Video, an Audiovisual Medium

5 Electronic Audiovisuality: Noise

The audiovisual quality of video lies in the exchange relation between audio and video signals. Sound signals, which are produced by means of an audiosynthesizer, can be translated into image signals and can therefore control the visual phenomena of video. Conversely, the electronic information contained in the video signals can at the same time be realized acoustically and visually. In video, one can see what one hears and hear what one sees.

In the early 1970s, Steina and Woody Vasulka demonstrated this reciprocal regulation of audio and video impulses in numerous experiments. Soundgated Images (1974) is an example of the simultaneous generation of image and sound, and Soundsize (1974) modulates a television test pattern, with electronic sound determining the format and the form of visual realization. Heraldic View (1974) works with a pattern generated internally by oscillators that is laid over a camera image. Changing the voltage in the cable-connected audiosynthesizer causes abrupt shifts in the synthetic image, which interacts with the keyed-in elements of the camera image and triggers unpleasant disorientation in one’s perception. In Full Circle (1978), Gary Hill demonstrated how sound oscillation produced with his own voice can be depicted visually. In the video, the wave forms of the pattern-generating oscillators as well as those of his voice can be simultaneously heard and seen.

A further audiovisual potential of video lies in its treatment of noise, whereby the video signal can produce either an auditive or a visual representation of its raw material, noise.[5] On the basis of this potential, early video pioneers recognized a structural kinship between the generation and processing of electronic signals and the principles of music composition. Their interest is related to the variability of the electronic signal, such as in the variation and repetition of a pattern and in the interaction between various instruments and devices.[6] The interconnection of several devices not only heightens the diversity of electronic visuality or audiovisual representation in the pattern, but also opens up the possibility of creating multilayered abstract forms that interact in temporal progression on the represented audio and video level. The closer connection between video and music (compared to other image media such as film and photography) follows, on the one hand, from the technical foundation in video noise, which has the potential of audiovisual configuration, and, on the other hand, from the devices’ possibilities of modular composition — not only do they work together like musical instruments, they can actually interact, as Steina Vasulka demonstrates in Violin Power (1970–1978).

In particular the trained composer Nam June Paik and the trained violinist Steina Vasulka dealt in their videos with issues related to structural correspondences between music and video and considered video an extension of their musical practice. Paik explored the variability of vertical-horizontal image motion and changed the synchronization of the signals like variations on a musical theme.[7]

Steina Vasulka saw the connection between music and video primarily in the possibility of transferring the movement of the instrument being played to video modulation. She realized this type of interaction between image and sound in her audio-video performances in Violin Power. In this work, the movement of the bow across the strings of the violin, which is being played live, causes direct signal deflections of the image position of the video image of this performance, which is simultaneously being recorded and played back, so that the artist, as it were, plays violin and video at the same time. By including the scan processor, sequencer, and keyer, she produces not only variations, but a complexity of videographic movements as well. This type of acting together of several representational levels of the source information is equal to musical polyphony and becomes most vivid when image and sound are produced from the same source or, as in Violin Power, are processed in parallel.

In comparisons of musical and videographic composition, it should be noted that, due to the open structure of processual images, the technical realization of the analog medium of video allows, as is the case in music, infinite variations on the image pattern. This capability also distinguishes video from the seriality and repetition in film and photography.

These experiments were shown at the exhibition Exposition of Music: Electronic Television, Galerie Parnass, Wuppertal, 1963, and were in part reconstructed and filmed by Jud Yalkut for Early Color TV Manipulations by Nam June Paik (1965–1968).