Audiovisual Experiments

For artists who see their work in a sociopolitical context the transformation of the information environment and massive changes in society since the late 1960s pose a great challenge. The increasing importance of audiovisual media and their esthetic vocabulary was the starting point for numerous artistic investigations that are today called media art. Some attempted to use New Media to create works of an equally new type or to artistically animate the media, others were based on the technology of new means of production to intervene directly in the instruments of power. In 1969, for example, Nam June Paik together with Shuya Abé developed a video synthesizer as a counterpart to a music synthesizer and used it to produce live broadcasts for television. He dreamed of being able to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo, as freely as Picasso, as colorfully as Renoir, as profoundly as Mondrian, as violently as Pollock and as lyrically as Jasper Johns.[1]The new electronic media also became inspiring material for other artists as well. John Cage had already been experimenting with radios, amplifiers and record players in the 1930s. At the invitation of Billy Klüver from the Bell Telephone Laboratories, who had founded Experiments in Art and Technology together with Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman, in 1966 Cage and nine other artists (including Lucinda Childs, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer) took part in the 9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering at the New York Armory in Armory Street. This was a large-scale cooperation among artists, scientists and engineers. Billy Klüver anticipated a change of social order from this project. Engineers have been the employees of the economic life, but related to the artists they become a revolutionary factor.[2]The resonance from the press at the time drew a different picture, however: The presentations, which satisfied neither the techno-utopian nor the entertainment expectations of the audience, were largely described as irritating, disappointing and boring. Especially the intensive collaboration between artists and scientists seemed to cancel out both the artistic content and the technical aspirations. According to the artist and art critic Brian O’Doherty, the confrontation with the technocratic world turned key criteria of sophisticated artistic production, such as the inclusion of chance, questioning authorship, and interaction with the audience, into old-fashioned factors. O’Doherty maintained that the anti-conventions, as they had been provocatively postulated by Fluxus and Happenings in the 1950s, suddenly seemed like new conventions. From today’s perspective, the 9 Evenings were a spectacular attempt to interrelate sophisticated technologies and artistic experiments. Particularly because the close and affirmative collaboration among craftsmen, researchers, technicians and artists has historically been repeatedly linked with revolutionary utopias, the discourse surrounding the 9 Evenings of Theatre & Engineering also reflected several central issues of media art. A completely different relation to research and technology is represented by the audio and sound activist group Ultra-red. In reference to the liberation pedagogue Paolo Freire, with their sound works they intend to create counter-discourses to the dominant concept of science, which is ideologically linked with the capitalist system. Acoustic space is understood here primarily as the place where social conditions are carried out. Another technical counter-world was opened up by Herwig Weiser with his zgodlocator (1998–2002). For these special sound machines, computers were broken down into their components and finely ground. This creative basic material was then filled in transparent lab cells, in which it was formed into ever new hills and craters using loudspeaker magnets. The fluctuating patterns were in turn re-translated into electronically generated sound patterns, conveying the monstrous inner life hidden behind the shiny surfaces of high-tech devices as dark image and sound information.

John Cage, Variations VII, 1966

Lucinda Childs, Vehicle, 1966

Peter Weibel, Action Lecture – Communication Breakdown, 1968

Nam June Paik & Jud Yalkut, Video Commune: Beatles from Beginning to End – An Experiment for Television, 1970

John Baldessari, Drawing to Sound Effects Series: Drawings by Ed Henderson To Various Sound Effects, 1974

VALIE EXPORT, Raumsehen und Raumhören, 1974

Steina Vasulka, Violin Power, 1978

Gary Hill, Soundings, 1979

Carsten Nicolai, Modell zur Visualisierung, 2001

Tmema (Golan Levin, Zachary Lieberman), Manual Input Workstation, 2004

Norbert Pfaffenbichler & Lotte Schreiber, AUDIO VISUAL OBJECT 01, 2006

Herwig Weiser, zgodlocator, 2002/2009

Ultra-red, Untitled (for six voices), 2008

The statement is from the documentation film 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering by Alfons Schilling, b/w, sound, 20 min., 1966.