A history timeline of live A/V Trajectories. Researched by Mia Makela, commissioned by AVA Click on image to view the working timeline :
In The Beginning There Was Light – An Introduction by Mia Makela
Acoustics experts who have visited Palaeolithic rock art sites (16,000 years old) in France argue that cave paintings seem to be concentrated in areas of greater acoustic resonance. This suggests that the pictures might have been created as part of a singing ritual according to a music researcher Legor Reznikoff. It could be that humans have since times immemorial an instinctual need to combine sound and visual experiences in a performative way.
Since it is difficult to follow prehistoric events, this timeline starts with Chinese shadow theatre during Han Dynasty 206 BCE – 220 CE. As the story goes, the emperor´s concubine had died and to soothe his longing he summoned court officers to bring her back to life, which they did by using donkey leather of her shape and moving it in front of an oil lamp.
Spirituality, and life itself, is connected to light. Already the ancient Egyptians believed the sun was the god Ra’s protecting eye. Wayan Kulit, Indonesian Shadow theatre was and still is deeply connected to spirituality and cultural heritage. Father Castel might have been inspired by the church stain glass windows as he drew his plan for a colour organ, in order to project changing colours with the light of candles, while pressing the keys of the organ in the 17th century. The 19th century romantics were obsessed by the spirit world, and were enchanted by the animated phantasmagoria shows in European cabarets. The modern era brought along the pure force of electricity, which guided the video synthesizer wizards in their journeys into magical mandala shapes and feedback loops in the 70s. Video artists like Carol Goss believed they were manifesting something essential about the way the universe functions. It is fascinating that also the science world has recently brought up (the) feedback as the defining metaphor of our time.
The “colour musicians” were likewise convinced about the universal laws binding colour and musical harmony together. This phenomenon intrigued scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, composers like Scriabin, and painters like Kandinsky, who developed myriad of correlating systems. Visual music is a well-documented practice, which emerged side by side with colour music. Many animators including Len Lye, Mary Ellen Bute and Oscar Fishinger created pioneering “music videos” and developed the aesthetics of abstract visuals. Fishinger literally drew sound, on the soundtrack area of film, in his ornamental sound experiments in the 30s. While film projectors continued to dominate in the 20th century, projecting coloured light kept fascinating artists and inventors like Mary Hallock-Greenewalt and Thomas Wilfred. Wilfred developed his lumia projections and designed home claviluxes, television-like devices, which could generate a non-repeating cycle of light visuals.
These early investigations and experiments prove that even before cinema was born, people were fascinated with the idea of audiovisual experience without necessarily connecting it to narrative storytelling. It’s striking how spirituality, art and science continue their interwoven experimental paths thru centuries in audiovisual art. According to writer/curator George Fiffield one of the best examples is the collaboration between artist Nam June Paik and technician Shuya Abe:
“There are a few moments in history where a major advance in the arts is also an advance in engineering and directly responsible for a major acceleration of popular culture. The invention of the Paik/Abe Synthesizer is one of those perfect moments.”
There are many possible historical trajectories and influences to follow. This timeline includes only few of them. Some, like Wayan Kulit, continue today as they ever were. Others have shifted their energy into other forms, and continue with us: Would we have a club scene today, without Father Castel´s inspirations ? I-Tune visualisations without Wilfred´s lumia projections? The real-time video software effects without video synthesisers ? The video synthesisers without platforms like Experimental Television Centre and publications like Radical Software ?
We wish to honour the creative spirits, be they visionaries, technological innovators, artists or organisers, who spent their lives in exploring with the same passion we possess in our artistic or scientific endeavours. The content was patched together from bits and pieces, images, videos, academic articles, websites found online and it will keep evolving over time.
The research of Fred Collopy and Kenneth Peacock provided the structural backbone. The text sources are marked with each story. We consider them quotes and wish not to break any copyright laws. The sources of video clips can be seen by opening the clips in Youtube or Vimeo. We are very grateful to have found these texts, images and videos which others have sought out or created. We offer this timeline as a free resource and hope that will you find it inspiring and useful in your own audiovisual explorations !
Mia Makela – Researcher
Scylla Magda /AVA– Curator