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fusing electronic music and visual image
Fusing electronic music and visual image

Australian explorations and innovations in audiovisual motion graphics

introduction
Introduction

“The most compelling form of art for some artists is one that manipulates the senses playfully, by combing sound with visual, tactile and kinetic components.”

– Gail Priest, “Electronic Music in Australia”

Although little known in conventional artistic circles, many important and creative innovations have taken place at the hands of Australian multimedia artists and musicians, primarily in underground and experimental grassroots art scenes.

These artists, with their interest in experimental ‘sensory media mixtures’ – now often known as New Media Art – made a significant contribution to the rise of visuals (“motion graphics”) becoming synonymous with music.

introduction3
Introduction

“Sound makes us see the image differently, and then this new image makes us hear the sound differently, which in turn makes us see something else in the image, which makes us hear different things in the sound”

– Walter Murch

I was lucky enough to be personally involved with one of the pioneering groups of audiovisual mixing in the 1990’s, Clan Analogue, and although at that time I was not producing audiovisual works, my husband Adam was – as were many of our friends.

The creative innovations and directions taken during this period have had a profound influence on my career and directions as an artist, as well as shaping much of my thinking about New Media as an art form.

early illuminations
Early illuminations

1930’s-1970’s

visual music
Visual Music

The development of multimedia is inextricably linked to available technologies. When the technology is not yet capable of achieving specific effects, innovation takes the form of repurposing what is available and pushing its use far beyond the original application.

Early audiovisual experimentation was driven by the concept of Visual Music – the transformation of music to visual form such as colours, light and shape.

Some of the technologies used to create Visual Music included;

  • Mechanical colour wheels
  • Oil lamps
  • Slides
  • Films and video
  • Complex algorithmic computer modelling
len lye
Len Lye

One of the earliest practitioners of Visual Music was experimental NZ filmmaker Len Lye, who pioneered visual collaborations in the 1930’s with one of Australia’s earliest pioneers in electronic music, Jack Ellitt.

As a student, Lye became convinced that motion could be part of the language of art, leading him to early experiments with kinetic sculpture, as well as a desire to make film.

Lye’s artistic output encompassed;

  • Stencilled, hand coloured and altered film
  • Shadow portrait photograms(produced by the same method as Man Ray’s Manograms)
  • Painting drawing batik
  • Kinetic sculptures
  • Writing and poetry
len lye7
Len Lye

A Colour Box

Made with the then very new Dufaycolour system invented in 1931 (1935, 35mm)

Rainbow Dance

A three minute film made in only five days of creative intensity (1936, 35 mm)

Free Radicals

Animated film made by scratching directly into film

Kinetic sculpture

the ubu film collective
The Ubu Film Collective

The Ubu Film Collective (AlbieThoms, David Perry, Aggy Read and John Clarke) was an important experimental film-making collective in Sydney from 1965 to around 1970, that explored the intersection of experimental film and live sound in the area of expanded cinema.

Ubu’s flirtations with lightshows and live music often involved experimenting with coloured light, oil-lamp and film projections while psychedelic bands such as TamamShud, Tully and the Nutwood Rug Band played live on stage.

Ubu explore many themes over their existence;

  • Theatre is a delirium and is communicative
  • Multi-media \'happenings‘
  • Expanded and independent cinema productions
  • Subverting the status-quo
the ubu film collective9
The Ubu Film Collective

Ubu became famous for their lightshow environments in November 1969 ,when they hosted the First Intergalactic Festival Lightshow Concert at the Cellblock Theatre, featuring live improvisation by The Id and Nutwood Rug.

Through their lightshows and the underground dances they put on, they created a tangible space for an underground scene to exist, as well as the ‘new counter-cultural ethos of pulsating psychedelic environments of light and sound.’

In an interview from 2003, Thoms reflected on the lightshows as “vehicles for expression of the spirit of the time”.

Their performances were vital influences on the imaginings of later artists.

josef stanislav ostoja kotkowski
Josef StanislavOstoja-Kotkowski

Adelaide artist Josef StanislavOstoja-Kotkowski was quite possible Australia’s first true multimedia artist. Ostoja was prolific and multi-talented, working in a diverse range of mediums that included painting, filmmaking, theatre design, fabric design, kinetic and static sculpture, stained glass, computer graphics and laser art.

“... I\'d like to [...] create an aurora which involves not only a three-dimensional but a more-dimensional space in which time is involved.

It seemed to me that you could achieve this by using light as a tool and that the closest thing to the source of light we know and can handle confidently is electronics.“

– Ostoja, 1968

josef stanislav ostoja kotkowski11
Josef StanislavOstoja-Kotkowski

Multimedia explorations:

  • Visual Music with filmmaker Ian Davidson (1950’s)
  • ‘Painting with light’ using the ‘new technology of television’ (1960’s) - manipulating the synchronisation of cathode ray guns to control image and generate abstractions
  • Using sine wave generators and pre-recorded music as data feed into screens (1965-66)
  • Abstract, sonically responsive pieces made using a theremin possibly constituted one of the first interactive installations in Australia. His theremin circuit was cited as pivotal to the development of media art in Australia, opening up a whole range of interactive potentials.
josef stanislav ostoja kotkowski12
Josef StanislavOstoja-Kotkowski

Ostoja is best known for his ground-breaking work in chromasonics, laser kinetics and \'sound and image\' productions. This was dramatically demonstrated with his 37-metre high public light sculpture, Chromasonic Tower (1970)

He developed a chromasonic laser unit: splitting the frequency of sound into 12 bandwidths that he could control via different aspects of projection using motorised mirrors to make a complex audio kinetic device. He demonstrated this in a collaborative performance Synchronos 72 with composer Don Banks (1972)

Ostoja’s pioneering work in laser sound and image technology earned him international recognition.

“I’m getting closer and closer’, he says, his face lighting up, ‘to intertwining sound and shape and color. I feel a bit like a caveman who discovered a bit of charcoal and realised I could draw on walls. I can imagine a day in the near future when the sky is the artist’s canvas.”

- Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski talking to Sandra McGrath, ‘From the way out’, Art, Australian, 9 June 1979

josef stanislav ostoja kotkowski13
Josef StanislavOstoja-Kotkowski

“I am not seeking to obscure art with technology as some of my critics claim but I am trying to free the imagination from the impediments of traditional media. I believe that new methods of making images can lead to a more immediate articulation of visual ideas in art that is relevant to the culture of advanced technology countries.”

- JS Ostoja-Kotkowski

“... I admired the work of J.S. Ostoja-Kotkowski [...] I was highly influenced by his use of technology, of searching for an alternate aesthetic that wasn\'t based in the traditional media.”

- Australian performance artist, Stelarc

warren burt
Warren Burt

Described as a ‘sound sculptor’, Warren Burt began teaching audio and video synthesis in the electronic music course at La Trobe after moving to Australia in 1975.

“[Burt’s early video pieces] have a sense of process ... each one would have a scenario, a structure. This set up parameters but it [was] not quite under control ... coming out of a Cagean experimental aesthetic.”

- John Gilles, artist and academic

In 1976, the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, linked to La Trobe, was established by Ron Nagorcka, Warren Burt and John Campbell. Artists around the centre explored media fusions, including Ros Brandt and Phillip Brophy.

In 1977, Burt curated a concert series with KiraPerov called Video Spectrum that brought together artists working with video. Many of the pieces explored the performative potential of video and incorporated real-time manipulation and live video feeds.

living visuals
Living Visuals

Australia’s isolation has allowed Australian artists to explore technology and its applications in a variety of unique ways, often breaking new ground and developing pioneering commercial products along the way, such as the Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument, 1979) and the CVI (Computer Video Instrument, 1984-85).

The ultimate challenge was to make the visual stream as live and playable as the audio element. Film was a pre-recorded medium, but video offered the potential for a truly responsive form.

However equipment was extremely expensive, which is why development was driven by artists devising their own technological processes.

  • Doug Richardson - very influential in developing computer graphics programs, in particular the Visual Piano
  • John Hansen - created a visual synthesizer utilising the circuit from the TV video game Pong
adam wolter and tim gruchy
Adam Wolter and Tim Gruchy

Adam Wolter and Tim Gruchy experimented with synchronising electronic music and computer-generated imagery using the first generation of Amiga computers in the late 1980’s.

Guchy’s multimedia work uses very complex sequences of hand-painted slides, usually accompanied by performances on his synthesizers and samplers. A typical performance was Fine Fragments (April 1987), an hour long performance featuring over 600 hand-painted slides, music and dance.

  • Zip 111

In 1987, Wolter and sound artist Gary Warner collaborated in an experimental art showcase called ‘Music for three computers’ (Peter Bellas Gallery, Brisbane). They used three Amiga computers and commercially available synthesis and sampling software in unconventional ways. In April 1989, Wolter wrote his own software to construct Brownian noise fractals in a solo computer sound and graphics show at the Queensland Art Gallery.

stephen jones and severed heads
Stephen Jones and Severed Heads

Stephen Jones is best known for his live video system. His video synthesizer was a combination of a 8 x 8 switching matrix – four external video inputs and four internal oscillator inputs – with a Serge Modular synthesizer and a Fairlight colouriser which allowed him to create real-time effects in combination with pre-recorded and live material.

“[The Bush Video Collective was] a constant video theatre environment ... there was a notion that we could develop a language that somehow involved a different communication ... a communication of process not of products and objects.”

- Jones, heavily influenced by anarchic group The Bush Video Collective (1973-74)

stephen jones and severed heads19
Stephen Jones and Severed Heads

Jones first collaborated with Severed Heads (Tom Ellard, Garry Bradbury and Simon Knuckley) – who had already been performing with their own visuals consisting of slides and film - in 1982. Their partnership was so successful, that he joined the band permanently in 1983.

With Ellard contributing Amiga animations and Jones continuing to create video and interactive systems, Severed Heads went on to earn an international reputation for their equally innovative music and visuals.

  • Big Car
  • Live at Metro TV, 1982
the rise of the vj
The rise of the VJ

Severed Heads was at the forefront of the increasing interest in mixing live visuals and alternative music, and by the early 1990’s, the VJ was an essential element to dance party and rave culture.

“Having visuals at raves and dance parties started as an extension to the lighting and decor but soon became a main part of them. It later became so much of a fixture that VJs were often listed on fliers in the line-up.”

- Jasper Russell, “The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T.”

VJ’s of the 1990’s;

  • Video Subvertigo – Ian Andrews, Marco Fante and John Jacobs.
  • Vison Four 5 – utilised interactive sound and visuals with Tim Gruchy
  • Cyber Dada– Dale Nason and Troy Innocent
  • Toy Satellite– John Power, Andrew Garton and Justina Curtis
  • Sean Healy – one of the founders of Octapod and the Electrofringe Festival
clan analogue
Clan Analogue

Clan Analogue is Australia’s largest electronic arts collective, founded in 1992 by a small group looking to create ways of collaborating and sharing knowledge. Early adopters in exploring the potential of any new multimedia technology, grassroots innovation is a hallmark of Clan Analogue collaborations.

“[the mix of visuals and electronic music] influenced more than just the sum of two parts and brought large diverse social groups together. Each worked with the other in the sense of finished work coming together, with tweaks and keying, manual and digital, done at the event”

– Emile Rasheed

“... the visuals were mainly inspired by the music. Having some form of visuals for electronic music meant it could be played on TV music video shows to widen the audience of electronic music.”

- Jasper Russell

clan analogue22
Clan Analogue

Audiovisual fusion forays:

  • In 1994 Clan Analogue was invited to participate in the European Minimalist Music project at the NSW Art Gallery and the Goethe Institute. This resulted in a 30min video release featuring audio by Scott Art, Brendan Palmer, Kazumichi Grime and Ant Bannister and experimental video by Jason Gee, Adam Pierce and Emile Rasheed.
  • In 1995 Clan Analogue hosted the Decadome stage at Big Day Out, which was noted as a highlight by the press. Large video wall sized projects and slides filled the venue along with live sounds from various electronic artists.

“In 1997, I hosted weekly images on a website and had people from around the world send me a short sound loop in response to the image which I used to form compositions around.”

– Toby Kazumichi Grime

the 5000 fingers of dr t
The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T.

Clan Analogue duo The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T. (Adam Pierce and Jasper Russell, 1994-2002) earned themselves a cult underground reputation for their mix of unique electronic music and visual performances, home-made analogue synthesizers, sound equipment and software for visual effects .

  • Adam has a long history with computer graphics, designing his first video game software while still in high school
  • Adam first came into contact with Clan Analogue when living at the EBOM (Evil Brotherhood of Mutants) warehouse in Cleveland St, where he had been experimenting with programming Amiga computers, creating visual effects and innovative audio equipment with electronics, in collaboration with fellow EBOM inmates, Ian Andrews and James McParlane.
the 5000 fingers of dr t24
The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T.

The Fingers’ interest in visuals began with a project to design "the ultimate trip video". They spent many weekends creating psychedelic visuals in the living room, ending up as the famous (infamous?) Om Video (1994, collaboration with Steve Anderson), which made it into Reachin\' Records before their music.

“There were basically 2 ways of doing visuals back then - through video mixers and video effects processors or with an Amiga Computer. These could be combined for even crazier results.

Video mixers/processors were expensive hardware. [We used] traditional analogue video editing techniques, with two VCR’s running through a video mixer to a final output: cutting, mixing with built-in effects between them.

We produced The Om Video this way by looping the output back into the input thus creating a video feedback loop. Throw in a couple of simple computer generated animations and some effects processors and a totally crazy trippy video was produced.”

- Jasper Russell

the 5000 fingers of dr t25
The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T.

The Fingers designed visuals to accompany their live music performances , including the Blob Generator software (designed and created by Adam). They were instrumental in contributing to creating the unique mixed media atmosphere of events like Frigid and Freaky Loops.

  • In 1998, they performed a live improvisation audiovisual piece with cyber performance artist \'Stelarc\' at the Conspiracy Club, Newtown.
  • In 1999, they appeared on Alchemy (SBS TV) along with two of their video clips, both of which made it into the Top 5 of Alchemy\'s groove charts.

“... the 5000 Fingers of Dr T video clip \'Barbecued Crickets‘ ... put together by band members Jasper and Adam, along with Selena Seifert ... I\'d go so far as to say it\'s one of the most inventive and memorable of Australian electronic music videos."

- Andrez Bergen, Zebra/Inpress, Melbourne

responsive environment
Responsive environment

The move towards New Media Art

integrated explorations
Integrated explorations

“Sound and image fuse into new, tightly articulated wholes; they are cross-wired, cut or molded into blocks or something like raw sensation’”

– Theorist Mitchell Whitelaw

While innovative technical process is still important, technology has advanced so far that there is no longer a need to ‘hack’ or create systems; the role of technology is less important, freeing artists up and allowing time to focus on conceptual and aesthetic explorations. Multimedia artists are moving into new areas, exploring interaction and methods for creating audio and visual together as integrated artworks.

“Interaction is actually about a conversation. It’s about feedback and modulation ... The most interesting model of interaction is where the machine is actively engaged in the conversation and it is speaking a language that you are able to become familiar with.”

– Stephen Jones, referring to the Severed Heads installation Chasing Skirt(Biennale of Sydney, 1988), in which visitors could trigger both sound and visual material in an interactive audiovisual environment

tesseract research laboraties
Tesseract Research Laboraties

Tesseract Research Laboratories (CindiDrennan and Justin Maynard) were visual architects, known for their site specific audiovisual installations, distinctive and original live performances involving image projection and experimental screen sculptures, creating immersive environments and live performance interaction.

“VJing is a temporal and interactive art form which we combine with spatial elements of structure, installation, interaction, and information architecture. We research and develop new forms of artistic expression and communication in time and space.

[Electronic music and visual fusion] was an environment that allowed experimentation, combining technology and creativity, exploring what audiences would respond to. The role of an artist working with the medium is to push boundaries. ”

- CindiDrennan

tesseract research laboraties29
Tesseract Research Laboraties
  • Vidi-Yo
  • Video Combustion (Performance Space, 2002) – an innovative example of exploring the possibilities of live video performance, Video Combustion involved about 50 performers (VJs, AVJs, audio, dance and actors) working together live in a massive audiovisual laboratory, combining and interweaving their work in a live improvisational and interactive audiovisual jam.
  • X|Media|Lab (MCA, 2003)
  • Illuminart
real time sonovision
Real-time Sonovision
  • Wade Marynowsky – creates both audio and video for live performances, which make use of different personas and subtle political commentary on Australian culture. He uses Max/MSP/Jitter software to build interactive relationships between the audio and visual material. These effects can be manipulated through a control unit, creating live transformation between audio and vision.
  • Robin Fox– creates symbiotic work in which the signals consume each other; audio output is fed directly into an oscilloscope and the results are projected via a live camera feed. Shape and movement rather than colour are the focus. He uses the same principles with lasers, projecting on and through smoke to create three-dimensional immersive experiences.
  • Andrew Gadow– patches video into sound and sound into video, creating a complete feedback organism that explores minimal abstraction.
media environments
Media environments
  • Cicada – Kristen Bradley, Nick Ritar and Ben Frost, create epic audiovisual productions with an emphasis on site specificity. Re_squared, (Australia Square, Sydney, 2003) was an urban installation piece, in which the urban environment was ‘re-imagined’ on the brutalistic concrete walls and columns of the buildings’ underbelly through sound and projected vision.
  • Abject Leader– Sally Golding and Joel Stern, explore the influences of earlier expanded cinema through the use of 16mm film projections and digital soundscapes. Contrasts between analogue and digital create slippages in sensory dominance, allowing the sonic and visual to alternately engage the audience.
  • Philip Brophy– live soundtrack performances that allude more to film. Kissed (2008) was created as a live quadraphonic score to Andy Warhol’s 1964 silent film Kiss. Northern Void (2007), a collaboration with Philip Samartzis, was an apocalyptic video fable of the future of Melbourne suburbia.
interactive audiovisual scapes
Interactive audiovisual scapes

Artists exploring interactive audiovisual scapes:

  • Iain Mott
  • Alex Davies
  • Garth Paine
  • Jessica Tyrrell
  • Michael Yuen
  • Olaf Meyer

Multimedia and interactive audiovisual events and festivals:

  • Brian Eno & Vivid Sydney
  • The Australian Sound Design Project (Ros Brandt)
  • The Sound of Failure
  • Octapod: This is Not Art/Electrofringe
octapod and electrofinge
Octapod and Electrofinge

Octapod was founded as an informal collective in 1996 by a group of artists and students who liked the idea of a public access media space - where people could create and browse interesting and unusual, non-mainstream media.

Octapod is responsible for overseeing the management of Newcastle\'s annual This Is Not ArtFestival (October), which incorporates Electrofringe.

Electrofringe is a festival of digital, electronic and new media arts, with a focus on emergent forms and techniques within media based arts practice.

Because it takes place outside of academic institutions, Electrofringe enables practical exchange of information, techniques and concepts, peer to peer mentoring and active participation for a diverse range of emerging and established media artists.

conclusions
Conclusions

Many of the artists presented here have gone on to become recognized multimedia practitioners; working in the fields of motion graphics, 3D animation or film and TV, starting up commercial companies, lecturing in interactive multimedia, attaining New Media fellowships with the Australia Council for the Arts and holding events and festivals to promote and further new media practice.

Experimental mixed media practices came out of a grassroots interest in the potential of new technologies and converging art forms, and led to the creation of meaningful communities, important responses to changing cultural and technological landscapes and a range of innovative, adaptive and multi-disciplinary ways of approaching multimedia art.

The development and forms of these mixed media explorations have mostly gone on outside galleries and museums, and many Australian practitioners, despite earning growing international reputations for their work, often remain largely unknown and unrecognised for their talents and contributions in shaping both Motion Graphics and New Media as art forms.

bibliography
Bibliography

“Experimental Music: audio explorations in Australia”, Chapter 10: Sounding Sight, Space and Bodies – a survey of mixed media explorations. Gail Priest, UNSW Press, 2009.

ArtsHub: Len Lye at ACMI, 5th August 2009

Len Lye: Wikipedia

Ubu Films: Wikipedia

Ubu Films and Underground Music

Joseph Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski: Wikipedia

Light Becomes the MediumArticle on Ostoja by Stephen Jones

Australian Music Centre: Warren Burt

“Live Electronics”, Peter Nelson & Stephen Montague

Video Combustion: Intentional (mis)use of AV technology

Electronic Media Arts in Australia

The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T. – biography

Clan Analogue

“Plug In Switch On”Clan Analogue documentary, 2008

In Repertoire – a Guide to Australian New Media Arts

The Australia Council for the Arts

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