Video, an Audiovisual Medium

3 The Use of Synthesizers for Video Processing

A synthesizer either generates (synthesizes) wave forms (audio and video) internally with oscillators or it modulates existing signals. Steina and Woody Vasulka initially employ audio synthesizers as an interface in order to transform a video signal into an audio signal. In the process, image signals are translated into sound, and the sound is controlled by images. Video synthesizers developed especially for image processing, for example the Paik/Abe Synthesizer (1969) built by Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe, as well as Stephen Beck’s Direct Video Synthesizer (1970) and Eric Siegel’s Electronic Video Synthesizer (1970), separate video from camera-based, optical recording devices by generating signals into movements whose temporal progression can moreover be made visible and audible. In these types of video synthesizers, wave forms can be produced by means of oscillators that can be modularly connected and in this synthesis create new forms that occasionally have a three-dimensional effect.

A synthesizer can therefore be integrated into the variable structure of video because it processes the information coming from different modules, all of which have input and output connections. The signals that pass through the different modules can ultimately be recorded and played back. It should be emphasized that the color channels (red, green, blue) are processed individually, which heightens the variety of the processes and combination possibilities.

In the late 1960s, engineers around the world, often in close collaboration with artists, began developing different models of synthesizers.[2] Although many of these devices have been forgotten, because of the success of the video artist Nam June Paik, the Paik/Abe Synthesizer is today one of the best-known video devices. However, Paik did not use his synthesizer for the internal generation of audio and video, instead working with camera input and external image material.[3]

At the WGBH television studio in Boston, the Paik/Abe Synthesizer reached the public for the first time in a four-hour broadcast of Video Commune (August 1, 1970). In this interactive performance by Paik, modified television images to which songs by the Beatles had been added were broadcast live. This performance was preceded by the recorded experiments with the Paik/Abe Synthesizer at the WGBH television studio in collaboration with its director, David Atwood: 9/23/69: Experiment with David Atwood (1969). In the videotape Global Groove (1973) as well, Paik designed a kaleidoscope of media communication by means of the decomposition and recomposition of excerpts from television broadcasts, theater documentations, commercials, and a Fluxus performance by Charlotte Moormann (TV Cello). He transformed the material, which had been altered through magnetic manipulation, feedback, synthesizer, and processor, into a collage of musically structured flux motion that features the interval-like variation and cluster-like superimposition of different processing operations (see the work description).

On the various synthesizer developments, see Dunn, Eigenwelt der Apparate-Welt.