles from Beginning to End, WGBH-TV, 1970: Decker: Paik 1988, p.152; Fifield: Paik/Abe Synthesizer 2000. back

12 VanDerBeek, Stan: Violence Sonata, WGBH-TV, Boston, 1/12/1970: Davis: Art 1973, p.90; without author: Vanderbeek (undated); O´Grady: Vanderbeek 1970.
Knowlton, Kenneth/VanDerBeek, Stan: Poem Fields, 1964, in: Auzenne: Visualization 1994, p.29s.,45; Youngblood: Cinema 1970, p.246-249; see chap. IV.2.1.2.
More experiments with participation TV:
Davis, Douglas: Electronic Hokkadim, WTOP-TV, Washington D.C., 6/12/1971. In: Ross: Davis 1972, unpaginated; Deecke: Davis 1978, p.7.
Davis, Douglas: Talk Out: A Telethon, WCNY-TV, Syracuse/New York, 12/1/1972. In: Davis: Talk Out 1973; Deecke: Davis 1978, p.6ss.,17,96; Torcelli: Video 1996, p.24. back

13 Paik: untitled 1971. back

14 Gigliotti: History 2003; Joselit: Feedback 2007, p.93-99. back

15 "Consciousness industry"/"Bewußtseins-Industrie": Enzensberger: Aporien 1962/1980, p.60,68,73; Enzensberger: Baukasten 1970/1997, p.97-101,106s.
"Participatory democracy": Hill: Attention 1996, p.2 with ann.8 (with reference to: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS): Port Huron Statement, 1962). back

16 Funk: Animac 2010, p.53s.,58 (quotations); Harrison: We 1992; Youngblood: Cinema 1970, p.200; Schier: Scan Processors 1992; Smith: Computers 1974, p.149,151s. back

17 Scape-Mates: 28 min. 16 sec., colour, sound, in: Russett: Robert: Interview Ed Emshwiller (1974). In: Russett/Starr: Animation 1988, p.207; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.92.
In chroma keying an image layer with only one colour range is substituted by a filmed overlay. Objects which move before the image layer for chroma keying remain unchanged. Television presenters can walk before a film projection substituting a studio wall painted blue for chroma keying. back

18 without author: Scape-mates (undated). back

19 Youngblood: Cinema 1970, p.194: "...at a rate of 100,000 per second within a field of 16.000 possible xy coordinates". back

20 "Transformation image"/"Transformationsbild": Spielmann: Video 2008, p.4s.
On the cathode ray tube as a display for vector and raster images: Johnson: Synthetics 2011, p.40,43s.
Magnetic tape, first video cassettes: Sony U-matic, since 1971. In: Bensinger: Video 1981, p.131-145. back

21 Schier: Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer 1992. Cf. Decker: Paik 1988, p.150s.; Furlong: Notes [1] 1983, p.36 with ann.13; High: Mods 2014, p.365ss.; Joselit: Feedback 2007. p.47-50; Spielmann: Artists 2014, p.518s.; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.98ss. back

22 Schier: Eric Siegel EVS Synthesizer 1992. back

23 Yalkut: Electronic Video Synthesizer 1977/78. Cf. Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.286. back

24 Furlong: Notes [1] 1983, p.36; Sturken: TV 1984, p.8. back

25 Buchla Synthesizer: Buchla 100 Series, 1964, in: Dunn/Vasulka/Weibel: Eigenwelt 1992, p.96-99. back

26 Description of the modules, in: Schier: Direct Video Synthesizer 1992, p.124s. back

27 Beck: Beck Direct Video Synthesizer 2000; Beck: Music (undated); Beck: Video (undated); Furlong: Notes [1] 1983, p.37. Beck and Jepson used video projectors of the type "Eidophor GE Light Valve" in performances of "Illuminated Music 2 & 3". back

28 Dan Sandin in "5 Minutes Romp thru the IP", 1973, video, b/w, sound, 3 min. 52 sec. In: URL: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=8qh6jRzjmcY (12/17/2011). back

29 Dan Sandin, in: Morton, Phil/Sandin, Dan/Wiseman, Jim: In Consecration of a New Space. A Color Video Process. Information sheet, 1/26/1973. Cited from: Spielmann: Video 2008, p.99s. with ann.69. back

30 Schier: Image Processor 1992. Cf. Miller Hocking: Grammar 2014, p.461; Spielmann: Artists 2014, p.507s. back

31 Dan Sandin 2004. In: Spielmann: Video 2008, p.99s. with ann.69. Cf. Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.289s. back

32 Brown, George: Multikeyer, 1973. In: Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.288; Schier: Multi-Level-Keyer 1992; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.103s., 200. back

33 Magnenat-Thalmann/Thalmann: Computer Animation 1990, p.31,33. back

34 Sturman: State 1998. back

35 Cates: Ryral 2009. back

36 The "Rutt/Etra Scan Processor":
– in Nam June Paik´s Videos: Spielmann: Video 2008, p.154s. (on "Global Groove", 1973); Spielmann: Video 2009, chap.4.
– in Steina and Woody Vasulka´s Videos: Spielmann: Video 2009, chap.4; Hatanaka/Koizumi/Sekiguchi: Vasulka 1998, p.14ss.,21,34,42,46,48; see below.
– in Gary Hill´s Videos: Broeker: Hill 2002, p.96-99; Furlong: Manner 1983, p.13 (on "Videograms", 1980-81, and "Happenstance (part one of many parts)", 1983); Spielmann: Video 2008, p.108s.; Spielmann: Video 2009, chap.4. back

37 Cited in Miller Hocking: Rutt/Etra 1986. back

38 Miller Hocking: Grammar 2014, p. 458,460; Miller Hocking: Rutt/Etra 1986; Rutt: What 1992; Rutt/Etra: RE Video Synthesizer Systems Models RE 4A and RE 4B 1974; Schier: Rutt/Etra 1992; Spielmann: Artists 2014, p.519ss.; Vasulka/Nygren: Video 1975, p.9. back

39 Schier: Rutt/Etra Scan Processor 1992, p.139. Cf. Spielmann: Video 2008, p.205. back

40 Spielmann: Video 2008, p.204s. back

41 Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.291.
"Zwischenreich": Klee: Denken 1964, p.91s.,313. back

42 in 1980 Steina Vasulka documented the development of the "Digital Image Articulator" in the video "Cantaloup", in: Hatanaka/Koizumi/Sekiguchi: Vasulka 1998, p.20; Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.496s. back

43 Vasulka/Hagen: Syntax 1978. back

44 Schier: Digital Image Processor 1992, p.145. back

45 Furlong: Notes [2] 1983, p.16; Spielmann: Artists 2014, p.516s.; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.207s.; Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.448s.,452s.
In 1979 the video "Bad" presents an utilisation of the "Digital Image Articulator", that was done before "Artifacts" was realised: Spielmann: Video 2008, p.208s. with ill.104; Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.496s. back

46 "Didactic Video", "Tableau IV": Vasulka/Nygren: Video 1975, p.13.
On the digitalisation in "Artifacts": Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.296ss.; Spielmann; Video 2008, p.207s. with ill.121s.; Spielmann: Woody Vasulka 2004; Sturken: Artifacts 1996; Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.461.
"Noisefields": Dolanova/Vasulka: Vasulka 2014, p.288; Spielmann: Video 2008, p.203s.; Spielmann: Video 2009, chap.4. back

47 Cates: Copying-It-Right 2008; Cates: Copying-It-Right 2014; Furlong: Notes [1] 1983, p.38; Sandin: Distribution Religion 1992; Sandin/Morton: Distribution Religion 2014; Schier: Image Processor 1992, p.134. back

48 Siegelaub: Artist´s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sales Agreement 1972. back

49 Sandin: Distribution Religion 1992 (quote); Sandin/Morton: Distribution Religion 2014. Cf. the choice of licenses offered by Creative Commons, in: URL: http://creativecommons.org/choose/ (12/22/2011). back

50 Hein: Film 1971, p.103,106; Hein: Structural Film 1979, p.96s.; Sitney: Film 1974, p.409ss.,424s.; Vasulka/Weibel: Buffalo 2008, p.315s.,542s. back


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