Ture Sjolander Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 7:01 PM
  (Timeless News)



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Gene Youngblood became a passenger of Spaceship Earth on May
30, 1942. He is a faculty member of the California Institute of the
Arts, School of Critical Studies. Since 1961 he has worked in all
aspects of communications media: for five years he was reporter,
feature writer, and film critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner; in
1965 he conducted a weekly program on film and the arts for KPFK,
Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles; in 1967 he wrote, produced, directed,
edited, and on-camera reported "human interest" filmed news
features for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles; since 1967 his column
“Intermedia” has appeared weekly in the Los Angeles Free Press on
subjects ranging from film and the arts to science, technology, and
the cultural revolution. Mr. Youngblood currently is working on two
books: The Videosphere, about global television in the 1970s as a
tool for conscious evolution, and Earth Nova, a philosophical novel
and screenplay about the new consciousness, the new lifestyle, and
their relation to technology.

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by Gene Youngblood
Introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller
A Dutton Paperback
P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York 1970

Copyright © 1970 by Gene Youngblood
Introduction and poem, "Inexorable Evolution and Human Ecology,"
copyright © 1970 by R. Buckminster Fuller
All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A.
First Edition
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any
information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without
permission in writing from the publishers, except by a reviewer who wishes to
quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a
magazine or newspaper or broadcast.
Published simultaneously in Canada by
Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, Toronto and Vancouver.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 71-87207
SBN 0— 525— 10152— 7(Cloth) SBN 0— 525— 7263— 0 (DP)

To Nancy

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List of Illustrations 11
Introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller 15
Inexorable Evolution and Human Ecology
by R. Buckminster Fuller 37
Preface 41
Part One: The Audience and the Myth of Entertainment 45
Radical Evolution and Future Shock
in the Paleocybernetic Age 50
The Intermedia Network as Nature 54
Popular Culture and the Noosphere 57
Art, Entertainment, Entropy 59
Retrospective Man and the Human Condition 66
The Artist as Design Scientist 70
Part Two: Synaesthetic Cinema: The End of Drama 75
Global Closed Circuit: The Earth as Software 78
Synaestheic Synthesis: Simultaneous Perception of
Harmonic Opposites 81
Syncretism and Metamorphosis: Montage as Collage 84
Evocation and Exposition: Toward Oceanic Consciousness 92
Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience
Mythopoeia: The End of Fiction 106
Synaesthetics and Synergy 109
Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 112
Synaesthetic Cinema and Extra-Objective Reality 122
Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age 128
Part Three: Toward Cosmic Consciousness 135
2001: The New Nostalgia 139
The Stargate Corridor 151
The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 157

10 Expanded Cinema
Part Four: Cybernetic Cinema and Computer Films 179
The Technosphere: Man/Machine Symbiosis 180
The Human Bio-Computer and His Electronic Brainchild 183
Hardware and Software 185
The Aesthetic Machine 189
Cybernetic Cinema 194
Computer Films 207
Part Five: Television as a Creative Medium 257
The Videosphere 260
Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 265
Synaesthetic Videotapes 281
Videographic Cinema 317
Closed-Circuit Television and Teledynamic Environments 337
Part Six: Intermedia 345
The Artist as Ecologist 346
World Expositions and Nonordinary Reality
Cerebrum: Intermedia and the Human Sensorium 359
Intermedia Theatre 365
Multiple-Projection Environments 387
Part Seven: Holographic Cinema: A New World 399
Wave-Front Reconstruction: Lensless Photography 400
Dr. Alex Jacobson: Holography in Motion 404
Limitations of Holographic Cinema 407
Projecting Holographic Movies 411
The Kinoform: Computer-Generated Holographic Movies 414
Technoanarchy: The Open Empire 415
Selected Bibliography 421
Index 427


Color Plates (Following page 432)
Jordan Belson: Phenomena
Jordan Belson: Samadhi and Momentum
John Whitney: Permutations
John Whitney: Permutations
John Whitney, Jr.: Images from triple-projection computer film
John Stehura: Cybernetik 5.3
Terry Riley and Arlo Acton: Music With Balls
Philip Makanna: The Empire of Things
James Seawright: Capriccio for TV
Nam June Paik: Three experiments with color cathode tube
Scott Bartlett: OFFON
Clouds of barium atoms ionized by solar radiation
Black-and-white Plates
Stan Brakhage: Dog Star Man 89
Will Hindle: Chinese Firedrill 94
Patrick O'Neill: 7362 98
John Schofill: XFilm 101
Ronald Nameth: Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable 104
Paul Morrissey: Flesh 118
Carolee Schneemann: Fuses 120
Michael Snow: Wavelength 123
Mystical alignment of planets and sun in 2001: A Space Odyssey 142
Starchild Embryo from 2001: A Space Odyssey 145
Stargate Corridor from 2001: A Space Odyssey 152
Slit-scan machine 155
Jordan Belson: Allures 161
Jordon Belson: Re-Entry 164
Jordan Belson: Re-Entry 165
Jordan Belson: Samadhi 170
Jordan Belson: Momentum 175
Stereo pairs from a film by A. Michael Noll 190
Mechanical analogue plotter (above); animated sequence (below) 195
Cybernetic movie studio 197
Reclining nude scanned and reconstructed by computer 201

12 Expanded Cinema
Charles Csuri: Hummingbird 202
Demonstration of RCA's liquid crystal display 204
John Whitney working with his mechanical analogue computer 209
Detail shots of mechanical analogue computer 211
John Whitney: Catalogue 212
Dr. Jack Citron of IBM Los Angeles 219
James Whitney: Lapis 224
James Whitney: Lapis 225
John Whitney, Jr.: Untitled 232
Michael Whitney: Binary Bit Patterns 235
The Whitney brothers 237
John Stehura: Cybernetik 5.3 240
Computer interpretation of the word "movies" 247
Variations of the Beflix technique 248
Peter Kamnitzer: City-Scape 251
The Picturephone 262
Use of Chroma-Key video matting 271
Use of two cameras and three VTRs 272
Composite scene from the Limbo program 273
Stan VanDerBeek at work 278
Disintegration of form in Videospace 286
Use of six levels of delayed videotape superimpositions 288
Loren Sears: Sorcery 290
Otto Piene: Electronic Light Ballet 300
Electromagnetic distortions of the video image by Nam June Paik 305
Nam June Paik with charlotte Moorman in TV Bra for Living
Sculpture 307
Aldo Tambellini: Black TV 309
Aldo Tambellini: Black Video Two 310
Aldo Tambellini in control room of WGBH-TV, Boston 312
Eric Siegel: Psychedelevision 315
Scott Bartlett: Moon 322
Tom DeWitt: The Leap 325
Scott Bartlett filming Tom DeWitt 327
Jud Yalkut: Paikpieces 329
The King of Sweden as seen in Monument 332

Paul McCartney in Monument 333
Lutz Becker: Horizon 335
Les Levine with Iris 338
Les Levine with Contact 341
Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider: Wipe Cycle 342

Illustrations 13
Stan VanDerBeek with multifaceted surface 349
Stan VanDerBeek presides over intermedia presentation 350
Chamber One of Roman Kroitor's Labyrinthe at Expo '67 353
Chamber Three of Labyrinthe 354
Two scenes from Francis Thompson's We Are Young 355
The Diapolyceran Screen at Expo '67 356
The Diapolyceran Screen 357
Sensory-kinetic multi-media experience at Cerebrum 360
Cerebrum, New York City 362
Carolee Schneemann: Night Crawlers 367
Carolee Schneemann: Illinois Central 372
Centers: A Ritual of Alignments performed by Milton Cohen 373
ONCE Group: Unmarked Interchange 375
Milton Cohen's Space Theatre 376
John Cage and Ronald Nameth: HPSCHD 377
Two scenes from Ronald Nameth's As the World Turns 379
Two scenes from Robert Whitman's Prune Flat 380
Aldo Tambellini: Black Zero 382
Aldo Tambellini and Otto Piene: Black Gate Cologne 384
Wolf Vostell: Electronic Happening Room 385
Henry Jacobs and Jordan Belson 388
Planetarium projector equipped for Vortex Concerts 390
Isobe's Floating Theatre at Oneonta, N.Y. 393
Two images from the lightworks of the Single Wing Turquoise Bird 395
Sequence of images from Circles 397
Diffusion of a laser beam 401
Multiple-exposure photo approximation of an animated hologram 402
Two photos from holographic movie of tropical fish 405
Schematic diagram of Hughes holographic movie system 405
Hughes holographic projection system 408
Holographic movie viewing system developed
by North American Philips Corporation 409
Hemispherical mirror developed by Los Angeles
chapter of Experiments in Art and Technology 417

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by R. Buckminster Fuller
At all times nowadays, there are approximately 66 million human
beings around Earth who are living comfortably inside their mothers'
wombs. The country called Nigeria embraces one-fourth of the
human beings of the great continent of Africa. There are 66 million
Nigerians. We can say that the number of people living in Wombland
is about the same as one-fourth the population of Africa. This 66
million Womblanders tops the total population of either West
Germany's 58 million, the United Kingdom's 55 million, Italy's 52
million, France's 50 million, or Mexico's 47 million. Only nine of the
world's so-called countries (China, India, Soviet Union, United
States, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, and Brazil) have individual
populations greater than our luxuriously-living, under-nine-monthsold
Seemingly switching our subject, but only for a moment, we note
that for the last two decades scientists probing with electrodes have
learned a great deal about the human brain. The brain gives off
measurable energy and discrete wave patterns disclosed by the
oscillograph. Specific, repetitive dreams have been identified by
these wave patterns. The neurological and physiological explorers
do not find it extravagant to speculate that we may learn that what
humanity has thus far spoken of mystifiedly as telepathy, science will
have discovered, within decades, to be ultra-ultra high-frequency
electro-magnetic wave propagations.
All good science fiction develops realistically that which scientific
data suggests to be imminent. It is good science fiction to suppose
that a superb telepathetic communication system is inter-linking all
those young citizens of worldaround Wombland. We intercept one of
the conversations: "How are things over there with you?" Answer:
"My mother is planning to call me either Joe or Mary. She doesn't
know that my call frequency is already 7567-00-3821." Other: "My
mother had better apply to those characters Watson, Crick, and
Wilkerson for my call numbers!" And another of their 66 million

16 Expanded Cinema
Womblanders comes in with, "I'm getting very apprehensive about
having to 'go outside.' We have been hearing from some of the kids
who just got out— They say we are going to be cut off from the main
supply. We are going to have to shovel fuel and pour liquids into our
systems. We are going to have to make our own blood. We are
going to have to start pumping some kind of gas into our lungs to
purify our own blood. We are going to have to make ourselves into
giants fifteen times our present size. Worst of all, we are going to
have to learn to lie about everything. It's going to be a lot of work,
very dangerous, and very discouraging." Answer: "Why don't we
strike? We are in excellent posture for a 'sit-down.'" Other: "Wow!
What an idea. We will have the whole population of worldaround
Wombland refuse to go out at graduation day. Our cosmic population
will enter more and more human women's wombs, each refusing to
graduate at nine months. More and more Earthian women will get
more and more burdened. Worldaround consternation— agony. We
will notify the outsiders that, until they stop lying to themselves and to
each other and give up their stupid sovereignties and exclusive
holier-than-thou ideologies, pollutions, and mayhem, we are going to
refuse to come out. Only surgery fatal to both the mothers and
ourselves could evacuate us."
Another: "Great! We had might as well do it. If we do come out
we will be faced with the proliferation of Cold War's guerrillerized
killing of babies for psycho-shock demoralization of worldaround
innocent communities inadvertently involved in the abstruse
ideological warfare waged by diametrically opposed, equally
stubborn, would-be do-gooder, bureaucratic leaders and their
partisans who control all of the world's means of production and
killing, whose numbers (including all the politically preoccupied
individuals around the Earth) represent less than one per cent of all
humanity, to whose human minds and hearts the politicos and their
guns give neither satisfaction nor hope. Like the women in Lysistrata
who refused intercourse with their men until they stopped fighting, we
Womblanders would win."
Until yesterday, what are now the 150 member nations of our
planet's United Nations were tiny groups of humans who for two
million years had been regenerating around our globe so remotely

Introduction 17
from one another that each colony, nation, or tribe was utterly unaware
of one another's existence. Only through telepathy, as
supposedly operative in the previous paragraphs, could those remote
cells of precariously-surviving human beings have been aware
of one another throughout those two million years. In the last few
split seconds of overall history, there emerged a dozen millennia ago
from the womb of tribal remoteness a few sailors and overland
explorers who began to discover the presence of other humans
scattered around the mysterious world. Finding the tribes to be each
unaware of either the surprising resources or the vital needs and
desires of the others, they kept the whereabouts of these surprise
demands and supplies secret and thus were able, through monopoly
of commerce and middle-manning, to exploit to their own special
advantage the vital needs, ignorance, and the wealth of life-support
to be generated by expediting or slowing the physical resource
interactions with humanity's available time to work the resources into
higher advantage tools, environment controlling devices, and
metabolically regenerative sustainers.
Throughout all the two million years up to the Twentieth Century,
the total distance covered by an average man in an average lifetime
disclosed to him less than one-millionth of the surface of our
spherical planet. So tiny was a human and so relatively large is our
planet that it is not surprising that humans as yet cerebrate only in
terms of a "wide, wide world— a four-cornered Earth," situated in the
middle of an infinite plane, to which all the perpendiculars are
parallel to one another and lead only in two directions— UP and
DOWN— with sky UP there and earth DOWN here. Don't think it is
only an illiterate unemployee who is misoriented and ignorant; even
now the senses and brains of all the Ph.D. scientists are so
reflexively misoriented that they too see the sun go down, plunging
into the infinite plane at a mysterious and never-discovered place
called the West, to rise mysteriously from it again next morning at a
never-identified place called East— and Astronaut Conrad bursts out
spontaneously from his moon advantage talking about being " … up
here on the moon..." and the President of the United States
congratulates the astronauts on "...going up to the moon and back
down to earth." Scientists not only admit but assert that there are no
locales in the Universe to be identified as UP and DOWN. None of

18 Expanded Cinema
the perpendiculars to our spherical Earth's surface are parallel to one
another; they lead in an infinity of directions.
No matter how you may look upon the matter morally and
ideologically, the assumption that humanity could or could not own a
piece of land with all the earth vertically below it and all the air
vertically above it is not only scientifically invalid— it is scientifically
impossible. The scheme is geometrically possible only as an up-anddown
make-believe flat world.
To understand the scientific impossibility of such a scheme, let us
consider a cube inside of a sphere, with the cube's eight corners
congruent with the surface of the sphere. Let the cube's twelve edges
consist of steel structurals. A light is at the common center of the
cube and sphere and casts a shadow of the twelve structural edges
of the cube outwardly upon the surface of the translucent sphere. We
will now see that the total spherical surface is divided symmetrically
by great circle arcs into six equilateral four-edged areas. Though
each of the four-sided symmetrical areas has 120-degree corners
instead of 90-degree corners, each is called a spherical square.
Altogether they constitute a spherical cube.
We will now suppose the spherical cube to be the planet Earth.
We will suppose that war and treaties have resulted in the total
Earth's being divided equally amongst six sovereign groups— each
empowered by its laws to grant deeds to properties within their
respective spherical square surfaces on the planet, regardless of
whether covered by water or not. We will suppose that, as at
present, each of the world's major sovereign nations assumes the
authority to deed or lease the titles to subdivisions of each of their
respective lands to corporations, sub-governments, and individuals.
All the legally recognized deeds to property anywhere around our
Earth date back only to sovereign claims established and maintained
exclusively by military might.
Now that we have the model of a cubical subdivision of the
sphere, let us color our cube's six faces, respectively, red, orange,
yellow, green, blue, and violet. Let Russia sovereignly possess the
red face of the cube. Consider all the perpendiculars to the red face
of the internally positioned cube as being the up and down perpendiculars
defining the property claims to all the land below the surface

Introduction 19
and all the air above the surface. Under these conditions, it will be
seen that the red square owns all the interior of the cube which
occurs perpendicularly below that red surface square. Therefore,
each of the six countries would be claiming exclusive possession of
the same "whole" cube, which obviously invalidates each and all of
their claims to only one-sixth of the cube. This realization is mildly
reminiscent of Portia's admonition to Shylock that he must be able to
cut loose his pound of flesh without letting a drop of blood.
"Alright," you say, "I will concede it is impossible to demonstrate
the validity of the claims to the lands lying perpendicularly below my
surface map without invalidating all other land owners of the world.
Therefore, I will try to live on the surface of my land and just claim it
and the air space vertically above me." "Alright," we say to you,
"what air are you talking about, because it just blew away." You retort
testily, "I don't mean that nonsense... just the air geometrically above
me. That is what I refer to when I say you are violating my air
space— you are violating my overhead geometry." "Alright," we say
to you, "which stars were you looking at when you said, '...that space
above me'? Our Earth has been revolved away from those stars.
Other stars are now above us. Not only are we revolving, but we are
simultaneously orbiting around the sun, while all the planets and
stars are always in swift motion, but are so far away from us and our
lives so short that we are unable to perceive those motions. The
distances involved are so great that the light from the next star to the
sun takes four and one-half years to come to our solar system while
traveling 700 million miles per hour and the distance across our
galaxy is more than 300,000 light years, while the next nearest of the
millions of galaxies are multi-millions of light years away from our
galactic nebula. With those kinds of distances in the heavens, the
amount of star motion that you and I can detect in our lifetime is
humanly unrecognizable. Most of the star speeds within their
galaxies are in the order of only 100,000 miles per hour, which is a
negligible speed beside light's speed of 700 million miles per hour."
Because all the stars in the Universe are in motion, our planet
orbits rotatingly in an ever-changing, omni-circus of celestial
events.There is no static geometry of omni-interrelationship of Uni


20 Expanded Cinema
verse events. Some of the stars you are looking at have not been
there for a million years— Some no longer exist. As Einstein and
Planck discovered, "Universe is a scenario of non-simultaneous and
only partially overlapping, transformative events." One frame in the
scenario of caterpillar does not foretell the later scenario event of its
transformation into butterfly. One frame of butterfly cannot tell you
that the butterfly flies; only large time-sequence segments of the
scenario can provide meaningful information. Cogitating on the
myriads of stars apparently scattered in disorderly spherical array
about the heavens, individuals often remark, as may you, "I wonder
what is outside outside?"— asking for a one-frame answer, which is
as unintelligent as asking, "Which word is the dictionary?" You know
the order of the dictionary to be alphabetical, but its words do not
read sequentially. Just hearing them read aloud, they make an only
apparent, disorderly array. This is typical of the manner in which
nature hides her orderliness in only apparent disorder.
Back to little Space Vehicle Earth and that question of property.
The most that the individual could be entitled to own would be the
inside of an infinitely thin blueprint of his land, because there is no
geometry of space outside it and no exclusively occupiable land
below. Our planet Earth is the home of all humans, but scientifically
speaking it belongs only to Universe. It belongs equally to all
humans. This is the natural, geometrical law. Any laws of man which
contradict nature are unenforceable and specious.
Without the infinitely-extended lateral plane, the words up and
down are meaningless. The airman initiated the correct descriptive
terms "coming IN for a landing and going OUT." It is meaningful to
say "INSTAIRS and OUTSTAIRS." Say it for a week and your
senses will discover and notify that you are living on a planet.
What do you mean, "astronaut?" We are all astronauts. Always
have been— but really! Never mind your "Never-mind-that-spacestuff,
let's-be-practical, let's-get-down-to-Earth" talk— brain-talk as
undisturbed by knowledge as is a parrot's brain-talk by any
awareness born of thought. Brain is physical— weighable; thought is
metaphysical— weightless. Many creatures have brains. Man alone
has mind. Parrots cannot do algebra; only mind can abstract. Brains
are physical devices for storing and retrieving special case experi


Introduction 21
ence data. Mind alone can discover and employ the generalized
scientific principles found holding true in every special case
Universe has disclosed to astrophysics an elegantly orderly
inventory of ninety-two regenerative chemical elements, each with its
unique behaviors, all of which are essential to the success of
Universe. All are in continual interexchange within the total
evolutionary process of Universe. Ignorant humans aboard Space
Vehicle Earth are now screaming, "Pollution!" There is no such
phenomenon. What they call pollution is extraordinarily valuable
chemistry essential to Universe and essential to man on Earth. What
is happening is that the egocentricity of omni-specialized man makes
him ignorant of the value with which his processing is confronting
him. The yellow-brown content of fume and smog is mostly sulphur.
The amount of sulphur going out of the smokestacks around the
world each year is exactly the same as the amount of sulphur being
taken from the Earth each year to keep the world ecology going. It
would be far less expensive to catch that sulphur while concentrated
in the stack, and to distribute it to the original users, than to do the
original mining AND to get it out of human lungs, et cetera, when all
the costs to society over a deteriorating twenty-five years are taken
into account. But humanity insists on holding to this year's profits,
crops, and elections. World society is lethally shortsighted.
Subconsciously reflexing to the as yet mistaken concept of an
infinite plane, men have felt that they could dispose of annoyingly
accruing substances with which they did not know how to deal by
dispatching them outward in some cosmic direction, assumedly to be
diffused innocuously in infinity. "I spit in the ocean. So what?"
Humans as yet cerebrate secretly and hopefully that— inasmuch as
yesterday's exhaustion of customary resources has always been
followed by discovery of alternate and better resources— the great
infinity is going to keep right on taking care of ignorant carelessness
and waste. "So what the hell?" say the "down-to-earth" statusquoers.
"Pump all the fossil fuel energy-depositing of billions of years
out from the Earth's crust. Burn it up in a century. Fill all your bank
accounts with ten-place figures. To hell with the great grandchildren.
Let them burn up our Space Vehicle Earth's oceans with hydrogen

22 Expanded Cinema
fusion. Let them do the worrying about tomorrow."
Just as biological protoplasmic cells are colonized into larger
organisms, the most complex and omni-adaptable of which is the
human, so too do humans colonize and inventively externalize the
same organic tool functions for their mutual metabolic regeneration.
We call this complex mutual tool externalization by the name
industrialization, in which each of us can use the telephone or the
electric light in our special, unique tasks, all of which require
increasing development of worldaround access to the total resources
and worldaround distribution of the advantages comprehensively
produced in total metabolic regeneration.
The world population which, after the cell-colonizing within its
controlled environment, has been emitted from the thin,
protoplasmic, tissue-sheathed, human womb into planet Earth's
larger biosphere-sheathed, industrial organism womb, goes on
colonizing, integrating, and specializing locally as innocently and
ignorantly as did the protoplasmic cells within the woman's womb, all
the while mistrusting one another as they evolve their utter
interdependence around Earth, as do the individual protoplasmic
cells of the residents of human Wombland gather together
selectively, finally to form a whole child. In due course, we will
realize a one world human integrity and with each degree of physical
integration a new degree of metaphysical freedom will be attained.
Earthians in their more roomy biosphere are as yet provided-for,
despite their utter ignorance of the infinitely-exquisite reliable
interactions of cosmic mechanics. Mothers don't have to invent a
breast to feed the baby or invent oxygen for it to breathe. Nor do they
have to tell the child how to invent its cell growth. Humans are utterly
ignorant of what goes on, how, and why.
The Universe is a self-regenerating and transforming organic
machine. Human womb graduates now gestating within the
biosphere's world industrial organism womb are discovering and
employing a few of the principles governing micro-macro cosmic
mechanics, all the while ignorantly speaking of their accomplishments
of the generally-disregarded obvious as "inventions" and
"creations." Now humans have become suspicious of their little
machines, blaming them for the continual disconnects of the

Introduction 23
inexorable evolutionary processes of cosmic gestations which—
transcendental to their brain detecting— ever and again emit them
into a greater, more inclusively exquisite spherical environment of
automated mechanical controls that progressively decontrol humanity's
thought and action capabilities— ever increasing humanity's
options— emancipating it from its former almost total preoccupation
with absolute survival factors.
Assuming erroneously that their day-to-day positive experiences
should be rendered perpetual and their negative experiences
eliminated, humans try to freeze the unfreezable evolution at specific
stages. They try to make "plastic flowers" of all momentarily
satisfying events and paraphernalia. In the past, they tried to do it
with stone. Separated from the familiar, confronted with the
unfamiliar, and reflexed only by the brain's mechanical feedback,
unthinking humans— not realizing that there are no straight lines, only
wavy ones, and not realizing that waves can only be propagated by
positive-negative oscillating— find their straight linear strivings
forever frustrated by the wave system realities of Universe.
Ignorantly they speak of the evolutionary waves' regeneratively
oscillating complementaries as "good" and "bad," though the
scientist can find no such moral and immoral qualities in the electron
or its complementary opposite, the positron.
Humanity as a whole is indeed being emitted from a two-millionyear
gestation within the womb of permitted ignorance, for which
infantile period cosmic mechanics have been making ample
provision not only to offset ignorance and waste but also to permit
humanity's gradual trial-and-error experimental discovery of the
relatively negligible effectiveness of its muscle— which it had at first
employed not only exclusively but savagely— and the concomitant
discovery of the infinite apprehending and comprehending
effectiveness of the human mind, which alone can discover and
employ the Universal verities— and thereby realize comprehensively
the potential, progressive, non-wasteful, competent, considerate
mastery of the physical environment by the metaphysical intellect.
The metaphysical integrities manifest throughout the everywhere
inter-transforming Universe's omni-inter-accommodative cosmic
organic system apparently are from time-to-time emulated in meager
degree by the intellect of the human passengers who are gestating

24 Expanded Cinema
within the spherical womb sheath of planet Earth's watery, gaseous,
and electro-magnetic biosphere.
Humanity's most recent sorties to the moon from within Space
Vehicle Earth's womb-like biosphere sheath have been tantamount
to a premature, temporary surgical removal of a baby from its human
mother's womb, skillfully enclosed within a scientifically-controlled
environment, still attached to the mother, and after successful
surgery being returned into the human mother's womb to loll-out its
remaining gestation days to the successful detached-action launching
outwards in Universe which we ignorantly identify as "birth."
Sovereign nation "landing cards" require answers to ridiculous
questions: "When were you born?" "Where do you live?" Answer: "I
am immortal. I check in here and there from celestial-time-tocelestial-
time. Right now I am a passenger on Space Vehicle Earth
zooming about the Sun at 60,000 miles per hour somewhere in the
solar system, which is God-only-knows where in the scenario
Universe. Why do you ask?"
Humanity's sorties to the moon have been accomplished only
through instrumental guidance of their controlled-environment
capsules and mechanical-enclosure clothing by utterly invisible
electromagnetic wave phenomena referenced to instrument-aligned
star bearings, with the invisible mathematical integrations accomplished
by computers, uncorrupted and incorruptible by ignorantly
opinionated humans. Thus has man been advantaged by the few
who have thought and acted to produce the instruments, as yet
relieving the vast majority of humans from the necessity of having to
think and coordinate their sensings with the realities of cosmic
Humans still think in terms of an entirely superficial game of static
things— solids, surfaces, or straight lines— despite that no things— no
continuums— only discontinuous, energy quanta— separate event
packages— operate as remotely from one another as the stars of the
Milky Way. Science has found no "things"; only events. Universe has
no nouns; only verbs. Don't say self-comfortingly to yourself or to me
that you have found the old way of getting along with false notions to
be quite adequate and satisfactory. So was the old umbilical cord to
your mother. But you can't re-attach it and your mother is no longer
physically present. You can't go back. You can't stay put. You can

Introduction 25
only grow and, if you comprehend what is going on, you will find it
ever more satisfactory and fascinating, for that is what evolution is
doing, whether you think, ignorantly, that you don't like it or do.
To each human being, environment is "all of Universe that isn't
me." Our macrocosmic and microcosmic "isn't me-ness" consists
entirely of widely dissynchronous frequencies of repetitions of
angular changes and complex inter-actions of waves of different
lengths and frequencies of repetition. Physics has found a Universe
consisting only of frequency and angle modulations.
Our environment is a complex of frequencies and angles. Our
environment is a complex of different frequencies of impingement—
from within and without— upon the individual "me-nesses." We are in
a womb of complex frequencies. Some of those frequencies man
identifies ignorantly with such words as "sight, sound, touch, and
smell." Others he calls "tornadoes, earthquakes, novae." Some he
ignorantly looks upon as static things: houses, rocks, and human-like
Very, very slow changes humans identify as inanimate. Slow
change of pattern they call animate and natural. Fast changes they
call explosive, and faster events than that humans cannot sense
directly. They can see the rocket blasted off at 7,000 miles per hour.
They cannot see the hundred-thousand times faster radar pulse
moving 700 million miles per hour. Humans can sense only the
position of pointers on instrument dials. What they call "radio"—
electro-magnetics— they learn of through scientific instrumentation.
Of the total electro-mechanical spectrum range of the now known
realities of Universe, man has the sensory equipment to tune in
directly with but one-millionth of the thus far discovered physical
Universe events. Awareness of all the rest of the million-fold
greater-than-human-sense reality can only be relayed to human ken
through instruments, devised by a handful of thought-employing
individuals anticipating thoughtfully the looming needs of others.
The almost totally invisible, nonsensorial, electro-magnetic
womb-sheath of environmental evolution's reality-phase into which
humanity is now being born— after two million years of ignorant,
innocent gestation— is as yet almost entirely uncomprehended by
humanity. 99.9 per cent of all that is now transpiring in human activity

26 Expanded Cinema
and interaction with nature is taking place within the realms of reality
which are utterly invisible, inaudible, unsmellable, untouchable by
human senses. But the invisible reality has its own behavioral rules
which are entirely transcendental to man-made laws and evaluation
limitations. The invisible reality's integrities are infinitely reliable. It
can only be comprehended by metaphysical mind, guided by
bearings toward something sensed as truth. Only metaphysical mind
can communicate. Brain is only an information storing and retrieving
instrument. Telephones cannot communicate; only the humans who
use the instruments. Man is metaphysical mind. No mind— no
communication— no man. Physical transactions without mind— YES.
Communication— NO. Man is a self-contained, micro-communicating
system. Humanity is a macro-communicating system. Universe is a
serial communicating system; a scenario of only partially
overlapping, nonsimultaneous, irreversible, transformative events.
As yet preoccupied only with visible, static, newspicture views of
superficial surfaces of people and things— with a one-millionth
fraction of reality which it has cartooned in utter falsehood— society
fails to realize that several hundred thousand radio or TV
communications are at all times invisibly present everywhere around
our planet. They permeate every room in every building— passing
right through walls and human tissue. This is to say that the stone
walls and human tissue are invisible and nonexistent to the electromagnetic
wave reality. We only deceived ourselves into reflexing
that the walls are solid. How do you see through your solid
eyeglasses? They are not full of holes. They are aggregates of
atoms as remote from one another as are the stars. There's plenty of
space for the waves of light to penetrate.
Several hundred thousand different wide-band radio sets can at
any time be tuned in anywhere around our biosphere to as many
different communications. Going right through our heads now, these
programs could be tuned in by the right crystals and circuits. Crystals
and circuits consist of logically structured atomic arrays. Such arrays
could operate even within our brains. Tiny bats fly in the dark by
locating objects ahead in their flight path by ever more minuscule
radar sending and receiving, distance-to-object calculating
mechanisms. Right this minute, five hundred Earth-launched satellit


Introduction 27
es with sensors are reporting all phenomena situated about our
planet's surface. Tune in the right wavelength and learn where every
beef cattle or every cloud is located around the Earth. All that
information is now being broadcast continually and invisibly.
For humans to have within their cerebral mechanism the proper
atomic radio transceivers to carry on telepathetic communication is
no more incredible than the transistors which were invented only two
decades ago, and far less incredible than the containment of the
bat's radar and range-finding computer within its pin-point size brain.
There is nothing in the scientific data which says the following
thoughts are impossible and there is much in the data which
suggests that they are probable. The thoughts go as follows: The
light of a candle broadcasting its radiation in all directions can be
seen no farther than a mile away in clear atmosphere. When the
same candle's flame is placed close in to the focus of a parabolic
reflector and its rays are even further concentrated into a beam by a
Freznell lens, its light can be seen at ten miles distance. The earliest
lighthouses were furnished with such reflectively concentrated beam
lights of tiny oil lamps.
What we speak of as light is a limited set of frequencies of the
vast electro-magnetic wave ranges. All electro-magnetic waves can
be beamed as well as broadcast. When beamed and lensingly
concentrated (as with the laser beams refracted through rubies), their
energies are so concentrated as to be able to bore tunnels in
mountains. The shorter the waves, the smaller the reflector and
refractor may be.
We know that the human has never seen outside himself. Electromagnetic
waves of light bounce off objects outside him and
frequencies are picked up by the human eyes and scanningly relayed
back into the brain. Because the light is so much faster than touch,
smell, and hearing, men have tended to discount the billionth of a
second it takes light to bounce off one's hand and to get the
information back into one's brain. All sensing is done by humans
entirely inside the brain, with information nerve-relayed from the
external contact receivers. The human brain is like a major television
studio-station. Not only does the brain monitor all the incoming, live,
visible, audible, smellable, and touchable 3D shows, it also makes

28 Expanded Cinema
videotapes of the incoming news, continually recalls yesterday's
relevant documentaries and compares them with incoming news to
differentiate out the discovered new and unexpected events from the
long-familiar types, and to discover the implications of the news from
those previously-experienced similar events, in order swiftly to
design new scenarios of further actions logically to be taken in
respect to the newly-evolved challenges.
So faithful has been the 4D, omni-directional, image-ination within
the human omni-sense transceiving studio-stations of human brains
that the humans themselves long ago came to assume
spontaneously that the information received inside the brain made it
safe to presume that those events were, in fact, taking place outside
and remote from the seeing human individual. The reliability of all
this imagining has been so constant that he now tends to think he
sees only outside himself.
The shorter the electro-magnetic, air, water, sand, or rocky
earthquake wavelengths, the higher their frequency. The higher the
wave frequencies, the more the possibility of their interfering with
other high-frequency, physical phenomena such as walls, trees,
mountains. The nearer they approach the same frequencies, the less
do they interfere with one another. For this reason, the very high-
frequency electro-magnetic waves of radio and television get badly
deflected by obstacles. As a consequence, man learned to beam
short wave television programs from horizon to horizon. He
developed parabolic transceiver reflectioning cups that took in and
sent out waves in parallel beam-focused rays. At the transceiver
relay stations on the horizons, additional energy is fed into the
signals received and their projection power is boosted so that, when
they arrive at final destination after many relayings, their fidelity and
power are as yet exquisitely differentiated and clearly resonated.
It may well be that human eyes are just such infra-sized parabolic
transceiver cups. It may be that our transceiver eyes adequately
accommodate the extraordinarily low magnitude of energy
propagating of the brain as electromagnetic
wave pattern
oscillations to be picked up by others.
Early photography required whole minutes of exposure. As film
chemistry improved, exposure times decreased. Yesterday, one-
thousandth of a second was fast. Today's capability makes one

Introduction 29
millionth of a second a relatively slow electro-astrophotography
exposure. Pictures taken in a millionth of a second today are clearer
than those of yesterday which took minutes. The scanned-out picture
signals travel 700 million miles per hour. The effect in terms of man's
tactile, hearing, and smelling senses is instantaneous.
Speakers who appear frequently before large audiences of
human beings over a period of years have learned that the eyes of
the audience "talk back" so instantaneously to them that they know
just what their audiences are thinking and they can converse with
their audiences, even though the speaker seems to be the only one
making audible words. The feedback by eye is so swift as to give
him instantaneous, spontaneous reaction and appropriate thought
The parabolic reflector-beamed, ultra-ultra high frequency,
electro-magnetic waves— such as can be coped with by transceivers
with the infra-diameter of the human eye— are such that they would
be completely interfered with by walls or other to-us-seeminglyopaque
objects. However, when they are beamed outwardly to the
sky in a cloudless atmosphere, no interference occurs. Ultra short
wave radio and radar beams which are interfered with by mountains
and trees can be beamed into a clear sky and bounced off the moon,
to be received back on Earth in approximately one and three-fourths
seconds. In a like manner, it is possible that human eyes operating
as transceivers, all unbeknownst to us, may be beaming our thoughts
out into the great night-sky void, not even having the sun's radiation
to interfere mildly with them. Such eye-beamed thoughts sent off
through the inter-celestial voids might bounce off various objects at
varying time periods, being reflectively re-angled to a new direction
in Universe without important energy loss. A sufficient number of
bouncings-off of a sufficient number of asteroids and cosmic dust
could convert the beams into wide-angle sprays which diffuse their
energy signals in so many angular directions as to reduce them
below receptor-detection level. Eye-beamed thoughts might bounce
off objects so remote as to delay their 700 million mile per hour
travel back to Earth for a thousand years, ten thousand years, a
hundred thousand years. It is quite possible that thoughts may be
eye-beamed outwardly not only from Earth to bounce back to Earth
at some later period from some celestially-mirroring object, but

30 Expanded Cinema
also that thoughts might be beamed— through non-interfering space
to be accidentally received upon Earth— from other planets
elsewhere in Universe. There is nothing in the data to suggest that
the phenomenon we speak of as intuitive thought may not be just
such remote cosmic transmissions. Intuitions come to us often with
surprising lucidity and abruptness. Such intuitions often spotlight
significant coincidences in a myriad of special case experiences
which lead to discovery of generalized scientific principles heretofore
eluding humanity's thought. These intuitions could be messages to
the Earthian brain receiving it to "Look into so-and-so and so-and-so
and you will find something significant." Intuitions could be thoughts
dispatched from unbelievably long ago and from unbelievably far
As Holton wrote in the American Journal of Physics and as
reported on the "Science" page of Time magazine, January 26, 1970:
To fully recognize the extraordinary intellectual daring of Einstein's equations,
we note the great scientist’s own explanation of their origin: "There is no logical
way to the discovery of these elementary laws. There is only the way of
Because humans consist of a myriad of atoms and because atoms
are themselves electro-magnetic frequency event phenomena— not
things— it is theoretically possible that the complex frequencies of
which humans are constituted, together with their angular interpositioning,
could be scanningly unraveled and transmitted beam-
wise into the celestial void to be received some time, somewhere in
Universe, having traveled at 700 million miles per hour, which is
approximately 100 thousand times faster than the speed of our moon
rockets a minute after blast-off. It is not theoretically impossible in
terms of the total physical data that humans may have been
transmitted to Earth in the past from vast distances.
Retreating from such a speculative mood, we come now to
consider closer-range possibilities and probabilities. We recall that
humans, who to our knowledge arrived on Earth at least two million
years ago, have been regenerating aboard that small, 8000-mile
diameter, Space Vehicle Earth throughout all those years without
even knowing that they were aboard a space vehicle. They are now

Introduction 31
emerging, however, from the womb of permitted ignorance of their
early, subjective, taken-care-of phase and are now beginning to
become comprehensively aware of all the matters we have
discussed so far. They are beginning to understand that they are
within a limited biosphere life-support system whose original
excessively-abundant living supply was provided only to permit
humanity's initial trial-and-error discovery of its anti-entropic function
in Universe. Humans are coming swiftly to understand they must now
consciously begin to operate their Space Vehicle Earth with total
planetary cooperation, competence, and integrity. Humans are
swiftly sensing that the cushioning tolerance for their initial error has
become approximately exhausted.
Each child emerging from its mother's womb is entering a larger
womb of total human consciousness which is continually modified
and expanded by subjective experiences and objective experiments.
As each successive child is born, it comes into a cosmic
consciousness in which it is confronted with less misinformation than
yesterday and with more reliable information than yesterday. Each
child is born into a much larger womb of more intellectually
competent consciousness.
I was seven years old before I saw an automobile, though living in
the ambience of a large American city. Not until I was nine was the
airplane invented. As a child I thought spontaneously only in terms of
walking, bicycling, horse-drawn capability. Trips on railroads and
steamships were dream-provokers learned of through a few older
people who traveled. My daughter was born with cloth-covered-wing
bi-planes in her sky and the talkie radio in her hearing. My
granddaughter was born in a house with several jet transports going
over every minute. She saw a thousand airplanes before she saw a
bird; a thousand automobiles before a horse. To children born in
1970, trips to the moon will be as everyday an event as were trips
into the big city to me when a boy. There was no radio when I was
born. Television came when I was what is called "retiring age." The
first Berkeley dissident students were born the year commercial
television started. They have seen around the world on the hour ever
since being born— they think world. The total distance covered by an
average human being in a total lifetime up to the time I was born was
30,000 miles. Because of the great changes since my birth, I have

32 Expanded Cinema
now gone well over one hundred times that distance. The astronauts
knock off three million miles in a week. The average airline hostess
is out-mileaging my hundred-fold greater mileage than all the people
before me. All this has happened in my lifetime. My lifetime has been
one of emerging from the womb of human-being remoteness from
one another to comprehensive integration of worldaround humanity.
But all the customs, all the languages, all laws, all accounting
systems, viewpoints, cliches, and axioms are of the old, divided,
ignorant days. The corollary of "divide and conquer" is "to be divided
is to be conquered." To be specialized is to be divided. The
specialization which humanity perseveres in was invented by
yesterday's armed conqueror illiterates. The separation of humans
into more countries made them easy to manage. Nations may unite,
as at present, without success. Strife is proliferating. Not until
specialization and nations are dispensed with will humanity have a
chance of survival. It is to be all or none.
In my first jobs before World War I, I found all the working men to
have vocabularies of no more than one hundred words, more than 50
per cent of which were profane or obscene. Because I worked with
them, I know that their intellects were there, but dulled and deprived
of the information of visionary conceptioning. They had no way of
expressing themselves other than by inflection and shock.
Conquerors invented gladiatorial wrestling, self-brutalizing games,
slapstick and illusionary drama to keep their illiterate masses
preoccupied when not at work. This was not changed by any
scheduled system of education— it was changed by the radio. The
radio broadcasting employees were hired for their vocabularies and
diction. The eyes and ears of human beings were able to coordinate
the words of the radio and the graphic words of the newspaper.
Literacy accelerated. In a half-century, worldaround man's vocabulary
has been expanded to the equivalent of yesterday's scholar.
Television's scientific invention and underwater and space exploration
have accelerated this process of freeing humanity from its slave
complex to an extraordinary degree. The young realize, as their
elders do not, that humanity can do and can afford to do anything it
needs to do that it knows how to do.
Those who ignorantly think of themselves as a well-to-do conservative
elite are, in fact, so slave-complexed that they are shocked

Introduction 33
when the younger generation throws aside their clothes and cars of
distinction and— abandoning their make-believe mansions which only
are their old conquerors' castles— congregate in hundreds of
thousands in shameless, innocent bands on vast beaches and
meadows. It is not an unspannable generation gap that has occurred,
but an emancipation of youth from yesterday's slave-complex
reflexes. This has been brought about solely by the proliferation of
knowledge. "The medium is the message" is the message only of
yesterday's middle-class elite. It said, "Never mind the mind. It's the
body that counts." or "It's the physical that can be possessed— To
hell with the metaphysical. You can possess a physical brain but not
the universally free mind and its thoughts. Leave that to the
intellectuals. Look out for those dangerous free thinkers." Higher
education was an adornment— a mark of distinction— not something
to be taken seriously. The problem of man's being born into the new
womb of planetary comprehension, into the new world of integrated
coordination and understanding of all humanity, is one not of
educating a single absolute monarch, nor of educating either a
fascistic or central party elite, nor of educating only the middle class.
It is a matter of educating everyone everywhere to the realities of the
emerging of man from the womb of permitted ignorance into the
womb of required comprehension and competence. That education
will have to be brought about by the extraordinary discarding of
yesterday's inadequate amusements, shallow romances and drama,
and make-believe substitute worlds to cover up the inadequacies of
misinformed and underinformed, physically slavish or
bureaucratically dogmatic, thoughtless life.
All the foregoing observations of human misorientations constitute
but a minor fraction of those which can be truthfully and cogently
made today with some chance of their not only being heard but
heeded. And all this brings us all to this book by Gene Youngblood—
an excellent name for one of the first of the youth who have emerged
from childhood and schooling and "social experience" sufficiently
undamaged to be able to cope lucidly with the problem of providing
worldaround man with the most effective communication techniques
for speaking universal language to universal man— for helping
universal man to understand the great transitions, to understand the

34 Expanded Cinema
reasonableness of yesterday's only-transitional inadequacies, to
understand that the oldsters are victims of yesterday's ignorance and
not Machiavellian enemies of youth, to understand that any bias—
one way or another— utterly vitiates competent thinking and action, to
understand that 100 per cent tolerance for error of viewpoint and
misbehavior of others is essential to new-era competence— and,
finally, to understand that man wants to understand. Nowhere have
we encountered a youth more orderly-minded regarding the most
comprehensively favorable, forward functioning of humans in
Scenario-Universe than in Gene Youngblood. His book Expanded
Cinema is his own name for the forward, omni-humanity educating
function of man's total communication system.
Isaac Newton, as the greatest Olympian of classical science
whose influence reigned supreme until the turn of the Nineteenth into
the Twentieth Century, assumed the Universe to be normally at rest
and abnormally in motion. Einstein realized that the experimental
data regarding the Brownian Movement and the speed of light made
it clear that Universe was not normally at rest, for when its energies
were released in a vacuumized tunnel they traveled linearly at 186
million miles per second. This he assumed to manifest its norm,
since that is how Universe behaves normally when unfettered in a
vacuum. Any seemingly motionless phenomena, he reasoned, such
as seemingly solid matter, consisted of energy moving at 186 million
miles per second but in such small local orbits that their speed and
the exquisitely small, self-huddling orbit made them impenetrable;
ergo, apparently solid. This was the basis of his formulation of his
extraordinary E=mc2, which, when fission and fusion occurred,
proved his locked-up-energy formulation to be correct. The utter
difference between Newton's norm of at rest and Einstein's norm of
186 million miles per second provides humanity's most abrupt
confrontation regarding the epochal difference of conceptioning
between that in the womb of yesterday's ignorance and in the womb
of new-dawning awareness, from which and into which, respectively,
man is now experiencing the last phases of delivery.
Thinking in terms of 700 million miles per hour as being normal—
and informed by the experiments of scientists that no energies are

Introduction 35
lost— Einstein abandoned the Newtonian thought of Universe and
assumed in its place Universe to be "A scenario of non-simultaneous
and only partially overlapping transformative events." Einstein's
observational formulations, however, are subjective, not objective. In
the mid-1930's I suggested in a book that Einstein's work would
eventually affect the everyday environment of humanity, both
physically and mentally. After reading what I had written, Einstein
said to me, "Young man, you amaze me. I cannot conceive of
anything I have ever done as having the slightest practical
application." He said that to me a year before Hahn, Stressman, and
Lisa Meitner had, on the basis of E=mc2 , discovered the theoretical
possibility of fission. You can imagine Einstein's dismay when
Hiroshima became the first "practical application."
Gene Youngblood's book is the most brilliant conceptioning of the
objectively positive use of the Scenario-Universe principle, which
must be employed by humanity to synchronize its senses and its
knowledge in time to ensure the continuance of that little, threeand-
one-half-billion-member team of humanity now installed by
evolution aboard our little Space Vehicle Earth. Gene Youngblood's
book represents the most important metaphysical scenario for coping
with all of the ills of educational systems based only on yesterday's
Newtonian-type thinking. Youngblood's Expanded Cinema is the
beginning of the new era educational system itself. Tomorrow's youth
will employ the video cassette resources to bring in the scenario
documents of all of humanity's most capable thinkers and
conceivers. Only through the scenario can man possibly "houseclean"
swiftly enough the conceptual resources of his spontaneous
formulations. Tomorrow's Expanded Cinema University, as the word
uni-verse— towards one— implies, will weld metaphysically together
the world community of man by the flux of understanding and the
spontaneously truthful integrity of the child.

Blank Page

Inexorable Evolution
and Human Ecology

Until humanity starts behaving
In logical ways
For logical reasons
Natural evolution will force it
To keep on behaving logically
For seemingly illogical reasons—
Resulting inexorably, as at present,
In humanity's backing
Rump-bumpingly into its future
While disregarding opportunities
To about-face and realize
Its inspiring passengership
Aboard Planet Earth—
As its exploratory mothership
Of ever vaster and more exquisite
Macro- and micro-cosmic realms.
And the frustrations
Of fearfully clung-to customs
Will persist unabated until
Humanity undertakes
Seriously, imaginatively,
Courageously, inspiringly
To employ effectively
The ever-more with ever less—
Of effort, material, time
And tolerance of error
Per each accomplished task
The comprehensively anticipatory
Design science revolution—
Being intent thereby
To make all of humanity
Successful in every sense.
As it undertakes design revolution

38 Expanded Cinema
Humanity also must realize
That it can always afford rearrangements
Of the physical environment constituents
Which produce sustainable increases
In the proportion of all of humanity
Enjoying comprehensive success—
Provided only the task
Is physically feasible
Within ecologically critical limits
Of electro-magnetics, chemistry, time.
"We cannot afford" assumes spending
Intertransforming as matter or radiation
Energy cannot be spent
Know-how always increases
Wealth multiplies irreversibly.
And not until then will nature
Cease to cope with humanity's
Ignorance-prolonged inertia
Just in the same way
That human parents
Cope with their newborns'
Innocently ignorant
And that is by forcing man
To acquire the adequate technology
With which ultimately
To attain and sustain
That potential omni-success.
And until then it will be accomplished inversely—
Through activating humanity's
Death fearing instincts.
Fear forcing it to acquire
The adequate production-tool complex
As a consequence of inducing humanity
Into an investment and reinvestment
Of its best capabilities and resources
Only in preparation for war.
This inverse procedure will regenerate

Inexorable Evolution and Human Ecology 39
To ever higher degree
Both the more-with-less energy processing
And its production equipment.
And when man learns, if he does
To initiate the more-with-lessing
Under peacefully purposed auspices
Peace then will be attained
And Universe sustained
But not until then.

Blank Page


The question what is life, says Norman O. Brown, turns out to be the
question what is sleep. We perceive that the sky exists only on earth.
Evolution and human nature are mutually exclusive concepts. We're
in transition from the Industrial Age to the Cybernetic Age,
characterized by many as the post-Industrial Age. But I've found the
term Paleocybernetic valuable as a conceptual tool with which to
grasp the significance of our present environment: combining the
primitive potential associated with Paleolithic and the transcendental
integrities of "practical utopianism" associated with Cybernetic. So I
call it the Paleocybernetic Age: an image of a hairy, buckskinned,
barefooted atomic physicist with a brain full of mescaline and
logarithms, working out the heuristics of computer-generated
holograms or krypton laser interferometry. It's the dawn of man: for
the first time in history we'll soon be free enough to discover who we
When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded
consciousness. Expanded cinema does not mean computer films,
video phosphors, atomic light, or spherical projections. Expanded
cinema isn't a movie at all: like life it's a process of becoming, man's
ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his
mind, in front of his eyes. One no longer can specialize in a single
discipline and hope truthfully to express a clear picture of its
relationships in the environment. This is especially true in the case of
the intermedia network of cinema and television, which now functions
as nothing less than the nervous system of mankind.
At this point in the Paleocybernetic Age, the messages of society
as expressed in the intermedia network have become almost totally
irrelevant to the needs and actualities of the organism. The situation
is equivalent to one's own nervous system transmitting erroneous
information about the metabolic and homeostatic condition of one's
own body. It is the primary purpose of this book to explore the new
messages that exist in the cinema, and to examine some of the
image-making technologies that promise to extend man's communicative
capacities beyond his most extravagant visions.

42 Expanded Cinema
We'll begin with a discussion of the individual's relationship to the
contemporary cultural environment in a time of radical evolution, and
the way in which an irresponsible attitude toward the intermedia
network contributes to blind enculturation, confusion, and
disharmony. In the section of Part One titled "Art, Entertainment,
Entropy" I've applied cybernetics and communication theory to the
role of commercial entertainment in our radically evolving
environment. The prevailing messages of the so-called popular
media have lost their relevance because a socioeconomic system
that substitutes the profit motive for use value separates man from
himself and art from life. When we're enslaved to any system, the
creative impulse is dulled and the tendency to imitate increases.
Thus arises the phenomenon of commercial entertainment distinct
from art, a system of temporarily gratifying, without really fulfilling,
the experiential needs of an aesthetically impoverished culture.
The mass public insists on entertainment over art in order to
escape an unnatural way of life in which interior realities are not
compatible with exterior realities. Freedom, says Brown, is fusion.
Life becomes art when there's no difference between what we are
and what we do. Art is a synergetic attempt at closing the gap
between what is and what ought to be. Jacob Bronowski has
suggested that we "ought to act in such a way that what is true can
be verified to be so." This characterizes the substance of Part One,
and is why I call it "The Audience and the Myth of Entertainment."
Before we can discuss that point at which the cinema requires
some new technological extension we must first follow the history of
conventional film language to its limits: this I have attempted to do in
Part Two, "Synaesthetic Cinema: The End of Drama." The essence
of this chapter is that technology is decentralizing and individualizing
the communication channels of humanity; that personalized
communication means the end of "official" communication structures
such as the genre of drama, resulting in a new "major paradigm" of
cinematic language that I call the synaesthetic mode. Following a
detailed analysis of synaesthetic cinema there's a section titled
"Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass-Audience Age." Here I've
attempted to illuminate some of the social and psychological
potentials inherent in the decentralization of global communications
facilities. The conclusion is that the art and technology of expanded

Preface 43
cinema mean the beginning of creative living for all mankind and
thus a solution to the so-called leisure problem.
In Part Three, "Toward Cosmic Consciousness," I discuss various
new realities, primarily the result of scientific developments, which
until recently the artist has not been able to engage in a meaningful
fashion. This chapter also contains a discussion of the "new
nostalgia," a post-Existential view of the human condition. Finally,
I've contrasted two approaches to cinematic cosmic consciousness:
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the small personal
films of the master, Jordan Belson.
Two of the most important technologies that will provide access to
the new realities of the Paleocybernetic Age will be discussed in Part
Four, "Cybernetic Cinema and Computer Films," and Part Five,
"Television as a Creative Medium." I've attempted to cover these
disciplines as comprehensively as possible, presenting the social,
political, and psychological implications as well as their aesthetic
and technical aspects. Thus the many interviews with artists and
technologists are intended to counterbalance my subjective remarks
and to provide a cross section of attitudes concerning the confluence
of art and technology as it is today and as it will be tomorrow.
Part Six, "Intermedia," has more to do with attitude than
technology. The intent here is to illuminate a universal trend toward
the concept of artist as ecologist, art as environment rather than anti-
environment, subsuming the eco-system of our planet itself into the
art process. Finally with Part Seven, "Holographic Cinema," we
arrive at the end that is also a beginning. I've tried to dispel many of
the misconceptions regarding holographic movies, and to delineate
some possibilities. With the perfection of holographic cinema within
the next two decades, we'll arrive at that point in the evolution of
intelligence when the concept of reality no longer will exist. Beyond
that the cinema will be one with the life of the mind, and humanity's
communications will become increasingly metaphysical.
Although I've been involved in film criticism since 1960, the major
substance of this book is the result of articles published in different
form in the Los Angeles Free Press from September, 1967, to
December, 1969. That material was rewritten for this text, expanded

44 Expanded Cinema
and clarified, in addition to the several hundred pages that appear
here for the first time. We are transformed by time through living
within it, so in a sense all of this book is "new" in my work.
My indebtedness to the thoughts of R. Buckminster Fuller, John
McHale, Norbert Wiener, and Marshall McLuhan is quite clear. What
is not so clear is the influence of my friends Edwin Schlossberg, Ted
Zatlyn, and Jon Dieges, all of whose perceptions of humanity as a
whole system are unfettered by the constraints of yesterday's
consciousness. There are portions of this text in which "by Gene
Youngblood" should be taken to mean "by way of Youngblood,
Schlossberg, and Zatlyn." Dieges' influence was less specific, more
general. Charles Brouyette contributed much to the technical aspects
of the chapter on television and I owe him thanks. In ways known to
each of them I am gratefully indebted to Nancy Schiro, Ronald
Nameth, Gerald O'Grady, Tom Ancell, John Margolies, Lawrence
Lipton, Tony Cohan, and my parents Walter and Marie Youngblood
who filled my childhood with the wonder of art. Finally, I wish to
express my thanks to American Airlines for their generous assistance
in the preparation of this book.
Los Angeles
January, 1970

"The most important part about tomorrow is not the technology or the automation,
but that man is going to come into entirely new relationships with his fellow men.
He will retain much more in his everyday life of what we term the naïveté and
idealism of the child. I think the way to see what tomorrow is going to look like is
just to look at our children."
As a child of the New Age, for whom "nature" is the solar system and
"reality" is an invisible environment of messages, I am naturally
hypersensitive to the phenomenon of vision. I have come to understand
that all language is but substitute vision and, as Teilhard de
Chardin has observed, "The history of the living world can be
summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a
cosmos in which there is always something more to be seen.”1
It is that "something more" that has fascinated me since first I
became aware of the limited range of ordinary consciousness,
chiefly as manifested in the cinema. We are witnessing a metamorphosis
in the nature of life on earth. Art, science, and metaphysics,
separated for so long in the specialized world of Western
man, are reconverging; the interface reveals a broader and deeper
reality awaiting our investigation. An increasing number of humans
are beginning to understand that man probably never has perceived
reality at all, because he has not been able to perceive himself. The
realization is not new; only the context is unique: a vast portion of
our culture, free of the conditioning of and nostalgia for past
environments, has intuited something fundamentally inadequate in
prevailing attitudes toward the notion of reality.
1Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1959),
p. 31.

46 Expanded Cinema
In most languages of most cultures throughout history, seeing has
been equated with understanding. The entire Indo-European
linguistic system is filled with examples: I see, ya vizhu, je vois. Yet
nearly twenty-four hundred years ago Plato asserted, "The world of
our sight is like the habitation in prison."2 Recent studies in anatomy,
physiology, and anthropology have led to a similar conclusion.3 We
have come to see that we don't really see, that "reality" is more
within than without. The objective and the subjective are one.
At the same time, science has taught that there is no purely
physical reason for the disparity between apprehending and
comprehending. We know, for example, that thirty-eight percent of
fibers entering or leaving the central nervous system are in the optic
nerve. It is estimated that as much as seventy-five percent of
information entering the brain is from the eyes. Current research
indicates approximately one hundred million sensors in the retina
and only five million channels to the brain from the retina. There is a
great deal of evidence to suggest that information processing is
done in the eye before data are passed to the brain.4
The metaphysical space that separates father and son so
dramatically in what we call the generation gap was manifested on a
global scale on July 20, 1969. In television's elaborate movie-like
subjective-camera "simulation" of the first moon landing, the history
of subjective art with its emphasis on content came into total
confrontation with the history of objective art and its emphasis on
process. As we saw the event, reality was not half as "real" as the
simulation because it was the reality of a process of perception. We
were seeing nothing but videospace; the simulated reality turned out
to be only the reality of a simulation. Objective awareness of a
subjective process was all that mattered, and history's simulation
suddenly became irrelevant. Thousands of years of theatrical
2Plato, The Republic, Book VIII, ca. 390 B.C.
3Extensive research on physiological conditioning is found inThe Influence of Culture on
Visual Perception, by Marshall H. Segall, Donald T. Campbell, and Melville J. Herskovits
(Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).
4F. R. Sias, Jr., "The Eye as a Coding Mechanism," Medical Electronic News, quoted in:
Nels Winkless and Paul Honore, "What Good Is a Baby?"Proceedings of the AFIPS
1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference.


The Audience and the Myth of Entertainment 47
tradition were demolished in two hours before an audience of four
hundred million world persons.
In the ascending spiral of evolution each new generation absorbs
the experiences of the previous level and expands upon them.
Teilhard has termed this hominization, the process by which the
original protohuman stock becomes increasingly more human, realizing
more of its possibilities. This "consciousness expansion" has
reached a velocity of evolutionary acceleration at which several
transformations occur within the life-span of a single generation.
Because of mankind's inevitable symbiosis with the mind-manifesting
hallucinogens of the ecology on the one hand, and his organic
partnership with machines on the other, an increasing number of the
inhabitants of this planet live virtually in another world. The messages
to be discussed in this book are of that world.
It is a world infinitely more natural and complete than that of
commercial cinema or television, which is used to confirm the existing
consciousness rather than to expand it. Art is the language
through which we perceive new relationships at work in the environment,
both physical and metaphysical. Indeed, art is the
essential instrument in the very development of that consciousness.
As Hermann Hesse observed, every important cultural gesture
comes down to a morality, a model for human behavior concentrated
into a gesture. Whitehead found it to be "the ultimate morality of the
mind." Perhaps never before has a new model for human behavior
been needed so urgently as today.
We who are about to inherit the earth from our fathers will receive
it with a brave new design. We see the whole earth and thus we see
the illusion that has characterized life upon it. We cannot accept the
truths and values of a world in which we no longer live. We are a
generation of desperadoes. We move across the landscape with
bold abandon because we intuit that the birth certificate is the only
credit card. The word "utopian" is not anathema to us because we
know that the illusion can be shattered within our own lifetimes, that
the industrial equation means practical utopianism for the first time in
Our grasp of these realities is inarticulate; we cannot speak it. We
are haunted by our own disenchantment and alienation as much as
our parents are offended by it. The human condition, as this millen


48 Expanded Cinema
nium draws to a close, is one of decreasing intervals between increasing
emergencies until nothing but emergency exists. We have
nothing to lose. Spiritually we have nothing to lose because there is
only sorrow in the values of the past and we have no tears left.
Physically we have nothing to lose because we know that wealth can
neither be created nor spent, that it goes nowhere and always
increases with use.
"In this century alone we have gone from less than one percent of
humanity being able to survive in appreciable health and comfort to
forty-four percent of humanity surviving at a standard of living unexperienced
or undreamed of before. This utterly unpredicted synergetic
success occurred within only two-thirds of a century despite
continually decreasing metallic resources per each world person ...
the world total of seventy billion dollars in mined gold represents only
three one-thousandths of one percent of the value of the world's
organized industrial production resources."5
Within the larger context of radical evolution there are many local
revolutions. One of them is the revolution of expectations that burns
in the minds of the new consciousness. Eskimo children who've
never seen a wheeled vehicle can identify the types of aircraft flying
over the North Pole. Young Dyaks in the longhouses of equatorial
Borneo listen to the Beatles on transistor radios. Teenage Bedouins
wandering the Sahara hear Nasser's radio telling how Vietnamese
children are being slaughtered half the world away.6
Dylan swears he sees his reflection so high above the wall upon
which he once drew conclusions. Seeing that reflection is the
revolution. It tells us old reasons for doing things that no longer exist.
"There's less to do because circumstances do it for us: the earth. Art
has obscured the difference between art and life; now life will
obscure the difference between life and art."7 We no longer need to
prove our right to live. We're struggling in the toil of old realities,
5 R. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Carbondale, Ill.:
Southern Illinois University Press, 1969), pp. 82, 95.
6Ritchie Calder, "The Speed of Change,"Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (December,
7John Cage, A Year from Monday (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press,
1968), pp. 9, 19.


The Audience and the Myth of Entertainment 49
stranded from our conscience, doing our best to deny it. We are
tragically in need of new vision: expanded cinema is the beginning of
that vision. We shall be released. We will bring down the wall. We'll
be reunited with our reflection.
I'm writing at the end of the era of cinema as we've known it, the
beginning of an era of image-exchange between man and man. The
cinema, said Godard, is truth twenty-four times a second. The truth
is this: that with the possibility of each man on earth being born a
physical success there is no archetypal Man whom one can use in
the culturally elitist manner and each man becomes the subject of
his own study. The historical preoccupation with finding the one idea
that is Man will give way to the idea that earth is, and then to the
idea of other earths.

Radical Evolution and Future Shock
in the Paleocybernetic Age
It is perhaps not coincidental that Western youth has discovered the
I Ching, or Book of Changes, on a somewhat popular level as we
move into the final third of the twentieth century. Change is now our
only constant, a global institution. The human ecological biosphere is
undergoing its second great transition, destined to be even more
profound than the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic Age. If we
can't see the change, at least we can feel it. Future shock affects our
psyche and our economy just as culture shock disorients the Peace
Corps worker in Borneo.
It is said that we are living in a period of revolution. But nothing
sells like freedom: Revolution is big business. As the physicist P. W.
Bridgman once said, the true meaning of a term is found by
observing what a man does with it, not what he says about it. Since
the phenomenon we call revolution is worldwide, and since it's felt in
every human experience, perhaps we might think of it not as
revolution but as radical evolution. Revolution is basically the same
whether defined by Marx or the I Ching: removal of the antiquated.
But revolution replaces one status quo with another. Radical
evolution is never static; it's a perpetual state of polarization. We
could think of it as involuntary revolution, but whatever terminology
we apply that's the condition of the world today, the environment with
which the artist must work. Radical evolution would be kinder if it
were better understood; but it won't be so long as commercial
entertainment cinema continues to represent a "reality" that doesn't
Sociologist Alvin Toffler has stressed ephemerality as a chief
aspect of radical evolution: "Smith Brothers Cough Drops, Calumet
Baking Soda, Ivory Soap, have become institutions by virtue of their
long reign in the marketplace. In the days ahead, few products will
enjoy such longevity. Corporations may create new products
knowing full well they'll remain on the market for only a matter of a
few weeks or months. By extension, the corporations themselves—
as well as unions, government agencies and all other organiza


Radical Evolution and Future Shock in the Paleocybernetic Age 51
tions— may either have shorter life-spans or be forced to undergo
incessant and radical reorganization. Rapid decay and regeneration
will be the watchwords of tomorrow."8 Toffler observes that no
reasonable man should plan his life beyond ten years; even that, he
says, is risky. When parents speak of their sons becoming lawyers
they are deceiving themselves and their sons, according to the
sociologist, "Because we have no conception of what being a lawyer
will mean twenty years hence. Most probably, lawyers will be
computers." In fact, we can't be sure that some occupations will
even exist when our children come of age. For example, the
computer programmer, a job first created in the 1950's, will be as
obsolete as the blacksmith within a decade; computers will reprogram
and even regenerate themselves (IBM recently announced
a new computer that repairs itself).
John McHale, coauthor of the World Design Science Decade
documents with Buckminster Fuller, emphasizes expendability and
impermanence in radical evolution: "Use value is replacing
ownership value. For example, the growth of rental and services—
not only in automobiles and houses, but from skis to bridal gowns to
heirloom silver, castles and works of art... our personal and household
objects, when destroyed physically or outmoded symbolically,
may be replaced by others exactly similar. A paper napkin, a suit, a
chair, an automobile, are items with identical replacement value.
Metals in a cigarette lighter today may be, within a month or year,
part of an auto, lipstick case or orbiting satellite... the concept of
permanence in no way enables one to relate adequately to our
present situation."9
McHale has seen the need for a totally new world view as radical
evolution speeds farther from our grasp. "There's a mythology
abroad which equates the discovery and publication of newfacts
with new knowledge. Knowledge is not simply accumulated facts but
the reduction of unrelated and often apparently irrelevant facts into
new conceptual wholes."10 He's talking about completely new ways
8 Alvin Toffler, "The Future as a Way of Life,"Horizon (Summer, 1965).
9John McHale, "The Plastic Parthenon,"Dotzero (Spring, 1967).
10John McHale, "Information Explosion— Knowledge Implosion," Good News, eds. Edwin
Schlossberg and Lawrence Susskind (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968)


52 Expanded Cinema
of looking at the world and everything in it. This is proposition far
more profound than mere political revolution, which Krishnamurti has
characterized as "The modification of the right according to the ideas
of the left.''11 The new consciousness transcends both right and left.
We must redefine everything.
What happens to our definition of "intelligence" when computers,
as an extension of the human brain, are the same size, weight, and
cost as transistor radios? They're being developed through the
microelectronics process of Large-Scale Integration.
What happens to our definition of "morality" when biochemists are
about to unravel the secrets of the DNA/RNA interaction mechanism
to create human life?
What happens to our definition of "man" when our next door
neighbor is a cyborg (a human with inorganic parts)? There are
several crude cyborgs in the world today.
What happens to our definition of "environment" when our video
extensions bring us the reality of the solar system daily? What do we
mean by "nature" under these circumstances? (McLuhan: "The first
satellite ended nature in the conventional sense.")
What happens to our definition of "creativity" when a computer
asks itself an original question without being programmed to do so?
This has occurred several times.
What happens to our definition of "family" when the intermedia
network brings the behavior of the world into our home, and when
we can be anywhere in the world in a few hours?
What happens to our definition of "progress" when, according to
Louis Pauwels: "For the really attentive observer the problems facing
contemporary intelligence are no longer problems of progress. The
concept of progress has been dead for some years now. Today it is a
question of a change of state, a transmutation.''12 Or Norbert Wiener:
"Simple faith in progress is not a conviction belonging to strength but
one belonging to acquiescence and hence to weakness.''13
11 J. Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom (Wheaton, III.: Quest Books, 1968), pp.
25, 26.
12Louis Pauwels, Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (New York: Avon
Books, 1968), pp. xxii, xxiii.
13 Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (New York: Avon Books, 1967), p.


Radical Evolution and Future Shock in the Paleocybernetic Age 53
What happens to our definitions of "material" and "spiritual" when
science has found no boundary between the two? Although it is still
popularly assumed that the world is divided into animate and
inanimate phenomena, virologists working at the supposed threshold
between life and nonlife at the virus level have in fact discovered no
such boundary. "Both animate and inanimate have persisted right
across yesterday's supposed threshold in both directions...
subsequently what was animate has become foggier and foggier...
no life, per se, has been isolated.''14
Indeed, what becomes of "reality" itself as science expands its
mastery of the forces of the universe? "The paradox of twentieth-
century science consists of its unreality in terms of sense impressions.
Dealing as it does in energy transformation and submicroscopic
particles, it has become a kind of metaphysics practiced by a
devoted priestly cult— totally as divorced from the common-sense
notions of reality as was the metaphysics practiced by witch doctors
and alchemists. It is not at all odd, then, to discover that the closer
we come via the scientific method to 'truth,' the closer we come to
understanding the 'truth' symbolized in myths.''15
This, then, is merely a superficial glimpse at some of the phenomena
that characterize the Paleocybernetic Age. Quite clearly man
is in the paradoxical position of existing in a state of consciousness
without being able to understand it. Man does not comprehend his
relationship to the universe, either physical or metaphysical. He
insists on "doing his thing" without the slightest notion of what his
"thing" might be. This cosmic credibility gap exists primarily between
the facts of scientific experience and the illusions of environmental
conditioning as manifested in the global intermedia network.
14 R. Buckminster Fuller, "Planetary Planning," text of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial
Lecture, New Delhi, India, November 13, 1969.
15 John N. Bleibtreu, The Parable of the Beast (New York: Collier Books, 1969), p. 112.


The Intermedia Network as Nature
The point I wish to make here is obvious yet vital to an
understanding of the function of art in the environment, even though
it is consistently ignored by the majority of film critics. It's the idea
that man is conditioned by his environment and that "enviromnent"
for contemporary man is the intermedia network. We are conditioned
more by cinema and television than by nature. Once we've agreed
upon this, it becomes immediately obvious that the structure and
content of popular cinema is a matter of cardinal importance, at least
as serious as most political issues, and thus calls for comment not
from journalists but from those who work at the matter, artists
The cinema isn't just something inside the environment; the
intermedia network of cinema, television, radio, magazines, books,
and newspapers is our environment, a service environment that
carries the messages of the social organism. It establishes meaning
in life, creates mediating channels between man and man, man and
society. "In earlier periods such traditional meaning and value
communication was carried mainly in the fine and folk arts. But today
these are subsumed amongst many communicating modes. The
term 'arts' requires expansion to include those advanced technological
media which are neither fine nor folk.''16
We've seen the need for new concepts regarding the nature of
existence; yet concepts are expanded or constricted in direct relation
to the relevancy of prevailing languages. In a world where change is
the only constant, it's obvious we can't afford to rely on traditional
cinematic language. The world has changed immeasurably in the
seventy years since the birth of cinema: for one thing "world" now
includes the microcosm of the atom and the macrocosm of the universe
in one spectrum. Still popular films speak a language
developed by Griffith, Lumière, Méliès, derived from traditions of
vaudeville and literature.
In the Agricultural Age man was totally passive, conditioned and
victimized by the environment. In the Industrial Age man's role was
16 John McHale, "Education for Real," Good News.

The Intermedia Network as Nature 55
participatory; he became more aggressive and successful in his
attempts to control his environment. We're now moving into the
Cybernetic Age in which man learns that to control his environment
he must cooperate with it; he not only participates but actually
recreates his environment both physical and metaphysical, and in
turn is conditioned by it.
To be free of the toil of old relationships we must first be free of the
conditioning that instills it within us. As radical evolution gains
momentum the need to unlearn our past becomes increasingly clear:
contemporary life is a process of miseducation/uneducation/reeducation,
at a cost of much precious time. McLuhan has noted that
the true significance of Pavlov's experiments was that any controlled
man-made environment is a conditioner that creates "non-perceptive
somnambulists." Since then science has discovered that "molecular
memory" is operative in single-celled and some multi-celled
organisms, and there's evidence that memory-in-the-flesh exists in
humans as well. Biochemists have proven that learned responses to
environmental stimuli are passed on phylogenetically from
generation to generation, encoded in the RNA of the organism's
physical molecular structure.17 And what could be a more powerful
conditioning force than the intermedia network, which functions to
establish meaning in life?
Science has proven that there's no such thing as "human nature."
Just as water takes the shape of its container, so human nature is
relative to its past and present conditioning. Optimum freedom of
behavior and increased self-awareness are implicit in the industrial
equation that is trending toward physical success for all men;
Paleocybernetic man, however, has not learned to control the environment
he creates. "The content of what is available for emulation
on the part of the young in each society is itself culturally shaped
and limited... the individual typically remains, throughout his lifetime,
unaware of how his own habits, which to him appear 'only natural,' in
fact result from a learning process in which he never had an
opportunity to attempt alternative responses.''18 This process
17 Bleibtreu, op. cit., pp. 85-114.
18 Segall, Campbell, Herskovits, op. cit., p. 10.


56 Expanded Cinema
of enculturation produces phenomenal absolutism, the tendency to
interpret our experience as volitional, objective, and absolute; it will
have ever-increasing consequences as radical evolution continues
to accelerate.

Popular Culture and the Noosphere

Contemporary man is fortunate to have a tool that makes him aware
of his own enculturation and thus he enjoys greater psychic freedom
than his ancestors. This tool is what Teilhard de Chardin has called
the noosphere, the film of organized intelligence that encircles the
planet, superposed on the living layer of the biosphere and the
lifeless layer of inorganic material, the lithosphere. The minds of
three-and-a-half-billion humans— twenty-five percent of all humans
who ever lived— currently nourish the noosphere; distributed around
the globe by the intermedia network, it becomes a new "technology"
that may prove to be one of the most powerful tools in man's history.
John McHale: "World communications... diffuse and interpenetrate
local cultural tradition, providing commonly-shared cultural
experience in a manner unparalleled in human history. Within this
global network the related media share and transmit man's symbolic
needs and their expression on a world scale. Besides the
enlargement of the physical world, these media virtually extend our
psychical environment, providing a constant stream of moving,
fleeting images of the world for our daily appraisal. They provide
psychic mobility for the greater mass of our citizens. Through these
devices we can telescope time, move through history, and span the
world in a great variety of unprecedented ways.''19
Like all energy sources the noosphere can be used for negative
purposes. Its resources can be manipulated to disguise craft as
creativity, especially in these Paleocybernetic days when we're still
impressed by the sudden influx of information. Fuller has
differentiated craft from industry by demonstrating that craft is
inherently local in technique and effect whereas industry is inherently
comprehensive and universal in technique and effect. One might
make a similar analogy between entertainment and art: entertainment
is inherently "local," that is, of limited significance, whereas
art is inherently universal and of unlimited significance. Too often
today we find that so-called artists working in the intermedia
19 John McHale, "The Plastic Parthenon."

58 Expanded Cinema
network are little more than adroit imitators, collectors of data and
phenomena, which they glean from the noosphere and amalgamate
into packages that are far from whole. They're clever and glib;
they've made an art of selling themselves, but they know only effect,
not cause; they are merchants of mannerisms.
It is precisely this confusion that clouds critical appraisal of
"content" in the popular arts. All too frequently eclectic thinking is
confused with creative thinking. The distinction is subtle to be sure:
integrative thinking can be the highest form of creativity. Indeed both
art and science function to reveal similarities within an a priori
universe of apparent dissimilarities. As with all else, however, there's
an art and a craft to thinking, and the popular entertainments remain
at the craft level by the very nature of their purpose.
The intermedia network has made all of us artists by proxy. A
decade of television-watching is equal to a comprehensive course in
dramatic acting, writing, and filming. Compressed in such constant
and massive dosage, we begin to see the methods and clichés more
clearly; the mystique is gone— we could almost do it ourselves.
Unfortunately too many of us do just that: hence the glut of sub-
mediocre talent in the entertainment industry. Paradoxically this
phenomenon carries with it the potential of finally liberating cinema
from its umbilical to theatre and literature, since it forces the movies
to expand into ever more complex areas of language and
experience. Evidence of television's effect on the cinema is already
apparent, as we shall see in our discussion of synaesthetic cinema.
From another more immediate perspective, however, it is quite
unfortunate. We live in an age of hyperawareness, our senses
extended around the globe, but it's a case of aesthetic overload: our
technological zeal has outstripped our psychic capacity to cope with
the influx of information. We are adrift on the surface of radical
evolution unable to plumb the depths of its swift and turbulent

Art, Entertainment, Entropy
"It is easier to copy than to think, hence fashion. Besides, a community of
originals is not a community."
The current generation is engaged in an unprecedented questioning
of all that has been held essential. We question traditional concepts
of authority, ownership, justice, love, sex, freedom, politics, even
tradition itself. But it's significant that we don't question our
entertainment. The disenfranchised young man who dropped out of
college, burned his draft card, braids his hair, smokes pot, and digs
Dylan is standing in line with his girl, who takes the pill, waiting to
see The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider— and they're
reacting to the same formulas of conditioned response that lulled
their parents to sleep in the 1930's.
We've seen the urgent need for an expanded cinematic language. I
hope to illustrate that profit-motivated commercial entertainment, by
its very nature, cannot supply this new vision. Commercial
entertainment works against art, exploits the alienation and boredom
of the public, by perpetuating a system of conditioned response to
formulas. Commercial entertainment not only isn't creative, it actually
destroys the audience's ability to appreciate and participate in the
creative process. The implications become apparent when we
realize that, as leisure time increases, each human will be forced to
become a creative, self-sufficient, empirical energy laboratory.
D. H. Lawrence has written: "The business of art is to reveal the
relation between man and his circumambient universe at this living
moment. As mankind is always struggling in the toil of old
relationships, art is always ahead of its 'times,' which themselves are
always far in the rear of the living present." Jean-Jacques Lebel
stated the same idea in different terms when he described art as "the
creation of a new world, never seen before, imperceptibly gaining on
20 Jean-Jacques Lebel, "On the Necessity of Violation," The Drama Review (Fall, 1968).

60 Expanded Cinema
We've seen that man is conditioned by, and reacts to, certain
stimuli in the man-made environment. The commercial entertainer is
a manipulator of these stimuli. If he employs a certain trigger
mechanism, we're guaranteed to react accordingly, like puppets,
providing he manipulates the trigger properly. I'm not saying the
artist doesn't resort to audience manipulation; we know he often
does. The point, however, is the motivation in doing so. If the artist
must resort to trigger mechanisms to make himself clear, he will; but
it's only a means to his end. In the case of the commercial
entertainer, however, it's the end in itself.
Plot, story, and what commonly is known as "drama" are the
devices that enable the commercial entertainer to manipulate his
audience. The very act of this manipulation, gratifying conditioned
needs, is what the films actually are about. The viewer purchases it
with his ticket and is understandably annoyed if the film asks him to
manipulate himself, to engage in the creative process along with the
artist. Our word poetry derives from the Greek root poiein meaning
"to make" or "to work." The viewer of commercial entertainment
cinema does not want to work; he wants to be an object, to be acted
upon, to be manipulated. The true subject of commercial
entertainment is this little game it plays with its audience.
By perpetuating a destructive habit of unthinking response to
formulas, by forcing us to rely ever more frequently on memory, the
commercial entertainer encourages an unthinking response to daily
life, inhibiting self-awareness. Driven by the profit motive, the
commercial entertainer dares not risk alienating us by attempting
new language even if he were capable of it. He seeks only to gratify
preconditioned needs for formula stimulus. He offers nothing we
haven't already conceived, nothing we don't already expect. Art
explains; entertainment exploits. Art is freedom from the conditions
of memory; entertainment is conditional on a present that is
conditioned by the past. Entertainment gives us what we want; art
gives us what we don't know we want. To confront a work of art is to
confront oneself— but aspects of oneself previously unrecognized.
The extent to which blatant audience manipulation not only is
tolerated but extolled is alarming. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, in
his interview with François Truffaut, finds merit in his ability to
manipulate preconditioned needs for formula stimulus. Speaking of
Psycho, Hitchcock frankly admits: "It wasn't a message that stirred

Art, Entertainment, Entropy 61
them, nor was it a great performance, or their enjoyment of the
novel... they were aroused by the construction of the story, and the
way in which it was told caused audiences all over the world to react
and become emotional.''21
It is essential to understand that Hitchcock openly admits that he
didn't even try to expand awareness or to communicate some
significant message, but only exploited a universal tradition of
dramatic manipulation in order to supply his audience with the
gratification it paid for. The audience sees itself and its dreams
reflected in the film and reacts according to memory, which
Krishnamurti has characterized as being always conditioned.
"Memory," says Krishnamurti, "is always in the past and is given life
in the present by a challenge. Memory has no life in itself; it comes
to life in the challenge [preconditioned formula stimulus]. And all
memory, whether dormant or active, is conditioned."22 It is this
process that the entertainment industry calls audience identification.
To a healthy mind, anything that is primarily art is also immensely
entertaining. It seems obvious that the most important things should
be the most entertaining. Where there's a difference between what
we "like" and what we know to be vital, we have a condition of
schizophrenia, an unnatural and destructive situation. I speak
deliberately of a "healthy" mind as one capable of creative thinking.
Filmmaker Ken Kelman: "The old cinema removes experience,
making us see things along with (or through) a protagonist with
whom we identify, and a plot in which we are caught. Such an
approach tends toward not only a lack of viewpoint, of definition of
whose experience it is, but also filters the power of sight into mere
habit, dissolves insight into vicariousness. The spectator is reduced
to a voyeur— which is, increasingly, the individual's role in society at
 Minimalist painter David Lee: "When people do not trust their
senses they lack confidence in themselves. For the last few
centuries people have lacked confidence. They have not trusted
21 François Truffaut, Hitchcock (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), p. 211.
22 Krishnamurti, op. cit., p. 54.
23 Ken Kelman, "Anticipations of the Light,"The New American Cinema, ed. Gregory
Battcock (New York: Dutton Paperbacks, 1967), pp. 24, 25.


62 Expanded Cinema
their experience to provide a standard for knowing how to act."24 It is
quite obvious that most of us not only don't know much about art, we
don't even know what we like. Krishnamurti: "One of the fundamental
causes of the disintegration of society is copying, which is the
worship of authority."25
Imitation is the result of inadequate information. Information results
in change. Change requires energy. Energy is the result of adequate
information Energy is directly proportional to the amount of
information about the structure of a system. Norbert Wiener: "Information
is a name for the content of what is exchanged with the
outer world as we adjust to it and make our adjustment felt upon it …
to live effectively is to live with adequate information."26 From the
cinema we receive conceptual information (ideas) and design
information (experiences). In concert they become one phenomenon,
which I've described as the experiential information of aesthetic
conceptual design. This information is either useful (additive) or redundant.
Useful information accelerates change. Redundant information
restricts change. If sustained long enough redundant information
finally becomes misinformation, which results in negative
In communication theory and the laws of thermodynamics the
quantity called entropy is the amount of energy reversibly
exchanged from one system in the universe to another. Entropy also
is the measure of disorder within those systems. It measures the
lack of information about the structure of the system. For our
purposes "structure of the system" should be taken to mean "the
human condition," the universal subject of aesthetic activity. Entropy
should be understood as the degree of our ignorance about that
condition. Ignorance always increases when a system's messages
are redundant. Ignorance is not a state of limbo in which no
information exists, but rather a state of increasing chaos due to
misinformation about the structure of the system.
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy is constant: it
cannot be created or destroyed; its form can change, but not its quantity.
24David Lee, "A Systematic Revery from Abstraction to Now,"Minimal Art, ed. Gregory
Battcock (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1968), p. 195.
25Krishnamurti, op. cit., p. 41.
26Wiener, op. cit., pp. 26, 27.


Art, Entertainment, Entropy 63
The Second Law states that the amount of energy within a local
system is naturally entropic— it tends toward disorder, dissipation,
incoherence. And since energy is defined as "a capacity to rearrange
elemental order," entropy, which runs counter to that
capacity, means less potential for change. We've learned from
physics that the only anti-entropic force in the universe, or what is
called negentropy (negative entropy), results from the process of
feedback. Feedback exists between systems that are not closed but
rather open and contingent upon other systems. In the strictest
sense there are no truly "closed" systems anywhere in the universe;
all processes impinge upon and are affected by other processes in
some way. However, for most practical purposes, it is enough to say
that a system is "closed" when entropy dominates the feedback
process, that is, when the measure of energy lost is greater than the
measure of energy gained.
The phenomenon of man, or of biological life on earth taken as a
process, is negentropic because its subsystems feed energy back
into one another and thus are self-enriching, regenerative. Thus
energy is wealth, and wealth according to Buckminster Fuller is "the
number of forward days a given system is sustainable." Biologist
John Bleibtreu arrived at a similar conclusion when he noted that the
concept of time can best be viewed as a function of the Second Law
of Thermodynamics— that the measure of entropy in a system is a
measure of its age, or the passage of time since the system
originated.27 In other words the degree of a system's entropy is
equal to redundancy or stasis whereas its negentropy is equal to
kinesis or change. So information becomes energy when it
contributes to the self-enriching omni-regenerative wealth of the
system. When it's not contributing (i.e., redundant) it is allowing the
natural entropy to increase.
"It is possible to treat sets of messages as having an entropy like
sets of states of the external world... in fact, it is possible to interpret
the information carried by a message as essentially the negative of
its entropy... that is, the more probable the message the less
information it gives. Clichés, for example, are less illuminating than
great poems."28 Thus the more information concerning the human
27 Bleibtreu, op. cit., p. 15.
28 Wiener, op. cit., p. 31.

64 Expanded Cinema
condition that the artist is able to give us, the more energy we have
with which to modify ourselves and grow in accord with the
accelerating accelerations of the living present.
Commercial entertainment may be considered a closed system
since entropy dominates the feedback process. To satisfy the profit
motive the commercial entertainer must give the audience what it
expects, which is conditional on what it has been getting, which is
conditional on what it previously received, ad infinitum. Inherent in
the term "genre," which applies to all entertainment, is that it must be
probable. The content of westerns, gangster movies, romances, etc.,
is probable in that it can be identified and comprehended simply by
classification. The phenomenon of drama itself usually is not
considered a genre, but is in fact the most universal and archetypical
of all genres. Drama, by definition, means conflict, which in turn
means suspense. Suspense is requisite on the expectation of known
alternatives. One cannot expect the unknown. Therefore
expectation, suspense, and drama are all redundant probable
qualities and thus are noninformative.
Drama requires a plot that forces the viewer to move from point A
to point B to point C along predetermined lines. Plot does not mean
"story" (beginning-middle-end). It simply indicates a relatively closed
structure in which free association and conscious participation are
restricted. Since the viewer remains passive and is acted upon by
the experience rather than participating in it with volition, there's no
feedback, that vital source of negentropy. Norbert Wiener:
"Feedback is a method of controlling a system by reinserting into it
the results of its past performance... if the information which
proceeds backward from the performance is able to change the
general method and pattern of performance, we have a process
which may well be called learning."29 Fuller: "Every time man makes
a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less.”30
In the cinema, feedback is possible almost exclusively in what I call
the synaesthetic mode, which we'll discuss presently. Because it is
entirely personal it rests on no identifiable plot and is not probable.
The viewer is forced to create along with the film, to interpret for
himself what he is experiencing. If the information (either concept or
29 Ibid., p. 84.
30 Fuller, Spaceship Earth, p. 92.


Art, Entertainment, Entropy 65
design) reveals some previously unrecognized aspect of the viewer's
relation to the circumambient universe— or provides language with
which to conceptualize old realities more effectively— the viewer
recreates that discovery along with the artist, thus feeding back into
the environment the existence of more creative potential, which may
in turn be used by the artist for messages of still greater eloquence
and perception. If the information is redundant, as it must be in
commercial entertainment, nothing is learned and change becomes
unlikely. The noted authority on communication theory, J. R. Pierce,
has demonstrated that an increase in entropy means a decrease in
the ability to change.31 And we have seen that the ability to change
is the most urgent need facing twentieth-century man.
The notion of experimental art, therefore, is meaningless. All art is
experimental or it isn't art. Art is research, whereas entertainment is
a game or conflict. We have learned from cybernetics that in
research one's work is governed by one's strongest points, whereas
in conflicts or games one's work is governed by its weakest
moments. We have defined the difference between art and entertainment
in scientific terms and have found entertainment to be
inherently entropic, opposed to change, and art to be inherently
negentropic, a catalyst to change. The artist is always an anarchist,
a revolutionary, a creator of new worlds imperceptibly gaining on
reality. He can do this because we live in a cosmos in which there's
always something more to be seen. When finally we erase the
difference between art and entertainment— as we must to survive—
we shall find that our community is no longer a community, and we
shall begin to understand radical evolution.
31 J R. Pierce, Symbols, Signals and Noise (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).

Retrospective Man and the Human Condition
The image I would offer as representative of the Paleocybernetic
Age is that of the dying man whose life passes before him: a Retrospective
Man who discovers the truth about himself too late to make
use of it. The information explosion is not a window on the future so
much as a mirror of the past catching up with the present. The
intermedia network, or global communications grid, taps knowledge
resources that always have existed in discrete social enclaves
around the planet and saturates them into the collective consciousness.
Suddenly the mass public "discovers" African culture,
East Indian and American Indian cultures, folk music, politics.
Knowledge previously the domain of scholars becomes common
knowledge, and precisely at that point when the old order is about to
fade it sees itself clearly for the first time. William Burroughs has
called it the Age of Total Confront, noting that all the heretofore
invisible aspects of our condition have quite suddenly become
Through Duchamp, Cage, and Warhol, for example, we have
rediscovered art in the ancient Platonic sense in which there's no
difference between the aesthetic and the mundane. Although these
men certainly fulfill an avant-garde function in present society, they
in fact conform to the most universal and enduring definition of art. If
they've been rejected as artists by the majority of our citizens it's
because we've been conditioned by an economic system in which
aesthetic concerns must assume a secondary position if the system
is to survive. Thus art is separated from common experience and an
elite hierarchy is established, which seems only natural to everyone
caught up in the economic struggle. John Dewey: "When art attains
classic status it becomes isolated from the human conditions under
which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it
engenders in actual life experience... when, because of their remoteness,
the objects acknowledged by the cultivated to be works of
fine art seem anemic to the mass of people, aesthetic hunger is
likely to seek the cheap and the vulgar."32
Twentieth-century man is retrospective also because the symbolic
32 John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Capricorn, 1958), pp. 3, 6.

Retrospective Man and the Human Condition 67
and value content of his messages— most of which take the form of
commercial entertainment— is predominantly redundant. Norbert
Wiener: "Society can only be understood through a study of the
messages and the communication facilities which belong to it."33
Almost without exception, these messages tend to be concerned
with what is known as the "human condition." The history of popular
entertainment, in terms of its conceptual content, can be divided into
three general categories: (1) idealization, which corresponds to
states of happiness in which life is seen as a heavenly experience
and man is characterized by his most noble deeds; (2)frustration, an
expression of the conflict between inner and outer realities, when
what is is not what should be; (3) demoralization, generally
expressed as "the blues." In commercial entertainment cinema these
three formulas are followed religiously, almost without exception, and
usually comprise the nature of the message. They are the human
condition, that which is taken for granted, the given, the facts of life.
Everyone has ideals, everyone is frustrated, everyone gets the
blues. But this information is redundant; we must go on from there.
Commercial entertainment is "popular" and not what we call art
because it doesn't go on from there. To insure the widest possible
acceptance of his message, the commercial entertainer must speak
a common language. He copies, repeats, or imitates that which
already exists within the grasp of the so-called average man. And
the majority of us embrace it because it offers security, a crutch, in
the knowledge that the miseries we suffer are shared by others. But
art transcends the human condition. The artist doesn't want to hear
our problems and our dreams— he already knows them. Instead he
wants to know what we're doing about them, and he gives us the
instruments we need for the task. The symbol is the basic instrument
of thought; those who create new symbols— artists, scientists, poets,
philosophers— are those who, by giving us new instruments to think
with, give us new areas to explore in our thinking.
A rather indignant woman once asked me how I could have the
nerve to suggest that an "abstract" film like Brakhage's Dog Star
Man could be more important than an immortal classic like Renoir's
The Grand Illusion. The new consciousness takes the view that films
33 Wiener, op. cit., p. 25.

68 Expanded Cinema
like Renoir's do not contain one single insight into the nature of the
human condition that has not already been absorbed by the collective
consciousness. Bob Dylan: "How many times must a man look
up before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have
before he can hear people cry?" And my own question: how many
times must we acknowledge the human condition before it becomes
redundant? How long must we tolerate the same facts of life before
we begin seeking new facts? We intuit that the human condition has
expanded since yesterday, but the popular arts aren't telling us. The
human condition does not stop with what we know about ourselves.
Each genuinely new experience expands the definition of the human
condition that much more. Some are seeking those new facts, those
new experiences, through the synaesthetic research of expanded
Barbara Rose: "The new art... posits an entirely new world view
which shifts cultural values from a death-oriented, commemorative,
past-enshrining culture to a life-oriented, present-oriented civilization...
In this sense [Claes] Oldenburg's monuments represent, as he
contended, not the appearance of something, but its disappearance...
the tomb, the memorial, the shrine, the monument, all belong
to cultures that commemorate."34
John McHale: "The problem now is that those areas of our formal
education which deal with the symbolic and value content of our
culture do so almost entirely in terms of the past35... The new
educational technologies are largely being used as twentieth-century
channels to convey a conceptual context which is still nineteenth
century or earlier. The most recent example was mathematics,
where the Sputnik-inspired 'second look' revealed that mathematics
as generally taught was quite out of date. Science has begun to take
a second look at its contents as currently taught. But the arts and
humanities remain relatively unaware of any need to revise the
conceptual framework of studies little removed from the polite
education of eighteenth-century gentry."36
34 Barbara Rose, "Problems of Criticism, VI," Artforum (May, 1969), p. 50.
35 McHale, "Education for Real," Good News.
36 McHale, "Information Explosion," Good News.


Retrospective Man and the Human Condition 69
The entropy of commercial entertainment is the chaos that results
from its retrospective nature, forever commemorating past events,
historical figures, social eras, life-styles, or the memory of the viewer,
while the living present speeds farther from our grasp. Alvin Toffler:
"We offer children courses in history; why not also make a course in
'future' a prerequisite for every student? A course in which the
possibilities and probabilities of the future are systematically explored
exactly as we now explore the social system of the Romans
or the rise of the feudal manor?"37 We invent the future in the
present. We are what we think the future will be.
37 Toffler, op. cit.

The Artist as Design Scientist
Our discussion obviously has excluded many important works of art
that function completely within the genres of drama, plot, and story.
Citizen Kane, L'Avventura, Pierrot le Fou, and 8½ are dramatic, plot
films, yet no one denies their greatness. We know also that most of
the truly significant films such as Beauty and the Beast or Pather
Panchali operate entirely within parameters of the human condition
as generally recognized. Moreover, common sense tells us that the
artist must work with what exists, with the given, the human
condition; he could produce no art at all if he relied exclusively on
information that is totally new.
Yet the undeniable aesthetic value of these works does not
contradict what I have said about art and entertainment. These films
transcend their genres. They are not important for their plots or
stories but rather for their design. Susan Sontag: "If there is any
'knowledge' to be gained through art, it is the experience of the form
or style of knowing the subject, rather than a knowledge of the
subject itself."38
To perceive that the artist functions as design scientist we must
first understand that in their broadest implications art and science
are the same. Eddington's classic definition of science, "The earnest
attempt to set in order the facts of experience," corresponds with
Bronowski's view of science as "The organization of knowledge in
such a way that it commands more of the hidden potential in
nature… all science is the search for unity in hidden likenesses."39 It's
the same in art: to set in order the facts of experience is to reveal the
relation between man and his circumambient universe with all its
hidden potential.
Herbert Read: "Only in so far as the artist establishes symbols for
the representation of reality can mind, as a structure of thought, take
shape. The artist establishes these symbols by becoming conscious
38 Susan Sontag, "On Style,"Against Interpretation (New York: Delta Books), p. 22.
39 J. Bronowski, Science and Human Values (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1965), pp. 3,

The Artist as Design Scientist 71
of new aspects of reality and by representing his consciousness in
plastic or poetic form... it follows that any extension of awareness of
reality, any groping beyond the threshold of present knowledge,
must first establish its sensuous imagery."40
Our word "design" is composed of "de" and "sign," indicating that it
means "to remove the symbol of." In this context "symbol" signifies
ideas distinct from experiences. As design scientist the artist
discovers and perfects language that corresponds more directly to
experience; he develops hardware that embodies its own software
as a conceptual tool for coping with reality. He separates the image
from its official symbolic meaning and reveals its hidden potential, its
process, its actual reality, the experience of the thing. (A. N.
Whitehead: "Process and existence pre-suppose each other.") He
establishes certain parameters that define a discrete "special case"
phenomenon, principle, or concept known as the subject. The work,
in effect, poses this "problem" of perception and we as viewers must
draw from this special case all the "general case" metaphysical
relationships that are encoded within the language of the piece.
This language is the experiential information of aesthetic
conceptual design; it is addressed to what Wittgenstein termed the
"inarticulate conscious," the domain between the subconscious and
the conscious that can't be expressed in words but of which we
constantly are aware. The artist does not point out new facts so
much as he creates a new language of conceptual design information
with which we arrive at a new and more complete
understanding of old facts, thus expanding our control over the
interior and exterior environments.
The auteur theory of personal cinema indicates those instances
when the filmmaker's design science transcends the parameters of
his genre; our comprehension of that genre, that human condition is
thus expanded. But cybernetics has demonstrated that the structure
of a system is an index of the performance which may be expected
from it.41 That is, the conceptual design of a movie determines the
variety and amount of information we're likely to obtain from it. And
since we've seen that the amount of information is
40Herbert Read, Icon and Idea (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), p. 53.41Wiener, °op. cit., p. 79.

72 Expanded Cinema
directly proportional to the degree of available choices we can see
that drama, story, and plot, which restrict choice, also restrict information.
So the auteur is limited to developing new designs for old
information, which we all know can be immensely enjoyable and
instructive. There are no "new" ideas in L'Avventura, for example,
but Antonioni voiced the inarticulate conscious of an entire
generation through the conceptual and structural integrity of his
transcendental design science, merging sense and symbol, form and
Rudolph Arnheim: "Perceiving achieves at the sensory level what
in the realm of reasoning is known as understanding... eyesight is
insight."42 If we realize that insight means to see intuitively, we
acknowledge that Arnheim's assertion is true only when ordinary
vision— conditioned and enculturated by the most vulgar of environments—
is liberated through aesthetic conceptual design information.
Film is a way of seeing. We see through the filmmaker's eyes.
If he's an artist we become artists along with him. If he's not,
information tends toward misinformation.
The artist's intuitive sense of proportion corresponds to the
phenomenon of absolute pitch in musicians and answers a fundamental
need in comprehending what we apprehend. In the final
analysis our aptitudes and our psychological balance are a result of
our relation to images. The image precedes the idea in the development
of consciousness: an infant doesn't think "green" when it
looks at a blade of grass. It follows that the more "beautiful" the
image the more beautiful our consciousness.
The design of commercial entertainment is neither a science nor
an art; it answers only to the common taste, the accepted vision, for
fear of disturbing the viewer's reaction to the formula. The viewer's
taste is conditioned by a profit-motivated architecture, which has
forgotten that a house is a machine to live in, a service environment.
He leaves the theatre after three hours of redundancy and returns
home to a symbol, not a natural environment in which beauty and
functionality are one. Little wonder that praise is heaped on films
whose imagery is on the level of calendar art. Global man stands on
the moon casually regarding the entire spaceship earth in a glance,
42Rudolph Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (Los Angeles, Calif.: University of
California Press, 1954), p. 37.

The Artist as Design Scientist 73
yet humanity still is impressed that a rich Hollywood studio can lug
its Panavision cameras over the Alps and come back with pretty
pictures. "Surpassing visual majesty!" gasp the critics over A Man
and a Woman or Dr. Zhivago. But with today's technology and
unlimited wealth who couldn't compile a picturesque movie? In fact
it's a disgrace when a film is not of surpassing visual majesty because
there's a lot of that in our world. The new cinema, however,
takes us to another world entirely. John Cage: "Where beauty ends
is where the artist begins."

Blank Page

"The final poem will be the poem of fact in the language of fact. But it will be the poem
of fact not realized before."
Expanded cinema has been expanding for a long time. Since it left
the underground and became a popular avant-garde form in the late
1950's the new cinema primarily has been an exercise in technique,
the gradual development of a truly cinematic language with which to
expand further man's communicative powers and thus his awareness.
If expanded cinema has had anything to say, the message has
been the medium.1 Slavko Vorkapich: "Most of the films made so far
are examples not of creative use of motion-picture devices and
techniques, but of their use as recording instruments only. There are
extremely few motion pictures that may be cited as instances of
creative use of the medium, and from these only fragments and short
passages may be compared to the best achievements in the other
It has taken more than seventy years for global man to come to
terms with the cinematic medium, to liberate it from theatre and
literature. We had to wait until our consciousness caught up with our
technology. But although the new cinema is the first and only true
cinematic language, it still is used as a recording instrument. The
recorded subject, however, is not the objective external human condition
but the filmmaker's consciousness, his perception and its pro

1 For a comprehensive in-depth history of this development, see: Sheldon Renan, An
Introduction to the American Underground Film (New York: Dutton Paperbacks, 1967).
And for a survey of initial critical reaction, see The New American Cinema, ed. Gregory
Battcock (New York: Dutton Paperbacks, 1967).
2 Slavko Vorkapich, "Toward True Cinema,'' in Film: A Montage of Theories, ed. Richard
Dyer MacCann (New York: Dutton Paperbacks, 1966), p. 172.


76 Expanded Cinema
cess. If we've tolerated a certain absence of discipline, it has been in
favor of a freedom through which new language hopefully would be
developed. With a fusion of aesthetic sensibilities and technological
innovation that language finally has been achieved. The new cinema
has emerged as the only aesthetic language to match the
environment in which we live.
Emerging with it is a major paradigm: a conception of the nature of
cinema so encompassing and persuasive that it promises to
dominate all image-making in much the same way as the theory of
general relativity dominates all physics today. I call it synaesthetic
cinema. In relation to traditional cinema it's like the science of bionics
in relation to previous notions of biology and chemistry: that is, it
models itself after the patterns of nature rather than attempting to
"explain" or conform nature in terms of its own structure. The new
artist, like the new scientist, does not "wrest order our of chaos."
Both realize that supreme order lies in nature and traditionally we
have only made chaos out of it. The new artist and the new scientist
recognize that chaos is order on another level, and they set about to
find the rules of structuring by which nature has achieved it. That's
why the scientist has abandoned absolutes and the filmmaker has
abandoned montage.
Herbert Read: "Art never has been an attempt to grasp reality as a
whole— that is beyond our human capacity; it was never even an
attempt to represent the totality of appearances; but rather it has
been the piecemeal recognition and patient fixation of what is significant
in human experience."3 We're beginning to understand that
"what is significant in human experience” for contemporary man is
the awareness of consciousness, the recognition of the process of
perception. (I define perception both as "sensation" and "conceptualization,"
the process of forming concepts, usually classified as
"cognition." Because we're enculturated, to perceive is to interpret.)
Through synaesthetic cinema man attempts to express a total phenomenon—
his own consciousness.4
3 Read, Icon, p. 18.
4 In defining consciousness I concur with R. G. Collingwood: "The kind of thought which
stands closest to sensation or mere feeling. Every further development of thought is
based upon it and deals not with feeling in its crude form but with feeling as thus
transformed into imagination." Principles of Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1938), p. 223.

Synaesthetic Cinema: The End of Drama 77
Synaesthetic cinema is the only aesthetic language suited to the
post-industrial, post-literate, man-made environment with its multidimensional
simulsensory network of information sources. It's the
only aesthetic tool that even approaches the reality continuum of
conscious existence in the nonuniform, nonlinear, nonconnected
electronic atmosphere of the Paleocybernetic Age. "As visual space
is superseded," McLuhan observes, "we discover that there is no
continuity or connectedness, let alone depth and perspective, in any
of the other senses. The modern artist— in music, in painting, in
poetry— has been patiently expounding this fact for decades."5 The
modern synaesthetic filmmaker has been patiently expounding this
fact for decades as well, and with far more success than painters or
Finally, I propose to show that synaesthetic cinema transcends the
restrictions of drama, story, and plot and therefore cannot be called a
genre. In addition to matching McLuhan's view of contemporary
existence, it also corresponds to Buckminster Fuller's observations
on natural synergetics and consequently is negentropic. Before
discussing specifics, however, we must first understand why synaesthetic
cinema is just now being developed into a universal
language, more than seventy years after the birth of the medium.
Like most everything else, it's because of television.
5 Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, War and Peace in the Global Village (New York:
Bantam Books), p. 13.

Global Closed Circuit: The Earth as Software

Television Renders Cinema Obsolete
as Communicator of Objective Reality
Just as every fact is also metaphysical, every piece of hardware
implies software: information about its existence. Television is the
software of the earth. Television is invisible. It's not an object. It's not
a piece of furniture. The television set is irrelevant to the phenomenon
of television. The videosphere is the noosphere transformed
into a perceivable state. "Television," says video artist Les
Levine, "is the most obvious realization of software in the general
environment. It shows the human race itself as a working model of
itself. It renders the social and psychological condition of the environment
visible to the environment."
A culture is dead when its myths have been exposed. Television is
exposing the myths of the republic. Television reveals the observed,
the observer, the process of observing. There can be no secrets in
the Paleocybernetic Age. On the macrostructural level all television
is a closed circuit that constantly turns us back upon ourselves.
Humanity extends its video Third Eye to the moon and feeds its own
image back into its monitors. "Monitor" is the electronic manifestation
of superego. Television is the earth's superego. We become aware
of our individual behavior by observing the collective behavior as
manifested in the global videosphere. We identify with persons in
news events as once we identified with actors or events in fiction
films. Before television we saw little of the human condition. Now we
see and hear it daily. The world's not a stage, it's a TV documentary.
Television extends global man throughout the ecological biosphere
twenty-four hours a day. By moving into outer space, television
reveals new dimensions of inner space, new aspects of man's
perception and the results of that perception.
This implosive, self-revealing, consciousness-expanding process is
irreversible. Global information is the natural enemy of local government,
for it reveals the true context in which that government is

Global Closed Circuit: The Earth as Software 79
operating. Global television is directly responsible for the political
turmoil that is increasing around the world today. The political
establishments sense this and are beginning to react. But it's too
late. Television makes it impossible for governments to maintain the
illusion of sovereignty and separatism which is essential for their
existence. Television is one of the most revolutionary tools in the
entire spectrum of technoanarchy.
We recognize television's negative effect on the popular arts: that it
induces a kind of sedentary uniformity of expression and generates a
false sense of creativity. In its broader consequences, however,
television releases cinema from the umbilical of theatre and
literature. It renders cinema obsolete as communicator of the objective
human condition. It has affected cinema in much the same way
as the invention of photography affected sculpture and painting.
Cubism and other means of abstracting the realistic image were born
with the photographic plate because painting no longer provided the
most realistic images. The plastic arts abandoned exterior reality for
interior reality. The same has happened to cinema as a result of
television: movies no longer provide the most realistic images so
they've turned inward.
We're in direct contact with the human condition; there's no longer
any need to represent it through art. Not only does this release
cinema; it virtually forces cinema to move beyond the objective
human condition into newer extra-objective territory. There are
manifold trends that indicate that virtually all cinema has felt the
profound impact of television and is moving inevitably toward
synaesthesis. The progression naturally includes intermediary steps
first toward greater "realism," then cinéma-vérité, before the final and
total abandon of the notion of reality itself. The fact that we're now
approaching the peak of the realism stage is demonstrated by
Warhol, for example, whose recent work contrasts "reality" with
"realism" as manifested in the spontaneous behavior of actors pretending
to be acting. In addition there's virtually all of Godard's work,
as well as John Cassavetes' Faces, James McBride's David
Holzman's Diary, Peter Watkins' The War Game, Gillo Pontecorvo's
The Battle of Algiers, Paul Morrissey's Flesh, and Stanton Kaye's
Georg and Brandy in the Wilderness.

80 Expanded Cinema
Most of this work is characterized by an astute blending of scripted
and directed acting with spontaneous improvisation, in which the
actor randomly fills in the parameters of a characterization predetermined
and predestined by the director. Yet precisely because
they attempt to approximate objective reality without actually being
real, places them firmly in the tradition of conventional Hollywood
pretend movies, with the exception of camera presence or what
might be called process-level perception.
It's only natural that contemporary filmmakers should be more
successful at imitating reality since the intermedia network makes us
more familiar with it. But there's a curious and quite significant
aspect to the nature of this new realism: by incorporating a kind of
bastardized cinéma-vérité or newsreel style of photography and
behavior, the filmmaker has not moved closer to actual unstylized
reality itself but rather a reality prestylized to approximate our
primary mode of knowing natural events: television. We accept it as
being more realistic because it more closely resembles the process-
level perception of TV watching, in which unstylized reality is filtered
and shaped through the process of a given medium.
The traditional dramatic structure of these films becomes more
easily discernible in contrast with pure cinéma-vérité work such as
Jean Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer, Pennebaker's Don't Look
Back, or Chris Marker's brilliant Le Joli Mai. A comparison of Faces
or David Holzman's Diary with Warhol's Nude Restaurant is even
more revealing: the difference between prestylized and predestined
realities on the one hand, and Warhol's totally random and only
partially prestylized reality on the other, is brought into sharp focus.
Warhol has expressed regret that a camera cannot simply be
switched on and left running for twenty-four hours, since the "important"
(naturally-revealing) events seem to occur at that moment
just after it stops turning. Godard disclosed similar sentiments when
he said: "The ideal for me is to obtain right away what will work. If
retakes are necessary it falls short of the mark. The immediate is
chance. At the same time it is definitive. What I want is the definitive
by chance."

Synaesthetic Synthesis:
Simultaneous Perception of Harmonic Opposites
Time, said St. Augustine, is a threefold present: the present as we
experience it; the past as present memory; the future as present
expectation. Hopi Indians, who thought of themselves as caretakers
of the planet, used only the present tense in their language: past was
indicated as "present manifested," and the future was signified by
"present manifesting.”6 Until approximately 800 B.C., few cultures
thought in terms of past or future: all experience was synthesized in
the present. It seems that practically everyone but contemporary
man has intuitively understood the space-time continuum.
Synaesthetic cinema is a space-time continuum. It is neither subjective,
objective, nor nonobjective, but rather all of these combined:
that is to say, extra-objective. Synaesthetic and psychedelic mean
approximately the same thing. Synaesthesis is the harmony of
different or opposing impulses produced by a work of art. It means
the simultaneous perception of harmonic opposites. Its sensorial
effect is known as synaesthesia, and it's as old as the ancient
Greeks who coined the term. Under the influence of mind-
manifesting hallucinogens one experiences synaesthesia in addition
to what Dr. John Lilly calls "white noise," or random signals in the
control mechanism of the human bio-computer.7
Any dualism is composed of harmonic opposites: in/out, up/ down,
off/on, yes/no, black/white, good/bad. Past aesthetic traditions,
reflecting the consciousness of their period, have tended to
concentrate on one element at a time. But the Paleocybernetic
experience doesn't support that kind of logic. The emphasis of traditional
logic might be expressed in terms of an either/or choice, which
in physics is known as bistable logic. But the logic of the Cybernetic
Age into which we're moving will be both/and, which in physics is
6 Benjamin Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Publications Office, 1956).
7 John C. Lilly, The Human Bio-Computer (Miami, Fla.: Communications Research
Institute, 1967).


82 Expanded Cinema
called triadic logic. Physicists have found they can no longer describe
phenomena with the binary yes/no formula but must operate
with yes/no/maybe.
The accumulation of facts is no longer of top priority to humanity.
The problem now is to apply existing facts to new conceptual wholes,
new vistas of reality. By "reality" we mean relationships. Piet
Mondrian: "As nature becomes more abstract, a relation is more
clearly felt. The new painting has clearly shown this. And that is why
it has come to the point of expressing nothing but relations."8
Synaesthetic cinema is an art of relations: the relations of the conceptual
information and design information within the film itself
graphically, and the relation between the film and the viewer at that
point where human perception (sensation and conceptualization)
brings them together. As science gropes for new models to accommodate
apparent inconsistencies and contradictions, the need for
seeing incompatibles together is more easily discerned. For example,
the phenomenon of light is conceived in both/and terms: both
continuous wave motions and discontinuous particles. And we have
noted our incapacity for observing both movement and position of
This is but one of many reasons that synaesthetic cinema is the
only aesthetic language suited to contemporary life. It can function as
a conditioning force to unite us with the living present, not separate
us from it. My use of the term synaesthetic is meant only as a way of
understanding the historical significance of a phenomenon without
historical precedent. Actually the most descriptive term for the new
cinema is "personal" because it's only an extension of the filmmaker's
central nervous system. The reader should not interpret
"synaesthetic" as an attempt to categorize or label a phenomenon
that has no definition. There's no single film that could be called
typical of the new cinema because it is defined anew by each individual
I've selected about seven films that are particularly representative
of the various points I wish to make. I'm using them only to illuminate
the nature of synaesthetic cinema in general, not as specific archetypal
examples. Sufficient literature exists on Brakhage's Dog Star
8Piet Mondrian, Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, Inc.,
1945), p. 50.

Synaesthetic Synthesis: Simultaneous Perception of Harmonic Opposites 83
Man to preclude any major expository analysis here, but it is exemplary
of virtually all concepts involved in the synaesthetic mode, in
particular syncretism and metamorphosis. Will Hindle's Chinese
Firedrill is an outstanding example of the evocative language of
synaesthetic cinema as distinct from the expositional mode of
narrative cinema. Pat O'Neill's 7362, John Schofill's XFilm, and
Ronald Nameth's Exploding Plastic Inevitable provide some insight
into kinaesthetics and kinetic empathy. Carolee Schneemann's
Fuses, in contrast with Warhol's Blue Movie and Paul Morrissey's
Flesh, illustrates the new polymorphous eroticism. And, finally,
Michael Snow's Wavelength has been chosen for its qualities of
extra-objective constructivism.

Syncretism and Metamorphosis:
Montage as Collage
The harmonic opposites of synaesthetic cinema are apprehended
through syncretistic vision, which Anton Ehrenzweig has characterized
as: "The child's capacity to comprehend a total structure rather
than analyzing single elements... he does not differentiate the identity
of a shape by watching its details one by one, but goes straight for
the whole."9 Syncretism is the combination of many different forms
into one whole form. Persian tapestries and tile domes are
syncretistic. Mandalas are syncretistic. Nature is syncre-tistic. The
majority of filmgoers, conditioned by a lifetime of conven-tional
narrative cinema, make little sense of synaesthetic cinema because
their natural syncretistic faculty has suffered entropy and atrophy.
Buckminster Fuller: "All universities have been progressively
organized for ever-finer specialization. Society assumes that specialization
is natural, inevitable and desirable. Yet in observing a little
child we find it is interested in everything and spontaneously apprehends,
comprehends and coordinates an ever-expanding inventory
of experience.''10
It has been demonstrated that all species of life on earth that have
become extinct were doomed through overspecialization, whether
anatomical, biological, or geological. Therefore conventional narrative
cinema, in which the filmmaker plays policeman guiding our
eyes here and there in the picture plane, might be described as
"specialized vision," which tends to decay our ability to comprehend
the more complex and diffuse visual field of living reality.
The general impression that syncretism, and therefore synaesthetic
cinema, is empty of detail or content is an illusion: "… it is highly
sensitive to the smallest of cues and proves more efficient in identify

9 Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California
Press, 1967), p. 9.
10 Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1969), p. 13.
Press, 1967), p. 9.


Syncretism and Metamorphosis: Montage as Collage 85
ing individual objects. It impresses us as empty, vague and generalized
only because the narrowly-focused surface consciousness
cannot grasp its wider more comprehensive structure. Its precise,
concrete content has become inaccessible and ‘unconscious.’11''
Synaesthetic cinema provides access to syncretistic content
through the inarticulate conscious. Similarly, it contradicts the
teachings of Gestalt psychology, according to which we must make
an either/or choice: we can choose either to see the "significant"
figure or the "insignificant" ground. But when the "content" of the
message is the relationship between its parts, and when structure
and content are synonymous, all elements are equally significant.
Ehrenzweig has suggested that syncretism is "Gestalt-free perception,"
and indeed this must be the case if one expects any visual
"meaning" from synaesthetic cinema.
Paul Klee, whose syncretistic paintings closely resemble certain
works of synaesthetic cinema, spoke of the endotopic (inside) and
exotopic (outside) areas of a picture plane, stressing their equal
importance in the overall experience.12 Synaesthetic cinema, primarily
through superimposition, fuses the endotopic and exotopic by
reducing depth-of-field to a total field of nonfocused multiplicity.
Moreover, it subsumes the conventional sense of time by interconnecting
and interpenetrating the temporal dimension with images that
exist outside of time. The "action" of Dog Star Man, for example,
could be an entire life-span or merely a split second in the inarticulate
conscious of Stan Brakhage. I stress "action" as commonly
understood in the cinema because synaesthetic syncretism replaces
montage with collage and, as André Bazin has observed, "montage
is the dramatic analysis of action." Bazin was perceptive enough to
realize that "only an increased realism of the image can support the
abstraction of montage.''13
Synaesthetic cinema subsumes Eisenstein's theory of montage-ascollision
and Pudovkin's view of montage-as-linkage. It demonstrates
that they were certainly correct but didn't follow their own observations
to their logical conclusions. They were restricted by the con

11 Ehrenzweig, op. cit., pp. 19, 20.
12 Paul Klee, The Thinking Eye (London: Lund Humphries, 1961).
13 André Bazin, What Is Cinema? trans. Hugh Gray (Los Angeles, Calif.: University of
California Press, 1967), p. 39.


86 Expanded Cinema
sciousness of their times. Synaesthetic cinema transcends the notion
of reality. It doesn't "chop the world into little fragments," an effect
Bazin attributed to montage, because it's not concerned with the
objective world in the first place. The new filmmaker is showing us
his feelings. Montage is indeed an abstraction of objective reality;
that's why, until recently, Warhol did not cut his films at all. But
synaesthetic syncretism is the only mode in which the manifestations
of one's consciousness can be approximated without distortion.
There's no conflict in harmonic opposites. Nor is there anything that
might be called linkage. There is only a space-time continuum, a
mosaic simultaneity. Although composed of discrete elements it is
conceived and edited as one continuous perceptual experience. A
synaesthetic film is, in effect, one image continually transforming into
other images: metamorphosis. It is the one unifying force in all of
synaesthetic cinema. The notion of universal unity and cosmic
simultaneity is a logical result of the psychological effects of the
global communications network.
If montage is the dramatic analysis of action, a film without classic
montage thus avoids at least the structural element of drama
inherent within the medium. All that remains to avoid drama entirely
is to exclude dramatic (i.e., theatrical) content by making content and
structure the same. Warhol's films are not dramatic, and neither are
films at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, synaesthesia. The
classical tension of montage is dissolved through overlapping
superimposition. For example: we have shots A, B. and C. First we
see A, then B is superimposed over it to produce AB. Then A fades
as C fades in. There's a brief transitional period in which we're
seeing ABC simultaneously, and finally we're looking only at BC. But
no sooner has this evolved than B begins to fade as D appears, and
so on.
This is a physical, structural equivalent of the Hopi "present
manifested" and "present manifesting" space-time continuum. It's the
only style of cinema that directly corresponds to the theory of general
relativity, a concept that has completely transformed all aspects of
contemporary existence except traditional Hollywood cinema. The
effects of metamorphosis described above become more apparent if
shots A, B. and C happen to be of the same image but from slightly

Syncretism and Metamorphosis: Montage as Collage 87
different perspectives, or with varied inflections of tone and color. It
is through this process that a synaesthetic film becomes, in effect,
one image constantly manifesting.
And finally we're forced to admit that the pure art of cinema exists
almost exclusively in the use of superimposition. In traditional
cinema, superimposition usually gives the impression of two movies
occurring at once in the same frame with their attendant psychological
and physiological connotations coexisting separately. In synaesthetic
cinema they are one total image in metamorphosis. This does
not imply that we must relinquish what Eisenstein called "intellectual
montage." In fact, the conflict-juxtaposition of intellectual effects is
increased when they occur within the same image. Fiction, legend,
parable, myth, traditionally have been employed to make comprehensible
the paradoxes of that field of nonfocused multiplicity that is
life. Synaesthetic cinema, whose very structure is paradox, makes
paradox a language in itself, discovering the order (legend) hidden
within it.
Stan Brakhage: Dog Star Man
Dog Star Man is a silent, seventy-eight-minute film divided into
Prelude and Parts One through Four. It was shot in 1959-60 and
edited during the next four years. Prelude is an extremely fast
collage of multiple-level superimpositions and compounded images
that emerge from a blurry diaphanous haze and slowly take form,
only to be obscured by other images and countermotions. We begin
to discern specific objects, patterns, and finally a motif or theme: the
elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water; a childbirth; a man climbing
a mountain with his dog; the moon; the sun throwing off huge solar
prominences; lovemaking; photomicrography of blood vessels; a
beating heart; a forest; clouds; the faces of a man and a woman; and
literally thousands of other images to appear in the rest of the film.
These images exist essentially autonomously and are superimposed
or compounded not for "dramatic" effect but rather as a kind of
matrix for psychic exercise on the part of the viewers. For example,
over an expanding solar prominence we might see Brakhage's
leonine face or a line of snow-covered fir trees in the mountains of
Colorado. We are not asked to interpret or find "meaning" in these

88 Expanded Cinema
combinations, though vastly rich experiences are possible. When the
images emerge from a hazy blur, for example, we are not asked to
interpret this as the creation of life or some similar dramatic notion,
but rather as a perceptual experience for its own sake, in addition to
the contextual relationship of this image to the rest of the film, or
what Eisenstein indicated by the term "intellectual montage."
Whereas Prelude is a rapid barrage of multiple overlays, Part One
is superimposed sparingly, concentrating on interface relationships
between individual shots. However, every effort is made to subdue
any effect that might be considered montage. The shots fade in and
out very slowly, often fading into a color such as red or green. The
fragments of Prelude fall into place and an overwhelming sense of
oceanic consciousness evolves. We begin to realize that Brakhage
is attempting to express the totality of consciousness, the reality
continuum of the living present. As his solitary figure climbs the
snow-covered mountain, we see images of man's world from the
microspectrum of the bloodstream to the macrospectrum of the sun,
moon, and universe. Both time and space are subsumed in the
wholeness of the experience. Superimposition is not used as an
economical substitute for "parallel montage"— indicating simultaneous
but spatially separate events— for spatio-temporal dimensions
do not exist in the consciousness. Brakhage is merely presenting us
with images orchestrated in such a way that a new reality arises out
of them.
When we see the sun superimposed over a lovemaking scene, it's
not an invitation to interpret a meaning such as cosmic regeneration
or the smallness of man in the universe, but rather as an occasion to
experience our own involuntary and inarticulate associations. The
images are not symbolic, as in The Seventh Seal, or artfully composed
as in Last Year at Marienbad. Brakhage does not manipulate
us emotionally, saying: "Now I want you to feel suspense" or "Now I
want you to laugh" or "Now is the time to be fearful." This is the ploy
of the commercial entertainer: an arrogant degradation of cinema,
using film as a tool for cheap sensationalism. This is not to say that
spatio-temporal experiences, or suspense, humor, or any emotion
cannot be found in synaesthetic cinema. Quite the contrary: because
we're dealing with our own personal associations, emotion is

Syncretism and Metamorphosis: Montage as Collage 89

Stan Brakhage: Dog Star Man. 1959

64. 16 mm. Color, black and white.
78 min. "The totality of consciousness,
the reality continuum of the living

90 Expanded Cinema
guaranteed. And it will be more genuinely profound than the formula-
triggered gratification of conditioned response that we receive from
commercial entertainment.
Brakhage has spoken of "restructuring" vision through his films,
and often refers to the "untutored" vision of the child before he's
taught to think and see in symbols. In what he calls "closed-eye
vision," Brakhage attempts to simulate, by painting and scratching on
film, the flashes and patterns of color we perceive when our eyes are
closed. Approximately midway through Dog Star Man, otherwise
mundane images take on wholly new meanings and in some cases
new appearances. We stop mentally labeling images and concentrate
instead on the synaesthetic/kinaesthetic flow of color,
shape, and motion.
This is not to suggest a nonobjective experience. The images
develop their own syntactical meaning and a "narrative" line is
perceived, though the meaning of any given image may change in
the context of different sequences. This constitutes a creative use of
the language itself, over and above any particular "content" conveyed
by that language. (Wallace Stevens: "A new meaning is
equivalent to a new word.") The effect of synaesthetic cinema is to
break the hold that the medium has over us, to make us perceive it
objectively. Art is utter folly unless it frees us from the need of art as
an experience separate from the ordinary.
Wittgenstein has described art as a game whose rules are made
up as the game is in process. The exact meaning of words (images)
becomes known only in the context of each new statement.14 E. H.
Gombrich, on the other hand, demonstrates that objective realism
also is a game, but one whose schema is established prior to its use
and is never altered. Artists and society thus learn to read the
schema as though it were objective reality. But since the language
itself is not used creatively, the viewer is seduced beyond form into
an abstract content with an illusion of being externally objective.15
Thus the viewer is captive under the hold, or spell, of the medium
and is not free to analyze the process of experience.
14 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1963).
15 E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, The Bollingen Series XXXV (New York: Pantheon
Books, Inc., 1960).

Syncretism and Metamorphosis: Montage as Collage 91
Brakhage expressed this concept with respect to his own work:
"Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye
unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which must know each
object encountered in life through a new adventure of perception.
Imagine a world alive with incomprehensible objects and shimmering
with an endless variety of movement and gradations of color.
Imagine a world before the beginning was the word.''16
16 Stan Brakhage, "Metaphors on Vision," ed. P. Adams Sitney,Film Culture (Fall, 1963).

Evocation and Exposition:
Toward Oceanic Consciousness
There is an important distinction to be made betweenevocation, the
language of synaesthetic cinema, primarily poetic in structure and
effect, and exposition, the language of narrative cinema, which
chiefly conforms to traditional, literary narrative modes. Intermedia
artist and filmmaker Carolee Schneemann has characterized evocation
as the place between desire and experience, the interpenetrations
and displacements which occur between various sense stimuli.
"Vision is not a fact," Miss Schneemann postulates, "but an
aggregate of sensations. Vision creates its own efforts toward
realization; effort does not create vision.”17
Thus, by creating a new kind of vision, synaesthetic cinema creates
a new kind of consciousness: oceanic consciousness. Freud spoke
of oceanic consciousness as that in which we feel our individual
existence lost in mystic union with the universe. Nothing could be
more appropriate to contemporary experience, when for the first time
man has left the boundaries of this globe. The oceanic effect of
synaesthetic cinema is similar to the mystical allure of the natural
elements: we stare in mindless wonder at the ocean or a lake or
river. We are drawn almost hypnotically to fire, gazing as though
spellbound. We see cathedrals in clouds, not thinking anything in
particular but feeling somehow secure and content. It is similar to the
concept of no-mindedness in Zen, which also is the state of mantra
and mandala consciousness, the widest range of consciousness.
Miss Schneemann defines perception aseye-journey or empathy-
drawing. It is precisely through a kind of empathy-drawing that the
content of synaesthetic cinema is created jointly by the film and the
viewer. The very nature of evocation requires creative effort on the
part of the viewer, whereas expository modes do all the work and the
viewer becomes passive. In expositional narrative, a story is being
told; in evocative synaesthesia an experience is being created. The
17Carolee Schneemann, "Snows,"I-Kon, ed. Susan Sherman, Vol. 1, No. 5 (New York:
March, 1968).

Evocation and Exposition: Toward Oceanic Consciousness 93
figure of Stan Brakhage in Dog Star Man actually moves through a
psychic environment created by the viewer, whose deeply-hidden
creative resources and hungers have been evoked by the film.
With typical poetic eloquence, Hermann Hesse has summarized
the evocative effects of oceanic consciousness in this memorable
passage from Demian: "The surrender to nature's irrational, strangely
confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with
the force responsible for these phenomena... the boundaries separating
us from nature begin to quiver and dissolve... we are unable to
decide whether the images on our retina are the result of
impressions coming from without or from within... we discover to
what extent we are creative, to what extent our soul partakes of the
constant creation of the world.''18
Will Hindle: Chinese Firedrill
There have been essentially three generations of personal filmmakers
in the United States. The first began with the invention of the
medium and continued in various stages through the 1940's. The
second began approximately in the mid-1950's with the increasing
availability of inexpensive 8mm. and 16mm. equipment. It represented
the first popular movement toward personal cinema as a way
of life. The third generation has evolved since the mid-1960's, primarily
in the San Francisco area, where the latest trend is toward a
blending of aesthetics and technology. One reason personal cinema
is more eloquent than commercial cinema is that the filmmaker is
forced into a closer interaction with his technology.
Will Hindle is exemplary of this recent technological awareness, a
combination of engineering and aesthetics. Trained in art, literature,
and professional television filmmaking, Hindle has applied his
knowledge to personal cinema in a singularly spectacular fashion.
His ability to invest a technical device with emotional or metaphysical
content is truly impressive. He has, for example, developed
the technique of rear-projection rephotography to a high degree of
eloquence. He shoots original scenes with wide-angle lenses, then
"crops" them by projecting and rephotographing this footage using a
special single-frame projector. Thus extremely subtle effects are
18Hermann Hesse, Demian (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 88.

94 Expanded Cinema

Will Hindle: Chinese Firedrill. 1968. 16mm.
Color. 24 min. "We discover to what extent
our soul partakes of the constant creation
of the world."

Evocation and Exposition: Toward Oceanic Consciousness 95
achieved that would be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible, if
done through conventional laboratory optical printing.
Although many synaesthetic films are wonderfully evocative,
Hindle's recent works are especially notable for their ability to generate
overwhelming emotional impact almost exclusively from cine matic
technique, not thematic content. Hindle has an uncanny talent
for transforming spontaneous unstylized reality into unearthly poetic
visions, as in Billabong (1968), a wordless impressionistic "documentary"
about a boy's camp in northern California, and Watersmith
(1969), a spectacular visual fantasy created from footage of an
Olympic swimming team at practice.
Chinese Firedrill, unique in Hindle's work, was prestylized and
"performed" almost in the traditional sense of a scripted, directed,
and acted movie. The difference is that Hindle used the images not
for their symbolic or theatrical content but as ingredients of an almost
iconographic nature, to be compounded and manipulated through the
process of the medium. Although there are "actors" (Hindle plays the
principal role), there is no characterization. Although there are sets,
we're not asked to suspend our disbelief.
Chinese Firedrill is a romantic, nostalgic film. Yet its nostalgia is of
the unknown, of vague emotions, haunted dreams, unspoken words,
silences between sounds. It's a nostalgia for the oceanic present
rather than a remembered past. It is total fantasy; yet like the best
fantasies— 8½, Beauty and the Beast, The Children of Paradise— it
seems more real than the coldest documentary. The "action" occurs
entirely within the mind of the protagonist, who never leaves the
small room in which he lives. It's all rooms everywhere, all cubicles
wherever we find man trapped within his dreams. Through the
door/mirror is the beyond, the unreachable, the unattainable, the
beginning and the end. Not once in the film's twenty minutes can we
pinpoint a sequence or action that might be called "dramatic" in the
usual sense. Yet almost immediately an overwhelming atmosphere
of pathos is generated. There are moments of excruciating emotional
impact, not from audience manipulation but from Hindle's ability to
realize metaphysical substance, stirring the inarticulate conscious.
Every effort is made to distance the viewer, to keep us aware of our
perceptions, to emphasize the purely cinematic as opposed to the

96 Expanded Cinema
We find Hindle kneeling on the floor of his surrealistic room stuffing
thousands of IBM cards into boxes. Over this we hear a strange
monologue of fragmented words and sentences in an odd foreign
accent. This is punctuated by fierce thunderclaps and howling wind
that evolve into ethereal music and tinkling bell sounds. Periodically
the screen is slashed across with blinding white flashes while the
central images constantly are transformed through lap-dissolves and
multiple superimpositions. There are flash-forwards of images to be
encountered later, though we don't recognize them and therefore
don't interpret them. We see nude lovers, a small boy bathing, a
beautiful woman with candles, a huge eyeball, a battery of glaring
lights. These are noted for their inherent psychological connotations
and not as narrative devices.
The most memorable sequence of Firedrill, possibly one of the
great scenes in the history of film, involves Hindle lying in anguish on
his floor and slowly reaching out with one hand toward the
glimmering void beyond his door. Suddenly a mirror-like reflection of
his arm and hand appears on the opposite side of the mirror. When
he removes his hand we see the vague shadowy figure of a nude
woman silhouetted ghostlike, her skin sparkling. In slow motion the
silhouette of a nude man enters from an opposite direction and the
two gossamer figures embrace in a weightless ballet of graceful
motion in some dream of bliss. In the film's final image, the haunted
man has become a child once again, splashing in his bath in a series
of freeze-frames that grow ever fainter until they vanish.

Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics:
The Way of All Experience
The term kinetic generally indicates motion of material bodies and
the forces and energies associated with it. Thus to isolate a certain
type of film as kinetic and therefore different from other films means
we're talking more about forces and energies than about matter. I
define aesthetic quite simply as: the manner of experiencing something.
Kinaesthetic, therefore, is the manner of experiencing a thing
through the forces and energies associated with its motion. This is
called kinaesthesia, the experience of sensory perception. One who
is keenly aware of kinetic qualities is said to possess a kinaesthetic
The fundamental subject of synaesthetic cinema— forces and
energies— cannot be photographed. It's not what we're seeing so
much as the process and effect of seeing: that is, the phenomenon of
experience itself, which exists only in the viewer. Synaesthetic
cinema abandons traditional narrative because events in reality do
not move in linear fashion. It abandons common notions of "style"
because there is no style in nature. It is concerned less with facts
than with metaphysics, and there is no fact that is not also metaphysical.
One cannot photograph metaphysical forces. One cannot
even “represent" them. One can, however, actuallyevoke them in the
inarticulate conscious of the viewer.
The dynamic interaction of formal proportions in kinaesthetic
cinema evokes cognition in the inarticulate conscious, which I call
kinetic empathy. In perceiving kinetic activity the mind's eye makes
its empathy-drawing, translating the graphics into emotional-
psychological equivalents meaningful to the viewer, albeit meaning
of an inarticulate nature. "Articulation" of this experience occurs in
the perception of it and is wholly nonverbal. It makes us aware of
fundamental realities beneath the surface of normal perception:
forces and energies.
Patrick O'Neill: 7362
New tools generate new images. In the historical context of image


98 Expanded Cinema


Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience 99
making, the cinema is a new tool. 7362 is among the few purely
cinematic images to evolve from this new seventy-year-old tool. All
the visual arts are moving toward the cinema. Artists like Frank
Stella or Kenneth Noland have been credited as significant painters
within the last decade because they kept the game going. One is
impressed that they merely discovered new possibilities for a two-
dimensional surface on stretchers. But the possibilities are sonarrow
today that soon there will be nowhere to go but the movies.
Pat O'Neill is a sculptor with a formal background in the fine arts.
Like Michael Snow, also a sculptor, O'Neill found unique possibilities
in the cinema for exploration of certain perceptual concepts he had
been applying to sculpture and environmental installations. 7362,
made some five years ago, was the first of many experiments with
the medium as a "sculptural" device. The term is intended only as a
means of emphasizing the film's kinetic qualities.
7362 was named after the high-speed emulsion on which it was
filmed, emphasizing the purely cinematic nature of the piece. O'Neill
photographed oil pumps with their rhythmic sexual motions. He
photographed geometrical graphic designs on rotating drums or
vertical panels, simultaneously moving the camera and zooming in
and out. This basic vocabulary was transformed at the editing table
and in the contact printer, using techniques of high-contrast bas-
relief, positive/negative bi-pack printing and image "flopping," a
Rorschach-like effect in which the same image is superimposed over
itself in reverse polarities, producing a mirror-doubled quality.
The film begins in high-contrast black-and-white with two globes
bouncing against each other horizontally, set to an electronic score
by Joseph Byrd. This repetitive motion is sustained for several
seconds, then fades. As though in contrast, the following images are
extremely complex in form, scale, texture, and motion. Huge masses
of mechanical hardware move ponderously on multiple planes in
various directions simultaneously. The forms seem at times to be recognizable,
at others to be completely nonobjective. Into this serial,
mathematical framework O'Neill introduces the organic fluid lines of
Patrick O'Neill: 7362.1965-66.16mm. Color, black and white.
11 min. "Human and machine interact with serial beauty,
one form passing into another with delicate precision."

100 Expanded Cinema
the human body. He photographed a nude girl performing simple
motions and processed this footage until she became as mechanical
as the machinery. At first we aren't certain whether these shapes are
human or not, but the nonrhythmic motions and asymmetrical lines
soon betray the presence of life within a lifeless universe. Human
and machine interact with serial beauty, one form passing into
another with delicate precision in a heavenly spectrum of pastel
John Schofill: XFilm
The young Berkeley physicist John Schofill has exhibited a thorough
and creative grasp of kineticism as regards the representational
organic image. Although XFilm is a spectacular example of
montage-as-collage, it does not ignore the conflicts of volume, scale,
mass, and graphic direction that Eisenstein found so central to film
form. Other physiological montage effects postulated by Eisenstein—
metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal— also are used by Schofill
not for any result that might resemble montage, but rather to
generate an overpowering sense of kinaesthesia, or rushing dynamic
Through precise manipulation of individual frames and groups of
frames, Schofill creates an overwhelming sense of momentum practically
unequaled in synaesthetic cinema. There is almost a visceral,
tactile impact to these images, which plunge across the field of vision
like a dynamo. Yet they are punctuated with moments of restful
quietude. It is a composition of point-counterpoint, the better to
accentuate kinaesthetic content.
Schofill has developed a method of A-B-C-roll editing for superimpositions,
adapted from Karel Reisz's methods of cutting single
footage.19 It's a rhythmic concept, that is, a shot is divided into
definite kinetic "beats." The kinetic activity begins, reaches a middle
point, and ends. In triple superimpositions, the corresponding
19Karel Reisz, The Techniques of Film Editing (New York: Hastings House, 1968).
John Schofill: XFilm. 1967.16mm. Color. 14 min.
"Images which plunge across the field of vision like
a dynamo... punctuated with moments of restful

Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience 101


102 Expanded Cinema
rhythms of each piece of film are matched, fading in and out without
abrupt cuts.
XFilm begins with quiet formal imagery: static shots of factories
spewing poison into the sky, strongly reminiscent of Antonioni'sRed
Desert. The structures are seen in eight levels of superimposition of
eight different zoom-lens positions. The sound track explodes with an
extraordinary tape composition by Berkeley composer William
Maraldo, a synthesis of East Indian and rock music that perfectly
counterpoints the visuals with its own sense of dynamic thrust. We
see a series of tableau statements in which a nude girl's cupped
hand opens to reveal a flower, then a factory. Then begins an
accelerating succession of flash-frames, macro-close-ups of electronic
circuitry, tree bark, dirt, plants, human flesh. Each image is
balanced in terms of scales, volumes, masses, directions, and textures
of objects within it. Quite often a particularly smooth or static
image is counterpointed with strobing flash-frames.
The most powerful sequence, one which deals purely with the
kinaesthetic experience, involves a time-lapse sunset that begins
with a low horizon, bare-limbed trees, and a blue sky. Suddenly the
action is speeded: clouds and squiggly jet contrails rush up and over.
Maraldo's sound track takes a spiraling, droning dive and the sun
appears, sinking rapidly like a comet from upper left to lower right.
Just as it reaches the horizon the foreground and trees flash brilliant
white (superimposed high-contrast negative over a high-contrast
positive silhouette). The effect is stunning. A train, approaching the
camera, becomes visible as the sun fades, continuing the kin-
aesthetic sense of dynamic volumes and trajectories.
Ronald Nameth: Exploding Plastic Inevitable
To some extent the so-called psychedelic discotheque was to the
cinema of the sixties what the Busby Berkeley ballroom was to the
thirties. In a larger sense, however, they are by no means in the
same class either socially or aesthetically. The Berkeley extravaganzas,
like Hollywood, were not places but states of mind. They
generated their own ethos, their own aesthetic. They answered an
obvious need for escape from the dreary hardships of the times. Life
imitated art. But thirty years later Hollywood had degenerated to the
point that it was, at best, an imitation of an imitation. The spate of

Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience 103
"hip" Hollywood films, which began to appear after 1966, was about
as socially significant as the various Kennedy assassination
"souvenirs," and was proffered with the same exploitive street-
vending zeal. Like all commercial entertainment, these films were
about something rather than being something, and so were the
discotheques they imitated.
Andy Warhol's hellish sensorium, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable,
was, while it lasted, the most unique and effective discotheque
environment prior to the Fillmore/Electric Circus era, and it is safe to
say that the EPI has never been equaled. Similarly, Ronald Nameth's
cinematic homage to the EPI stands as a paragon of excellence in
the kinetic rock-show genre. Nameth, a colleague of John Cage in
several mixed-media environments at the University of Illinois,
managed to transform his film into something far more than a mere
record of an event. Like Warhol's show, Nameth's EPI is an
experience, not an idea.
In fact, the ethos of the entire pop life-style seems to be synthesized
in Nameth's dazzling kinaesthetic masterpiece. Here, form and
content are virtually synonymous, and there is no misunderstanding
what we see. It's as though the film itself has exploded and
reassembled in a jumble of shards and prisms. Gerard Malanga and
Ingrid Superstar dance frenetically to the music of the Velvet
Underground (Heroin, European Son, and a quasi-East Indian
composition), while their ghost images writhe in Warhol's Vinyl
projected on a screen behind. There's a spectacular sense of frantic
uncontrollable energy, communicated almost entirely by Nameth's
exquisite manipulation of the medium.
EPI was photographed on color and black-and-white stock during
one week of performances by Warhol's troupe. Because the
environment was dark, and because of the flash-cycle of the strobe
lights, Nameth shot at eight frames per second and printed the
footage at the regular twenty-four fps. In addition he developed a
mathematical curve for repeated frames and superimpositions, so
that the result is an eerie world of semi-slow motion against an aural
background of incredible frenzy. Colors were superimposed over
black-and-white negatives, and vice-versa. An extraordinary off-color
grainy effect resulted from pushing the ASA rating of his color stock;
thus the images often seem to lose their cohesiveness as though

104 Expanded Cinema


Synaesthetics and Kinaesthetics: The Way of All Experience 105
wrenched apart by the sheer force of the environment.
Watching the film is like dancing in a strobe room: time stops,
motion retards, the body seems separate from the mind. The screen
bleeds onto the walls, the seats. Flak bursts of fiery color explode
with slow fury. Staccato strobe guns stitch galaxies of silverfish over
slow-motion, stop-motion close-ups of the dancers' dazed ecstatic
faces. Nameth does with cinema what the Beatles do with music: his
film is dense, compact, yet somehow fluid and light. It is extremely
heavy, extremely fast, yet airy and poetic, a mosaic, a tapestry, a
mandala that sucks you into its whirling maelstrom.
The most striking aspect of Nameth's work is his use of the freeze-
frame to generate a sense of timelessness. Stop-motion is literally
the death of the image: we are instantly cut off from the illusion of
cinematic life— the immediacy of motion— and the image suddenly is
relegated to the motionless past, leaving in its place a pervading
aura of melancholy. Chris Marker's La Jetée, Peter Goldman's
Echoes of Silence, and Truffaut's 400 Blows are memorable for the
kind of stop-frame work that Nameth raises to quintessential beauty.
The final shots of Gerard Malanga tossing his head in slow motion
and freezing in several positions create a ghostlike atmosphere, a
timeless and ethereal mood that lingers and haunts long after the
images fade. Using essentially graphic materials, Nameth rises
above a mere graphic exercise: he makes kinetic empathy a new
kind of poetry.
Ronald Nameth: Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic
Inevitable. 1966.16mm. Color, black and white. 30
min. "An eerie world of semi-slow motion against an
aural background of incredible frenzy. He makes
kinetic empathy a new kind of poetry."

Mythopoeia: The End of Fiction
"If what we see depicted had been really the truth, successfully created in front
of the camera, the film would cease to exist because it would cease, by the
same token, to be a myth."
In 1934 Erwin Panofsky wrote: "To pre-stylize reality prior to tackling
it amounts to dodging the problem. The problem is to shoot and
manipulate unstylized reality in such a way that the result has style."
The problem that concerned Panofsky was how to work with the two
qualities unique to cinema alone, not to be found in any other
aesthetic medium.
The first is its ability to capture and preserve a picture of time. This
is fine until the filmmaker wishes to comment upon or interpret the
events he has captured. Thus we come to the second unique
property of cinema, its aesthetic element: the ability to post-stylize
natural reality. To understand this concept we must examine the
three general purposes to which cinema historically has been applied:
fiction, documentary, and cinéma-vérité.
Cinematic fiction should be understood as prestylized or manufactured
reality that did not exist prior to the making of the film. The
only true reality that remains in the finished film is the objective
awareness of the stylization itself. That is to say, a theatrical
scenario-based fiction film deals with a prestylized reality distilled
and recorded through the personality of the writer, then visualized by
the director, crew, and actors according to certain schemata. Not
only is this not objective reality; it's not even the cohesive, unique
reality of one artist's perception.
A documentary also deals with prestylized reality. The documentary
filmmaker shifts and reorganizes unstylized material into a
narrative form that explains that reality to the viewer. Thus a
documentary is not an explanation of reality, but rather the reality of
an explanation.

Mythopoeia: The End of Fiction 107
Cinéma-vérité, or direct cinema, is based on recording actual
unstylized reality as it exists at a particular moment before the
camera. The filmmaker is never to intrude by directing the action or
in any way alter the events taking place (that is, beyond the
unavoidable alterations caused by his very presence). The film maker's
refusal to intervene directly in the reality before his camera,
and the resultant loosely-organized structure, bring this type of
cinema closer to the truth of the way events move in actual reality.
Synaesthetic cinema is all and none of these. It is not fiction
because, with a few exceptions, it is based wholly on unstylized
reality. It is not documentary because the reality is not organized into
an explanation of itself. And it is not cinéma-vérité because the artist
shoots and manipulates his unstylized reality in such a way that the
result has style.
This process, best described as "post-stylization," is accomplished
through cinematic equivalents of the four historical styles of art:
realism, surrealism, constructivism, and expressionism.
Cinematic realism already has been defined as Cinéma-vérité
capturing and preserving a picture of time as perceived through
unstylized events.
Cinematic surrealism is achieved by the juxtaposition of unstylized
elements so incongruous and remote that close proximity creates an
extra dimension, a psychological reality that arises out of the
Cinematic constructivism, as we've discussed it, actually is the
universal subject of synaesthetic cinema: a constructivist statement,
a record of the process of its own making.
Cinematic expressionism involves the deliberate alteration or
distortion of unstylized reality, either during photography with lenses,
filters, lights, etc., or after photography with optical printing, painting,
or scratching on film.
Post-stylization of unstylized reality results in an experience that is
not "realistic" but neither is it "fiction" as generally understood,
because none of the elements is altered or manufactured prior to
filming. In essence a myth is created, a myth born out of the
juxtapositions of the paradoxes of reality. Webster defines myth as a
story that "serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or
explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon." The natural

108 Expanded Cinema
phenomenon explained by synaesthetic cinema is the filmmaker's
consciousness. It is a documentary of the artist's perception. Since
this is not a physical reality, it must be a metaphysical reality, that is,
a myth. In the approximation of this intangible, however, the artist's
language is reality, not fiction. What we see on the screen is not an
act. True, it's processed through the medium until it no longer is
objective reality, but it is nonetheless real. This is mythopoeic reality.
In one sense it renders fiction obsolete.
At the beginning of Alphaville, Jean-Luc Godard states: "There are
times when reality becomes too complex for communication. But
legend gives it a form by which it pervades the whole world." This is
the legitimate role of fiction: to establish a framework that provides
insights into otherwise inaccessible areas of the living present. But
most insights inherent in fiction as the simulation of objective reality
have been absorbed by the collective consciousness. The structure
of the system is an index of the performance that may be expected
from that system: the simulation of reality has delivered its maximum
performance; it no longer benefits us as it has in the past.
Obviously, filmmakers will continue to prestylize reality; in one
sense the very nature of art is the rearrangement of the environment
for greater advantage to humanity. Yet this prestylization will not be
so clearly separated from "reality" as it has been. Because of
technology, we have now reached the point at which it is possible to
manipulate reality itself in order to create new legends. It may be that
insights most relevant to contemporary society will be achieved
primarily through this language.

Synaesthetics and Synergy

Synaesthetic cinema by definition includes many aesthetic modes,
many "ways of knowing," simultaneously omni-operative. The whole,
however, is always greater than the sum of its parts. This is a result
of the phenomenon called synergy. Synergy is the behavior of a
system unpredicted by the behavior of any of its parts or subassemblies
of its parts. This is possible because there is no a priori
dependency between the conceptual and design information (i.e., the
energy) of the individual parts. The existence of one is not requisite
on the presence of another. They are harmonic opposites. In physics
this is known as the Theory of Complementarity: the logical relation
between two descriptions or sets of concepts which, though mutually
exclusive, are nevertheless both necessary for a complete
knowledge of the phenomenon.
Dramatic narrative cinema is antisynergetic. Individual parts of
linear drama predict the behavior of the whole system. For a genre to
exist it must include parts that are integral to the a priori purpose of
the system. As E. H. Gombrich has demonstrated, the function of its
"words" must remain constant and predictable. To gratify conditioned
needs for formula stimulus, the commercial entertainment film must
follow prescribed rules that predict the whole system of conflictcrisis-
We have seen, however, that the behavior of a conflict or game is
always governed by its weakest moment, which is equivalent to the
notion of a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. This idea,
however, presupposes a linear chain under opposing vectors of
stress, i.e., narrative drama. Fuller: "We tend to think it is logical to
say that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link— which immediately
is thrown out of validity when we join the other end of the chain
back on itself. We think a chain ought to be just an infinite line rather
than a circle because we inherited the Greek concepts of linear and
plane geometry [which] imposed the concept of an infinite surface
and the infinite line as logical to the then-prevalent belief that the
earth was flat... However, in nature all the lines are completely

110 Expanded Cinema
curved and all chains do eventually return upon themselves."20
The malfunction or absence of any one element in a linear
narrative constitutes a break in the system and relinquishes the
system's hold over the viewer's consciousness. But synaesthetic
synergy is possible only when the parts behave with integrity and
without self-consciousness. If the metals in chrome-nickel steel tried
to retain their individuality, the synergetic effect of tripling the tensile
strength through alloy would never occur. Fuller has noted that the
individual tensile strengths of chromium, nickel, and iron are in the
approximate range of 70,000, 80,000, and 60,000 pounds per square
inch respectively. Yet in alloy they yield 300,000 psi tensile strength,
which is five times as strong as its weakest link and four times as
strong as its strongest link.
The entertainer makes a package that is equal to the sum of its
separate parts; the artist fuses his parts into an alloy greater than its
ingredients. That is, synaesthetic synergy does not tend toward
greater complexity, but rather produces an effect that in physics is
known as elegant simplicity. An elegantly simple construction
accomplishes that which previously required many different mechanisms,
either physical or metaphysical. Recent revolutionary concepts
in biology are an example. John McHale: "The DNA/RNA
mechanism construct renders obsolete an enormous number of
separate 'biological facts' and relates biology via biochemistry to
biophysics— and thence to a more elegantly simple configuration of
structural hierarchies as extending outward from the micro-nucleus
through the median range of ordinary perception towards macro-
structural hierarchies at the level of galaxies.''21
Let us briefly review what we mean by synergy as applied to the
cinema. We have learned that synaesthetic cinema is an alloy
achieved through multiple superimpositions that produce syncretism.
Syncretism is a total field of harmonic opposites in continual
metamorphosis; this metamorphosis produces a sense of kinaesthesia
that evokes in the inarticulate conscious of the viewer recognition
of an overall pattern-event that is in the film itself as well as the
20R. Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities (New York: Collier Books, 1969), p. 65.21McHale, "Knowledge Implosion," Good News.

Synaesthetics and Synergy 111
"subject" of the experience. Recognition of this pattern-event results
in a state of oceanic consciousness. A mythopoeic reality is
generated through post-stylization of unstylized reality. Post-stylization
simultaneously involves the four traditional aesthetic modes:
realism, surrealism, constructivism, and expressionism.
Herbert Read has suggested that these four styles are intercorrelated
to the four modes of human consciousness: thought, intuition,
emotion, and sensation. Of course, they are operative in commercial
entertainment as well; but it's the nature of synaesthetic cinema that
one is made aware of the process of one's own perception; thus one
invests the experience with meaning by exerting conscious control
over the conversion of sight impressions into thought images. We
can easily see how thought, intuition, and sensation may be directly
engaged or indirectly evoked in the synaesthetic viewing experience;
the role of emotion deserves further comment.
The emotional content of dramatic narrative cinema is predominantly
the result of expectations that the viewer brings with him to the
theatre, and thus he remains passive during the viewing experience
so that his conditioned response to the formula may be fully gratified.
In this way he satisfies his unconscious need to experience the
particular emotions that he has already decided to experience. The
film is "good" or "bad" in relation to its effectiveness as a catalyst for
these predetermined emotions. However, the emotional content of
synaesthetic cinema exists in direct relation to the degree of
conscious awareness of the act of perceiving, and is thus seldom
predictable. Synergy is the essence of the living present, and it is the
essence of art. Where synergy does not exist, energy tends toward
entropy and change becomes increasingly unlikely.

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism
"The Western consciousness has always asked for freedom: the human mind was born
free, or at any rate born to be free, but everywhere it is in chains; and now at the end of
its tether."
For the majority of the mass public, "underground" movies are
synonymous with sex. Although this conclusion was reached for all
the wrong reasons, it is nevertheless accurate. If personal cinema is
indeed personal, and if we place any credence at all in Freud,
personal cinema is by definition sexual cinema. A genuine social
underground no longer is possible. The intermedia network quickly
unearths and popularizes any new subculture in its relentless drive to
satisfy the collective information hunger. Jean-Luc Godard once remarked
that the only true twentieth-century underground was in
Hanoi. But I would suggest that in the history of civilization there
never has been a phenomenon more underground than human
The vast political and social revolution that is now irreversible in its
accelerating accelerations around the planet is merely a side effect
of the more profound revolution in human self-awareness that is
producing a new sexual consciousness.
We hold the radical primacy of the passions to be self-evident.
Norman O. Brown: "All Freud's work demonstrates that the allegiance
of the human psyche to the pleasure-principle is indestructible
and that the path of instinctual renunciation is the path of sickness
and self-destruction."22 If there is a general debasement of the sexual
act among the bourgeoisie, it is precisely because that sexuality has
been repressed. Charles Fourier: "Every passion that is
22 Norman 0. Brown, "Apocalypse: The Place of Mystery in the Life of the Mind,"
Harper's (May, 1961).

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 113
suffocated produces its counter-passion, which is as malignant as
the natural passion would have been benign."23
Nowhere is this more evident than in commercial cinema. Hollywood
movies are teasers whose eroticism is a result of
psychological conditioning that is not, fundamentally, the enjoyment
of sex itself. Girlie and Hollywood films "for mature adults" are
founded on puritanical concepts of "sin" and other repressive
measures, no matter how "honest" or "artistic" or "redeeming" the
presentation may seem. The absurd notion that sex must somehow
be "redeemed" is exploited by Hollywood as much as by the makers
of girlie or stag films. Hollywood presents "redeemed" sex,
suggesting there's an unredeemed way of doing it and therefore
we're getting away with something. Girlie and stag films take the
opposite approach: they represent sex in various stages of
"unredemption" until the point of watching them becomes more an
act of rebellion, of something "dirty," clandestine, without redeeming
qualities, than the enjoyment of sex. That is to say, the present
socioeconomic system actually contributes to the corruption of the
institution it claims to uphold.
However, it is now only a matter of a few years until the final
restrictions on sexuality will disintegrate. The revolution that seeks
the restructuring of social arrangements— a utopia of material plenty
and economic freedom— is secondary by far to that other revolution
that demands the total release of psychic impulses. This imminent
utopia of the senses has been described by the neo-Freudian
psychoanalyst A. H. Maslow as Eupsychia, a view oriented to the
liberation and satisfaction of inner drives as prerequisite to any
effective reorganization of the exterior social order.24 It implies the
necessary transformation of a bourgeois society that perpetrates the
three cardinal crimes against human sexuality: delayed sexual
gratification, restricted to "adults only"; heterosexual monogamy;
specialization of sexual activity limiting pleasure to the genitals.
Eupsychia and utopia are both quite inevitable and both quite out of
our hands, for they are the irreversible result of technology, the
23Charles Fourier, La Phalange, quoted by Daniel Bell in "Charles Fourier: Prophet of
Eupsychia," The American Scholar (Winter, 1968-69), p. 50.
24A. H. Maslow, "Eupsychia— The Good Society," Journal of Humanistic Psychology,
No. 1 (1961), pp. 1-11.

114 Expanded Cinema
only thing that keeps man human. The most comprehensive, reliable,
and respected future-forecasts attempted by scientific man indicate
that individual sensorial freedom is virtually synonymous with technological
Buckminster Fuller is among many who have noted the effects of
industrialization and cybernetics on sexual activity: "We may glimpse
in such patterning certain total behaviors in Universe that we know
little about. We noted, for instance, that as survival rate and life-
sustaining capability increase, fewer birth starts are required. This
may be related to our developing capacities in interchanging our
physical parts, or producing mechanical organs, of having pro.
gressively fewer human organisms to replenish. The drive in
humanity to reproduce as prodigally as possible decreases considerably.
This may be reflected in social behaviors— when all the
girls begin to look like boys and boys and girls wear the same
clothes. This may be part of a discouraging process in the idea of
producing more babies. We shall have to look askance on sex
merely as a reproductive capability, i.e., that it is normal to make
babies. Society will have to change in its assessment of what the
proclivities of humanity may be. Our viewpoints on homosexuality,
for example, may have to be reconsidered and more wisely adjusted.
Repression and censorship become impossible on an individual
level when technology outstrips enforcement. The new image-
exchange and duplication technologies are a formidable obstacle to
effective sexual censorship. Home videotape recorders, Polaroid
cameras, and 8mm. film cartridges render censorship nearly powerless.
One prominent scientist working in laser holography has
suggested the possibility of "pornograms"— pornographic, three-
dimensional holograms mass-produced from a master and mass
distributed through the mail since their visual information is invisible
until activated by plain white light.
25See Olaf Helmer, Delphi Study, Rand Corp., 1966; Theodore J. Gordon, "The Effects
of Technology on Man's Environment," Architectural Design (February, 1967); Herman
Kahn, Anthony J. Wiener, The Year 2000 (New York: Macmillan, 1967); "Toward the
Year 2000: Work in Progress," American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on
the Year 2000, Daedalus (Summer, 1967).
26R. Buckminster Fuller, "The Year 2000," Architectural Design (February, 1967), p. 63.

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 115
When sexual material is readily available in the home, it changes
the public attitude toward sex in commercial cinema. We aren't likely
to be dazzled by discreet nudity on the Silver Screen when our home
videotape library contains graphic interpretations of last week's
neighborhood bisexual orgy. This is precisely what is happening in
thousands of suburban homes, which otherwise are far from avantgarde.
Within the last three years intermarital group sex has become
an industry of corporate business, particularly in the Southern
California area where a new world man is evolving. Computer firms
compete with one another, matching couples with couples and
compiling guest lists for orgies at homes and private country clubs.
Home videotape systems are rented by the month and tapes of
flagrant sexual activity are exchanged among the participants, many
of whom regularly attend two orgies a week, sometimes as
frequently as four or five, as the will to sexual power overtakes their
outlaw consciousness. They discover the truth in Dylan's remark that
you must live outside the law to be honest.
Thus man moves inevitably toward the discovery of what Norman
O. Brown describes as his polymorphous-perverse self. A society
that restricts physical contact in public to handshakes and discreet
heterosexual kisses distorts man's image of his own sexual nature.
However, anyone who has ever participated in even the most chaste
encounter groups or sensory awareness seminars such as those
conducted at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, is impressed with the
new sensual identity he discovers within himself, often accompanied
by surprise and embarrassment.
The effects of habitual group sex, even when exclusively heterosexual,
become obvious: man inevitably realizes that there is no
such thing as "perversion" apart from the idea itself. We begin to
recognize that our sexual potential is practically limitless once
psychological barriers are erased. We see that "heterosexual,"
"homosexual," and "bisexual" are social observations, not inherent
aspects of the organism. Freud, and more recently Brown, Marcuse,
and R. D. Laing have noted that the qualities of "maleness" and
"femaleness" are restricted to genital differences and do not even
approach an adequate description of the human libido. And so,
"Genital man is to become polymorphously perverse man, the man
of love's body, able to experience the world with a fully erotic body in

116 Expanded Cinema
an activity that is the equivalent of the play of childhood."27
Personal synaesthetic cinema has been directly responsible for the
recent transformation in sexual content of commercial movies. After
all, I Am Curious begins to seem a bit impotent when Carolee
Schneemann's Fuses is playing at the Cinémathèque around the
corner. Synaesthetic cinema, more than any other social phenomenon,
has demonstrated the trend toward polymorphous eroticism.
Because it is personal it's a manifestation of consciousness; because
it's a manifestation of consciousness it is sexual; the more probing
and relentlessly personal it becomes, the more polymorphously
perverse it is. (Dylan: "If my thought/dreams could be seen, they'd
put my head in a guillotine.”) Because eroticism is the mind's
manifestation of body ego, it is the one offensive quality that we
cannot be rid of by slicing off a particular appendage. We are forced
to accept it: synaesthetic cinema is the first collective expression of
that acceptance.
The art and technology of expanded cinema will provide a
framework within which contemporary man, who does not trust his
own senses, may learn to study his values empirically and thus
arrive at a better understanding of himself. The only understanding
mind is the creative mind. Those of the old consciousness warn that
although the videotape cartridge can be used to unite and elevate
humanity, it also can "degrade" us by allowing unchecked manufacture
and exchange of pornography. But the new consciousness
regards this attitude itself as a degraded product of a culture without
integrity, a culture perverse enough to imagine that love's body could
somehow be degrading.
John Dewey reminds us that when art is removed from daily
experience the collective aesthetic hunger turns toward the cheap
and the vulgar. It's the same with the aesthetics of sex: when the art
(i.e., beauty) of sex is denied and repressed we find a "counterpassion"
for the obscene “...as malignant as the natural passion
would have been benign." There is no basis for the assumption that
synaesthetic cinema will contribute to the debasement of sex. We
know that precisely the opposite is true: for the first time in Western
culture the aesthetics of integrity are about to liberate man from
27 Richard W. Noland, "The Apocalypse of Norman O. Brown,"The American Scholar
(Winter, 1968-69), p. 60.

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 117
centuries of sexual ignorance so that he may at last understand the
infinite sensorium that is himself.
The Pansexual Universe of Andy Warhol
It might be said of Warhol that what he did for Campbell's Soup, he
did for sex. That is, he removed sex from its usual context and
revealed it both as experience and cultural product. From the verbal
jousting of My Hustler and Bike Boy to the casual intercourse of Blue
Movie, Warhol has expressed an image of man's sexuality unique in
all of cinema. Although partial to homosexuality, his work
nevertheless manages to generate an overwhelming sense of the
polymorphous-perverse. This is particularly evident in his most
recent work.
For example, a romantic heterosexual relationship of warm authenticity
develops between Viva and Louis Waldron in the notorious
Blue Movie. In Lonesome Cowboy and Paul Morrissey's Flesh,
however, Waldron is equally convincing as a brusque homosexual.
Ironically, it is Morriss ey's beautiful film that epitomizes the unisex
world of The Factory. The Brandoesque Joe Dallasandro is virtually
the embodiment of polymorphous-perverse man as Morrissey interprets
him: the archetypal erotic body, responding to the pleasures of
the flesh without ideals or violence in a pansexual universe.
Because of their objective revelatory purpose, Warhol's and
Morrissey's films are not synaesthetic. Yet, because of their non-
dramatic structure, neither are they spectacles. It is spectacle (". . .
something exhibited to view as unusual or entertaining; an eye-
catching or dramatic public display.") that defeats whatever erotic
purpose may exist in conventional narrative cinema. Eroticism is the
most subjective of experiences; it cannot be portrayed or photographed;
it's an intangible that arises out of the aesthetic, the manner
of experiencing it. The difference between sex in synaesthetic
cinema and sex in narrative cinema is that it's no longer a spectacle.
By definition synaesthetic cinema is an art of evocative emotion
rather than concrete facts. The true subject of a synaesthetic film that
includes fucking is not the act itself but the metaphysical "place
between desire and experience" that is eroticism. It ceases to be
spectacle because its real subject cannot be displayed.

118 Expanded Cinema

Paul Morrissey: Flesh. 1968. "Joe Dallesandro, the
archetypal erotic body, responding to the
pleasures of the flesh without ideals or violence in
a pansexual universe."

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 119
Virtually the entire range of erotic experience has been engaged by
the new cinema. Carl Linder is concerned with the surreal/psychological
aspects of sexuality in films like Womancock or The Devil
Is Dead. Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures and Normal Love, Ron
Rice's Chumlum, Bill Vehr's Brothel and Waiting for Sugar, and The
Liberation of Mannique Mechanique by Steven Arnold and Michael
Wiese all explore the polymorphous subterranean world of unisexual
transvestism. Stephen Dwoskin's exquisite studies, such as Alone or
Take Me, reveal a Minimalist's sensibilities for latent sexuality and
nuances in subtle autoeroticism. Warhol's Couch, Barbara Rubin's
Christmas on Earth, and Andrew Noren's A Change of Heart
confront, in various ways, the immortal subject of "hard core"
Carolee Schneemann: Fuses
"Sex," as Carolee might say, "is not a fact but an aggregate of
sensations." Thus by interweaving and compounding images of
sexual love with images of mundane joy (the sea, a cat, window-
filtered light), she expresses sex without the self-consciousness of a
spectacle, without an idea of expressivity, in her words, "free in a
process which liberates our intentions from our conceptions."
Carolee and her lover James Tenney emerge from nebulous
clusters of color and light and are seen in every manner of sexual
embrace. Often the images are barely recognizable, shot in near-
darkness or painted, scratched, and otherwise transformed until
montage becomes one overall mosaic simultaneity of flesh and
textures and passionate embraces. "There were whole sections,"
Carolee explains, "where the film is chopped up and laid onto either
black or transparent leader and taped down. I also put some of the
film in the oven to bake it; I soaked it in all sorts of acids and dyes to
see what would happen. I cut out details of imagery and repeated
them. I worked on the film for three years." This fragmentation not
only prevents narrative continuity, therefore focusing on individual
image-events, but also closely approximates the actual experience of
sex in which the body of one's partner becomes fragmented into
tactile zones and exaggerated mental images.
Every element of the traditional "stag" film is here— fellatio,
cunnilingus, close-ups of genitals and penetrations, sexual acro


120 Expanded Cinema

Carolee Schneemann: Fuses. 1965-68.
16mm. Color, black and white. 18 min.
"A fluid oceanic quality that merges
the physical act with its metaphysical
connotation, very Joycean and very

Synaesthetic Cinema and Polymorphous Eroticism 121
batics— yet there's none of the prurience and dispassion usually
associated with them. There is only a fluid oceanic quality that
merges the physical act with the metaphysical connotation, very
Joycean and very erotic. There's a fevered kinetic tempo that
flawlessly evokes the urgency of sexual hunger. A "story" is being
told but it's the story of every person in the audience who has wanted
to express the richness of his experience in some concrete way.
Carolee offers a psychic matrix in which this articulation might take
place, and by this very act the spectacle is defeated.
Between scenes of lovemaking we see Carolee seated nude
before her window, looking out at the sea as the curtains whisper
lazily in the afternoon breeze. This image is repeated several times
and serves to establish a sense of place and unity; this is a home,
not a whorehouse. If there's anything unique about a pornographic
film made by a woman it's this emotional unity that ties the images
together. Scenes of Carolee skipping merrily through the surf are
given as much prominence as close-ups of fellatio and cunnilingus.
She's filming her consciousness, not her orifices. Fuses moves
beyond the bed to embrace the universe in oceanic orgasm. "The
thing that is disreputable in the idea of pornography for me," she
says, "is that it tends to have to do with the absence of feeling, the
absence of really committed emotions. I was after some kind of
integral wholeness; the imagery is really compounded in emotion."

Synaesthetic Cinema and
Extra-Objective Reality
Michael Snow: Wavelength
Michael Snow's Wavelength, a forty-five-minute zoom from one
end of a room to the other, directly confronts the essence of cinema:
the relationships between illusion and fact, spaceand time, subject
and object. It's the first post-Warhol, post-Minimal movie, one of the
few films to engage those higher conceptual orders that occupy
modern painting and sculpture. Wavelength has become the forerunner
of what might be called a Constructivist or Structuralist school
of cinema, including the works of George Landow, Tony Conrad,
Snow's wife Joyce Wieland, Paul Sharits, Ernie Gehr, Peter Kubelka,
Ken Jacobs, Robert Morris, Pat O'Neill, and at least two of Bruce
Baillie's films, All My Life and Still Life.
A large studio loft in New York: pristine light flooding through tall
curtainless windows, street sounds floating on still air. The
motionless camera is positioned high up, closer to the ceiling than
the floor, so that a certain atmosphere, a certain environmental
ambience is conveyed in that special way the cinema has of creating
a sense of place. In fact, the first thought that comes to mind is that if
a room could talk about itself this is what it would say.
Soon we discover the camera isn't static: every minute or so it jerks
slightly forward; we realize the zoom lens is being manipulated
rather clumsily; ever so slowly we are edging toward the wall of
windows. This realization adds the first of many new dimensions to
come: by introducing the element of motion, specifically invisible
motion like the hands of a clock, the filmmaker adds the temporal
element to a composition that in all other respects appears static.
Motion is the only phenomenon that allows perception of time; the
motion here, like time, is wholly conceptual.
Minutes pass: we notice subtle details— patterns of light and
shadow, furniture arrangements, signs, tops of trucks, second-story
windows, and other activity seen through the windows. Two women
enter with a large bookcase, which they move against a wall, and
then leave without speaking. There's a dispassionate distance to this
activity, not in the least suggesting anything significant.

SynaestheticCinema and Extra-Objective Reality 123

Michael Snow: Wavelength. 1967.
16mm. Color. 45 min. "The first post-
Warhol, post-Minimal movie, one of
the few films to engage those higher
conceptual orders that occupy
modern painting and sculpture."

124 Expanded Cinema
Now we notice subtle permutations in the light (is it our eyes or the
focus?). The walls seem darker, the light colder. We see a chair
previously not visible (or was it?). Two women enter again (the same
two?). They walk to a table and sit; apparently they are on a coffee
break. (Perhaps this is a remote section of a warehouse or garment
factory.) The women sit in silence. Suddenly, as though from a
distant radio, we hear the Beatles: “...Strawberry Fields... nothing is
real... living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you
Apart from being eerily prophetic, the music strikes the perfect
emotional chord: the scene assumes a totally different inflection, a
kind of otherworldly dream state. What previously was a cold
impersonal warehouse now appears romantically warm. The music
fades; one woman walks out; the other remains for a few minutes,
then leaves.
Up to this point the film has presented a "believable" natural reality,
the sort of filmic situation in which one speaks of "suspension of
disbelief." But now, for the first time, a nonrepresentational cinematic
reality is introduced: there begins a constant alteration of image
quality through variation of film stock, light exposure, and printing
techniques. By changes in light we realize also that we are
alternating between times of day— morning, noon, dusk, night. With
each cut the room appears completely different though nothing has
been physically altered and the position of the camera has not been
At the point when the image goes into complete negative, the
synchronous "natural" street sounds are replaced by an electronic
pitch, or sine wave, which begins at a low 50 cycles and increases
steadily to a shrill 12,000 cycles during the following half hour. Thus
"realistic" natural imagery has become pure filmic reality, and
whatever identifications or associations the viewer has made must
be altered.
Night: fluorescent lamps glowing (when did they go on?). In the
blackness through the windows we see fiery red streaks of automobile
taillights. Suddenly there's offscreen scuffling, tumbling,
crashing glass, muffled cries. A man stumbles into the frame, moans,
crumples to the floor with a loud thud below camera range. The
electronic pitch is louder, the zoom closer. Window panes and photo


SynaestheticCinema and Extra-Objective Reality 125
graphs on the wall develop phantom images, vague superimpositions
slightly offset. We no longer see the floor or side walls,
just table, windows, photos, still indistinguishable. A girl in a fur coat
enters. The light has changed: the room now appears to be an
apartment. There's a yellow vinyl-aluminum kitchen chair that seems
oddly out of place. The table actually is a writing desk with a
telephone. She dials: “...Hello, there's a man on the floor... he's not
drunk... I think he's dead... I'm scared... should I call the police? ... all
right, I'll meet you outside... " She hangs up, walks out.
An overwhelming metaphysical tension engulfs the composition,
filling the emptiness with a sense of density. Suddenly, a superimposed
phantom image of the girl appears, transparently repeating
the motions of entering, dialing, talking, leaving— but in silence
beneath the whine of the sine wave, like some electromagnetic
reverberation of past activity. The ghost image, which refers back in
time to the "real" girl whose presence is linked in time to the death of
the man, develops the only sequential, linear element in an
otherwise nonlinear composition.
We realize also that the enlarged superimposed "outlines" around
the window frames and photos refer to future points inthe physical
film itself when these objects actually will be that size. Similarly, the
ghost "flashback" of the girl is a reference to the film's own physical
"past," when the frame contained forms that it no longer contains.
Bright daylight: the room no longer is foreboding; the electronic
tone is at its peak. The very light seems alive with a cold scintillation.
The camera edges closer, blocking out the windows, until finally we
distinguish the photograph on the wall: a picture of the ocean. A
superimposed halo appears around the photo; suddenly the screen is
an abstract (or more precisely, literalist) geometrical composition,
totally symmetrical. This no longer is a room, no longer a movie, but
quite literally an object— still photographs running through a
Now the zoom advances to within the ocean photo; the sea
consumes the entire screen. The electronic pitch runs a berserk
glissando up and down the tone scale; We gaze at the ocean
hypnotically: the fathomless water betraying no depth; the rhythmical
waves frozen in time, answering some cosmic lunar force (Snow: "An

126 Expanded Cinema
implication of universal continuity”). We remember Chabrol's remark:
"There are no waves; there is only the ocean." For a long time we
stare mindlessly at this ocean and then, very slowly, it fades into
Like so many experimental filmmakers Michael Snow came to the
cinema by way of painting and sculpture. His Expo '67 exhibit and
recent New York showings have attracted considerable attention due
to their exploration of the act of seeing as applied to Minimal
sculpture. An understanding of Minimal Art is essential to the
appreciation of Wavelength (shot in one week of December, 1966).
Remembering Warhol's pivotal contribution, it is still possible to say
that Wavelength is without precedent in the purity of its confrontation
with the nature of the medium: It is a triumphant and definitive
answer to Bazin's question,"Que-est-ce que le cinéma?"
Like all truly modern art, Wavelength is pure drama of confrontation.
It has no "meaning" in the conventional sense. Its meaning is
the relationship between film and viewer. We are interested more in
what it does than what it is as an icon. The confrontation of art and
spectator, and the spectator's resultant self-perception, is an experience
rather than a meaning.
Referring to critics of Minimal Art, painter Frank Stella remarked: "If
you pin them down they always end up asserting that something is
present besides the paint on the canvas. My painting is based on the
fact that only what can be seen there is there."28 Similarly, in
Wavelength there is no dependence on an idea or source of
motivation outside the work itself. The subject of the film is its own
structure and the concepts it suggests. (Snow: "My film is closer to
Vermeer than to Cézanne.”) But because Snow is working in the
medium of cinema, he must deal with the element of illusion, a
quality not inherent in painting or sculpture. The very essence of
cinema is the fact that what we see there is not there: time and
motion. These concepts have been engaged in recent traditional
cinema (Persona, Blow-Up, David Holzman's Diary), but always
symbolically, never in the empirical fashion of Snow's movie. Wavelength
is post-Minimal because, thanks to the cinema, it can deal
empirically with illusion, that is, a wider range of vision than usually
28 Bruce Glaser, "Questions to Stella and Judd,"Minimal Art, ed. Gregory Battcock (New
York: Dutton Paperbacks, 1968), pp. 157-158.

Synaesthetic Cinema and Extra-Objective Reality 127
is engaged in the plastic arts. It is post-Warhol because it confronts
the illusory nature of cinematic reality; it presents not only "pure" time
and space, but also filmic time (fragmented) and space (twodimensional,
nonperspectival). It is more metaphysical than Minimal.
Wavelength is a romantic movie.
Snow emphasizes that editing is an abstraction of reality by
alternating times of day with each cut, and by cutting rarely. Thus he
achieves what Mondrian called the "relations" of abstract nature. The
theory of relativity reduces everything to relations; it emphasizes
structure, not material. We've been taught by modern science that
the so-called objective world is a relationship between the observer
and the observed, so that ultimately we are able to know nothing but
that relationship. Extra-objective art replaces object-consciousness
with metaphysical relation-consciousness. Romance is born in the
space between events.

Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age
The Rebirth of Cottage Industry
Just as the individual's unique identity is smothered by a social
system that prohibits education by experiment and restricts creative
living, so society itself as one organism suffers from the effects of
unilateral mass education inherent in the present public communications
network. Future historians would have a grossly inaccurate
picture of today's culture if they were to judge our social meanings
and values by the content of the so-called popular media.
Judging from broadcast television, for example, where the individual
has little choice of selection, a personality such as Glen
Campbell or a program like "Bonanza" might appear representative
of popular taste because their lowest-common-denominator appeal
satisfies the indiscriminate passivity of most of a hundred-million
viewers. However, if we judge the same society at the same time by
those media that offer personal selection and individual communication—
LP record albums, for example— we find the Beatles as the
representative image: two different worlds existing as one, distinguished
by the technologies through which they communicate. The
same phenomenon occurs in the cinema. The majority of college
students flock to movies like Easy Rider or Alice’s Restaurant, but
when they make their own movies it's a different story entirely. The
crucial difference is between mass public communication and private
individual communication.
But that difference is quickly being resolved. When the proliferation
of technology reaches a certain level of saturation in the
environment, we cease to be separate from it. Communications
technologies shape and record the objective and subjective realities
of Everyman. The intermedia network becomes metabolically and
homeostatically interfaced with each human being. To unplug any
one of the advanced nations from the global telephone network, for
example, would be a more extreme deterrent than any bomb; and the
global television linkages soon will become equally as vital.
In the past we've had two mass personalities: our media personality
and our "natural" personality. Pioneering radio and television

Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age 129
announcers adopted a mode of speech and behavior essentially
unnatural, a formal way of talking and acting through the media. In a
sense, the media function as behavior-altering agents for special
occasions called "shows," much the same as alcohol is a behavior-
altering agent for special occasions called "cocktail parties." But the
recent phenomena of "underground" FM radio and "two-way" or
"conversation" radio and television are evidence that we're feeling
more comfortable with our extensions. Soon we'll converse as intimately
over television and radio as we do now over telephones. The
increasing number of twenty-four-hour all-news radio stations is a
symptom of humanity's growing awareness of the monitor function of
the media, even though today's profit-motive news might well be
described as tactical misinformation. The notion of putting on a
"show," although still prevalent in name at least, is losing its
meaning. Inevitably, show business is becoming communication
business, which in turn is becoming education business. And thus
begins the revolution.
The mass-audience, mass-consumption era is beginning to disintegrate
like Hesse's alter ego Harry Haller in Steppenwolf, who
regretted his dual nature until he realized that he not only had two
selves but quite literally dozens. It is generally accepted that the
post-Industrial Age will also be an age of post-mass consumption.
Cybernation virtually guarantees decentralization of energy sources.
There'll be no need for a "department" of water and power, for
example, when we learn to harness solar energy as easily as we
make transistor radios. Inherent in the proliferation of inexpensive
film technology, which caused the phenomenon of personal cinema,
is the force that soon will transform the socioeconomic system that
made commercial mass entertainment necessary in the first place.
Synaesthetic cinema not only is the end of movies as we've known
them aesthetically; the physical hardware of film technology itself is
quickly phasing out, and with it the traditional modes of filmmaking
and viewing. We're entering the era of image-publishing and image-
exchange, the inevitable evolutionary successor to book publishing:
the post-mass audience age.
The hardware and software environment presently exists in which
one can purchase films as easily as one purchases books or records.
The video/film symbiosis accomplished in electron-beam recording

130 Expanded Cinema
results in the end of "movies" as social event and technical discipline.
The decisive factor in the demise of cinema and TV as we've
known them is the ability to choose information rather than being
enslaved to mass broadcasting schedules or distribution patterns,
restricted by both mode and (profit) motive. This revolutionary
capability exists even though the military/industrial complex withholds
it from us.
Although commercial restrictions are inevitable in the early stages
of the phenomenon, we shall soon find that the personal filmmaker is
equivalent to the major studio. It is now possible to collect hundreds
of cartridges of one's own synaesthetic cinema— images of one's
actual life preserved out of time— for documentation, post-stylization,
and study. For the first time in history every human now has the
ability to capture, preserve, and interpret those aspects of the living
present that are meaningful to him. The key word is interpret. In a
very real sense we can now show both our experiences and our
emotions to one another, rather than attempting to explain them in
verbally abstracted language. There's no semantic problem in a
photographic image. We can now see through each other's eyes,
moving toward expanded vision and inevitably expanded
DeMille's Ten Commandments and Brakhage's Dog Star Man both
go into the same ten-dollar cartridges, and then comes the test: the
ability to own and repeatedly view a film is conditional on the
availability of films worth multiple viewings. We shall find that ninety
percent of all cinema in history cannot be viewed more than a couple
of times and still remain interesting. No one is going to pay thirty
dollars to see a movie. The only films capable of supporting multiple
viewings, in the same way that paintings and records are enjoyed
repeatedly, are synaesthetic films in which the viewer is free to insert
himself into the experience differently each time. Thus the technology
that allowed synaesthetic cinema to exist on a mass scale in the
first place is the same technology that will force virtually all image-
making toward synaesthesis, the purest manifestation of consciousness.

The individual's ability to apprehend, capture, generate, transmit,
duplicate, replicate, manipulate, store, and retrieve audiovisual information
has reached the point where technology results in the re


Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age131
birth of "cottage industry" as conceived by the economist William
Morris during the Industrial Revolution in England— the autonomous
ability of the individual to generate his own industry within his own
local environment. The primary difference between Morris' preindustrial
view and today's post-industrial reality is that cottage
industry and global cybernetic industrialization interpenetrate each
other's spheres of influence synergetically, each benefiting from the
The introduction of videotape cartridges forces mass communications
into the untenable position of restricting individual freedom.
Shortly, the educational and aesthetic messages of society will be
communicated through cartridge-exchange and telecommand regional
videotape cable centers; live broadcast television will be free
to move information of a metabolic, homeostatic, interplanetary
nerve-system function. At present, videotape or filmed information
can be electron-beam recorded onto low-cost photosensitive material
which, in the example of Columbia's EVR, results in one-hour
cartridges of 180,000 black-and-white frames or half-hour cartridges
of 90,000 color frames. They can be displayed individually or sequentially
in random-access or automatic modes on any television set
with higher resolution than videotape systems or broadcast TV. The
system reduces broadcast videotape costs by a factor of fifty, home
videotape costs by ten, and is approximately one-fifteenth as expensive
as conventional filmmaking.
Coupled with other technologies such as the Polaroid family of
cameras, the videophone, and long-distance Xerography and Xerographic
telecopying, we arrive at a situation in which every TV image
and every frame of every videotape or movie in history can now be
filmed, taped, photographed, or copied in a number of ways, then
replicated and transmitted— all by the individual. The auteur theory
thus becomes utterly meaningless. We've progressed to the point at
which an "impersonal" or "official" film is unthinkable. There's no
such thing as an impersonal or nonauthored film: there is only honest
cinema and hypocritical cinema, and they are measured by the
difference between what is inside and what is outside of the maker's
consciousness. Art is both "adult" and personal: we begin with that
behind us, taken for granted, beneath discussion, and we go on from

132 Expanded Cinema
For thousands of young persons around the world today, the
cinema is a way of living. As we find ourselves faced with increasing
leisure time, the camera will become more important as an instrument
of creative living as opposed to its present role as conditioner
of the dronelike existence we now lead. I mean to suggest that the
camera— either cinema, or video, or both— as an extension of our
nervous system, functions as a superego that allows us to observe
and modify our behavior by observing our "software" image just as
world man modifies his behavior by observing his collective superego
as manifested in the global videosphere. By creating new
realities in video/cinema we create new realities in our lives. We
have seen that it is aesthetically and technically possible: let us now
briefly examine the process.
The ethnological filmmaker Jean Rouch, speaking of his cinémavérité
study, Chronicle of a Summer, described the superego function
of the camera with his subjects: "At first," he said, "there's a self-
conscious hamminess. They say to themselves, 'people are looking
at me and I must give a nice impression of myself.' But this lasts only
a very short time. And then, very rapidly, they begin to think— perhaps
for the first time sincerely— about their problems, about who
they are, and they begin to express what they have within themselves.
As the film progresses and the people see the rushes, they
begin to think about the character they were representing involuntarily—
a character of which they had been completely unaware, that
they discovered on the screen all of a sudden with enormous
surprise. And so the film becomes a reason for living and they feel
they must play that role. However, they will often deny the authenticity
of the film, claiming they w ere putting on for the camera,
because what has been revealed of them is so personal, a role which
normally they would not project to the world.
"But something very strange occurs: the cinema becomes for them
a pretext to try to resolve problems that they were not able to resolve
without the cinema. I'm convinced that ninety percent of what they
say is extremely sincere, and out of that they would never have had
the courage to say at least ten percent without the cinema. The
extraordinary pretext is, if you wish, the possibility to say something
in front of the camera and afterwards be able to retract it, saying it

Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age 133
was just for the camera. The extraordinary possibility of playing a
role which is oneself, but which one can disavow because it is only
an image of oneself.”29
The new filmmaker no longer is required to make drama or to tell a
story or even to make "art," though art may certainly result. Personal
cinema becomes art when it moves beyond self-expression to
encompass life-expression. Art is not created; it is lived. The artist
merely reports it. Synaesthetic cinema is not filmed so much as
experienced onto film or videotape. As an extension of the citizen's
nervous system it can't be judged by the same canons that traditionally
have represented art. It's simply the first utterance of human
beings who've found a new language. If art is involved, it's the art of
creative living as opposed to passive conditioned response. The
possibility of realizing one's innermost desires with the excuse that
it's "just for the film" is a temptation that will be too strong to resist
when we're released from the needs of marginal survival. Wallace
Stevens: "It is the explanations of things that we make to ourselves
that disclose our character: the subjects of one's poem are the
symbols of one's self or one of one's selves."
Along with each man's life being the subject of his own study is the
need for each man to be consciously part of Man's life. "In dreams,"
said Yeats, "begin responsibilities." Buckminster Fuller has said that
the great aesthetic of tomorrow will be the aesthetic of integrity. For
ten thousand years more than five hundred generations of
agricultural men have lived abnormal, artificial lives of repetitiv e,
boring toil as energy slaves who must prove their right to live. But
now we are on the threshold of freedom. We are about to become
our own gods. We are about to face the problem of values.
Bronowski: "The problem of values arises only when men try to fit
together their need to be social animals with their need to be free
men. There is no problem, there are no values, until men want to do
For the first time in history we're approaching that point at which
both will be possible if we fashion our lives with a sense of integrity.
29"Jean Rouch in Conversation with James Blue,"Film Comment (Fall-Winter, 1967), pp.
30Bronowski, Science and Human Values (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1965), p 55.


134 Expanded Cinemas
We've modified our environment so radically that we must now
modify ourselves in order to exist in it. If we're all to become one, the
ethics of individual man must become a meta-ethic for global man.
Donald Schon: "In seeking a meta-ethic we suffer from the fact that
society traditionally delegates the job of change to special
individuals in its midst, to artists, inventors and scientists— and then
isolates them from the rest of society in order to preserve the illusion
of stability of norms and objectives.''31
Not only must we completely revise our attitudes toward "ownership"
of the physical earth; we must also learn to accept the fact that
the ideas and creations of humanity do not belong to any one
individual. Thus technology not only helps maintain the present level
of mankind's integrity, it actually forces us to increase that integrity
and provides the social framework within which to begin. Freedom is
the acceptance of responsibility. Bronowski speaks of the "habit of
truth" as it applies to scientific experiments. Contemporary man in
general might be said to practice a habit of hypocrisy: "There is no
more threatening and no more degrading doctrine than the fancy that
somehow we may shelve the responsibility for making the decisions
of our society by passing it to a few scientists armored with a special
magic. The world today is made and powered by science; for any
man to abdicate an interest in science is to walk with open eyes
toward slavery."32
The irresponsible audience will learn responsibility when it becomes
its own audience through the synaesthetic research of expanded
cinema and image-exchange. And in this activity it will come
to discover the scientific meta-ethic. "The practice of science
compels the practitioner to form for himself a fundamental set of
universal values... the exactness of science can give a context for
our nonscientific judgments."33 By its very nature synaesthetic cinema
will close the gap between art and science because the art of
creative living must become a science if life is to hold any meaning
in the Cybernetic Age.
31Donald Schon, Technology and Change (New York: Delacorte Press, 1967), p. 24.
32Bronowski, pp. 5, 6.
33 Ibid., p. xiii.


"If you look back in history you'll find that the artist and the scientist are
inseparable. In many ways the artist's work is identical with scientific exploration.
The artist is able to focus more in the area of consciousness, but with the same
scientific zeal. Yet cosmic consciousness is not limited to the scientist. In fact
scientists are sometimes the last to know."
We've followed the evolution of image language to its limits: the end
of fiction, drama, and realism as they have been traditionally
understood. Conventional cinema can be pushed no further. To
explore new dimensions of awareness requires new technological
extensions. Just as the term "man" is coming to mean man/plant/
machine, so the definition of cinema must be expanded to include
videotronics, computer science, atomic light. Before discussing
those technologies, however, we must first ask ourselves what these
new dimensions of awareness might be. In the language of
synaesthetics we have our structural paradigm. What concepts are
we to explore with it?
We could say that art isn't truly contemporary until it relates to the
world of cybernetics, game theory, the DNA molecule, Heisenberg's
Uncertainty Principle, theories of antimatter, transistorization, the
breeder reactor, genocidal weaponry, the laser, pre-experiencing
alternative futures. But this purely scientific portrait of modern
existence is only partially drawn. As Louis Pauwels has observed:
"We are living at a time when science has entered the spiritual
universe. It has transformed the mind of the observer himself, raising
it to a plane which is no longer that of scientific intelligence, now
proved to be inadequate.''1 Man no longer is earthbound. We move
now in sidereal time. We must expand our horizons beyond the
1Pauwels, Bergier, op. cit., p. 62.

136 Expanded Cinema
point of infinity. We must move from oceanic consciousness to
cosmic consciousness.
At their present limits astrophysics, biochemistry, and conceptual
mathematics move into metaphysical territory. Mysticism is upon us:
it arrives simultaneously from science and psilocybin. Pauwels:
"Modern science, once freed from conformism, is seen to have ideas
to exchange with the magicians, alchemists and wonder-workers of
antiquity. A revolution is taking place before our eyes— the
unexpected remarriage of reason and intuition."2
Art and science have achieved extremely sophisticated levels of
abstraction. They have in fact reached that point at which the
abstract becomes extra-objective. Post-Euclidean geometry, for
example, precludes any exact visualization of a stable space grid.
We are confronted with dynamic interaction between several
transfinite space systems. Precise focusing is impossible. (John
Cage: "A measurement measures measuring means.”) And the
content of modern art tends increasingly toward the conceptual— i.e.,
decision-making, systems aesthetics, environmental problems of
"impossible" art.
What we "know" conceptually has far outstripped what we
experience empirically. We are finally beginning to accept the fact
that our senses allow us to perceive only one-millionth of what we
know to be reality— the electromagnetic spectrum. Ninety-nine
percent of all vital forces affecting our life is invisible. Most of the
fundamental rates of change can't be apprehended sensorially.
Fuller: "Better than ninety-nine percent of modern technology occurs
in the realm of physical phenomena that aresub or ultra to the range
of human visibility. We can see the telephone wires but not the
conversations taking place. We can see the varieties of metal parts
of airplanes but there is nothing to tell us how relatively strong these
metals are in comparison to other metals. None of these varieties
can be told from the others by the human senses, not even by
metallurgists when unaided by instruments. The differences are
invisible. Yet world society has throughout its millions of years on
earth made its judgments on visible, tangible, sensorially
demonstrable criteria."3
2 Ibid., p. xxii.
3 R. Buckminster Fuller, Ideas and Integrities, p. 64.


Toward Cosmic Consciousness 137
So we see— that is, we don't see— that our physical environment
itself has drastically altered the classical definition of artistic purpose
as articulated by Conrad Fiedler: "Artistic activity begins when man
finds himself face to face with the visible world as with something
immensely enigmatical... In the creation of a work of art, man
engages in a struggle with nature not for his physical but for his
mental existence."4
It is the invisible and inconceivable that man finds immensely
enigmatical and to which he has turned his conceptual capacities.
Not only is drama obsolete but in a very real sense so is the finite
world out of which drama traditionally has risen. The concerns of
artist and scientist today are transfinite. McLuhan: "Electricity points
the way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a
world scale, and without any verbalization whatever."5
The Paleocybernetic Age witnesses the concretization of intuition
and the secularization of religion through electronics. Nam June
Paik: "Electronics is essentially Oriental... but don't confuse
'electronic' with 'electric' as McLuhan often does. Electricity deals
with mass and weight; electronics deals with information: one is
muscle, the other is nerve." This is to say that global man in the final
third of the twentieth century is witnessing the power of the
intangible over the tangible. "When Einstein wrote the equation
E=mc2 , the metaphysical took the measure of, and mastered, the
physical. Nothing in our experience suggests that energy could
comprehend and write the equation of intellect... [Einstein's]
equation is operating inexorably, and the metaphysical is now
manifesting its ability to reign over the physical."6
In addition to a radical reassessment of inner space, the new age
is characterized by the wholesale obsolescence of man's historical
view of outer space. Lunar observatories and satellite telescopes,
free from the blinders of earth's air-ocean, will effect a quantum leap
in human knowledge comparable to that which the microscope
provided at the end of the nineteenth century. Until 1966, for ex

4 Conrad Fiedler, On Judging Works of Visual Art, trans. Henry Shaefer-Simmern and
Fulmer Mood (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1949), p. 48.5 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), p. 80.
6 Fuller, Spaceship Earth, p. 36.

138 Expanded Cinema
ample, all of astronomy indicated that the planet Mercury did not
rotate. Radar observations now reveal that it turns on its axis every
fifty-nine days. Similar embarrassing reversals of generations-old
opinions about Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and even our own moon have
occurred within the last decade.7
We are entering a transfinite realm of physical and metaphysical
mysteries that have nothing to do with fiction. It is now recognized
that science has come closer to whatever God may be than has the
church in all its tormented history. Science continually discovers and
reaffirms the existence of what Fuller calls "an a priori metaphysical
intelligence omni-operative in the Universe." Scientists find that a
vast omni-present intellect pervades every atom of the universe,
governing the structure and behavior of all physical phenomena. Yet
this intelligence itself, which we identify as "the laws of nature," is
purely metaphysical and is totally unpredicted by the behaviors of
any of the physical parts. Einstein's E=mc2 is science's most
comprehensive formulation of that intelligence. As J. B. S. Haldane
once said, "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is
stranger than we can imagine."
7 Arthur C. Clarke, "Next— The Planets," Playboy (March, 1969), p. 100.

2001: The New Nostalgia

The year 2000, although universally accepted as a rather
apocalyptic millennial symbol, does not begin the twenty-first
century. A difference of twelve months may seem relatively insignificant
today, but in the onrushing accelerations of radical evolution
many worlds can come and go in the period of a year. Already the
focus of the arts, especially cinema, has shifted toward cosmic
consciousness. "The consequences of the images," said McLuhan,
"will be the images of the consequences." A completely new
vocabulary of graphic language is available to the image-maker now
that our video senses have extended to Mars and beyond.
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was the last film in
history forced to rely on synthetic images of heavenly bodies. One
measure of radical evolution is the way in which Kubrick's images of
the earth and moon, so utterly realistic not long ago, have become
pallid in contrast with the actual images themselves. We've
confronted a larger reality: there no longer is a need to represent
cosmic consciousness through fiction. Just as synaesthetic cinema
renders fiction obsolete, so do the technologies that enable us to
traverse the planets and to invent the future. The old Hollywood
cliché "filmed on location" assumes staggering implications.
In many respects 2001 is an epochal achievement of cinema; in
other ways, however, it is marred by passages of graceless
audience manipulation and vulgar expositional devices that would
embarrass artists of lesser talent than Kubrick. But the movie
unquestionably is a phenomenal experience, and even though it
begins to pale after a couple of viewings, its contributions to the state
of the art and to mass-audience commercial cinema cannot be
overlooked or overrated. Because of this movie a great number of
persons have been able to understand something of the spiritualism
in science. And though it is rather symptomatic of an unfortunate
syndrome having to do with the feared "dehumanizing" effects of
advanced technology, 2001 did create an impressive sense of space
and time relationships practically without precedent in the cinema. A
technical masterpiece, but a thematic mishmash of nineteenth


140 Expanded Cinema
and twentieth-century confusions, which demonstrates that it is not
so much a film of tomorrow as a trenchant reflection of contemporary
sentiments solidly based in the consciousness of today. Still, it was
more than we might have hoped it would be.
In casting its vision to the stars, 2001 returns full circle to the
origins of human curiosity. One of mankind's oldest recorded
thoughts has to do with the cyclic unity and simultaneous
regeneration of the universe. In the texts of ancient Sanskrit is the
notion that the universe dies and is reborn with every breath we
draw. To a certain extent this has been substantiated by the studies
of modern physics, which reveal that elemental changes at the
atomic and subatomic levels are total and instantaneous, while the
macro-system of the cosmologically vast universe itself is constantly
in metamorphosis. In Vishvasara Tantra, which includes one of
man's earliest attempts at explaining the formation of matter, we find
the prophetic conclusion, "What is here is elsewhere; what is not
here is nowhere."
These concepts are virtually embodied in the design of2001, from
its higher ordering principle— that mankind's dawn is a continual
process of death and rebirth— through each of its parts, none of
which predicts the behavior of the whole. The film moves with an
implacable and purposive grace through a richly-connected
allegorical structure that recalls Ortega y Gasset's "higher algebra of
metaphors." Encompassing the whole is the sexual/genetic
metaphor in which rockets are ejaculated from a central slit in Hilton
Space Station No. 5, and a sperm-shaped spacecraft named
Discovery (i.e., birth) emits a pod that carries its human seed
through a Stargate womb to eventual death and rebirth as the
Starchild Embryo. Within this macrostructure we find endless variations
such as the prehistoric bone that becomes a spinning space
station, one of the most tasteful allegorical transitions in the history
of a medium given to rather grandiose symbolism.
The behavior and ultimate deactivation of the berserk computer
HAL might be viewed as a metaphor for the end of logic. It is
established that HAL, who not only "thinks" but also "feels,"
represents the highest achievement of human intelligence. The
machine is singing "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true" (a
computer recording of which actually was made ten years ago) when

2001: The New Nostalgia 141
the cybernetic lobotomy renders it senseless. Immediately after, the
astronaut encounters the alien monolith in crucifix-alignment with a
string of asteroids and is seduced through the Stargate into a
dimension "beyond infinity"— that is, beyond logic.
In this domain far from any galaxy we know, the human finds
himself in austere Regency chambers with an aqueous video-like
atmosphere, constructed by whispering omniscient aliens to make
him comfortable during the lifetime he is to spend under their
scrutiny. He is kept ultra-healthy and lives to a very old age. This is
depicted through a kind of metaphorical time-lapse in which the
astronaut undergoes a series of self-confrontations, aging each time.
At last he gazes toward a bed in which is lying an image of himself
so old and emaciated that he incredibly resembles the humanoid
apes of "The Dawn of Man." This primitive creature timidly lifts its
palsied hand in archetypal gesture toward the metallic monolith that
towers in the center of the glowing room.
Suddenly there appears the cosmic image that began the film and
constitutes a kind of metaphysical leitmotiv of transcendental
Cartesian beauty: in deep space we are levitated near a huge
planet, its crest illumined by starlight. Another globe rises behind and
directly in line with the first; and now, with a blinding starburst and
Strauss's paean to Nietzsche, a fiery sun appears behind the second
planet, completing the geometrical assembly of heavenly bodies. A
timeless unforgettable image that suggests, almost surrealistically,
some higher order, some transcending logic far beyond human
intelligence. 2001 is Stanley Kubrick's interstellar morality play.
There is, however, a fundamental disunity between the film's
conceptual and design information. Its adherence to a Minimalist
aesthetic of primary structures is starkly contrasted against the
confusion of its ideas. And whereas it is structurally uneven, there
are moments when form and content seem flawlessly synthesized.
The elegant simplicity of its architectural trajectories is the harmonic
opposite of its galactic polymorphism. And what might be described
as its "aesthetics of space tooling" has captured the imagination of a
society steeped in the vulgar bric-a-brac of postwar architecture. It
has become a kind of cinematic Bauhaus.

142 Expanded Cinema

Mystical alignment of planets and sun in the
Stanley Kubrick production 2001: A Space
Odyssey. Photo: courtesy of MGM Studios.
Central to this tremendous cultural influence, and in spite of the
film's many confusions, is Kubrick's intuitive grasp of what I call the
new nostalgia. It pervades the entire film, but particularly the
sequence in which Gary Lockwood aboard theDiscovery receives a
videophone birthday message from his earthbound parents. The
crucial effect is Kubrick's use of the adagio from Aram Khachaturian's
Gayane Ballet Suite. The music— mournful, melancholy, with
a sense of transcendental beauty— invests the scene with an
overwhelming mood that invites only one interpretation: it is obviously
a sad event.
This sadness is a manifestation of the new nostalgia: the astronaut
is a child of the new age, a man of cosmic consciousness. Not only
does he live in a different world from his parents on a conceptual
level, he has physically left their natural world and all of its values. Of
what possible significance could a birthday be to him? He doesn't
even share a common definition of life with his parents. His
companions aboard the Discovery are preserved in a cryogenetic
state of suspended animation.
Yet the sequence has been widely interpreted as an indictment of
the "dehumanizing" effects of technology. The astronaut is seen as a
kind of "space zombie" because he appears indifferent to the
effusions of his parents. In fact, the music functions not as
commentary on the action but as an evocation of the Astronaut's
realization of a generation gap both physical and metaphysical.

2001: The New Nostalgia 143
That he's not particularly demonstrative in the usual messy way
suggests nothing so much as a sense of integrity. To find him inhuman
is equivalent to Camus' Magistrate accusing Mersault of not
loving his mother.
To understand this generation gap, we must realize that the melancholy
of the new nostalgia arises not out of sentimental remembrance
of things past, but from an awareness of radical
evolution in the living present. When Sartre wrote about Existentialism,
it was not popularly recognized as being inherent in daily experience;
it was a concept, a theory, else there would have been no
need for Sartre to formulate an entire cosmology upon it. But through
electronic technology, Existentialism becomes daily experience. We
are transformed by time through living within it; but technologies
such as television displace the individual from participant to observer
of the human pageant, and thus we live effectively "outside" of time;
we externalize and objectify what previously was subjectively
integral to our own self-image. The result is an inevitable sense of
melancholy and nostalgia, not for the past, but for our inability to
become integral with the present. We are all outsiders.
The new nostalgia also is a result of Western culture's
transformation from sacred to secular: "Sacred societies resist
change, unable to accept or value the new or untraditional. Secular
societies, a relatively modern development, are oriented toward
change, consciously seek out and value new and untraditional ways.
Sacred societies are oriented toward the past; secular societies
toward the future."8 Ironically, no sooner has Existentialism moved
from theory to experience than it is given a new dimension by
science, which has replaced the church as our temple of worship
and has disclosed man's teleologic, anti-entropic function in the
universe, something the church never was able to do.
But the scientific method is, by its very nature, nonsacred.
Everything is open to challenge. Thus the new nostalgia is a
symptom of our realization that nothing is sacred. This produces a
tendency to dissociate and distance oneself from all previously
coveted phenomena that have provided continuity as landmarks of
the soul. Most of mankind's ancient dreams have become realities;
8John McHale, The Future of the Future (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1969), p. 24.

144 Expanded Cinema
the speed of change has caught us without new dreams to replace
the old, because the world of tomorrow is elsewhere and
We find, moreover, that the new nostalgia is a symptom of the
death of history. The more we learn about the present, about
humanity's perception and interpretation of the present, the more
suspect history becomes. When Fuller remarks that our most
polluted resource is the "tactical information" (news) to which
humanity spontaneously reflexes, he echoes Hermann Hesse's view
that "history's third dimension is always fiction." The present has
discredited the past, while the history of the present is recorded by
machines, not "written" by men, and is thus out of our hands as a
"man-made" phenomenon. "The computer," says McLuhan, "abolishes
the human past by making it entirely present." We don't "remember"
the assassination of John F. Kennedy because we never
experienced it directly in the first place. For millions of people who
were not actually present in Dallas, Kennedy's death exists only in
the endless technologically-sustained present. We "remember" it in
the same way that we first "knew" it— through the media— and we
can experience it again each time the videotapes are played. Since
we see and hear and feel only the conditioning of our own memory,
a great flood of nostalgia is generated when technology erases the
past and with it our self-image.
The new nostalgia also is a result of humanity's inevitable
symbiosis with the hallucinogens of the ecology. First, man's image
of himself as discretely separate from the surrounding biosphere is
shaken by his discovery of the a priori biochemical relationship
between his brain and the humble plant. Second, in the consciousness-
expansion of the drug experience, the overwhelming
emotion is one of remembering something that one has forgotten,
something one "knew" long, long ago in the forgotten recesses of the
mind. The deja vu of the drug experience results from the discovery
of how much is absent in "normal" perception of the present, not the
past. Although 2001 contains no specific allusions to drug
experiences, the subject is indirectly suggested in the Stargate
Corridor sequence, which might well be interpreted as a drug-trip
 But perhaps the most profound aspect of the new nostalgia is
what we call the generation gap, which is totally a result of the
unprecedented sudden influx of information. The past is discredited

2001: The New Nostalgia 145

Starchild Embryo from the Stanley Kubrick
production 2001: A Space Odyssey. "The
image of the Starchild, its umbilical feeding
from no earthly womb, elegantly symbolizes
a generation gap so sudden and so profound
that few of us believed it possible."
Photo: courtesy of MGM Studios.

146 Expanded Cinema
but continues to inform a present in which new information has
revealed us in a completely new perspective. The information implosion,
as revised self-knowledge, sheds un-relenting and inadvertently
cruel light upon the illusions of the past, of which our parents
are victims. We find, as Hesse did, that "world history taken as a
whole by no means furthered what was desirable, rational, and
beautiful in the life of man, but at best only tolerated it as an exception."
For the first time in history, an entire generation abruptly discovers
that its legacy of love has been tragically ill-served: "Humanity is
characterized by extraordinary love for its new life, and yet has been
misinforming its new life to such an extent that the new life is
continually at a greater disadvantage than it would be if abandoned
in the wilderness by its parents."10 The image of the Starchild
Embryo at the conclusion of 2001, its umbilical feeding from no
Earthly womb, elegantly symbolizes a generation gap so sudden and
so profound that few of us believed it possible. As we unlearn our
past, we unlearn our selves. This is the new nostalgia, not for the
past because there is no past, and not for the future because there
are no parameters by which to know it.
The Cybernetic Age is the new Romantic Age. Nature once again
has become an open empire as it was in the days when man thought
of the earth as flat and extending on to infinity. When science
revealed the earth as spherical, and thus a closed system, we were
able to speak of parameters and romance was demystified into
Existentialism. But we've left the boundaries of earth and again have
entered an open empire in which all manner of mysteries are
possible. Beyond infinity lurk demons who guard the secrets of the
cosmos. We are children embarking on a journey of discovery. "The
same extraordinary intellectual forces with which man is remolding
his planet are now being turned in upon himself. The results of this
inner exploration may be infinitely more powerful than any physically-
extended voyage to Mars or the bottom of the sea.''11
9Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Inc.,
1969), p. 150.
10R. Buckminster Fuller, Education Automation (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois
University Press, 1962), p. 9.
11John McHale, "Man +," Architectural Design (February, 1967), pp. 87, 88.


2001: The New Nostalgia147
Kubrick himself demonstrated his awareness of the new nostalgia
when he quoted Carl Jung's remarks on possible consequences of
contact with advanced alien intelligence: ". . . reins would be torn
from our hands and we would find ourselves without dreams... we
would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as
to leave us completely paralyzed.''12
I interviewed Arthur C. Clarke, coauthor of 2001, who has been
chiefly responsible for elevating science fiction from pulp to profundity.
I was accompanied by Ted Zatlyn, then editor of the Los
Angeles Free Press. We suggested that the film's depiction of the
man/machine symbiosis as ominous and threatening might have
been irresponsible.
CLARKE: It could be irresponsible, yes. But the novel explains why
HAL did this and of course the film never gave any explanation of
his behavior. So from that point of view it differs from the novel. I
personally would like to have seen a rationale for HAL's behavior.
It's perfectly understandable and in fact makes HAL a very
sympathetic character because he's been fouled up by these clods
back at Mission Control, you see. And in a way it's more pro-
machine than pro-human, if you analyze the philosophy behind the
novel. I included a sort of emotional passage about Hal’s electronic
Eden and so on. But it would have been almost impossible to give
the logical explanation of just why HAL did what he did. It would
have slowed things down too much. So it had to be treated on this
sort of na?ve and conventional level. Then there was the straightforward
matter of dramatic content. One had to have some kind of
dramatic tension and suspense and conflict. And Hal’s episode is
the only conventional dramatic element in the whole film. And so in
that way you might say that it was rather contrived. We set out
quite consciously and deliberately— calculatedly, if you like— to
create a myth, an adventure, but still be totally plausible, realistic,
intelligent. We weren't going to have any blonde stowaway in the
airlock and all this sort of nonsense that you've seen in the past.
This immediately limited our options enormously. There are fairly
few things that can happen on a space mission. Especially if the
men have been carefully selected psychologically and so on— all
12 Stanley Kubrick interviewed in Playboy (September, 1968), p. 96.

148 Expanded Cinema
the things which make astronauts such undramatic characters. You
don't have nervous breakdowns or Caine Mutinies on a spaceship.
TED: Do you see the hippie phenomenon as an evolutionary
process similar to what you described in Childhood's End? Many
aspects of what we call the hippie movement were almost
prophesied in that book, especially the idea of an awakened moral
conscience among youth.
CLARKE: Yes, at one point I had a subtitle for 2001 which was
Childhood's Beginning.
TED: But in another way there seems to be a contradiction between
2001 and Childhood's End. In an evolutionary sense. In 2001 the
idea of an evolving expansion of consciousness seems directly
opposed to extending the American capitalistic free-enterprise
system into outer space. I mean with Howard Johnson and Pan-
Am businesses.
CLARKE: That was done primarily to establish a background of
realism to achieve total acceptance by the audience.
GENE: Yes, but you see this is exactly what we feel is rather
unfortunate about the film. I mean that's all very fine, and it works,
and everyone likes that, they think it's clever and all. But in fact
how "realistic" is capitalistic free enterprise at that advanced stage
in man's evolution? And to suggest such a thing— even to suggest
"ownership" in space is perhaps a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. We
are what we think the future will be.
CLARKE: But that doesn't necessarily mean capitalistic free
enterprise. Pan-Am is running the range for NASA, but that doesn't
necessarily mean a capitalistic system. Names hang on, that's all. I
mean Hilton is planning a space-station hotel. He gave a talk and
showed designs three years ago.
TED: But tile obvious extension of that idea is spherical influence in
space— Russia's sphere here, America's sphere here, China's
sphere over there. I just don't think that when man evolves to the
point where he can travel throughout the universe, using new
energy sources and so on, that he will carry with him an archaic
form of thinking.
CLARKE: Well, of course, he won't. Things will change completely.
But the events of 2001 are only thirty years from now. And a lot of

2001: The New Nostalgia 149
these things will still be around. The names anyway. Just as the
Catholic Church still exists in name. In fact, if I'd done 2001 by
myself I'd have had an international organization instead of
nationalism. But here again you're constrained by practical
matters— this is an American film made by an American company
and there are a lot of problems. For example at one point we were
saying we should have at least one token black in the crew. But
when your crew is only two people it would be so obvious. I mean
can you see Bill Cosby in there? So finally we said the hell with it.
GENE: Science fiction has had a new image for the last few years, a
new respectability. In fact, most people are now willing to accept
the fact that there is nothing but science fiction.
CLARKE: I've been saying for years that mainstream literature is a
small subsection of science fiction. Because science fiction is
about everything.
GENE: Exactly. And one of the significant aspects of 2001 is that it's
science fact. When you discuss science and what it's doing, you're
not only discussing the present but the past and the future
simultaneously. Because science encompasses what has been
and what will be all in the moment, the present. So the idea of
science fiction no longer is meaningful.
CLARKE: One reason older people dislike 2001 is they realize it's
about reality and it scares the hell out of them. This film is about
the two most important realities of the future: development of
intelligent machines, and contact with higher alien intelligence.
Which of course may be machines themselves. I suspect that all
really higher intelligences will be machines. Unless they're beyond
machines. But biological intelligence is a lower form of intelligence,
almost inevitably. We're in an early stage in the evolution of
intelligence but a late stage in the evolution of life. Real intelligence
won't be living.
GENE: I understand your meaning of that idea as a beneficial thing
in which man is rendered obsolete as a specialist, obsolete as all
the things he's been up to now— obsolete in comparison to the
computer's ability to do all these things better and quicker— but, on
the other hand, man is then totally free to live comprehensively,
nonspecialized, like the freedom of children.

150 Expanded Cinema
CLARKE: That's how I ended one of my essays on the subject. I
said "Now it's time to play." The goal of the future is total
unemployment, so we can play. That's why we have to destroy the
present politico-economic system.

The Stargate Corridor
The conceptual deficiencies of 2001 are somewhat redeemed by its
sophisticated deployment of cinematic technology. For the first time
in commercial cinema we are given the state of the art at its highest
point of refinements.13 2001 has become the higher ordering
principle by which all commercial cinema must be measured.
Douglas Trumbull, a twenty-five-year-old artist/technologist, was
one of four special effects supervisors on the project. The so-called
slit-scan machine, which created the Stargate Corridor sequence,
was one of several pieces of equipment Trumbull developed especially
for this film. Though much of its impact is due to the
Cinerama format (16mm. versions are not nearly so impressive), the
sequence was nevertheless a breakthrough in commercial cinema.
Although this particular approach to the slit-scan was developed by
Trumbull, the technique does have precedent in the work of John
According to Trumbull, the original screenplay called for a giant
tetrahedron that would be discovered in orbit around Jupiter. This
was because there is, in fact, a strange perturbation of one of
Jupiter's moons. Astronomers have noted that it appears to grow
larger and smaller at certain points in its orbit. "So Clarke said
maybe it's not a moon at all," Trumbull recalls. "Maybe it's some sort
of object that presents a larger and smaller size as it rotates. So the
spacemen arrive and it's this huge tetrahedron with a hole in it. He
positions his pod over the hole, looks down through, and can see
into another dimension. The tetrahedron may be superimposed over
Jupiter but he sees stars through the hole: a time gate."
TRUMBULL: We spent a long time drawing tetrahedrons with holes
in them and it all looked corny. It was never right. Then someone
thought of having a giant hole or slot directly in one of the moons.
The spaceman is orbiting around one of the moons and finds a
13 Extensive details on the production of 2001 were published in The American
Cinematographer (June, 1968).

152 Expanded Cinema

Slit-scan Stargate Corridor from
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.


The Stargate Corridor 153
hole in it. We drew pictures of that and they looked pretty stupid.
Finally Kubrick came up with the idea of the big slab. He always
insisted on super-simple symmetrical forms rather than anything
which would deviate artistically from the simplest approach.
One of the very last things we did was adding the mystical
symmetry. The Jupiter sequence culminates in a shot in which the
moons and asteroids are aligned and the mysterious slab is seen
perpendicular to them like a crucifix. It wasn't intended to be that,
but that's the way it came out. So when we saw what we had, we
worked back from that point and created similar scenes earlier in
the film. For example, when the apemen are looking up at the slab
and suddenly there's this symmetrical alignment of the sun and the
moon over the slab— that was put in long after the sequence was
shot. Then we went back to the point where they discover the slab
on the moon and inserted the same imagery for that sequence.
This was all second-guessing but it was meant to suggest the
same ideas as one finds behind similar imagery in mystical
literature and symbols.
There was always the idea that Keir Dullea would go into a time-
warp or some kind of "psychedelic" corridor, but we didn't know
how to get him into it. What do we do with him? Does he fall into a
hole or what? It was completely unresolved. The special effects
people came up with corny things with mirrors that looked terrible.
So I stumbled onto this idea through fragments of information
about what John Whitney was doing with scanning slits that move
across the lens creating optical warps. I figured why couldn't you
have a slit that starts far away and moves toward the camera?
Rather than moving laterally, why can't it move dimensionally?
So I did a simple test on the Oxberry animation stand. It was
rigged with a Polaroid camera so you could take Polaroid pictures
of any setup immediately to see how it looked. So I just ran the
camera up and down and juggled some slits and funny pieces of
artwork around, and I found out that you could in fact scan an
image onto an oblique surface. That whole idea expanded and I

154 Expanded Cinema
built this huge thing that occupied about 50,000 square feet. It
produced the effect which I call the Slit-Scan Effect.
Similar to image-scanning techniques used in scientific and
industrial photography, Trumbull's process was totally automated
through an impressive battery of selsyn drives, timers, sequencers,
and camera controls. Basically it involved a standard 65mm. Mitchell
camera mounted on a fifteen-foot track leading to a screen with a
narrow vertical slit in its center. Behind the screen was a powerful
light source focused through several horizontally-shifting glass
panels painted with abstract designs and colors.
When the camera is at the "stop" position at the far end of the
fifteen-foot track, the illuminated slit is framed exactly in the center of
the lens. The standard shutter is taken out of phase and held wide
open. An auxiliary shutter is built onto the front of the lens that opens
to F 1.8 when the camera begins to track toward the screen. One
single frame of film is exposed during the sixty-second period in
which the camera tracks from fifteen feet to within one and one-half
inches of the screen. The camera lens is attached to a bellows
mount on a camshaft rotating from a selsyn linked to a drive motor,
all of which maintains perfect focus and depth-of-field the entire
distance of the one-minute track.
When the camera reaches the screen it has veered one-half of a
frame either right or left of the slit. The exposure thus produced on
the single frame is a controlled blur, much the same as time
exposures of freeways at night that produce streaks of red taillights.
The shifting panels of painted glass behind the slit alter the pattern of
light coming through the slit as the camera approaches, producing
an uneven or streaked blur. When the process is repeated for both
sides of the frame, the effect is of an infinite corridor of lights and
shapes advancing at enormous velocity.
The glass panes behind the slit are shifted horizontally by selsyns
and advancing motors synchronized with the tracking camera. Thus
the exposure pattern is identical for each frame of film except that a
differential mechanism displaces the entire rig slightly for each
camera run, creating an impression that the scanned image is

The Stargate Corridor 155

Slit-scan machine built by Douglas Trumbull
for the Stargate Corridor sequence of
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The slit-scan is not limited to this application. As we shall see later,
John Whitney, Jr., has constructed a computerized, hybrid optical
printer that automatically scans a projected motion-picture sequence.
In addition, the camera need not track perpendicular to the
scanned image; a diagonal approach would create effects of warped
perspective in otherwise representational imagery.
TRUMBULL: There was one short slit-scan sequence— a bad take,
actually— which started out black and instead of having walls of
color come at you it had little points of light which were parts of the
artwork before it actually developed into walls. It started out black,
then a few little red sparks came out, and then a few more and it
generated more and more. That particular shot was done with a
device I rigged for automatically accelerating the speed. So as the
dots were coming up it was accelerating at such an incredible rate

156 Expanded Cinema
that we used up all the artwork in a couple of seconds. Though the
shot is brief it was the only one with a transitional effect: it started
out black and slowly became something.
We had a double-projection technique in which we could run two
aligned 35mm. projectors simultaneously onto one screen to see
how two elements looked together. So that was how we figured out
the way of getting the astronaut into the Stargate sequence: we
shot a scene just panning away from Jupiter out into deep space
and faded in that little slit-scan footage which gave us our transition
into the time-warp. At the same time we were shooting the slab
floating around Jupiter. There was a physical problem in getting the
slab out of the frame without matching the camera movement with
the animation pan. So we decided to have it just fade out between
the planets: the slab fades, and as the slit-scan comes in the stars
fade out. It's strange how solutions to technical problems become
the content of the film.
If one considers the introduction of sound and then color as
successive "generations" in the history of cinema, it is possible to
say that we've entered the fourth generation by marrying basic
cinematic techniques to computer and video sciences. There have
been no fundamental breakthroughs in the nature of cinema since its
conception. In one sense the history of film is but a footnote to
Lumière and Méliès. But the technological revolution begins the new
age of cinema. Before moving into computer films, however, we'll
discuss the work of Jordan Belson, who both preceded and
surpassed 2001 in the realm of cinematic innovations. Although not
as technologically sophisticated as Kubrick's enterprise, Belson's
films achieve a sense of cosmic consciousness only hinted at in
2001, and levels of design with far greater integrity and vision.
With a tiny fraction of the manpower, equipment, and money
expended in the production of2001, Belson has created images and
moods of far wider significance and lasting beauty. While the state of
the art remains relatively untapped, Belson, working with limited
resources, has demonstrated its potential. He's a visionary who has
broken through to the other side; the state of the art need only follow.

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson
"Only the fantastic is likely to be true at the cosmic level."
Certain phenomena manage to touch a realm of our consciousness
so seldom reached that when it is awakened we are shocked and
profoundly moved. It's an experience of self-realization as much as
an encounter with the external world. The cosmic films of Jordan
Belson possess this rare and enigmatic power.
Basic to this enigma is the disconcerting fact that Belson's work
seems to reside equally in the physical and metaphysical. Any
discussion of his cinema becomes immediately subjective and
symbolic, as we shall soon see. Yet the undeniable fact of their
concrete nature cannot be stressed too frequently. Piet Mondrian: "In
plastic art, reality can be expressed only through the equilibrium of
dynamic movement of form and color. Pure means afford the most
effective way of attaining this.''14
The essence of cinema is precisely "dynamic movement of form
and color," and their relation to sound. In this respect Belson is the
purest of all filmmakers. With few exceptions his work is not
"abstract." Like the films of Len Lye, Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger,
and the Whitneys, it is concrete. Although a wide variety of meaning
inevitably is abstracted from them, and although they do hold quite
specific implications for Belson personally, the films remain concrete,
objective experiences of kinaesthetic and optical dynamism. They
are at once the ultimate use of visual imagery to communicate
abstract concepts, and the purest of experiential confrontations
between subject and object.
In their amorphous, gaseous, cloudlike imagery it is color, not line,
which defines the forms that ebb and flow across the frame with
14 Mondrian, op. cit., p. 10.

158 Expanded Cinema
uncanny impact. It is this stunning emotional force that lifts the films
far beyond any realm of "purity" into the most evocative and
metaphysical dimensions of sight and sound. The films are literally
superempirical— that is, actual experiences of a transcendental
nature. They create for the viewer a state of nonordinary reality
similar, in concept at least, to those experiences described by the
anthropologist Carlos Castaneda in his experiments with organic
E. H. Gombrich: "The experience of color stimulates deeper levels
of the mind. This is demonstrated by experiments with mescaline,
under the influence of which the precise outlines of objects become
uncertain and ready to intermingle freely with little regard to formal
appearances. On the other hand color becomes greatly enhanced,
tends to detach itself from the solid objects and assumes an
independent existence of its own."
Belson's work might be described as kinetic painting were it not for
the incredible fact that the images exist in front of his camera, often
in real time, and thus are not animations. Live photography of actual
material is accomplished on a special optical bench in Belson's
studio in San Francisco's North Beach. It is essentially a plywood
frame around an old X-ray stand with rotating tables, variable speed
motors, and variable intensity lights. In comparison to Trumbull's slit-
scan machine or the Whitneys' mechanical analogue computer it's
an amazingly simple device. Belson does not divulge his methods,
not out of some jealous concern for trade secrets— the techniques
are known to many specialists in optics— but more as a magician
maintaining the illusion of his magic. He has destroyed hundreds of
feet of otherwise good film because he felt the technique was too
evident. It is Belson's ultrasensitive interpretation of this technology
that creates the art.
The same can be said for the sounds as well as the images.
Belson synthesizes his own sound, mostly electronic, on home
equipment. His images are so overwhelming that often the sound,
itself a creation of chilling beauty, is neglected in critical appraisals.
The sound often is so integral to the imagery that, as Belson says:
"You don't know if you're seeing it or hearing it."
15 Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan— A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (Los
Angeles, Calif.: University of California Press, 1968).

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 159
He regards the films not as exterior entities, but literally as
extensions of his own consciousness. "I first have to see the images
somewhere," he says, "within or without or somewhere. I mean I
don't make them up. My whole aesthetic rests on discovering what's
there and trying to discover what it all means in terms of relating to
my own experience in the world of objective reality. I can't just
dismiss these films as audio-visual exercises. They obviously mean
something, and in a sense everything I've learned in life has been
through my efforts to find out what these things mean."
He has been a serious student of Buddhism for many years and
has committed himself to a rigorous Yoga discipline. He began
experimenting with peyote and other hallucinogens more than fifteen
years ago. Recently his interests have developed equally in the
directions of inner space (Mahayana Buddhism) and outer space
(interstellar and galactic astrophysics). Thus by bringing together
Eastern theology, Western science, and consciousness-expanding
drug experiences, Belson predates the front ranks of avant-garde art
today in which the three elements converge. Like the ancient
alchemists he is a true visionary, but one whose visions are
manifested in concrete reality, however nonordinary it might be.
Teilhard de Chardin has employed the term ultra-hominization to
indicate the probable future stage of evolution in which man will have
so far transcended himself that he will require some new appellation.
Taking Chardin's vision as a point of departure, Louis Pauwels has
surmised: "No doubt there are already among us the products of this
mutation, or at least men who have already taken some steps along
the road which we shall all be traveling one day.''16 It requires only a
shift in perspective to realize that Belson is taking those steps.
Allures: From Matter to Spirit
Originally a widely-exhibited painter, Belson turned to filmmaking in
1947 with crude animations drawn on cards, which he subsequently
destroyed. He returned to painting for four years and in 1952
resumed film work with a series that blended cinema and painting
through the use of animated scrolls. The four films produced in the
period 1952-53 were Mambo, Caravan, Mandala, and Bop Scotch.
From 1957-59 he worked with Henry Jacobs as visual director of
16Pauwels, Bergier, op. cit., p. 59.

160 Expanded Cinema
the Vortex Concerts at Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.
Simultaneously he produced three more animated films, Flight
(1958), Raga (1959), and Seance (1959). Allures, completed in
1961, found Belson moving away from single-frame animation
toward continuous real-time photography. It is the earliest of his
works that he still considers relevant enough to discuss.
He describes Allures as a "mathematically precise" film on the
theme of cosmogenesis— Teilhard de Chardin's term intended to
replace cosmology and to indicate that the universe is not a static
phenomenon but a process of becoming, of attaining new levels of
existence and organization. However, Belson adds: "It relates more
to human physical perceptions than my other films. It's a trip
backwards along the senses into the interior of the being. It fixes
your gaze, physically holds your attention."
Allures begins with an ethereal pealing of bells. A centrifugal
starburst of pink, yellow, and blue sparks whirls out of a black void.
Its points collect into clusters and fade. Bells become weird chimes;
we sink into a bottomless orange and black vortex. An intricate pink
mandala of interconnected web patterns spins swiftly into the
distance. A caterpillar-like coil looms ominously out of infinity. We
hear a tweetering electronic warble, a collection of threatening piano
notes. Pink and yellow sparks wiggle vertically up the frame. Distant
snakelike coils appear and fade. A tiny sun surrounded by a huge
orange halo disintegrates. There are flying, comet-like petal shapes.
Oscilloscope streak-dots bounce across the frame with a twittering,
chattering metallic noise. They form complex triangular and
tetrahedral grid patterns of red, yellow, and blue. Out of this evolves
an amorphous yellow-white pulsating globe of fire without definite
shape. It vanishes and a blue, neon-bright baton rotates slowly into
"I think of Allures," said Belson, "as a combination of molecular
structures and astronomical events mixed with subconscious and
subjective phenomena— all happening simultaneously. The
beginning is almost purely sensual, the end perhaps totally
nonmaterial. It seems to move from matter to spirit in some way.
Allures was the first film to really open up spatially. Oskar Fischinger

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 161

Jordan Belson: Allures. 1961.16mm.
Color. 9 min. "A combination of
molecular structures and astronomical
events mixed with subconscious
phenomena... a trip backward
along the senses from matter to

162 Expanded Cinema
had been experimenting with spatial dimensions butAllures seemed
to be outer space rather than earth space. Of course you see the
finished film, carefully calculated to give you a specific impression. In
fact it took a year and a half to make, pieced together in thousands
of different ways, and the final product is only five minutes long.
Allures actually developed out of images I was working with in the
Vortex Concerts. Up until that time my films had been pretty much
rapid-fire. They were animated and there was no real pacing— just
one sustained frenetic pace. After working with some very
sophisticated equipment at Vortex I learned the effectiveness of
something as simple as fading in and out very slowly. But it was all
still very impersonal. There's nothing really personal in the images of
After the glowing blue baton vanishes the screen is black and
silent. Almost imperceptibly a cluster of blue dots breaks from the
bottom into magnetic force fields that become a complex grid pattern
of geometrical shapes superposed on one another until the frame is
filled with dynamic energy and mathematical motion. A screeching
electronic howl accentuates the tension as galaxies of force fields
collide, permutate, and transmute spectacularly. Some squadrons
rush toward the camera as others speed away. Some move
diagonally, others horizontally or vertically. It's all strongly reminiscent
of 2001— except that it was made seven years earlier.
Elsewhere in the film rumbling thunder is heard as flying sparks
collect into revolving atomic structures, from whose nuclei emanate
shimmering tentacles of tweetering multicolored light. At the end we
hear ethereal harp music as a pulsating sun, fitfully spewing out
bright particles, reveals within itself another glimmering galaxy.
Re-Entry: Blast-off and Bardo
Re-Entry is considered by many to be Belson's masterwork.
Completed in 1964 with a grant from the Ford Foundation, it is
simultaneously a film on the theme of mystic reincarnation and
actual spacecraft reentry into the earth's atmosphere. Also, as
Belson says, "It was my reentry into filmmaking because I'd given up
completely after Allures. Mostly for financial reasons. But also out of
general dismay at the experimental film scene. There was no
audience, no distribution, there was just no future in it at that time."

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 163
Re-Entry is chiefly informed by two specific sources: John Glenn's
first space trip, and the philosophical concept of theBardo, as set
forth in the ancient Bardo Thodol or so-called Tibetan Book of the
Dead, a fundamental work of Mahayana Buddhism. According to
Jung, Bardo existence is rather like a state of limbo, symbolically
described as an intermediate state of forty-nine days between death
and rebirth. The Bardo is divided into three states: the first, called
Chikhai Bardo, describes the psychic happenings at the moment of
death; the second, or Chonyid Bardo, deals with the dream-state
that supervenes immediately after death, and with what are called
karmic illusions; the third part, or Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of
the birth instinct and of prenatal events.17
With imagery of the highest eloquence, Belson aligns the three
stages of the Bardo with the three stages of space flight: leaving the
earth's atmosphere (death), moving through deep space (karmic
illusions), and reentry into the earth's atmosphere (rebirth).
The film, says Belson, "shows a little more than human beings are
supposed to see." It begins with a rumbling thunderous drone (blastoff,
perhaps). In a black void we see centripetal, or imploding, blue-
pink gaseous forms barely visible as they rush inward and vanish.
The sound fades, as though we have left acoustical space. After a
moment of silence, the next sound is wholly unearthly: a twittering
electrical pitch as vague clouds of red and yellow gases shift across
the screen amorphously. Suddenly with a spiraling high-pitched
whine we see a gigantic solar prominence (one of two stock-footage,
live-action sequences) lashing out into space, changing from blue to
purple to white to red. Now blinding white flashes, as though we're
passing the sun, and suddenly we are into a shower of descending
white sparks that become squadrons of geometrical modules moving
up and out from the bottom of the frame, warping and shifting to
each side of center as they near the top.
GENE: Certain of your images appear in every film, like the
geometrical, perspectival interference patterns. They're quite
effective. Do you conceive them through some sort of
mathematical concept?
17 W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (London: Oxford University Press,

164 Expanded Cinema

6 min. "The film does manage to transport
whoever is looking at it out of the boundaries
of the self."

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 165

Jordan Belson: Re-Entry. “… the next
thing you know you're in heaven. You're
surprised to be there. On the other hand,
it's happening … "

166 Expanded Cinema
JORDAN: Those images in particular are derived from the nature of
the device itself. But the images later in the film— the more
nebulous ones, of more magnitude— they're more a question of
personal vision. Discerning them, seeking them out, presents all
sorts of possibilities by being receptive to them when I find them
beneath my camera.
GENE: Are there other stock-footage sequences?
JORDAN: Yes. You wouldn't recognize it, but there's a shot of the
earth rolling by, as seen from a camera in a rocket. I excerpted a
part of that film and doubled it, so it was mirrored Rorschach-like.
That's for the reentry to earth. The film leans heavily on such
material. As a matter of fact, on the sound track there's actually
John Glenn's radio conversation from his spacecraft to earth. He's
saying something like ". . . I can see a light..." He was referring to
Perth, Australia, as he passed over. Then it shoots past the earth
and the sun and goes off into a rather ambiguous area in which
you have to cross over barriers of time and space, but also mental,
psychological barriers as well. It's a kind of breakdown of the
personality in a way. It sort of boils out and the next thing you know
you're in heaven. You're surprised to be there. On the other hand
it's happening you know.
The "boiling out" sequence is among the most dramatic in all of
Belson's films. Suddenly we hear a thunderous rumble that increases
in intensity until the bottom of the frame begins to turn pale
manganese blue and cobalt violet, a gaseous boiling cloud that
surges up over the frame, turning alizarin crimson. We descend
through it, as though it is being blasted upward by some explosive
force far below. Image and sound increase to unimaginable intensity
as though we're hurtling through sheets of space fire in a cosmic
heat belt. The spacecraft is out of our solar system and into another
dimension. Death has occurred; we move into the second stage of
the Bardo.
At a corresponding point in the Bardo of Karmic Illusions the
Sanskrit text reads: "The wisdom of the Dharma-Dhatu, blue in color,
shining transparent, glorious, dazzling, from the heart of Vairochana
as the Father-Mother, will shoot forth and strike against thee with a
light so radiant that thou wilt scarcely be able to look at it."18
18 Ibid., p. 106.

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 167
This of course could be interpreted as a supernova whose
maximum intrinsic luminosity reaches one-hundred million times that
of our sun. The image in Belson's film is somewhat like slow-motion
movies of atomic blasts in Nevada with the desert floor swept across
by a tremendous shock wave. At another point it appears as a sky of
mackerel clouds suddenly set aflame and blown asunder by some
interstellar force. Shimmering iceberg shapes of every hue in the
spectrum dance like galactic stalactites against a sizzling frying
sound. This becomes a dizzying geometrical corridor or eerie lights
almost exactly like the slit-scan corridor of 2001— except that it was
made four years earlier.
Carl Jung describes the final stage of theBardo: "The illuminative
lights grow ever fainter and more multifarious, the visions more and
more terrifying. This descent illustrates the estrangement of
consciousness from the liberating truth as it approaches nearer and
nearer to physical rebirth.''19
The images assume majestic dimensions. Seemingly millions of
minute particles suggesting mesons, cosmic rays that survive in the
atmosphere for only a millionth of a second, cascade in sizzling
firestorms down from the top and up from the bottom in shards of
viridian, ultramarine red, Thalo blue. There's a sense of unthinkable
enormity. Finally we see a white sun surrounded by a pulsating red
halo, which is then obscured by vapors. "The film does manage to
transport whoever is looking at it," said Belson, "out of the
boundaries of the self. At that very moment is when the foundation
slips out from under us and very rudely we're brought back to earth.
It's all very much like the process of spacecraft reentry. You're out
there, free, totally free from the limitations of earthly distance, and
suddenly you have to come back and it's a very painful thing."
Phenomena: From Humans to Gods
Phenomena (see color plates), completed in 1965, moved Belson
closer to the totally personal metaphysical experience that culminated
two years later in Samadhi. Also Phenomena was the first film in
which he abandoned allegories with space flight or astronomic sub

19 Ibid., p. xxxvi.

168 Expanded Cinema
jects for a more Buddhistic exploration of psychic energies. It was
primarily inspired by Buddha's statements in the Diamond Sutra and
the Heart Sutra.
The film begins with electronically-distorted rock music as
curvilinear dish shapes of bright cadmium red, crimson, and
cerulean blue expand frenetically. A glowing red neon coil pulsates to
the music. Next we see— unique in Belson's work— a recognizable
though distorted figure of a man, then a woman, images shot from
television through warped glass filters. They are obscured by a
hailstorm of popping confetti-like flashes of red, white, and blue on a
black field. The music fades into tumultuous cheering throngs as a
fiery red starburst erupts in a sky of cobalt blue, its rings expanding
into individual thorny clusters.
Belson thinks of this sequence as "an extremely capsulized history
of creation on earth, including all the elements and man. It's the
human sociological-racial experience on one level, and it's a kind of
biological experience in the sense that it's physical. It's seen with the
blinders of humanity, you know, just being a human, grunting on the
face of the earth, exercising and agonizing. There's even a touch of
the Crucifixion in there— a brief suggestion of a crown of thorns, a
red ring of centers, each emitting a kind of thorny light cluster. The
man and the woman are Adam and Eve if they're anyone. I see them
as rather comic at that point. At the end of course it's pure
consciousness and they're like gods. The end of the film is the
opposite of the beginning: it's still life on earth but not seen from
within, as sangsara, but as if you were approaching it from outside of
consciousness so to speak. From cosmic consciousness. As though
you were approaching it as a god. You see the same things but with
completely different meaning."
In Buddhism the phenomenal universe of physical matter is known
as sangsara. Its antithesis is nirvana or that which is beyond
phenomena. Also within sangsara exists maya, Sanskrit for a
magical or illusory show with direct reference to the phenomenon of
nature. Thus in the Diamond Sutra Buddha equates sangsara with
nirvana since both contain "magical" elements and asserts that both
are illusory.20 This is the substance of Belson’s film.
20 Edward Conze, Buddhist Wisdom Books: The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra
(London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1958).

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 169
Suddenly and quite incongruously we hear German Lieder
(Belson: "The epitome of the ego personality"). A gorgeous organ-
pipe lumia display dances across the frame, a shifting alignment of
fluted columns of phosphorescent colors similar to the work of
Thomas Wilfred and more recent lumia artists such as Julio le Parc.
Though Belson calls it a "gaudy juke-box lighting effect," it is far
more beautiful than its predecessors: vertical shafts of white light
through which move horizontal sheets of emerald, Prussian blue,
rose madder, pale citron.
The pillars of color melt with a crackling buzz and slowly liquid
blobs of pigment solidify into one of the most spectacular images of
Belson's films: a mosaic field of hundreds of hard-edge, bullet-
shaped modules in a serial grid. Each tiny unit constantly transforms
its shape and color— from violet to Mars red to French ultramarine
blue to mint green and zinc yellow. The staccato buzz flawlessly
underscores the geometry, as though the modules are generating
the sound as they converge and transform.
Suddenly the frame is shattered with a roar and a fiery light in a
heaven of boiling multihued gases: a grim, sinister eruption that
suggests, according to Belson, "depersonalization, the shattering of
the ego-bound consciousness, perhaps through death, perhaps
through evolution or rebirth." This celestial storm of manganese blue
and zinc yellow leads into a state of karmic illusions with glacial,
floating, aurora borealis lights of red and yellow-whites, rainbow
liquid cascades of exquisite sheerness.
Various states of matter rise above, iceberg-like, sink and float
away. This is followed by an intense white-light sequence with an
ethereal mother-of-pearl quality, representing a state of total integration
with the universe, of blinding super-consciousness. It culminates
in an enormous roaring sphere of flaming gases. In the final sequence,
against a descending drone, the void is shattered by a
central light that throws out sweeping circular rainbows of liquid color
moving majestically clockwise, collecting together, and lashing out
again in the opposite direction until the ultimate fade-out.
Samadhi: Documentary of a Human Soul
For two years, from 1966 through 1967, assisted by a
Guggenheim Fellowship, Belson subjected himself to a rigorously
ascetic Yoga discipline. He severed emotional and family ties, re


170 Expanded Cinema

Jordan Belson: Samadhi. 1967.16mm. Color. 6 min.
"When I finally saw how intense Samadhi is, I knew I had achieved
the real substance of what I was trying to depict. Natural forces
have that intensity: not dreamy but hard, ferocious."


The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 171
duced physical excitements and stimulations, reversed his sensory
process to focus exclusively on his inner consciousness and
physical resources. The result of this Olympian effort was Samadhi
(see color plates), certainly among the most powerful and haunting
states of nonordinary reality ever captured on film "It's a
documentary of the human soul," he says. "The experiences which
led up to the production of this film, and the experiences of making it,
totally convinced me that the soul is an actual physical entity, not a
vague abstraction or symbol. I was very pleased when I finally saw
how concentrated, how intense, Samadhi is because I knew I had
achieved the real substance of what I was trying to depict. Natural
forces have that intensity: not dreamy but hard, ferocious. After it
was finished I felt I should have died. I was rather amazed when I
In Mahayana Buddhism death is considered a liberating
experience that reunites the pure spirit of the mind with its natural or
primal condition. An incarnate mind, united to a human body, is said
to be in an unnatural state because the driving forces of the five
senses continually distract it in a process of forming thoughts. It is
considered close to natural only during the state of Samadhi,
Sanskrit for, "that state of consciousness in which the individual soul
merges with the universal soul." This state is sought— but rarely
achieved— through dhyana, the deepest meditation. In dhyana there
can be no "idea" of meditation, for the idea, by its very existence,
defeats the experience. The various stages ofdhyana are denoted
by the appearance of lights representing certain levels of wisdom
until the final "Clear Light" is perceived. In this quasi-primordial state
of supramundane all-consciousness, the physical world of sangsara
and the spiritual world of nirvana become one.
Electroencephalograms of Hindu Yogis in states of Samadhic
ecstasy, or what in psychology is known as manic dedifferentiation,
show curves that do not correspond to any cerebral activities known
to science, either in wakefulness or sleep. Yogis claim that during
Samadhi they are able to grow as large as the Milky Way or as small
as the smallest conceivable particle. Carlos Castaneda discusses
similar experiences in his report of apprenticeship to a Yaqui Indian
sorcerer. Such fantastic assumptions are not to be taken literally so
much as conceptually, as experiences of nonordinary psychological
realities, which are nonetheless real for him who experiences them.

172 Expanded Cinema
Perhaps with these concepts in mind we can approach Belson's
sublime vision on a level more suited to it. We might remember also
that practically everyone reading this book has in his possession an
instrument that transforms energy within matter: the transistor. Belson
seeks no more and no less than this. Samadhi is a record of two
years of his search.
Samadhi was a radical departure from Belson's previous work in
many ways. First, rather than ebbing and flowing in paced rhythms, it
is one sustained cyclone of dynamic form and color whose fierce
tempo never subsides. Second, in addition to the usual electronic
sound, Belson's inhaling and exhaling is heard through the film to
represent years of Yoga breathing discipline. And finally, whereas the
earlier works moved from exterior to interior reality, Samadhi is
continually centered around flaming spheres that evolve out of
nothing and elude specific identification.
The various colors and intensities of these solar spheres
correspond directly to descriptions in the Tibetan Book of the Dead
of lights representing the elements Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. They
have two additional meanings, however: the kundalini moving
upward through the chakras; and the inhalation-exhalation of the life
force, prana. For those unfamiliar with Yoga concepts, the chakras
are physical nerve centers located within the body along the spinal
column at five or six points: one in the sexual region, one in the
region of the navel, the heart, the throat, the eyes, the middle of the
head, the top of the head. Clairvoyants supposedly can see them.
According to Yoga theory the kundalini— the vital life force that
animates the body— resides in a concentrated form at the base of
the spine in the general region of the sexual organs. Through
physical disciplines and ethical, moral strength one raises that center
of life force from the lower spine progressively, in stages, toward the
Thus one implication of the elusive shifting centers inSamadhi is a
trip through the chakras, from the lowest to the highest. There is also
the analogy with the breathing structure. When we hear Belson
inhale, the spheres glow brighter to indicate thatprana, the life force
in the air we breathe, is being introduced into the bloodstream and
therefore into the kundalini. The deep, spatial, dark areas of the film

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 173
indicate not only the stages between chakras but also exhalations
when there is relatively less prana.
As it begins, a stormy field of turbulent gases collects around a
central core. The serrated vapors melt into a small central "jewel" of
curling pink and red-orange flames that finally fades into black
silence. The vacuum created by this pause reverberates in the ears
until, slowly, a deep blue filamented sphere evolves, turning with
purposive elegance, glowing into cadmium orange, surrounded by a
whirling halo. It becomes a blue sphere in a red universe, spewing
off white-hot rings of light.
Next comes a series of solar or planetoid visions: a scintillating
yellow star with six shimmering fingers; a blue-purple planet with a
fiery red halo; a small central globe dwarfed by an immense corona;
a dim yellow-ochre sun emanating flames that revolve like
chromospheres in a plasma storm; various stellar orbs turning with
implacable grace against wavering sonorous drones. Suddenly
there's a burst of white light of blinding intensity: a murky sea of
deep blue gas is in huge movement; waves of unbearably gorgeous
mist sweep across the void. It is obvious that contact has been made
with some vast new reality.
Cinema to Belson is a matrix wherein he is able to relate external
experience to internal experience. He feels that it culminated in
Samadhi. "I reached the point that what I was able to produce
externally, with the equipment, was what I was seeing internally. I
could close my eyes and see these images within my own being,
and I could look out at the sky and see the same thing happening
there too. And most of the time I'd see them when I looked through
the viewfinder of my camera mounted on the optical bench. I've
always considered image-producing equipment as extensions of the
mind. The mind has produced these images and has made the
equipment to produce them physically. In a way it's a projection of
what's going on inside, phenomena thrown out by the
consciousness, which we are then able to look at. In a sense I'm
doing something similar to the clairvoyant Ted Serios who can
project his thoughts onto Polaroid film. Only I have to filter my
consciousness through an enormous background of art and
filmmaking. But we're doing the same thing. Samadhi breaks new
territory in a way. It's as though I've come back from there with my
camera in hand— I've been able to film it.

174 Expanded Cinema
GENE: Do you feel your drug experiences have been beneficial to
your work?
JORDAN: Absolutely. Early in life I experimented with peyote, LSD,
and so on. But in many ways my films are ahead of my own
experience. In fact Samadhi is the only one in which I actually
caught up with the film and ran alongside of it for just a moment.
The film is way ahead of anything I've experienced on a continuing
basis. And the same has been true of the drug experiences. They
somehow set the stage for the insights. I had peyote fifteen years
ago but I didn't have any cosmic or Samadhic experiences. That
remained for something to happen through development on
different levels of consciousness. The new art and other forms of
expression reveal the influence of mind-expansion. And finally we
reach the point where there virtually is no separation between
science, observation, and philosophy. The new artist works
essentially in the same way as the scientist. In many cases it's
identical with scientific exploration. But at other times the artist is
able to focus more in the area of consciousness and subjective
phenomena, but with the same kind of scientific zeal, the same
objectivity, as scientists. Cosmic consciousness is not limited to
scientists. In fact scientists are sometimes the last to know. They
can look through their telescopes and see it out there, but still be
very limited individuals."
Momentum: The Sun as an Atom
If one were to isolate a single quality that distinguishes Belson's
films from other "space" movies, it would be that his work is always
heliocentric whereas most others, even 2001, are geocentric. The
archetypal nature of the sun is such that Belson's obsession with it
has, at times, tended toward a certain mysticism that was, no doubt,
unavoidable. That he would someday make a movie exclusively
about the sun was inevitable; that it would be his least mystical work
came as something of a surprise.

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 175

Jordan Belson: Momentum. 1969.
16mm. Color. 6 min. "The paradoxical
realm in which subatomic phenomena
and the cosmologically vast are

176 Expanded Cinema
"I was wondering what the subject of my next film would be after
Samadhi," he said. "My whole world had collapsed. All the routines
I'd created in order to develop the state of consciousness to produce
that film just fell apart. So I had to keep working just to maintain the
momentum from Samadhi. I had no pre-conceived idea what the
new material was about, but I was calling it Momentum. Eventually I
discovered it was about the sun. I ran right to the library; the more I
read the more I realized this was exactly what Momentum was
about. All the material was similar if not identical to solar phenomena
like corona phenomena, photosphere phenomena, chromosphere
phenomena, sun spots, plasma storms— I was even getting into
some interesting speculation about what goes oninside the sun. And
I realized that the film doesn't stop at the sun, it goes to the center of
the sun and into the atom. So that was the film, about the sun as an
atom. The end shows the paradoxical realm in which subatomic
phenomena and the cosmologically vast are identical. Through the
birth of a new star is where it happens."
Momentum (see color plates) was completed in May 1969, after
eighteen months of painstaking study and labor. In one sense it's a
refinement of the whole vocabulary he's developed through the
years, distilled to their essence. But there are new effects inspired by
this particular subject. Momentum is a calm, objective experience of
concrete imagery that manages to suggest abstract concepts without
becoming particularly symbolic.
It begins with stock footage of a Saturn rocket whose after-burners
blaze in rainbow fury. We hear echoing ethereal music and slow
cyclic drones. Next we see a solar image in mauves and iridescent
ruby, huge prominences flaring in slow motion. A series of graceful
lap-dissolves brings us closer to the sphere as it revolves with a
steady and ponderous dignity. In spite of its furious subject,
Momentum is Belson's most serene and gentle film since Allures.
This treatment of the sun as an almost dreamlike hallucinatory
experience is both surprising and curiously realistic— to the extent
that one can even speak of "realism" in connection with solar
There's a visceral, physical quality to the images as we draw near
to the surface and, with a soul-shaking roar, descend slowly into
blackness: apparently the suggestion of a sun spot. Flaming napalm-
like clouds of gas surge ominously into the void, which suddenly is
shattered with an opalescent burst of light. We move through various

The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson 177
levels of temperature and matter. Belson's now-familiar techniques
seem to possess a pristine clarity and precision not previously so
distinct. Swooping cascades of flame seem especially delicate;
fantastic towering shards of luminescent color reach deeper levels of
the mind; the translucent realms of kinaesthesia leave one
Moving deeper into the mass, images become more uniform with a
textural quality like a shifting sea of silver silt. Millions of tiny flashes
erupt over a field of deep blue vapors. Quick subtle movements and
sudden ruptures in the fabric of color seem suppressed by some
tremendous force. Indefinite shapes and countless particles swim in
a frantic sea of color.
"Then the film goes into fusion," said Belson. "A state of atomic
interaction more intense than fission. This is supposed to take place
on the sun, fusion." A blinding red fireball breaks into a multi-pointed
star of imploding light/energy, flashing brighter and brighter,
mounting in intensity. An image similar to James Whitney's Lapis— a
collecting of millions of tiny particles around a central fiery core—
builds up to the moment of crescendo, with all the colors of the
universe melting into one supremely beautiful explosion, and
suddenly we're deep in interstellar space, watching a distant flash as
a new sun is born.
"The whole secret of life must somehow exist in the solar image,"
Belson remarked. "Momentum is a kind of revelation regarding the
sun as the source of life. Not only in our solar system, but wherever
there's a sun it's the source of life in that part of the universe. We
come from it and return to it. Though we think of the sun as a
gigantic thing, I think probably an atom itself is a small sun— in fact
our sun is probably an atom in a larger structure. It's somehow tied
up with the essence of being. If you were to think of a single form
that would be the primary structure of the universe it would just have
to be the solar sphere. I mean there's so much evidence around us
to that effect."

Blank page

"The computer is the LSD of the business world. It absolutely guarantees the
elimination of all the business it is now being brought to serve."

The Technosphere: Man/Machine Symbiosis
If one were to propose a Bill of Rights for the year 2000 it would
defend human liberty, not civil liberty. Guaranteed rights would
include health, truth, reality, sexual fulfillment, study, travel, peace,
intimacy, leisure, the right to be unique. Man is not "civilized" until he
is whole. He is not whole until he's assured these rights. But I would
add another: the right of every man to be protected from the
consequences of his own ignorance. The computer provides this
The computer does not make man obsolete. It makes him fail-safe.
The computer does not replace man. It liberates him from
specialization. The transition from a culture that considers leisure a
"problem" to a culture that demands leisure as a prerequisite of
civilized behavior is a metamorphosis of the first magnitude. And it
has begun. The computer is the arbiter of radical evolution: it
changes the meaning of life. It makes us children. We must learn
how to live all over again.
"Recently, as in his natural symbiotic relations with plants and
animals, man's relation to cybernetic systems has been subtly
changing toward a more closely-woven interdependency resembling
his other ecological ties. This trend often is depicted as 'intelligent'
machines dominating man; but the possibility is more clearly that of
organic partnership… ''1
In laboratories all over the world, biochemists are drawing ever
closer to the secrets of the genetic code. Younger readers of this
book may within their lifetimes, rub shoulders with pre-programmed
humans. I do not say "synthetic" or "artificial." Fuller: "We speak
erroneously of 'artificial' materials, 'synthetics' and so on. The basis
for this erroneous terminology is the notion that nature has certain
things which we call natural, and everything else is 'manmade,' ergo
artificial. But what one learns in chemistry is that nature wrote all the
rules of structuring; man does not invent chemical structuring rules;
he only discovers the rules. All the chemist can do is to find out what
1 John McHale, “New Symbiosis,” Architectural Design (February, 1967), p. 89.

The Technosphere: Man/Machine Symbiosis 181
nature permits, and any substances that are thus developed or discovered
are inherently natural."2
John McHale: "We refuse to accept the reality of potentially
limitless wealth inherent in our new symbiotic relation to automated
technological processes. Scientific and technical development
destroys all previous intrinsic value in physical resources or
properties. From this point on, broadly speaking, all materials are
inter-convertible. The only unique resource-input is human knowledge—
the organized information which programs machine performance.
The products are non-unique and expendable, as are the
machines and materials. The only part of the whole process which is
non-expendable and uniquely irreplaceable is man. Those social
orientations which have had great survival value in the past now
endanger survival in the present and cripple our approach to the
In 1963 two Soviet scientists amplified the bio-electrical muscle
currents of a human body to operate exoskeletal servomechanisms
attached to the limbs.4 For the first time, organic partnership was
achieved to the direct physical advantage of man. The director of
cardiovascular surgery at Maimonides Hospital asserted, also in
1963: "Surgery is essentially an engineering discipline… the
integration of electronic circuits into the human body as functioning
and permanent parts… is going to become very important within the
next ten years."5 Since that remark we have witnessed a steady
increase in the number of cyborgs walking among us. Scientists now
speak of "moral spectrums for machines" based on the extent to
which the machine "...helps or hinders human beings to realize their
potentialities and thus to lead satisfactory lives."6
The computer amplifies man's intelligence in about the same ratio
that the telescope extends his vision. The man/computer symbiosis
2 Fuller, Ideas and Integrities (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), pp. 75, 76.
3McHale, "People Future," Architectural Design (February, 1967), p. 94.
4 A. E. Kobvinsky and V. S. Gurfinkel,Time (December, 1963).
5A. Kantrowitz, Electronic Physiologic Aids (New York: Maimonides Hospital, 1963).
6 M. W. Thring, "The Place of the Technologist in Modern Society,"Journal of the RSA
(London, April, 1966).


182 Expanded Cinema
is developed to the point where the machine instructs its user and
indicates possibilities for closer interaction. One needn't read the
manual but may consult the machine directly with the order, "I want
to do something, instruct me." It is not even necessary to be in the
presence of the computer to do this. One can carry out one's work
thousands of miles away, linked to the computer through remote
viewing and operating consoles.

The Human Bio-Computer
and His Electronic Brainchild
The verb "to compute" in general usage means to calculate. A
computer, then, is any system capable of accepting data, applying
prescribed processes to them, and supplying results of these
processes. The first computer, used thousands of years ago, was
the abacus.
There are two types of computer systems: those that measure and
those that count. A measuring machine is called an analogue
computer because it establishes analogous connections between
the measured quantities and the numerical quantities supposed to
represent them. These measured quantities may be physical
distances, volumes, or amounts of energy. Thermostats, rheostats,
speedometers, and slide rules are examples of simple analogue
A counting machine is called a digital computer because it consists
entirely of two-way switches that perform direct, not analogous,
functions. These switches operate with quantities expressed directly
as digits or discrete units of a numerical system known as thebinary
system.7 This system has 2 as its base. (The base of the decimal
system is 10, the base of the octal system is 8, the base of the
hexadecimal system is 16, and so on.) The binary code used in
digital computers is expressed in terms of one and zero (1-0),
representing on or off, yes or no. In electronic terms its equivalent is
voltage or no voltage. Voltages are relayed through a sequence of
binary switches in which the opening of a later switch depends on
the action of precise combinations of earlier switches leading to it.
The term binary digit usually is abbreviated as bit, which is used also
as a unit of measurement of information. A computer is said to have
a "million-bit capacity," or a laser hologram is described as requiring
109 bits of information to create a three-dimensional image.
The largest high-velocity digital computers have a storage capacity
from four thousand to four million bits consisting of twelve to forty

7 Wiener, op. cit., pp. 88-90.

184 Expanded Cinema
eight digits each. The computer adds together two forty-eight digit
numbers simultaneously, whereas a man must add each pair of
digits successively. The units in which this information is stored are
called ferrite memory cores. As the basic component of the
electronic brain, the ferrite memory core is equivalent to the neuron,
the fundamental element of the human brain, which is also a digital
computer. The point at which a nerve impulse passes from one
neuron to another is called a synapse, which measures about 0.5
micron in diameter. Through microelectronic techniques of
Discretionary Wiring and Large Scale Integration (LSI), circuit
elements of five microns are now possible. That is, the size of the
computer memory core is approaching the size of the neuron. A
complete computer function with an eight-hundred-bit memory has
been constructed only nineteen millimeters squared.8
The time required to insert or retrieve one bit of information is
known as memory cycle time. Whereas neurons take approximately
ten milliseconds (10-2 second) to transmit information from one to
another, a binary element of a ferrite memory core can be reset in
one hundred nanoseconds, or one hundred billionths of a second
(10-7 second). This means that computers are about one-hundredthousand
times faster than the human brain. This is largely offset,
however, by the fact that computer processing is serial whereas the
brain performs parallel processing. Although the brain conducts
milli ons of operations simultaneously, most digital computers conduct
only one computation at any one instant in time.9 Brain
elements are much more richly connected than the elements in a
computer. Whereas an element in a computer rarely receives
simultaneous inputs from two other units, a brain cell may be
simultaneously influenced by several hundred other nerve cells.10
Moreover, while the brain must sort out and select information from
the nonfocused total field of the outside world, data input to a
computer is carefully pre-processed.
8 A. T. Lawton and G. E. Abrook, "Large Scale Integration,"Science Journal (London,
August, 1968).
9N. S. Sutherland, "Machines Like Men,"Science Journal (London, October, 1968).
10 Ibid.


Hardware and Software

It is often said that computers are "extraordinarily fast and
extraordinarily accurate, but they also are exceedingly stupid and
therefore have to be told everything." This process of telling the
computer everything is called computer programming. The hardware
of the human bio-computer is the physical cerebral cortex, its
neurons and synapses. The software of our brain is its logic or
intelligence, that which animates the physical equipment. That is to
say, hardware is technology whereas software is information. The
software of the computer is the stored set of instructions that
controls the manipulation of binary numbers. It usually is stored in
the form of punched cards or tapes, or on magnetic tape. The
process by which information is passed from the human to the
machine is called computer language. Two of the most common
computer languages are Algol derived from "Algorithmic Language,"
and Fortran, derived from "Formula Translation."
The basis of any program is an algorithm— a prescribed set of
rules that define the parameters, or discrete characteristics, of the
solution to a given problem. The algorithm is the solution, as
opposed to the heuristics or methods of finding a solution. In the
case of computer-generated graphic images, the problem is how to
create a desired image or succession of images. The solution
usually is in the form of polar equations with parametric controls for
straight lines, curves, and dot patterns.
Computers can be programmed to simulate "conceptual cameras"
and the effects of other conceptual filmmaking procedures. Under a
grant from the National Science Foundation in 1968, electrical
engineers at the University of Pennsylvania produced a forty-minute
instructional computer film using a program that described a
"conceptual camera," its focal plane and lens angle, panning and
zoom actions, fade-outs, double-exposures, etc. A program of
"scenario description language" was written which, in effect, stored
fifty years of moviemaking techniques and concepts into an IBM
360-65 computer.11
11 Ron Schneiderman, "Researchers Using IBM 360 to Produce Animated Films,"
Electronic News (June 17, 1968), p. 42.

186 Expanded Cinema
In the last decade seventy percent of all computer business was in
the area of central processing hardware, that is, digital computers
themselves. Authorities estimate that the trend will be completely
reversed in the coming decade, with seventy percent of profits being
made in software and the necessary input-output terminals. At
present, software equals hardware in annual sales of approximately
$6.5 billion, and is expected to double by 1975.12
Today machines read printed forms and may even decipher
handwriting. Machines "speak" answers to questions and are voice-
actuated. Computers play chess at tournament level. In fact, one of
the first instances of a computer asking itself an original question
occurred in the case of a machine programmed to play checkers and
backgammon simultaneously. A situation developed in which it had
to make both moves in one reset cycle and thus had to choose
between the two, asking itself: "Which is more important, checkers or
backgammon?" It selected backgammon on the grounds that more
affluent persons play that game, and since the global trend is toward
more wealth per each world person, backgammon must take
Machine tools in modern factories are controlled by other
machines, which themselves have to be sequenced by higher-order
machines Computer models can now be built that exhibit many of
the characteristics of human personality, including love, fear, and
anger. They can hold beliefs, develop attitudes, and interact with
other machines and human personalities. Machines are being
developed that can manipulate objects and move around
autonomously in a laboratory environment. They explore and learn,
plan strategies, and can carry out tasks that are incompletely
So-called learning machines such as the analogue UCLM II from
England, and the digital Minos II developed at Stanford University,
gradually are phasing out the prototype digital computer. A learning
machine has been constructed at the National Physical Laboratory
that learns to recognize and to associate differently shapedshadows
which the same object casts in different positions.15 These new elec

12 Robert A. Rosenblatt, "Software: The Tail Now Wags the Dog," Los Angeles Times
Outlook (June 29, 1969), sec. 1, p. 1.
13Fuller, "Prospect for Humanity," Good News.
14 Science Journal (October, 1968).
15 Bronowski, op. cit., p. 47.


Hardware and Software 187
tronic brains are approaching speeds approximately one million
times faster than the fastest digital computers. It is estimated that the
next few generations of learning machines will be able to perform in
five minutes what would take a digital computer ten years. The
significance of this becomes more apparent when we realize that a
digital computer can process in twenty minutes information
equivalent to a human lifetime of seventy years at peak performance.
N. S. Sutherland: "There is a real possibility that we may one day
be able to design a machine that is more intelligent than ourselves.
There are all sorts of biological limitations on our own intellectual
capacity ranging from the limited number of computing elements we
have available in our craniums to the limited span of human life and
the slow rate at which incoming data can be accepted. There is no
reason to suppose that such stringent limitations will apply to
computers of the future... it will be much easier for computers to
bootstrap themselves on the experience of previous computers than
it is for man to benefit from the knowledge acquired by his
predecessors. Moreover, if we can design a machine more intelligent
than ourselves, then a fortiori that machine will be able to design one
more intelligent than itself.''17
The number of computers in the world doubles each year, while
computer capabilities increase by a factor of ten every two or three
years. Herman Kahn: "If these factors were to continue until the end
of the century, all current concepts about computer limitations will
have to be reconsidered. Even if the trend continues for only the
next decade or so, the improvements over current computers would
be factors of thousands to millions... By the year 2000 computers are
likely to match, simulate or surpass some of man's most 'human-like'
intellectual abilities, including perhaps some of his aesthetic and
creative capacities, in addition to having new kinds of capabilities
that human beings do not have... If it turns out that they cannot
duplicate or exceed certain characteristically human capabilities, that
will be one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth
16 W. K. Taylor, "Machines That Learn," Science Journal (October, 1968).
17Sutherland, Science Journal.
18Herman Kahn, Anthony Wiener, Year 2000 (New York: Macmillan, 1967), p. 89.


188 Expanded Cinema
Dr. Marvin Minsky of M.I.T. has predicted: "As the machine improves...
we shall begin to see all the phenomena associated with
the terms 'consciousness,' 'intuition' and 'intelligence.' It is hard to
say how close we are to this threshold, but once it is crossed the
world will not be the same... it is unreasonable to think that machines
could become nearly as intelligent as we are and then stop, or to
suppose that we will always be able to compete with them in wit and
wisdom. Whether or not we could retain some sort of control of the
machines— assuming that we would want to— the nature of our
activities and aspirations would be changed utterly by the presence
on earth of intellectually superior entities.''19 But perhaps the most
portentous implication in the evolving symbiosis of the human biocomputer
and his electronic brainchild was voiced by Dr. Irving John
Good of Trinity College, Oxford, in his prophetic statement: "The first
ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need make."20
19Arthur C. Clarke, "The Mind of the Machine,"Playboy (December, 1968),
p. 118.
20 Ibid.

The Aesthetic Machine
As the culmination of the Constructivist tradition, the digital computer
opens vast new realms of possible aesthetic investigation. The poet
Wallace Stevens has spoken of "the exquisite environment of face."
Conventional painting and photography have explored as much of
that environment as is humanly possible. But, as with other hidden
realities, is there not more to be found there? Do we not intuit
something in the image of man that we never have been able to
express visually? It is the belief of those who work in cybernetic art
that the computer is the tool that someday will erase the division
between what we feel and what we see.
Aesthesic application of technology is the only means of achieving
new consciousness to match our new environment. We certainly are
not going to love computers that guide SAC missiles. We surely do
not feel warmth toward machines that analyze marketing trends. But
perhaps we can learn to understand the beauty of a machine that
produces the kind of visions we see in expanded cinema.
It is quite clear in what direction man's symbiotic relation to the
computer is headed: if the first computer was the abacus, the
ultimate computer will be the sublime aesthetic device: a
parapsychological instrument for the direct projection of thoughts
and emotions. A. M. Noll, a pioneer in three-dimensional computer
films at Bell Telephone Laboratories, has some interesting thoughts
on the subject: "...the artist's emotional state might conceivably be
determined by computer processing of physical and electrical signals
from the artist (for example, pulse rate and electrical activity of the
brain). Then, by changing the artist's environment through such
external stimuli as sound, color and visual patterns, the computer
would seek to optimize the aesthetic effect of all these stimuli upon
the artist according to some specified criterion... the emotional
reaction of the artist would continually change, and the computer
would react accordingly either to stabilize the artist's emotional state
or to steer it through some pre-programmed course. One is strongly
tempted to describe these ideas as a consciousness-expanding
experience in association with a psychedelic computer... current

190 Expanded Cinema

Visualizing the invisible: Six
successive stereo pairs from a film
by A. Michael Noll of Bell Telephone
Laboratories, demonstrating
the rotation, on four mutually
perpendicular axes, of a four-
dimensional hypercube projected
onto dual two-dimensional picture
planes in simulated three-dimensional
space. The viewer wears
special polarized glasses such as
those common in 3-D movies of the
early 1950's. It was an attempt to
communicate an intuitive understanding
of four-dimensional
objects, which in physics are called
hyperobjects. A computer can easily
construct, in mathematical terms,
a fourth spatial dimension perpendicular
to our three spatial
dimensions. Only a fourth digit is
required for the machine to locate
a point in four-dimensional space.
Photo: Bell Telephone Laboratories.

The Aesthetic Machine 191
technological and psychological investigations would seem to aim in
such a direction.''21
This chapter on computer films might be seen as an introduction to
the first tentative, crude experiments with the medium. No matter
how impressive, they are dwarfed by the knowledge of what
computers someday will be able to do. The curious nature of the
technological revolution is that, with each new step forward, so much
new territory is exposed that we seem to be moving backwards. No
one is more aware of current limitations than the artists themselves.
As he has done in other disciplines without a higher ordering
principle, man so far has used the computer as a modified version of
older, more traditional media. Thus we find it compared to the brush,
chisel, or pencil and used to facilitate the efficiency of conventional
methods of animating, sculpting, painting, and drawing. But the
chisel, brush, and canvas are passive media whereas the computer
is an active participant in the creative process. Robert Mallary, a
computer scientist involved in computer sculpture, has delineated six
levels of computer participation in the creative act. In the first stage
the machine presents proposals and variants for the artist's
consideration without any qualitative judgments, yet the man/machine
symbiosis is synergetic. At the second stage, the computer
becomes an indispensable component in the production of an art
that would be impossible without it, such as constructing holographic
interference patterns. In the third stage, the machine makes autonomous
decisions on alternative possibilities that ultimately govern
the outcome of the artwork. These decisions, however, are made
within parameters defined in the program. At the fourth stage the
computer makes decisions not anticipated by the artist because they
have not been defined in the program. This ability does not yet exist
for machines. At the fifth stage, in Mallary's words, the artist "is no
longer needed" and "like a child, can only get in the way." He would
still, however, be able to "pull out the plug," a capability he will not
possess when and if the computer ever reaches the sixth stage of
"pure disembodied energy."22
21 A. M. Noll, "The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium," IEEE Spectrum (October,
1967), p. 94.
22 Robert Mallary, "Computer Sculpture: Six Levels of Cybernetics," Artforum (May,
1969), pp. 34, 35.


192 Expanded Cinema
Returning to more immediate realities, A. M. Noll has explained the
computer's active role in the creative process as it exists today:
"Most certainly the computer is an electronic device capable of
performing only those operations that it has been explicitly instructed
to perform. This usually leads to the portrayal of the computer as a
powerful tool but one incapable of any true creativity. However, if
'creativity' is restricted to mean the production of the unconventional
or the unpredicted, then the computer should instead be portrayed
as a creative medium— an active and creative collaborator with the
artist... because of the computer's great speed, freedom from error,
and vast abilities for assessment and subsequent modification of
programs, it appears to us to act unpredictably and to produce the
unexpected. In this sense the computer actively takes over some of
the artist's creative search. It suggests to him syntheses that he may
or may not accept. It possesses at least some of the external
attributes of creativity."23
Traditionally, artists have looked upon science as being more
important to mankind than art, whereas scientists have believed the
reverse. Thus in the confluence of art and science the art world is
understandably delighted to find itself suddenly in the company of
science. For the first time, the artist is in a position to deal directly
with fundamental scientific concepts of the twentieth century. He can
now enter the world of the scientist and examine those laws that
describe a physical reality. However, there is a tendency to regard
any computer-generated art as highly significant— even the most
simplistic line drawing, which would be meaningless if rendered by
hand. Conversely, the scientific community could not be more
pleased with its new artistic image, interpreting it as an occasion to
relax customary scientific disciplines and accept anything random as
art. A solution to the dilemma lies somewhere between the polarities
and surely will evolve through closer interaction of the two
When that occurs we will find that a new kind of art has resulted
from the interface. Just as a new language is evolving from the
binary elements of computers rather than the subject-predicate
relation of the Indo-European system, so will a new aesthetic
discipline that bears little resemblance to previous notions of art and
the creative process. Already the image of the artist has changed
23 Noll, "The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium," p. 91.

The Aesthetic Machine 193
radically. In the new conceptual art, it is the artist's idea and not his
technical ability in manipulating media that is important. Though
much emphasis currently is placed on collaboration between artists
and technologists, the real trend is more toward one man who is
both artistically and technologically conversant. The Whitney family,
Stan VanDerBeek, Nam June Paik, and others discussed in this
book are among the first of this new breed. A. M. Noll is one of them,
and he has said: "A lot has been made of the desirability of
collaborative efforts between artists and technologists. I, however,
disagree with many of the assumptions upon which this desirability
supposedly is founded. First of all, artists in general find it extremely
difficult to verbalize the images and ideas they have in their minds.
Hence the communication of the artist's ideas to the technologist is
very poor indeed. What I do envision is a new breed of artist... a man
who is extremely competent in both technology and the arts."
Thus Robert Mallary speaks of an evolving "science of art...
because programming requires logic, precision and powers of
analysis as well as a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and
a clear idea of the goals of the program... technical developments in
programming and hardware will proceed hand in glove with a steady
increase in the theoretical knowledge of art, as distinct from the
intuitive and pragmatic procedures which have characterized the
creative process up to now."

Cybernetic Cinema
Three types of computer output hardware can be used to produce
movies: the mechanical analogue plotter, the "passive" microfilm
plotter and the "active" cathode-ray tube (CRT) display console.
Though the analogue plotter is quite useful in industrial and scientific
engineering, architectural design, systems analysis, and so forth, it is
rather obsolete in the production of aesthetically-motivated computer
films. It can and is used to make animated films but is best suited for
still drawings.
Through what is known as digital-to-analogue conversion, coded
signals from a computer drive an armlike servomechanism that
literally draws pen or pencil lines on flatbed or drum carriages. The
resulting flow charts, graphs, isometric renderings, or realist images
are incrementally precise but are too expensive and time-consuming
for nonscientific movie purposes. William Fetter of the Boeing
Company in Seattle has used mechanical analogue plotting systems
to make animated films for visualizing pilot and cockpit
configurations in aircraft design. Professor Charles Csuri of Ohio
State University has created "random wars" and other random and
semi-random drawings using mechanical plotters for realist images.
However, practically all computer films are made with cathode-ray
tube digital plotting output systems.
The cathode-ray tube, like the oscilloscope, is a special kind of
television tube. It's a vacuum tube in which a grid between cathode
and anode poles emits a narrow beam of electrons that are
accelerated at high velocity toward a phosphor-coated screen, which
fluoresces at the point where the electrons strike. The resulting
luminescent glow is called a "trace-point." An electromagnetic field
deflects the electron beam along predetermined patterns by
electronic impulses that can be broadcast, cabled, or recorded on
tape. This deflection capability follows vertical and horizontal
increments expressed as xy plotting coordinates. Modern three-inch
CRTs are capable of responding to a computer's "plot-point" and
"draw-line" commands at a rate of 100,000 per second within a field
of 16,000 possible xy coordinates— that is, approximately a million
times faster and more accurate than a human draftsman. When

Cybernetic Cinema 195

Above: Mechanical analogue plotter draws
pilot for computer-animated film by William
Fetter of the Boeing Company in Seattle,
Washington. Below: Animated sequence
from the film. Photo: Boeing Company.

196 Expanded Cinema
interfaced with a digital computer, the CRT provides a visual display
of electronic signal information generated by the computer program.
The passive microfilm plotter is the most commonly used output
system for computer movies. It's a self-contained film-recording unit
in which a movie camera automatically records images generated on
the face of a three-inch CRT. The term "microfilm" is confusing to
filmmakers not conversant with industrial or scientific language. It
simply indicates conventional emulsion film in traditional 8mm.,
16mm., or 35mm. formats, used in a device not originally intended
for the production of motion pictures, but rather still pictures for
compact storage of large amounts of printed or pictorial information.
Users of microfilm plotters have found, however, that their movie-
producing capability is at least as valuable as their storage-andretrieval
capability. Most computer films are not aesthetically-
motivated. They are made by scientists, engineers, and educators to
facilitate visualization and rapid assimilation of complex analytic and
abstract concepts.
In standard cinematography the shutter is an integral part of the
camera's drive mechanism, mechanically interlocked with the
advance-claws that pull successive frames down to be exposed. But
cameras in microfilm plotters such as the Stromberg-Carlson 4020 or
the CalComp 840 are specially designed so that the shutter
mechanism is separate from the film pull-down. Both are operated
automatically, along with the CRT display, under computer program
Some computer films, particularly those of John Whitney, are
made with active twenty-one-inch CRTs such as the IBM 2250
Display Console with its light pen, keyboard inputs, and functional
keys, whose use will be described in more detail later on. This
arrangement is not a self-contained filmmaking unit; rather, a specially
modified camera is set up in front of the CRT under automatic
synchronous control of a computer program. This system is called
"active" as opposed to the "passive" nature of the microfilm plotter
because the artist can feed commands to the computer through the
CRT by selecting variables with the light pen and the function
keyboard, thus "composing" the picture in time as sequences
develop (during filming, however, the light pen is not used and the

Cybernetic Cinema 197

Cybernetic movie studio: The IBM 2250
Display Console with CRT, light pen,
 and function keyboard. Photo: IBM.
CRT becomes a passive display of the algorithm). Also, until recently
the display console was the only technique that allowed the artist to
see the display as it was being recorded; recent microfilm plotters,
however, are equipped with viewing monitors.
Since most standard microfilm plotters were not originally intended
for the production of motion pictures, they are deficient in at least
two areas that can be avoided by using the active CRT. First, film
registration in microfilm plotters does not meet quality standards of
the motion-picture industry since frame-to-frame steadiness is not a
primary consideration in conventional microfilm usage. Second, most
microfilm plotters are not equipped to accept standard thousand-foot
core-wound rolls of 35mm, film, which of course is possible with
magazines of standard, though control-modified, cameras used to
photograph active CRTs.

198 Expanded Cinema
Recently, however, computer manufacturing firms such as
Stromberg-Carlson have designed cameras and microfilm plotters
that meet all qualifications of the motion-picture industry as the use
of computer graphics becomes increasingly popular in television
commercials and large animation firms. Passive CRT systems are
preferred over active consoles for various reasons. First, the input
capabilities of the active scope are rarely used in computer
animation. Second, passive CRTs come equipped with built-in film
recorders. Third, a synchronization problem can arise when filming
from an active CRT scope caused by the periodic "refreshing" of the
image. This is similar to the "rolling" phenomenon that often occurs
in the filming of a televised program. The problem is avoided in
passive systems since each frame is drawn only once and the
camera shutter remains open while the frame is drawn.
The terms "on-line," "off-line," and "real time" are used in
describing computer output systems. Most digital plotting systems
are designed to operate either on-line or off-line with the computer.
In an on-line system, plot commands are fed directly from the
computer to the CRT. In an off-line system, plot commands are
recorded on magnetic tape that can instruct the plotter at a later
time. The term "real time" refers specifically to temporal relationships
between the CRT, the computer, and the final film or the human
operator's interaction with the computing system. For example, a
real-time interaction between the artist and the computer is possible
by drawing on the face of the CRT with the light pen. Similarly, if a
movie projected at the standard 24 fps has recorded the CRT display
exactly as it was drawn by the computer, this film is said to be a real-
time representation of the display. A live-action shot is a real-time
document of the photographed subject, whereas single-frame
animation is not a real-time image, since more time was required in
recording than in projecting.
Very few computer films of significant complexity are recorded in
real-time operation. Only one such film, Peter Kamnitzer's City-
Scape, is discussed in this book. This is primarily because the hardware
necessary to do real-time computer filmmaking is rare and
prohibitively expensive, and because real-time photography is not of
crucial importance in the production of aesthetically-motivated films.
In the case of John Whitney's work, for example, although the

Cybernetic Cinema 199
imagery is preconceived for movie projection at 24 fps, it is filmed at
about 8 fps. Three to six seconds are usually required to produce
one image, and a twenty-second sequence projected at 24 fps may
require thirty minutes of computer time to generate.
Most CRT displays are black-and-white. Although the Sandia
Corporation and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory have achieved
dramatic results with full-color CRTs, the color of most computer
films is added in optical printing of original black-and-white footage,
or else colored filters can be superposed over the face of the CRT
during photography. Full color and partial color displays are available.
As in the case of City-Scape, however, a great deal of color
quality is lost in photographing the CRT screen. Movies of color CRT
displays invariably are washed-out, pale, and lack definition. Since
black-and-white film stocks yield much higher definition than color
film stocks, most computer films are recorded in black-and-white
with color added later through optical printing.
A similar problem exists in computer-generated realistic imagery in
motion. It will be noted that most films discussed here are non-
figurative, non-representational, i.e., concrete. Those films which do
contain representational images— City-Scape, Hummingbird— are
rather crude and cartoon-like in comparison with conventional
animation techniques. Although computer films open a new world of
language in concrete motion graphics, the computer's potential for
manipulation of the realistic image is of far greater relevance for both
artist and scientist. Until recently the bit capacity of computers far
outstripped the potentials of existing visual subsystems, which did
not have the television capability of establishing a continuous scan
on the screen so that each point could be controlled in terms of
shading and color. Now, however, such capabilities do exist and the
tables are turned; the bit capacity necessary to generate television-
quality motion images with tonal or chromatic scaling is enormously
beyond present computer capacity.
Existing methods of producing realistic imagery still require some
form of realistic input. The computer does not "understand" a
command to make this portion of the picture dark gray or to give that
line more "character." But it does understand algorithms that
describe the same effects. For example, L. D. Harmon and Kenneth
Knowlton at Bell Telephone have produced realistic pictures by

200 Expanded Cinema
scanning photographs with equipment similar to television cameras.
The resulting signals are converted into binary numbers representing
brightness levels at each point. These bits are transferred to
magnetic tape, providing a digitized version of the photograph for
computer processing. Brightness is quantized into eight levels of
density represented by one of eight kinds of dots or symbols. They
appear on the CRT in the form of a mosaic representation of the
original photograph. The process is both costly and time consuming,
with far less "realistic" results than conventional procedures.
The Computer Image Company of Denver, Colorado, has devised
two unique methods of producing cartoon-like representational
computer graphics in real-time, on-line operation. Using special
hybrid systems with the advantages of both digital and analogue
computers, they generate images through optical scanning or
acoustical and anthropometric controls. In the scanning process,
called Scanimate, a television camera scans black-and-white or
color transparencies; this signal is input to the Scanimate computer
where it is segmented into as many as five different parts, each
capable of independent movement in synchronization with any audio
track, either music or commentary. The output is recorded directly
onto film or videotape as an integral function of the Scanimate
The second computer image process, Animac, does not involve
optical scanning. It generates its own images in conjunction with
acoustical or anthropometric analogue systems. In the first instance
the artist speaks into a microphone that converts the electrical
signals into a form that modulates the cartoon image on the CRT.
The acoustical input animates the cartoon mouth while other facial
characteristics are controlled simultaneously by another operator. In
the second method an anthropometric harness is attached to a
person— a dancer, for example— with sensors at each of the skeletal
joints. If the person moves his arm the image moves its arm; when
the person dances the cartoon character dances in real-time
synchronization, with six degrees of freedom in simulated three-
dimensional space. It should be stressed that these cartoon images
are only "representational" and not "realistic." The systems were
designed specifically to reduce the cost of commercial filmmaking
and not to explore serious aesthetic potentials. It's obvious, however,
that such techniques could be applied to artistic investigation and to
nonobjective graphic compositions.

Cybernetic Cinema 201

Reclining nude scanned from photo and
reconstructed by computer using bright-ness-level
symbols. By L. D. Harmon and Kenneth C.
Knowlton. Photo: Bell Telephone Laboratories.

202 Expanded Cinema

Charles Csuri: Hummingbird. 1967,
16mm. Black and white. 10 min.
Computer-manipulations of hand-
drawn figure using xy plotting

Cybernetic Cinema 203
Professor Charles Csuri's computer film, Hummingbird, was produced
by digital scanning of an original hand-drawing of the bird.
The computer translated the drawing intoxy plotting coordinates and
processed variations on the drawing, assembling, disassembling,
and distorting its perspectives. Thus the images were not computer-
generated so much as computer-manipulated. There's no actual
animation in the sense of separately-moving parts. Instead a static
image of the bird is seen in various perspectives and at times is
distorted by reversals of the polar coordinates. Software
requirements were minimal and the film has little value as art other
than its demonstration of one possibility in computer graphics.
Limitations of computer-generated realistic imagery exist both in
the central processing hardware as well as visual output subsystems.
Advancements are being made in output subsystems that
go beyond the present bit-capacity of most computers. Chief among
these is the "plasma crystal" panel, which makes possible billboard
or wallsize TV receivers as well as pocket-size TV sets that could be
viewed in bright sunlight. The Japanese firms of Mitsubishi and
Matsushita (Panasonic) seem to be leaders in the field, each having
produced workable models. Meanwhile virtually every major
producer of video technology has developed its own version. One of
the pioneers of this process in the United States was Dr. George
Heilmeier of RCA's David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton,
New Jersey. He describes plasma crystals (sometimes called liquid
crystals) as organic compounds whose appearance and mechanical
properties are those of a liquid, but whose molecules tend to form
into large orderly arrays akin to the crystals of mica, quartz, or
diamonds. Unlike luminescent or fluorescing substances, plasma
crystals do not emit their own light: they're read by reflected light,
growing brighter as their surroundings grow brighter.
It was discovered that certain liquid crystals can be made
opalescent, and hence reflecting, by the application of electric
current. Therefore in manufacturing such display systems a
sandwich is formed of two clear glass plates, separated by a thin
layer of clear liquid crystal material only one-thousandth of an inch
thick. A reflective mirror-like conductive coating is deposited on the
inside face of one plate, in contact with the liquid. On the inside of
the other is deposited a transparent electrically-conductive coating of
tin oxide. When an electric charge from a battery or wall outlet is

204 Expanded Cinema

Prototype for flat, wall-size TV screens and computer visualization subsystems of the
future: Dr. George Heilmeier demonstrates RCA's liquid crystal display. Photo: RCA.
applied between the two coatings, the liquid crystal molecules are
disrupted and the sandwich takes on the appearance of frosted
glass. The frostiness disappears, however, as soon as the charge is
In order to display stationary patterns such as letters, symbols, or
still images, the coatings are shaped in accordance with the desired
pattern. To display motion the conductive coatings are laid down in
the form of a fine mosaic whose individual elements can be charged
independently, in accordance with a scanning signal such as is
presently used for facsimile, television, and other electronic displays.
To make the images visible in a dark room or outdoors at night, both
coatings are made transparent and a light source is installed at

Cybernetic Cinema 205
the edge of the screen. In addition it is possible to reflect a strong
light from the liquid crystal display to project its images, enlarged
many times, onto a wall or screen.
The implications of the plasma crystal display system are vast.
Since it is, in essence, a digital system composed of hundreds of
thousands of discrete picture elements (PIXELS), it obviously is
suitable as a computer graphics subsystem virtually without
limitation if only sufficient computing capabilities existed. The bit
requirements necessary for computer generation of real-time
realistic images in motion are as yet far beyond the present state of
the art.
This is demonstrated in a sophisticated video-computer system
developed by Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California,
for translation of television pictures from Mars in the various Mariner
projects. This fantastic system transforms the real-time TV signal
into digital picture elements that are stored on special data-discs.
The picture itself is not stored; only its digital translation. The JPL
video system consists of 480 lines of resolution, each line composed
of 512 individual points. One single image, or "cycle," is thus defined
by 245,760 points. In black-and-white, each of these points,
individually selectable, can be set to display at any of 64 desired
intensities on the gray scale between total black and total white.
Possible variations for one single image thus amount to 64 times
245,760. For color displays, the total image can be thought of as
three in-dependent images (one for each color constituent, red, blue,
and green) or can be taken as a triplet specification for each of the
480 times 512 points. With each constituent being capable of 64
different irradiating levels in the color spectrum, a theoretical total of
262,144 different color shadings are possible for any given point in
the image. (The average human eye can perceive only 100 to 200
different color shadings.)
These capabilities are possible only for single motionless images.
Six bits of information are required to produce each of the 245,760
points that constitute one image or cycle, and several seconds are
necessary to complete the cycle. Yet JPL scientists estimate that a
computing capability of at least two megacycles (two million cycles)
per second would be required to generate motion with the same
image-transforming capabilities.

206 Expanded Cinema
It is quite clear that human communication is trending toward these
possibilities. If the visual subsystems exist today, it's folly to assume
that the computing hardware won't exist tomorrow. The notion of
"reality" will be utterly and finally obscured when we reach that point.
There'll be no need for "movies" to be made on location since any
conceivable scene will be generated in totally convincing reality
within the information processing system. By that time, of course,
movies as we know them will not exist. We're entering a mythic age
of electronic realities that exist only on a metaphysical plane.
Meanwhile some significant work is being done in the development
of new language through computer-generated, nonrepresentational
graphics in motion. I've selected several of the most prominent
artists in the field and certain films, which, though not aesthetically-
motivated, reveal possibilities for artistic exploration. We'll begin with
the Whitney family: John, Sr., and his brother James inaugurated a
tradition; the sons John, Jr., Michael, and Mark are the first second-
generation computer-filmmakers in history.

Computer Films
John Whitney: Composing an Image of Time
"My computer program is like a piano. I could continue to use it creatively all my
The foremost computer-filmmaker in the world today, John Whitney
has for more than thirty years sought new language through
technological resources beyond human capacity. He has, however,
remained resolutely "humanist" in his approach, constantly striving to
reach deep emotional awarenesses through a medium essentially
austere and clinical. He has realized his goal to a remarkable
degree, yet he would be the first to admit that there is a long way to
go. "Computer graphic systems," he has said, "present an
opportunity to realize an art of graphics in motion with potentials that
are only now conceivable and have never been explored."
In his essay "Systems Esthetics," Jack Burnham observed:
"Scientists and technicians are not converted into artists, rather the
artist becomes a symptom of the schism between art and technics.
Progressively, the need to make ultrasensitive judgments as to the
uses of technology and scientific information becomes 'art' in the
most literal sense."24 Whitney is making those judgments with a
powerful extension of his brain.
Following studies at Pomona College in California, Whitney spent
a year in Europe where he studied photography and musical
composition. In 1940 he began specializing in concrete designs in
motion, working with his brother James on animated films which won
first prize at the first Experimental Film Festival in Belgium in 1949.
Early in the 1950's he experimented with the production of 16mm.
films for television and in 1952 wrote, produced, and directed
engineering films on guided missile projects for Douglas Aircraft. He
was a director of animated films at UPA in Hollywood for one year.
The title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo was among the
24Jack Burnham, "Systems Esthetics,"Artforum (September, 1968), pp. 30-35.

208 Expanded Cinema
work he produced in association with Saul Bass during this period.
Following that he directed several short musical films for CBS
television, and in 1957 worked with Charles Eames assembling a
seven-screen presentation for the Fuller Dome in Moscow. Each
screen was the size of a drive-in movie screen.
In 1960 Whitney founded Motion Graphics Inc., producing motion-
picture and television title sequences and commercials. Much of this
work was done with his own invention, a mechanical analogue
computer for specialized animation with typography and concrete
design. In 1962 he was named Fellow of the Graham Foundation for
Advanced Study in the Fine Arts. Finally, after approximately a
decade, he found himself free once again to begin experimenting
with less commercial, more aesthetic, problems of motion graphics.
The analogue computer work gained Whitney a worldwide reputation,
and in the spring of 1966 International Business Machines
became the first major corporation to take an "artist in residence" to
explore the aesthetic potentials of computer graphics. IBM awarded
Whitney a continuing grant that has resulted in several significant
developments in the area of cybernetic art. Whether working with
hand-drawn animation cards or highly abstract mathematical
concepts, Whitney has always displayed an artist's intuition and a
technologist's discipline. He is a man of tomorrow in the world of
The history of cybernetics reached a milestone during World War II
with the development of guidance and control mechanisms for
antiaircraft artillery. Two men riding a telescope table sighted enemy
aircraft and followed their penetration into the battery range. Selsyn
motors in the gun-director mechanism automatically aimed an entire
battery of guns while analogue computers set fuse times on
explosive shells and specified true-intercept trajectories from data
fed into the ballistics equation from movements of the operators.
An M-5 Antiaircraft Gun Director provided the basic machinery for
Whitney's first mechanical analogue computer in the late 1950's.
This complex instrument of death now became a tool for producing
benevolent and beautiful graphic designs. Later Whitney augmented
the M-5 with the more sophisticated M-7, hybridizing the machines
into a mammoth twelve-foot-high device of formidable complexity

Computer Films 209

John Whitney working with his mechanical
analogue computer. Photo: Charles Eames.

210 Expanded Cinema
upon which most of the business of Motion Graphics was conducted
for many years.
Similar to the analogue device built by Whitney's brother James for
the production of Lapis, but far more complex, the machine consists
of primary, secondary, and tertiary rotating tables, cam systems, and
other surfaces for pre-programming of image and motion sequences
in a multiple-axis environment. Whitney's son John, Jr., an electronics
genius who improved his father's device as a teen-ager by
rewiring and implementing its circuitry, explains the basic functions
of the machine:
There's not one function that isn't variable. The whole master table rotates and
so does every part in it, as well as moving laterally, horizontally, and in some
cases vertically. The camera moves in the same way completely independent of
the rest of the machine, or in synchronization with it. I don't know how many
simultaneous motions can be happening at once. There must be at least five
ways just to operate the shutter. The input shaft on the camera rotates at 180
rpm, which results in a photographing speed of about 8 fps. That cycle time is
constant, not variable, but we never shoot that fast. It takes about nine seconds
to shoot one frame because the secondary rotating tables require nine seconds
to make one revolution. During this nine-second cycle the tables are spinning on
their own axes while simultaneously revolving around another axis while moving
horizontally across the range of the camera, which itself may be turning or
zooming up and down. During this operation we can have the shutter open all the
time, or just at the end for a second or two, or at the beginning, or for half of the
time if we want to do slit-scanning.
The elder Whitney actually never produced a complete, coherent
movie on the analogue computer because he was continually
developing and refining the machine while using it for commercial
work. It remained for his sons John and Michael to make full creative
use of this device that had dominated their childhood from earliest
recollection. However, Whitney did assemble a visual catalogue of
the effects he had perfected over the years. This film, simply titled
Catalogue, was completed in 1961 and proved to be of such
overwhelming beauty that many persons still prefer Whitney's
analogue work over his digital computer films.
The machine, like the digital computer, not only facilitated the quick
and effortless rendering of complex geometrical shapes and

Computer Films 211

Left: Camera zoom lens (center) focusing into
primary rotating table of Whitney mechanical
analogue computer. (Photo: Charles Eames)
Whitney places design template into
computer table.


212 Expanded Cinema

John Whitney: Catalogue. 1961.16mm.
Color. 7 min. "Floral patterns curl as
though they were actually organic

Computer Films 213
motions, but also actually helped realize certain graphics possibilities
that otherwise might not be conceivable to the artist untrained in
mathematical concepts. Catalogue is a brilliant display of floral
patterns that seem to bloom and curl as though they were actually
organic growths photographed in time-lapse. Also they have a
natural quality quite unlike traditional single-frame animation and are
far more convincing. Elsewhere in the film, neon-like coils expand
and contract, throwing out bursts of pastel color. Dish-shaped
curvilinear disks wobble and strobe, stretch and contract in a variety
of unexpected ways. Syncretistic dot-pattern fields collect together
as in Lapis. Strings of green light perform seemingly impossible
transformations into endless intertwined configurations of baffling
optical complexity. Words assemble and disintegrate, defying logic.
Floral ringlets pop like neon confetti, showering the screen with flak
bursts of color.
Unlike the digital computer, which requires only a mathematical
code as its input, the mechanical analogue computer as used by the
Whitneys requires some form of input that directly corresponds to
the desired output. That is, at least a basic element of the final
image we see on the screen must first be drawn, photographed,
pasted together, or otherwise assembled before it is fed into the
analogue equipment for processing. This means that a great deal of
handicraft still is involved, though its relation to the final output is
minimal. The original input may be as simple as a moiré pattern or
as complex as a syncretistic field of hand-painted dots— but some
form of handmade or physically demonstrable information is required
as input in the absence of conventional computer software.
GENE: You're among the few people in the world working to bring
the public into a closer understanding of technology on a basis we
can relate to— a movie, pretty colors, things that move. It's very
JOHN: Just after World War II my brother and I were constantly
excited by a future world. We sort of expected it to happen before
the 1940's were past. We thought nothing of taking on the formal
and creative problems of a totally technological medium such as
the cinema. It's taken twenty or thirty years to realize that the tech

nology we looked upon as being the technology of the future

214 Expanded Cinema
was far from it. Instead of being the camera, the most important
piece of instrumentation is the computer itself. Still ahead is
considerable disciplined study to gain understanding or control of
this kind of formal dynamic material so that it can be human. That's
the whole problem. The light show people are doing a lot of
wonderful sensory things, but I feel there must come insight into
what is riot seen now— an understanding of a whole new area of
conceptual form. The light show people are doing something like
an infant pounding on the keys of a piano. Sometimes it can be
very creative and terribly exciting. But in the long run, looking at it
as an adult, it's just banging away at the piano without training. We
know that someone who plays a Beethoven sonata maybe has
been sharpening his sensibilities and manual dexterity with that
one piece for seven or eight years. That's the way I see the
relationship between computer aesthetics and contemporary light
GENE: Where would you place yourself today concerning what
you've done and what you'd like to do?
JOHN: In one sense I'm just beginning. In another sense my work
with the digital computer is a culmination of all my interests since
the 1940's because I found myself forced into the techniques and
mechanisms of cinema. I got to work with the digital computer
thanks to the fact that I developed my analogue equipment to the
point that I had. As I continued to develop the machine I realized it
was really a mechanical model of the electronic computer. Anyone
experimenting with the medium of cinema as opposed to working
in the industry is forced into a direct confrontation with his
technology. People tried all different techniques of abstract cinema,
and it's strange that no one has really invented anything that
another experimental filmmaker can take up and use himself. It's
starting afresh every time. Jim and I were trying to make
something and there wasn't a machine available for making it. So
my work has come to fruition because the past thirty years of
search for instrumentation has culminated in the present availability
of the computer. On the other hand I'm only beginning to use
it. We all are. It's the same with those who are beginning to use the
computer to compose music— they're at a very primitive stage

Computer Films 215
Permutations (see color plates), the first cohesive film to come out
of Whitney's work with the digital computer, is a dazzling display of
serial imagery that seems to express specific ideas or chains of
ideas through hypersensitive manipulation of kinetic empathy. The
patterns, colors, and motions dancing before us seem to be
addressing the inarticulate conscious with a new kind of language. In
fact, Whitney thinks of his work precisely as the development of a
new communicative mode. Speaking ofPermutations, he explains:
The film contains various types of dot patterns which might be compared to the
alphabet. The patterns are constructed into "words," each having basically a two-
hundred-frame or eight-second time duration. These words in turn can be fitted
contextually into "sentence" structures. My use of the parallel to language is only
partially descriptive; I am moved to draw parallels with music. The very next term
I wish to use is "counterpoint." These patterns are graphically superimposed over
themselves forward and backward in many ways, and the parallel now is more
with counterpoint, or at least polyphonic musical phenomena. Should it be called
"polygraphic phenomena"?
Whatever they're called, Whitney's films are impossible to describe
with the archaic language of the phonetic alphabet. Circles,
crescents, quadrants, and multiplex forms of infinite variety and
endless motion interact serially, and cosmically, until one is
transported into a realm of expanded consciousness that intuitively
understands this new language. It's as though the very essence of
the idea of permutation is expressed in this film, as though the
"word" no longer were separate from the fact. And that's exactly what
Whitney has done: he's merged language with what it is intended to
express. "Beautiful" seems such an inadequate term in this respect.
Before discussing the film itself, it will be helpful to understand in
some detail how it was made, beginning with the program and going
on through the final stages of photography and optical printing. This
will be helpful to readers interested in making computer films, since
Whitney's methods and working conditions are those most likely to
be available to the average person— with the exception of his own
specialized film processing equipment.
Dr. Jack Citron of IBM became interested in Whitney's work and
began collaborating with him before there was any formal IBM

216 Expanded Cinema
support. Dr. Citron later was given formal responsibility for further
work with Whitney under the IBM program, exploring the creative
possibilities inherent in the IBM Model 360 computer and the IBM
2250 Graphic Display Console. It was Citron who wrote the original
program called GRAF (Graphic Additions to Fortran), which Whitney
has been using since the spring of 1966.
Citron: One of the things I was interested in doing was to set up a
kind of instrument which would buffer the computer user from the
technical details. I think this can only be done by someone who
understands both areas. The line of attack in my program was to
start with what's in the artist's mind, and somehow have him use a
kind of mathematics which he learns by rote with a "teaching
program," to learn to express what's in his head visually. Once
such a program is written, the fact that the programmer who wrote
the algorithms knew what the artist needed enables the artist to sit
down and say the kind of things John says withoutall that other
training. I'm very happy it worked that way. Certainly in the future
one will need more of a mathematical-logical background than
artists have today. But you won't need ten years of schooling in
nuclear physics. The thing that should be done is to develop a
scientific curriculum for the artist. I don't know of anyone seriously
considering that, but it should be done.
WHITNEY: Dr. Citron and I talked for some time before I actually
began working. When I first began to realize from correspondence
with IBM that I would be given the grant, the first thing that came to
my mind was the question: would I be able to draw a free-hand line
and somehow get that into the computer as digital information so I
could manipulate it? I was presenting these ideas in preliminary
talks and I was told that anything you can define mathematically
you can do with a computer very easily. At first, having flunked
mathematics consistently all through school, I was a bit horrified.
And yet I began to realize the great breadth of elegance in simple
geometrical graphics, and the historic respect geometry has
enjoyed as a graphic form. Slowly these misgivings about having
to define things in mathematical form died off... Some people in
computer work criticize me for not being able to program myself
instead of relying on someone else. Yet I've used this one program

Computer Films 217
for more than three years and I know that it is still only
fragmentarily explored. In terms of software the program Dr. Citron
developed for me is like a piano. I could continue to use it
creatively all my life. But one program is like one area of a total
palette. Let's assume that other people are going to develop other
programs that will have another area of significance. Some of the
ultimate orchestrations to come in fifteen or twenty years will
perhaps involve many combined programs.
The GRAF program is based on a single polar-coordinate equation
having about sixty parameters. In preparation for a display of images
in what is called the "learning" stage of the program, the light pen is
used to select numerical variables, displayed on the CRT, which can
be assigned to any of the parameters of the program to determine a
particular graphic pattern. After values have been selected for all
parameters and the camera is brought into play to record the
images, control of the computer program is by punch cards, not the
light pen. The shutter of the computer camera specially modified by
Whitney and his son John is operated electrically, under control of
the computer. The functions of opening and closing the shutter and
advancing the film are controlled by a separate program in addition
to GRAF.
Three types of punch cards are used during filming for control of
images, and are signified as Identification Statements (for specifying
particular curves), Parameter Statements (for assigning values to the
curve), and Frame Statements (for control of successive displays).
During this time the artist interacts with the computer through the
Program Function Keyboard (PFKB), part of the 2250's hardware.
The PFKB is equipped with thirty-six sets of keyswitches and lights.
The program turns on light 1 as a signal to open the camera shutter.
Interface connections between camera and computer include
feedback circuits that allow the camera, in effect, to respond to
computer commands: thus key 1 is depressed, entering 20 volts
back into the computer and pulsing the camera with 5.3volts, which
operates one single frame exposure. This is followed by an exposure
timing loop in the program, and subsequently light 2 is illuminated
ordering the shutter to close. Programmed logic decides whether or
not more information is to be displayed for this same frame of film.

218 Expanded Cinema
When the film frame is to be advanced, light 3 goes on and the next
curve is computed and displayed, the camera is activated, and so
The 35mm. black-and-white negative from the camera is processed
normally on high-contrast stock yielding an image that
consists of clear lines on a dense black field. This film is threaded
into the projector side of Whitney's optical printer, which has several
special features: the optical axis of the system is vertical with the
camera looking down into the projector. The projector itself is
mounted on a compound mill table. Thus additional translations and
rotations of a mechanical nature may be superimposed, and the
camera may be moved along the axis so as to provide for an
additional scaling factor of from .1 to 10. A stepping switch circuit
and preset frame counter allow a wide range of skip-frame ratios to
expand editing capabilities temporally. For Permutations Whitney
used little skip-framing, but quite a bit of superimposition, slowing
and speeding, and forward and backward printing.
Set to a tabla solo by Balachander, Permutations begins with a ring
of white dots in a black void, with individual white dots circumscribing
the inner circumference of the ring. This becomes an oval floral
pattern of blue, green, and pink dots moving simultaneously
clockwise and counterclockwise.
Two factors quickly become apparent: first, the neon-like cold
scintillation of the image, a result of electrons deflecting traces in the
cathode phosphor at a rate of 30 cycles per second. In our
fluorescent world of neon suns and video eyes this scintillating
glimmer more closely approximates daily experience than, say, the
artificial arc lamp lighting of conventional movies.
Second, is the quite noticeable seriality of the composition, the
unified wholeness of the statement, although it is composed of
discrete elements. In defining "serial" in this context I should like to
quote from art critic John Coplans: "To paint in series is not
necessarily to be serial. Neither the number of works nor the
similarity of theme in a given group determines whether a [work] is
serial. Rather, seriality is identified by a particular interrelationship,
rigorously consistent, of structure and syntax: serial structures are
produced by a single indivisible process that links the internal
structure of a work to that of other works within a differentiated
whole. While a series may have any number of works, it must

Computer Films 219

Dr. Jack Citron, IBM Los Angeles, selects
numerical values for a typical image, using
the light pen at the 2250 Display Console.
must as a precondition of seriality have at least two... there are no
boundaries implicit to serial imagery; its structures can be likened to
continuums or constellations... all contemporary usage of serial
imagery is without either first or last members. Obviously at one
point there had to be a beginning, but its identity becomes subsumed
within the whole, within the macrostructure. The same
principle applies to the last member. At any given point in time one
work in a series stands last in order of execution, but its sequential
identity is irrelevant and in fact is lost immediately on the work's
25 John Coplans, "Serial Imagery," Artforum (October, 1968), pp. 34-43.

220 Expanded Cinema
It is this seriality, then, that identifies Permutations both as "words"
and "sentence structures" as well as a complete overall statement,
which is the meaning of the title. Whitney speaks of "graphic
integrity" in this respect, referring to the mathematically precise
interrelationships between forms, colors, and movements.
At one point in the film there is an exploration of centrifugal and
centripetal ring movement in alternating colors and dot-pattern fields.
This becomes an extremely dramatic statement in which bright
emerald-green linear figures sweep the inner circumference of a
white ring in a black void. The action is asymmetrical, not center-
oriented, a fluid kind of motion not restricted to one point, a multiplex
motion with no static elements, moving on a path in space that
approximates a trajectory.
This figure vanishes into infinity and there follows a series of
superimpositions that fill the original white ring with variously-colored
dot-pattern fields. Each field moves into the ring from different
directions in the frame, rests within the ring for a moment scintillating
gently, then moves out of the frame in the opposite direction from
which it came, making room for another dot-pattern field of another
color which moves in simultaneously. Finally, all colors move into the
ring simultaneously from all sides, forming circles within circles all
scintillating smoothly in a floral configuration.
GENE: You seem hesitant or apologetic using the parallel with
musical forms.
JOHN: I'm wary of it. I've been making that analogy all along, but I'm
aware of the pitfalls of a lot of people in history. Da Vinci talked
about an art of color which would be dealt with as musical tones.
Wilfred and Remmington in England at the turn of the century were
building color organs. They were so hung up with parallels with
music that they missed the essence of their medium. People talk
about abstraction in graphics as being cold or inhuman. I just don't
see that at all. What is a musical note? It's totally abstract. That's
the essential point and that's why I use the musical analogy. The
essential problem with my kind of graphics must resemble the
creative problem of melody writing. It is perhaps the most highly
sensitive task of art, involving as it does balance, contrast, tension,
and resolution all brought into play with minimum expenditure.

Computer Films 221
Music really is the art that moves in time. The many statements
about architecture being frozen music notwithstanding, here we are
truly looking at another art that moves in time. Someone once said
about musical compositions: "Time and tone completely fill each
other... what the hearer perceives in the tones and rests of a
musical work is not simply time but shaped and organized time...
so the conventional formula receives its final interpretation: music
is a temporal art because, shaping the stuff of time, it creates an
image of time." I like that idea very much, so I ask myself, what can
be essentially the image of time for the eye to perceive?
One such image in Permutations involves bright blue, green, and
red ellipses that move in perspectival space from static positions at
each side of the frame, growing larger as they move alternately to
the center and back again, exchanging positions. The feeling is precisely
one of counterpoint and of temporal experiences.
This sentence structure becomes a white ring spinning rapidly on a
vertical axis until it appears to be a group of white rings in a cagelike
configuration, still spinning on a polar vertical axis. Inside this cage
appears a similar ring of elliptical spheres, emerald green, revolving
on a horizontal axis. Finally, the whole assemblage becomes an incredibly
beautiful constellation of all colors and quickly runs through
all configurations and movements seen during the film. These are
seen moving around, within, and through a total field of scintillating
colors as the film ends.
GENE: Which comes first, sound or image?
JOHN: Image. In Permutations the sequences and colors were all
done before I selected a piece of music, yet there are all these
astonishing relations with the music. That's where accident is
working in my favor. In many areas of art and music it has been
commonplace for the artist to tell you there's nothing in his work
that doesn't have some sort of valid relationship or meaningful
reason for being there. They've constantly sought to avoid
arbitrariness— not accident: you can often make an accident turn
into a very wonderful twist to new meaning. But the worst kind of
arbitrariness is when a person thinks his own casual decisions

222 Expanded Cinema
are great simply because he's done it, because he decided to be
arbitrary. I expect to make a lot more progress in the direction of
having more and more levels of formal organization— therefore it
should be more and more human and multistructured.
GENE: In one sense you're in the forefront of avant-garde art today,
concerned as it is with systems aesthetics, scientific discipline, and
so on. In another respect, however, you do seem to be running
against the grain of a trend toward the stochastic element,
especially in music, films, and theatre.
JOHN: It's a universal misunderstanding. At the Aspen Design
Conference in 1967, a scientist was describing a problem
scientifically, saying it could be done this way and that, and then he
said if it couldn't be done in such a rigorous way let's do it anyway
and that'll be art. Scientists very frequently get excited about
becoming involved in art. And the very first thing that comes to
their minds is just to chuck out the whole discipline that their entire
career is based on. They think if it's art, it's free. Anything that goes
with random numbers is art; and anything that has to be worked
out carefully so that this goes here and this has got to go there,
that's not art, that's science. But for my moneyit's more important
and difficult to get this here and that there in the area of art,
because it involves much more than just counting numbers and
making it mathematically sound: it's got to be intensely and
intuitively sound. That's what I'm searching for. That's what I mean
by structure.
James Whitney's Lapis: Cybernetic Philosopher's Stone
James Whitney's cybernetic art seems totally removed from the
idyllic scene in the serene Southern California garden where he has
developed ceramic handicraft to a fine art in days of quiet
meditation. Yet his Lapis is perhaps the most beautiful, and one of
the most famous, of all computer films. Like the work of his long-time
friend, Jordan Belson, it represent expanded cinema in its widest
meaning: an attempt to approximate mind forms. That Whitney
claims to have failed in his quest does not subtract from the
archetypical eloquence of his works. They are glowing testimony of
the truth of Herbert Read’s assertion that greatness lies “in the
power to realize and even to forecast the imaginative needs of

Computer Films 223
The fundamental imaginative need of mankind today is, as it
always has been, the bridging of the chasm between spirit and
matter. Atomic science is moving us closer to that realization. But in
the words of Louis Pauwels, "just as science without conscience
spells ruin for the soul, conscience without science means defeat
also." In this respect Whitney is a "scientist of the soul" like the
ancient alchemists in whose work he has found much inspiration.
Internationally known as experimental filmmakers because of their
five Film Exercises of the period 1941-44, James and John Whitney
began working separately around 1945. "After the exercises," James
recalls, "the structure of my work was external, following pretty close
to serial imagery concepts. The intent was a unity of structure which
would result in a whole experience. The structure was whole, and
naturally it would relate to your own attempts at wholeness: as you
were more whole the structures you were dealing with would
become more whole. Then after that there was a long period of
development in which I tried to make exterior imagery more closely
related to the inner. Those early images just weren't relating
thoroughly to my own experiences in meditation, for example, where
forms are breaking up. So I reduced the structural mode to the dot-
pattern, which gives a quality which in India is called the Akasha, or
ether, a subtle element before creation like the Breath of Brahma,
the substance that permeates the universe before it begins to break
down into the more finite world. That idea as expressed through the
dot-pattern was very appealing to me."
Thus in 1950 Whitney began work on his first truly personal film,
Yantra, an inspired and arduous project, which was to consume ten
years before its completion. Drawn entirely by hand on small filing
cards, it was an attempt to relate images to Yoga experiences. ". . . A
Yantra is an instrument designed to curb the psychic forces by
concentrating them on a pattern, and in such a way that this pattern
becomes reproduced by the worshiper's visualizing power. It is a
machine to stimulate inner visualizations, meditations, and experiencees...
when utilized in connection with the practice of Yoga the
contents of the Yantra diagram represent those stages of consciousness
that lead inward from the everyday state of naive

224 Expanded Cinema

James Whitney: Lapis. 1963-66.
16mm. Color. 10 min. "A mandala
that revolves eternally like the

Computer Films 225

Lapis: ". . . they manifest as though
out of the air itself, gathering and
converging around a central sphere
... revolving with implacable grace
against the eerie drone of the

226 Expanded Cinema
ignorance through the degrees of Yoga experience to the realization
of the Universal Self."26
During most of the ten-year period in which James Whitney was
laboriously producing the intricate images of Yantra by hand, his
brother had developed the analogue computer, which could produce
images of far greater complexity in a fraction of the time. AfterYantra
was finished the brothers assembled another mechanical analogue
computer, and it was on this device thatLapis was created.
In general, the term Lapis held the same meaning for the ancient
alchemists that the mandala holds for the Lamaist, Tantrist, Taoist,
Hindu: a kind of "philosopher's stone" or aid to meditation. In
alchemical times, and later during the period of the Rosicrucians, the
Lapis was felt to contain a vital force or mystic power, a center of
knowledge. Hermes asserted that the Lapis was composed of body,
soul, and spirit, “… that thing midway between perfect and imperfect
bodies." Gnostic philosophy suggests that the way to the power of
the Lapis is by a spiral or circumambulation, specifically, according
to Jung, "a mandala that revolves eternally like the heavens."
Whitney began work on Lapis in 1963 and completed it in 1966.
Much of this time was consumed, however, in the construction of the
analogue computer that programmed the extremely intricate
mandala-like structure of the film. Thus cybernetics assisted Whitney
to return through the centuries to the ancient practice of syncretism
in his search for a more total vision.
The opening sequence ofLapis is startlingly beautiful: a pure white
frame into which, very slowly, moves a ring of thousands of tiny
particles. They manifest as though out of the air itself, gathering and
converging around a central sphere of light, gradually tightening,
growing more complex, until they become a vast syncretistic mandala
of intricate geometrical patterns. These configurations defy definition
as they revolve with implacable grace against the eerie drone
of a tamboura.
26 Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (Harper Torchbook;
New York: Harper & Row, 1946), pp. 141-142.

Computer Films 227
To achieve this effect, Whitney hand-painted glass plates with
fields of dot-patterns that began sparsely and collected into high
concentration toward the center. These were placed on rotating
tables beneath a vertically-mounted camera. The tables spun on
their own axes while simultaneously revolving around another axis,
and at the same time moving horizontally across camera range.
At first the huge mandala is a monotone beige against a white
field, then it becomes a glowing red-orange and crystallizes into
thousands of intricate modules, each containing a green floral
pattern inside a diamond configuration. Forms take shape and
vanish as the whole revolves majestically, its movement accentuated
by the sonorous drone of the tamboura. Suddenly the image
disintegrates into a loose cloud of red, yellow, and orange particles
that solidify into the word Lapis. This bursts apart slowly as the first
beats of the tabla are heard and a raga begins.
The mandala draws away from the camera until its individual
sections are no longer distinguishable from the whole. It dissolves
into a blue multispoked mandala in the center of a black void,
revolving and spewing out showers of fine sparklike particles that
fade and vanish. One seems to detect snowflake crystals, diamonds,
molecular clusters— but they're transformed before the mind's eye
can grasp their trajectory. Later we see starbursts throwing off
showers of light, spinning around dark centers. A repeat of the
opening sequence is done in blue and black— thousands of tiny blue
particles slowly collecting around a central vortex. For a split second
the particles freeze into diamond-like crystals and then melt back
into the syncretistic field. A vibrant orange sun shimmers in blackness,
surrounded by a corona of concentric rings, each enclosing a
peacock floral pattern.
Finally the original beige mandala reappears and spins rapidly
through the various configurations we've seen throughout the film.
Two translucent globes within a blinding white center begin to stretch
apart diagonally across the frame, creating a sense of enormous
tension and stress, shimmering, pulsating, until the final blackout.
This was Whitney's way of suggesting what he calls "the last
breaking or snapping, unable to reach Samadhi. That was because
Lapis was near the end of what I could do. The machine restricted
me; my fantasies couldn't flow. Of course we're in the most primitive

228 Expanded Cinema
stages of cybernetic art, but my inner imagery gave way at the same
time that my outer ability to control the instrument broke down."
Whitney finds more than a casual resemblance between Eastern
philosophy and modern science, and suggests that this confluence
may have a profound effect on conventional notions of art. "Only to a
person who has expanded his consciousness," he says, "is ordinary
experience expanded. So it's exciting where art is going in this
respect. Art and science are getting much closer to Eastern thought.
But you'll always find those who seek to go beyond any language.
Those are the people whose eyes and ears are really open. But they
will come back, and they will be totally open and very sympathetic to
what the artist is doing, but they won't have the energy to remain
within that confine of art. Artists must in order to create. The other
man will see art as the great play and fun that it is, but he won't be
able to put that same sort of intensity into it as the artist does. The
artist, in a sense, must keep a lot of ignorance. To stay in the world
you have to preserve a certain amount of ignorance.
"I certainly do not feel that art is dead. But when you're really
involved with the thing you want to experience, you stop conceiving
it. Art finally becomes a barrier to accepting what is. Art stays within
its closed circle and reality never does. Art is all symbols of reality.
Symbols are never going to free you. But it would be foolish to say
'Stop making art.' That's not what I'm saying. One should be aware
of its limitations, that's all. This must be what they had in mind when
they said: 'Thou shalt not create graven images.”
The Younger Whitneys: Children of the New Age
"An inadvertent spin-off from technology will transform man into a transcendental
being. Nothing we can conceive now will give us a clue to what that spin-off will
be. But I suspect that vision will play an important role. The eye will have a lot to
do with it."
If the Starchild Embryo of 2001 were to grow up as a human he'd
probably feel quite at home with the Whitney brothers. From earliest
childhood the future has been their way of life. John, Jr., Michael,
and Mark all were born well after World War II. They were raised in

Computer Films 229
an environment of science, technology, the arts, Eastern philosophy.
John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Jordan Belson have been their
houseguests. Their eyes and ears have been nourished by higher
orders of sight and sound than most of us are able to conceive. At
eighteen John was filming slit-scan sequences, several years before
Stanley Kubrick discovered the technique. "I surpassed Dad when I
was about eleven," says John, who built his father's computer
camera and wired an analogue computer at an age when most boys
find model airplanes challenging.
In 1965 the Whitney living room was transformed into a multiple-
projection environment with seven screens and ten projectors
mounted on two levels. At that time John was eighteen, Michael was
seventeen, and Mark was fourteen. And what were they thinking?
MICHAEL: We were anxious to get away from the limitations of a
single screen. Obviously the answer was multiple screens. As very
young children we were exposed to the films our father and Jim
had made. All of our lives we've been exposed to that kind of non-
realist material. We didn't try to interpret them. We just accepted
them as films without any other hangups. People call our films
"abstract" but they're not. They're concrete films. "Abstract" means
to make an abstraction from something concrete, but our films are
concrete. I can remember when all the other kids in the
neighborhood would go to the movies every Saturday afternoon
and our parents wouldn't let us go. There was an obvious reason
of course: those movies were absolute trash. John and I were
thinking in terms of "performance" films: not just one strictly-
composed film but multi-images whose relationships could be
improvised in real time. You would "play" as you felt. We began to
envision encompassing other art forms. We had ideas about
cartridge loops and spontaneously interchangeable films. Some
system that would make possible a real-time film image
composition, being able to change a cartridge so you could
compose spontaneously.
Also during this period, while Michael was studying calculus and
physics, John was completing his first computer film Byjina Flores, a
pidgin-Spanish satirical translation of "vagina flowers." Though he

230 Expanded Cinema
has since disowned this film, it remains a beautiful optical
experience, one of the few movies that might stand comparison (in
concept if not in fact) to the Op Art of Vasarely or Bridget Riley.
John's father had devised a method of scanning an image through a
slit, which would guide the phasing relationship between the image
and the camera. This was essentially the method used by Doug
Trumbull several years later for the Stargate Corridor of2001.
In Byjina Flores, filamented, fluted panels of neon-bright red,
orange, and yellow shift rhythmically across the range of vision to
produce weird perspectival illusions and kinetic trajectories. Objects,
which seem to be giant walls of lightbulbs, warp, wobble, and dance,
alternating colors stroboscopically. The effect approximates a kind of
sculpture in time, a kinetic molding of the temporal as well as the
optical experience.
JOHN: It was an overall pattern of moiré dots moving with a scan-
line which guided the phasing between the moiré and the lens. The
artwork was trucking horizontally while the zoom was moving in
and out to achieve the illusion of curvature, warps, and
perspectives. My idea was to work with illusions of color and retinal
persistence of images. There's one point where it only slightly
works as I intended, so the film becomes a total failure for me.
We've hardly begun to scratch the surface of possibilities with the
slit-scan. The computerized optical printer I've built will scan
consecutive frames of a whole motion-picture sequence. I could've
had the whole 2001 setup reduced down to a small panel and
scanned it on our computer and come up with the same effect. In
the making of Byjina Flores and all our analogue films there are
parallels with the way one programs a digital system, that is,
determining variable values in a system by setting cam rates and
directions which are linked differentially to related functions and
From September 1966, to September 1967, the brothers staged
several multi-screen environmental shows across the country. For a
Grateful Dead concert in San Francisco they worked with Tom
DeWitt and Scott Bartlett, using eight or nine screens at angles to

Computer Films 231
each other. At the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in
Santa Barbara, they staged an environmental presentation using a
truckload of equipment including speakers, ten projectors, and
dozens of film loops for projection on five screens that they constructed
at the site. In 1967 they were given a building on the
grounds of the Monterey Pop Festival and trained nine projectors on
three screens. A day after the festival closed they were in Aspen,
Colorado, showing their work at an international design conference.
By this time John, Jr., had made more than 5,000 feet of computer
film out of which came the extraordinarily beautiful, and now famous,
triple-screen film that remains untitled (see color plates). It was
premiered at Expo '67 in Montreal and later that year was shown at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The film is a sequential
triptych: it develops in time and space, exploring the relationships of
both form and color, visual tensions, rhythmic modes, and optical
illusions in a way that relates each screen to the other two with
flawless exactitude.
It is among the few independently-produced multiple-projection
films to justify its own multiplicity. Whereas most multiple projection
is gratuitous and arbitrary, the Whitney film is a cohesive whole,
each element accentuating and complementing the other two in
ways that make the experience incomplete without all three parts.
The flanking images are identical, though reversed, so as to frame
the center screen symmetrically, and the close synchronization of
form and color among the screens demands highly controlled
projection conditions.
Like most Whitney films the triple-screen film is set to an East
Indian sound track. It begins with circular arrangements of rose
stems, the halves of one circle split between the two end screens in
burnt sienna, the center screen yellow ochre with a complete but
smaller circle of stems revolving at a faster rate than its
counterparts. What we are seeing is actually two views of one
configuration divided into a triad. As the stems revolve, the colors
change from warm yellows to cool violets.
This becomes a vortex display of concentric circles and squares
endlessly moving into the frames and diminishing into infinity only to
be succeeded by other layers of circles and squares of different
colors moving in unison. In this sequence the image split between
the two end screens is different from the central image in color, but
identical in design. Once again, the flanking images are larger than

232 Expanded Cinema


Computer Films 233
the center image and, moving in precise synchronization, create an
optical tension that induces a strong kinetic empathy in the viewer.
The colors alternate between cerulean blue, Mars red, rose madder,
and black. A sense of tension and vertigo is established through
manipulation of form and motion from screen to screen, while simultaneous
color changes create their own "narrative" in still another
nonverbal dimension.
GENE: What particular aesthetic, if any, did you follow in making this
JOHN: When I was eighteen I was drawn deeply into Eastern
thought, Jungian psychology, the subconscious. When I think
about the time when I made that footage— trying to understand
what happened— I became merely an instrumentality in tune with a
force, a creative energy force which expressed itself. I was able to
make the films without thinking too much about what I was doing.
There was just this continuous flow of energy between me, the
machine, and the images. But the machine became transparent. I
don't think I was conscious of any systematic manipulation or
exploration of a geometrical theme, though it is undeniably in the
film. I was able to be sort of comprehensive when I was making the
images, whereas when I made the machine I had to be a
mechanical engineer, an electronics engineer, and an optical
The relatively rectangular imagery of the previous sequence now
becomes a series of ornate, almost baroque, circular forms, floral
patterns, and interconnected rings, all moving inward at various
rates to vanish as other rings appear, and so on. The colors at this
point are extraordinarily florid, ranging the entire spectrum in
kaleidoscopic brilliance and mosaic complexity. The images at times
John Whitney, Jr.: Untitled. 1967.16mm. Triple-projection. Color. 17 min. "A sense of
vertigo is established... the images at times resemble gears, flowers, cosmic
configurations..." Shown are two three-screen "frames" from the film.

234 Expanded Cinema
resemble gears, flowers, cosmic configurations, and dancing optical
There is a brief pause and the second portion, or "movement," of
the film begins. Throughout this section the center screen explores
variations on the square, the circle, and the triangle while the
flanking screens run through a dazzling repertoire of optical effects.
These include mandala-like configurations around which sweep
bright fingers of light in mauve and violet, bouncing curvilinear dish-
shapes, starburst clusters, and clocklike metronomes in flawless
synchronization with the music. The archetypal mandala symbolism
of "squaring the circle" assumes dominance in the final moments of
the film as all three screens accelerate in a symphony of color,
design, and motion.
Today John and Michael Whitney have become computer
programmers, working with digital computers in addition to the
computerized, hybridized optical printer and the analogue computer.
Like John Stehura, whose work we shall discuss later, Michael
Whitney is involved in formulating new computer-language systems
specifically for graphics problems. He speaks of "graphic integrity,"
and of a visual language that would approach the purity and
abstraction of music. Like his father and brother, he maintains that
such a quantum leap in the manipulation of visual graphics is only
now possible because of the digital computer and its unprecedented
One of the first efforts toward this goal is Binary Bit Patterns, a
dazzling exploration of archetypal geometrical configurations that
approaches déjá vu. The film was made on a PFR-3 programmable
film recorder manufactured by Information International, Inc., in
Santa Monica, California. The PFR-3 is a specialized visual subsystem
driven by the Digital Company's small PDP-9 computer. It is
a hybridized microfilm plotting system built specifically for reading
film into the computer or recording information on motion-picture
film. There are 16,000 possible xy coordinate points on the three-
inch face of the PFR-3's cathode-ray tube. Produced with a program
developed by one of the firm's employees, Michael Whitney'sBinary
Bit Patterns provides a deep emotional experience despite the fact
that it has less kinetic activity and less image variation than the films
of his brother or father.

Computer Films 235

Michael Whitney: Binary Bit Patterns.
1969. 16mm. Color. 3 min. "Squadrons
of polyhedral modules come pulsating
out of a black void..."

236 Expanded Cinema
Perhaps metamorphosis best describes the effect of this film, in
which quiltlike tapestries of polyhedral and crystalline figures pulsate
and multiply with some kind of universal logic. In effect, if not style, it
is reminiscent of Norman McLaren's Mosaic and Brakhage's The
horseman, the woman, and the moth. In the McLaren film, geometrical
clusters of dot-patterns collect and multiply with mathematical
precision. In Binary Bit Patterns there is the same sense of
mathematical play although it is not as discrete as the McLaren film;
shapes are always permutating into other shapes, and an ornate,
almost baroque, visual style softens any mathematical dryness. It
resembles the Brakhage film because of its approximation to what
Stan calls "closed-eye vision," the patterns we see when our eyes
are shut. These ornate snowflake crystals flash and multiply before
us with the same kind of ghostlike evasiveness as the colors that
flicker across the retina of our mind's eye. Squadrons of polyhedral
modules come pulsating out of a black void, growing and multiplying
until the screen is a tapestry of intricate, ever-changing image-color
fields. The impact is enhanced considerably by an extraordinary
guitar-tape composition by Whitney and Charles Villiers. Michael not
only talks about music, he composes and plays it on acoustical and
electric guitars. As with Belson's work, it is difficult to distinguish
whether one is seeing, hearing, or feelingBinary Bit Patterns.
Even without sound, however, the film is extraordinarily hypnotic.
The boys speak of such imagery as possibly developing into a kind
of "kinetic wallpaper," which could be rear-projected onto the
translucent walls of a room at close range in ultra-high resolution
using large format film and special lenses. One would live in a home
whose very walls were alive with silent kinetic activity— not the
shallow flickering of present-day color organs but rather "visual
music" of the highest graphic integrity and psychic relevance.
GENE: Do you think of the future in connection with computers?
JOHN: Well let's divorce the future from technology and talk about
human values. I see the nature of things today in the world and
there seems to be a strong force of discontent and evil. And I
wonder how can there not be some counterbalancing force,
something that can apply itself to the spirit of man? And I begin

Computer Films 237

The Whitney brothers. Left to right: John, Jr.,
Mark, Michael. Photo: Gene Youngblood.
to think about what is the meaning of the film work I'm doing? I
believe it's possible that an inadvertent spin-off from technology will
transform man into a transcendental being. There isn't much we
can conceive now that can give us a clue to how it will come about.
But I suspect that vision will play an important role. The eye will
have a lot to do with it. It could conceivably be some external thing,
which metaphysically will affect the mind and cause some
transcendental experience. So with that in mind I've been thinking
of ways to integrate the realist image into the nonobjective image
so that a synthesis will evolve, a cinematic experience which might
contribute to an evolutionary transformation of man's thought
MICHAEL: It's very effective to use a realist image for its
nonobjective values. You're using it for its form, and if the form
happens to be human it's evocative and easily digested. The whole
idea is to work with the imagery and to develop total and complete
control through structuring, once you have the ability to control the
problems with the equipment. Man has not yet learned to master

238 Expanded Cinema
tools that will express as much eloquence and latitude as his
JOHN: I'm not suggesting that the films as we know them today will
be the releasing force. We don't know how to integrate realist and
nonobjective images effectively yet. But I think our computerized
optical printer will help show the way. The use of the realist image
is just a basis, a starting point. Working with optical scanning you
transform the images, and this seems to be a key to bringing
nonobjective and realist imagery together. And why bring them
together? Because it may lead to new insights and new
GENE: What sort of new experience?
JOHN: Well of course I don't know. But I've been thinking about
dreams. Why is it difficult for a person to understand his own
dreams? Why don't people know what their dreams are telling
them? Why does a person have to go to someone else— an
analyst— to know about his own personal dreams, which someone
else can't possibly understand? Why don't dreams reveal themselves
to us naturally as part of daily experience? Now maybe this
"new experience" I'm wondering about will be the point in evolution
when man reaches that level of sophistication as a sentient being. I
believe the analyst is serving a function now which won't be
needed in the future. Everything we know now in the "rational"
world will be subsumed in the new knowledge or wisdom of the
future. I think parapsychology, extrasensory perception, and
related phenomena certainly cannot be ignored as possibilities. So
in terms of our film work, the only way it may have some relevance
to future consciousness is through problems of formal design. Not
the technical things we're doing, just the design problems. In other
words, sparking an inner revolution through exterior manipulation.
The high state we achieve through LSD or marijuana today is
insightful to the extent that it may be similar to what man will feel
on a daily basis in the future without exterior manipulation. This
state has already happened in the East— not in the Occident
because it's not part of our heritage— but it has happened with the
Yogis and so on, and it's coming to the West through technology.

Computer Films 239
GENE: Perhaps this simultaneous awareness of inner and outer
space is the beginning of that new experience you're talking about,
John. A new attitude toward experience.
JOHN: And space. And time. And motion. And the speed of light.
GENE: The Uncertainty Principle becoming a certainty.
JOHN: So I've built this machine, which will be the cohesive force in

our future work. We're amassing film. The machine will bring it all
together and also will generate its own imagery. It's the beginning
of an application of technology to an area where it's never been
applied. Bringing together a whole number of disciplines. So, as
sources of imagery we have the printer itself, we have the
analogue computer, we have live-action films— which is where our
brother Mark is proving very effective, as a person able to go out
into the world and get something meaningful on film. And then
Michael who, from his studies in physics and calculus, has some
exciting ideas of ways to use a digital computer with images.
John Stehura: The Aesthetics of Machine Language
"Studying computer language leads the artist back to the paintbrush— but a
computerized paintbrush."
John Stehura's spectacular film Cybernetik 5.3 (see color plates)
combines computer graphics with organic live-action photography to
create a new reality, a Third World Reality, that is both haunting and
extraordinarily beautiful. Cybernetik makes use of realist imagery for
its nonobjective qualities and thus impinges directly upon the
emotions more successfully than any computer film discussed in this
However, Stehura considers the film only an "incidental test" in an
ongoing experiment with computer graphics that has occupied most
of his time for the last nine years. Like Michael Whitney, Stehura is
interested in addressing the computer directly through graphic
images rather than using mathematics to achieve graphics and thus
becoming enmeshed in a "number game."
Cybernetik is unique also in that it was constructed from semi-
random image-generation techniques similar to Michael Noll's
Gaussian-Quadratic figures. Whereas most of the computer films

240 Expanded Cinema

John Stehura: Cybernetik 5.3.1965-69.
16mm. Color. 8 min. A series of basic
image forms before the addition of
color, showing random character of

Computer Films 241
discussed so far are characterized by mathematical precision,
Cybernetik exudes a strong feeling for the uncontrolled, the
uncontrollable, the inconceivable.
Stehura began studying computer programming at UCLA in 1961
when he was eighteen years old. He became quite conversant with
computer languages and in 1965 programmed the first images that
were to become the film Cybernetik 5.3 in its completed version
some four years later. It is the only computer film Stehura has
produced so far, having spent most of his time developing a special
"metalanguage," which he calls "Model Eight," designed specifically
for modeling computer music and graphics systems.
Cybernetik originally was to have a computer sound track
generated by the same program, but Stehura found the directly
corresponding track inappropriate and later set the film to Tod
Dockstader's Quatermass, a chilling otherworldly suite of organized
electronic sound by one of America's least-known but most unusual
artists. The result is a film strongly reminiscent of 2001 in the sense
that it creates an overwhelming atmosphere of some mysterious,
transcendental intelligence at work in the universe.
Throughout the film, complex clusters of geometrical forms and
lines whirl, spin, and fly in three-dimensional space. Showers of
parallel lines come streaking out of infinity. Crescents and
semicircles develop dangling appendages and then expand until
they no longer exist. Whirling isometric skeletal structures permutate
into quadrant figures, polygons, rotating multiple-axis tetrahedrons,
expanding fanlike disks, and endless coils.
These images are neon-bright in alternating blue, red, orange, and
green. They vibrate rapidly as they take shape and disintegrate. The
staccato, spiraling, buzzing rumble of Dockstader's sound
complements the kinetic activity with its own sense of acoustical
space. This storm of geometrical fantasy is superimposed over a
star-spangled image of the solar system in emerald green.
STEHURA: I programmed Cybernetik in Fortran, and specified about
twenty fields so that images would metamorphose into other orders
of design. In writing the program I defined a "field" as a point in
space having a certain effect on anything entering its area. For
example, the sun is a field. That was the basic idea. I made them
very specific. I said when the image gets near this mathematical

242 Expanded Cinema
point it will either get brighter, or darker, or be altered in such and
such a way, like enlarge, or burst into points, or diminish into
infinity. So that's the reason for the randomness. When the images
go into the metamorphosing fields, their mathematical order, while
specified, becomes too complex and appears to be random. Once
all the rules in the program were specified, I simply turned it on to
see what would happen. If I liked the results, I'd leave it. At one
point I tried to trace back how the computer generated certain
forms but it was becoming too complex and pointless.
GENE: How were the color separations and superimpositions
JOHN: The basic imagery was computed on an IBM 7094 digital
computer at UCLA before we had any type of on-line graphic
display equipment. So I ran the computer for seven or eight hours
and took the digital tapes to General Dynamics in San Diego
where they had a Stromberg-Carlson 4020 Microfilm Plotter.
Initially I specified how many movies I wanted and how long I
wanted each one to be. The program indirectly specified color
based on the form or position of a figure. The output went onto
three plot tapes which were converted into three pieces of blackand-
white film. These pieces were used to mask primary colors in
a contact printer. There was a piece of black-and-white film to
represent the color red, a piece to represent the color green, and
one for blue. Then I processed that footage with the contact printer
for the colors specified.
A fascinating aspect of this film is that it traps the viewer into
expecting mathematically logical transformations by developing in
that manner for several minutes, and suddenly the forms explode or
behave quite unpredictably. Once this effect has been fully explored,
the solar system fades into a fish-eye image of people's faces and
other representational imagery distorted, however, almost to the
point of nonobjectivity. This sequence is printed in high-contrast,
bas-relief positive-negative color reversals, in the manner of Pat
O'Neill's 7362. In addition, the images are speeded so that a
frenetic, visually distorted atmosphere is generated, suggesting
extra-terrestrial creatures or anthropomorphic entities. The whirling

Computer Films 243
multicolored geometrical images move across this bizarre background
as though one were peering into a new dimension of
existence. Dockstader's organized sound reaches a crescendo of
chaotic dissonance as the final images of the film fade and
disintegrate into nothingness. The sense of dynamic kinetic activity
has been so powerful that this abrupt halt leaves the viewer
suspended and breathless.
STEHURA: In writing programs in computer languages such as
Fortran I've worked with about five parameterized models with
which you can specify designs numerically. One is the "mosaic"
scheme, which is the style developed for the Beflix language.
You're building things with squares. Your basic figure is the square
and you're building patterns and shading things with squares. The
result is a mosaic pattern with chains of alternatives. The second
scheme is the field model which I used for Cybernetik, in which
you set objects or points in space and by controlling the strength of
fields you produce image forms. A third scheme is a mathematical
model of your arm as it would be used to draw figures. You define
angles, specify arcs and curves, and work within those
parameters. The fourth scheme I worked with is based on the
deflection principle. Your mathematical model is patterned after a
room or enclosure into which a ball is fired at high speed, bouncing
from wall to wall. You plot paths of the trajectories, angles of
deflection, distances traveled, the shape of the environment in
which the projectile is moving. All this is simulated mathematically
and was interesting because it presented form as the space
between objects or containers. Finally there's the scheme I call
"masking," which is similar to the idea of mattes in conventional
filmmaking. The basic idea here is that you don't have a positive
figure you're drawing, but you have masks or shapes which hold
back light. You define a form and its motion, and you use that form
to contain or exclude another image. It's like a cutout or
translucency. You can treat computer graphics in that way.
GENE: Where has all this experimentation led you in terms of using
the computer as an artistic tool?

244 Expanded Cinema
JOHN: I discovered that working with program languages to produce
graphics is rather hopeless. They're really designed for playing with
numbers. A general problem with computer languages is that you
get into simulating reality. That's the trip physicists and
meteorologists are into. It's close to their way of thinking andtheir
problems, but I think it's a waste of time in computer graphics or
music. My explorations in computer language led me back to
conventional animation, back to the paintbrush— a computerized
paintbrush. So the next level, after playing with these language or
parameter systems, was to establish another level of control over
the computer. The idea of building a metasystem or a control
system to control control systems appeared very interesting to me.
So over the last four years I've developed a metalanguage which I
call "Model Ei ght" since it's the eighth approach to these systems.
It consists of a set of operators to work on one-, two-, or three-
dimensional patterns: sensory patterns, music, drawings, motion,
and so on. It's not a computer language which is operated one
point at a time, but rather functions nonsequentially on large blocks
of data. My idea was to develop a language which would
synthesize all the schemes I mentioned earlier so that, for
instance, in terms of work involved, whereas it took a couple of
years to devise "Model 5.3" to make Cybernetik, my feeling was
that it could be done in a couple of hours.
GENE: What sort of input-output situations are involved?
JOHN: Well, the two input systems I've found most advantageous
are the optical-scanner and the light pen, drawing directly on the
CRT. I have three modes of operation with the scanner: first, a
point-by-point scan like a television scan starting at one corner and
moving across, and you get a list of intensities which describe a
picture, or just certain areas or colors. You can label it and
manipulate the whole thing or just that part. Second is anisoline
type of scan, which is what you see in weather maps: circles within
circles which indicate certain degrees of intensity and so on. Then,
third, there's the situation in which you start out with an isoline
approach but produce lines which fill certain areas, and that output
can appear on the CRT or be further modified.
GENE: What about drawing with the light pen? I understand that
some artists, like Norman McLaren, have found this rather unsatisfactory.


Computer Films 245
JOHN: Well, the light pen is a crude drawing instrument, it's true.
You can't do many subtle things, the resolution is low, and the way
you operate you're always stopping, waiting for "INTERRUPT," for
the computer to accept your line, or the accuracy always seems to
be off, but it does have certain advantages related to large-volume
image production. One of them is that you can input information
that's more specific to the way the computer's operating. You put in
a point or a line at a time, and by remembering what you're doing
you can control a lot of image transformations. Representational
forms are almost impossible to program with computer languages,
and are extremely difficult for a computer to process. But by taking
the alternate route, by drawing representational forms with the light
pen you've given the computer graphic information which can be
simply transformed according to simple motion and shading
procedures. If you want to draw a dragon, for example, and have it
transformed into a person, you simply draw the head and type in
"HEAD" and then you draw the head of the man and label it
"HEAD" and the computer operates on it to do the transformation.
You can label portions as you draw to control the flow of the
transformation. You can transform anything you can draw into
anything else. And in this way you bypass much of computer
language specification.
GENE: What relationship does "Model Eight" have to all this? What
is the control situation?
JOHN: Drawing is a specific operation just as scanning or
projections. With the language aspect you can specify a fish-eye
projection or a projection on a certain plane and you supply the
parameters. Now, after I've passed an image through a simulated
fish-eye projection, what I want to do is start shading the forms in a
different style. So you could call on a surfacing operator which will
fill in your image with colors or mosaics. Now, my language isn't
fixed. One "word" doesn't mean one fixed thing in one fixed
context. For example, you have a mathematical model of an arm
movement and you tell the computer to swing the arm in a 360degree
arc to define a circle. The basis of this operation is a sine
wave to produce the smooth circular form. The fact that you have a
sine wave is specified, even if by default. The output of this opera


246 Expanded Cinema
tion is a circle, a set of points. And as far as I'm concerned it's a
wave form just as legitimate as the sine wave. So you could run this
form back into the same particular operator and tell the computer to
use this form— not the sine or cosine, but this form it has just
described. The same recursive form applies to the other operations.
For instance, you could take projections of projections, use an object
as an element to shade a surface and so on.
Stan VanDerBeek: Mosaics of the Mind
"We're just fooling around on the outer edges of our own sensibilities. The new
technologies will open higher levels of psychic communication and neurological
For the last five years Stan VanDerBeek has been working
simultaneously with live-action and animated films, single and
multiple-projection formats, intermedia events, video experiments,
and computer graphics. Clearly a Renaissance Man, VanDerBeek
has been a vital force in the convergence of art and technology,
displaying a visionary's insight into the cultural and psychological
implications of the Paleocybernetic Age.
VanDerBeek has produced approximately ten computer films in
collaboration with Kenneth Knowlton of Bell Telephone Laboratories
in New Jersey. They are descriptively titled Poem Fields, One
through Eight, plus Collisdeoscope and a tenth film unfinished as of
this writing. The term Poem Field indicates the visual effect of the
mosaic picture system called Beflix (derived from "Bell Flicks")
written by Knowlton. A high-level set of macro-instructions was first
written in Fortran. The particular translation or definition of this
language for each film is then determined by the subroutine system
of mosaic composition called Beflix. A new set of Beflix punch cards
is fed into the Fortran-primed computer (an IBM 7094 interfaced with
an SC-4020 microfilm plotter) for each new movie desired.
Whereas most other digital computer films are characterized by
linear trajectile figures moving dynamically in simulated three-
dimensional space, the VanDerBeek-Knowlton Poem Fields are
complex, syncretistic two-dimensional tapestries of geometrical
configurations in mosaic patterns. "The mind is a computer," says

Computer Films 247

Computer interpretation of the word
"movies," from a film by Stan VanDerBeek
and Kenneth C. Knowlton.
VanDerBeek, "not railroad tracks. Human intelligence functions on
the order of a hundred-thousand decisions per second." It appears
this brain capacity was a prime motive in the production of thePoem
Fields, whose micro-patterns seem to permutate in a constant
process of metamorphosis which could very likely include a hundred-
thousand minuscule changes each second.
"The present state of design of graphics display systems,"
VanDerBeek explains, "is to integrate small points of light turned on
or off at high speeds. A picture is 'resolved' from the mosaic points of
light." The artist seems to feel that this process bears some
physiognomic similarities to human perception. "The eye," he notes,
"is a mosaic of rods and cones."

248 Expanded Cinema

Variations of the Beflix technique of mosaic
image-making, from computer films by Stan
VanDerBeek and Kenneth C. Knowlton.

Computer Films 249
The early Poem Fields were investigations of calligraphic
relationships between dogs and alphabetic characters integrated into
fields of geometrical patterns constantly evolving into new forms.
The most famous of these is Man and His World (1967), a title piece
for an exhibit at Expo '67.
Variations on the mosaic field became more complex with
successive experiments, until simulated three-dimensional depth
was achieved in the form of infinitely-repeated modular units in
perspective. It is immediately obvious that these films would be
prohibitively tedious and time-consuming to do through conventional
animation techniques. "Because of their high speeds of calculation
and display," writes Knowlton, "the computer and automatic film
recorder make feasible the production of some kinds of films that
previously would have been far too expensive or difficult. In addition,
the speed, ease, and economy of computer animation permit the
moviemaker to take several tries at a scene— producing a whole
family of film clips — from which he chooses the most appealing
result, a luxury never before possible."27
The more recent Beflix films have abandoned the original
calligraphic patterns for highly complex Rorschach constellations of
stunning beauty. They actually began with a film produced by two
other scientists at Bell Telephone, B. Julesz and C. Bosche, for use
in experiments with human vision and perception. This involved
semirandom generation of graphic "noise," whose patterns were
reflected several times to produce intricate mandala grids
resembling Persian carpets and snowflake crystals.
"We're now working with variations on the Beflix system that
involves secondary systems," VanDerBeek explained. "It goes
through two levels: first Beflix, then computerizing and quantizing
that level. It's something similar to what Ken Knowlton and Leon
Harmon did with pictures-within-pictures. We're trying to do that
The Poem Fields are filmed in black-and-white, with color added
later through a special optical process that permits color gradations
and increments almost as complex as the forms themselves.
27 Kenneth C. Knowlton, "Computer Animated Movies,"Cybernetic Serendipity, a special
issue of Studio International, ed. Jasia Reichardt (London, September, 1968), pp. 67-68.

250 ExpandedCinema
Peter Kamnitzer: Pre-Experiencing Alternative Futures
"We would like to put the researcher, designer, decision-maker or the public at
large in an environment where they could be exposed to what various futures
may look like. We will do this with computer simulation, which I believe will trigger
the next creative leap in the human brain."
So far we have restricted our discussion to the computers and
computer output subsystems most likely to be accessible to the
filmmaker with luck. Furthermore we have been concerned primarily
with purely aesthetic applications of these techniques, or what I like
to call "computer art for the computer's sake." The limitations of
these systems should be obvious by now.
We have seen that in order to obtain computerized representational
imagery it is necessary in most cases to begin with some sort
of representational input (physical scale models or photographs,
etc.), which are then scanned or translated by the computer through
optical-pickup devices, servo-driven television cameras or film-
storage systems. In fact the most spectacular films discussed so
far— Lapis, Cybernetik 5.3, Permutations, and the Whitney triple-
screen film— were heavily augmented through conventional film-
processing techniques.
Furthermore, the impact of these films is wholly visual or
experiential, with conceptual appreciation of the computer's role
reduced to a minimum. If we can say that a conventional film is
"cinematic" only to the extent that it does not rely on elements of
literature or theatre, we must therefore say that a computer film is
not fully "computerized" until it is relatively free from conventional
film-making techniques.
With this in mind we might better appreciate Peter Kamnitzer's
City-Scape, a film in which no representational imagery existed
before it was produced by the computer. The computer drew the city
strictly from coded mathematical input in the same way that the
Whitneys' geometrical forms are generated from polar equations.
The software and hardware requirements to achieve this, however,
are extremely sophisticated and expensive. Viewed merely as an
animated film, City-Scape leaves much to be desired. Compared to
Yellow Submarine, for example, it is like the earliest tintype

Computer Films 251

Peter Kamnitzer: City-Scape. 1968.
16mm. Color. 10 min. Made at the
Guidance and Control Division of
NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center,
Houston, Texas. Four views of the
imaginary city.

252 Expanded Cinema
compared to laser holography— on a purely visual level, that is. But
City-Scape is deceptive. First of all, it is not an animated film in the
sense that most of the computer films we've been discussing are
animated. The color CRT display, produced through electron-
scanning similar to conventional television, was recorded on color
movie film in real-time, on-line operation.
The $2,000,000 computer, NASA II, and its visual simulation
subsystem was developed by General Electric for the Guidance and
Control Division of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. It
has been used for more than ten years to simulate conditions of
lunar landings. Kamnitzer, head of the Urban Laboratory at the
University of California at Los Angeles, collaborated with GE and
NASA for nearly two years to convert the equipment into a tool that
also would allow pre-experiencing of possible environmental
situations here on earth.
It is rather unlikely that any filmmaker will have access to such
sophisticated equipment for aesthetic purposes only. However, as
we have seen, the notion of "art" increasingly includes ultrasensitive
judgments as to the uses of technology and scientific information.
Consciously or unconsciously, we invent the future. And all futures
are conditional on a present that is conditioned by the past. One way
to be free of past conditioning is to simulate alternative futures
through the fail-safe power of the digital computer. This is "art" at the
highest level ever known to man, quite literally the creation of a new
world imperceptibly gaining on reality— but not so imperceptibly as
A film like City-Scape adds still another dimension to the
obsolescence of fiction. Whereas Stan Brakhage transcends fiction
through mythopoeic manipulation of unstylized reality, Kamnitzer
creates not myths but facts— obscuring the boundaries between life
and art with a scientific finality unequaled in subjective art. Optimum-
probability computerized visual simulation of future environments is
not limited to economic, social, or political motivations. The
possibilities for purely aesthetic exploration are revolutionary and
have yet to be attempted. City-Scape is the first step toward that
future time in which artists not only will be the acknowledged
legislators of mankind but literally will determine the meaning of the
word "man."
In programming City-Scape Kamnitzer was limited to two hundred

Computer Films 253
and forty edges, or points where tangential planes intersect. Since
an architectural edifice normally has only twelve edges, the city
could have only twenty edifices. However, rather than having only
square boxes, Kamnitzer programmed vertical pilasters and
horizontal lines to generate a sense of scale per floor. The necessity
of at least two freeways and one tunnel reduced the city to
approximately five or six buildings. This information was input to the
computer not as a drawing to be scanned, but as mathematical
equations of perspectives describing the transformation of a
numerical model of a three-dimensional environment onto a two-
dimensional display or image plane.
The real-time solution of these equations produced a color CRT
display with six degrees of freedom, unlimited dynamic range, true
perspective, controlled color and brightness, and infinite depth of
focus. With three simple control mechanisms Kamnitzer, seated
before the twenty-one-inch screen, was able to: (1) stop and start
the forward motion of the "vehicle" moving through the city; (2)
control the direction of movement over and under bridges, through
tunnels, around corners, etc.; and (3) control visual direction so that,
while the vehicle may be moving north the "driver" may look
northeast, south, or in any direction without affecting his forward
Because the environment is stored digitally in the computer's
memory a true "environmental" sense is created. That is, the
operator-driver may move into the city and, after passing one or two
structures, may decide to turn around and view what in effect has
been "behind" him or otherwise out of range of the CRT display. This
is done instantly, with the operator manipulating a lever as the CRT
draws a new perspective in color every twentieth of a second. In
addition, the operator-driver may enter closed spaces, fly into the air,
and pass or "crash" through environment surfaces— without
damage, of course, because the crash is only simulated.
Although City-Scape is a color film we have not used color
illustrations for two reasons. First, the color is not intended as an
experience in itself, an exploration of color effects as inCybernetik
or the Whitney films, but rather as a means of distinguishing the
structures within the city— i.e., the yellow freeway, the blue freeway,
the green mall, the gray building, etc. Second, as we already have
noted, a great deal of image quality is lost when color television
displays are recorded on color film; the result is a pale washed-out
image neither so brilliant as the original phosphor, nor so intense as
optically-printed color.

254 Expanded Cinema
As the film begins we are rushing toward the city's skyline against
the horizon surrounded by a vast green plain. Once into the city,
various types of movement and positions are simulated: circling
around the central mall area, driving up freeway ramps and along
freeways, riding up and down in an outdoor glass elevator, walking
down corridors of buildings, looking out windows, flying above the
city in a helicopter that takes off and lands from a skyscraper
heliport, the simulation of a drunk driver and his crash into a
swimming pool, and finally moving through a solid mass, which the
computer translates as a tunnel-like experience.
Only a few minutes have passed before a strong sense of location
and environment is created, and the viewer begins to remember
positions of structures not on the screen. One actually begins to feel
"surrounded" by this city, though viewing it as if through a porthole.
The true three-point perspective invests the image with a sense of
actuality even stronger than in some conventional live-action films.
Kamnitzer relates: "The on-line experience, the sense of power of
sitting at the controls, is something very hard to describe. You are
turned on. You are involved." It is an extremely close interaction
between man and machine. The drunk-driving sequence— in which
the "vehicle" swerves and careens through streets before plunging
into an empty swimming pool— was done specifically to illustrate the
immediacy and plasticity of the computer's reaction to the instructions
of the operator.
Kamnitzer considers City-Scape a documentary of the possibilities
that now exist for an Urban Simulation Laboratory. The concept is, in
the absence of an ability to experiment with real people in real cities,
to create a simulated environment in which people can pre-experience
alternative futures. Kamnitzer's method incorporates the
use of conventional mathematical models, man-gaming or operational
gaming to simulate the decision environment, and the computed
visual simulation subsystem to formulate what Kamnitzer calls "the
total question of if then, the key to all decision-making."

Computer Films 255
The metalanguage that Kamnitzer has designed to facilitate this
activity is called Intuval, derived from intuition and evaluation.
Professor Kamnitzer considers Intuval to be an "answer" to the
optimization attitude toward the computer. "What we are doing," he
says, "is very different from people who want to use the computer to
optimize for them and thereby the computer provides the answers. I
am using the visual simulation subsystem to trigger the next creative
leap in the human brain, and therefore I consider my approach very
different from the usual rush into data banks and optimization. If
used in an experientially meaningful manner the computer can
provoke the next creative leap, while in my opinion the reading of
charts, books, monographs, and statistics does not lead to a creative
advancement. Books are being written every day, the libraries are
full, the data banks are going to burst, but the decision-maker does
not have access to this information when he needs it, in a form that
is meaningful to him at this moment.
"I make the outrageous claim that creative innovation can only
come from gut knowledge. It cannot come from something that
remains purely in the cerebral area. I would even go so far as to say
that what we are unable to explain to an intelligent thirteen-year-old,
we do not know. So this leads to on-line visual displays and the total
question of if then, the key to all decision-making. Now I can get
information in graphic form of course, but then comes the moment
when I want to know if then. If I should decide to choose alternate 'B'
then these and these and these things will happen. But what if I had
chosen alternate 'G'? And so on. So you see the intuitive approach
has suffered badly in the past because of its lack of instant
evaluation of what is strong and weak in your intuition. The Intuval
system I've devised provides the designer or researcher with this
instant evaluation. It is not simply a visualizing and pre-experiencing
"It works in the following manner. First we have a hunch or an
intuitive idea and we create an environment. Next, through the visual
simulation subsystem we experience this environment both from the
viewpoint of the designer and the user. And of course we will
discover weak points and strong points in the environment so, with
the stroke of a light pen, we can change it. We find out where the
weakest spots are, we ask the computer to provide the parameters

256 Expanded Cinema
which define this weakest link, we will be shown graphically, then we
will change the design and get a second evaluation, which now
hopefully will have improved that factor, but we may have lost in
another factor. We then again inquire what are the parameters which
determine this weakness and so on, evolving into an interactive
"There are people who have built fascinating mathematical
models, people who do man-gaming and operational gaming, people
who experiment with physical-environment simulation in domes and
so on, but I do not know of any attempt to bring these disciplines
together in an Urban Simulation Laboratory to pre-experience
alternative futures and even to pre-experience the inter-action of
human beings in a future environment. In this way we can be
exposed to what various futures may look like, feel like, and also
what they would cost economically, socially, psychologically, and
every other way.
"Now for City-Scape I was limited to 240 edges. We now realize
that with another few million dollars next time we could increase the
number of edges from 240 to 1500, and we also could create
textures which could, for example, give you the equivalent of a glass
wall on a building which would not come out of the 1500 edges. We
will also have the ability to collect all 1500 edges in front of the
viewer at all times, having no 'invisible' or off-screen edges as in
City-Scape. This would enhance the realistic detail of the simulation.
Finally we will have hemispherical projection inside a globe, with real
people interacting with the computed environmental situation. This is
a long way off, but I've made it my life's work. We have Intuval, we
have City-Scape, we have NASA II. It's a beginning."

"Art has operated in the gap between what we know and what we dream. The
gap is closing quickly: what we dream is often what we see. Television will serve
to bridge the gap and to guide the way toward a more successful environment.
The eyes replace the me's and we arrive at a condition where what we show
becomes what we say."
On July 20, 1969, approximately 400 million world people watched
the same Warhol movie at the same time. As iconographic imagery
goes there's no appreciable difference between four hours ofEmpire
and four hours of LM. There even were similar hallucinations of
redundancy in our sustained hot cognition of NASA's primary
structure. The bit-capacity of that Minimal hard-edge picture plane
without gray scale was really amazing. We were getting a lot of
information in dragtime across space-time. And they called it
The first moon landing was the first global holiday in history. They
even mounted the camera at an Orson Welles heroic low angle to
catch Beautiful Buzz Armstrong the Archetypal Spaceman coming
down the ladder to recite his historical speech: ". . . one giant step
for mankind.'' But few commentators remarked, then or later, that
mankind hadn't moved an inch. No one said how really convenient it
was to sit there in your home, looking directly at the moon dust,
listening simultaneously to four or five conversations separated by a
quarter-million miles, getting metabolic information about the Buzz
Armstrongs in a closed-circuit loop that extended humanity's total
brain-eye out around the moon and back. Who needs telepathy?
The growth of television has been phenomenal. In 1948
approximately 200,000 American homes had television sets and 15
television stations were broadcasting regularly. In 1958 there were
520 stations broadcasting to sets in 42 million homes. Today there
are tens of thousands of broadcasters, and approximately 100

258 Expanded Cinema
million homes have television sets. There are 14 million color sets
alone in this country. In fact, there are more television sets in
American homes today than telephones, bathtubs, or refrigerators.
Television antennas bristle from the rooftops of ghetto shacks that
don't even have plumbing. An estimated quarter-billion television
receivers are in use around the world. Yet, because of political
sovereignties and profit-motive selfishness, more than one-third of
humanity is illiterate.
Television, like the computer, is a sleeping giant. But those who are
beginning to use it in revolutionary new ways are very much awake.
The first generation of television babies has reached maturity having
watched an average of 15,000 hours of television while completing
only 10,000 hours of formal education through high school. Yet
television itself still has not left the breast of commercial
sponsorship. Just as cinema has imitated theatre for seventy years,
television has imitated cinema imitating theatre for twenty-five years.
But the new generation with its transnational interplanetary video
consciousness will not tolerate the miniaturized vaudeville that is
television as presently employed.
At London's Slade School, the German-born video artist Lutz
Becker observes: "This purely electronic medium with its completely
abstract rules does not have its own art form which should develop
within the scope of new technologies and their almost chaotic wealth
of possibilities. A new art form is not only the result of new
technologies, but also the result of new thinking and the discovery of
new orders."
But no new orders are to be found in the economic society's use of
the medium it created. "A country that is chiefly interested in turning
out consumers and producers," wrote Robert M. Hutchins, "is not
likely to be much concerned with setting minds free; for the
connection between selling, manufacturing, and free minds cannot
be established. Such a country will transform new opportunities for
education into means of turning out producers and consumers. This
has been the fate of television in the United States. It could have
been used for educational purposes, but not in a commercial culture.
The use of television, as it was employed in the United States in the
1960's, can be put in its proper light by supposing that Guten


Television as a Creative Medium 259
berg's great invention had been directed almost entirely to the
publication of comic books.''1
A major portion of America's creative energy is siphoned off into
television's exploitation of the profit motive: "Few messages are as
carefully designed and as clearly communicated as the thirty-second
television commerical... Few teachers spend in their entire careers
as much time or thought on preparing their classes as is invested in
the many months of writing, drawing, acting, filming, and editing of
one thirty-second television commercial."2
1 Robert M. Hutchins, The Learning Society (New York: Praeger, 1968), p. 127.2 Peter F. Drucker quoted in: Gerald O'Grady, "The Preparation of Teachers of Media,"
Journal of Aesthetic Education (July, 1969).

The Videosphere

I have found the term "videosphere" valuable as a conceptual tool to
indicate the vast scope and influence of television on a global scale
in many simultaneous fields of sense-extension. Like the computer,
television is a powerful extension of man's central nervous system.
Just as the human nervous system is the analogue of the brain,
television in symbiosis with the computer becomes the analogue of
the total brain of world man. It extends our vision to the farthest star
and the bottom of the sea. It allows us to see ourselves and, through
fiber optics, to see inside ourselves. The videosphere transcends
Broadcasters now speak of "narrowcasting," "deepcasting,"
"minicasting," and other terms to indicate the increasing decentraliation
and fragmentation of the videosphere: regular Very High
Frequency programming (VHF); Ultra High Frequency special-
interest programming such as educational television or foreign-
language stations (UHF); Community Antenna Television (CATV);
Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV); Videotape Recording (VTR);
Videotape Cartridges (VTC); Electronic Video Recording (EVR);
Satellite Television (COMSAT, INTELSAT)— all of which amount to a
synergetic nonspherical metaphysical technology that drastically
alters the nature of communication on earth.
Although the emphasis now is on the EVR cartridge and videotape
cassette as being revolutionary developments in communication, the
more likely possibility is that CATV and the videophone will provide
unparalleled freedom for the artist as well as the citizen. In addition
to regular broadcast programming, CATV operators may establish
subscription systems through which customers might receive as
many as eighty channels of color programming not available to the
VHF or UHF audience. Much of this programming obviously will
constitute the kind of personal aesthetic work to be discussed in this
ook. CATV subscribers may lease receivers with high-resolution

The Videosphere 261
1,000-scan-line pictures, compared with broadcast TV's 525 scanlines.
3 In addition to providing videofax newspapers, magazines, and
books, CATV will allow "visits" to friends, shops, banks, and doctors'
offices without ever leaving the comfort of one's home. CATV
systems are now being developed to transmit programs to home
VTRs while a family is sleeping or away from the house, to be
replayed later.
It is estimated that ninety percent of American homes will be wired
for CATV by 1980, primarily because "demand TV" or
"telecommand" systems are expected by about 1978. By this
process one will telephone regional video-library switchboards,
ordering programs from among thousands listed in catalogues. The
programs will be transmitted immediately by cable, and of course
could be stored in the home VTR if repeated viewings are desired.
The videophone will be included in a central home communications
console that will incorporate various modes of digital audio-visual
and Xerographic storage and retrieval systems. New developments
in videotape recording will be crucial in this area.
There are two key phases in information storage: recording and
retrieval. Retrieval is perhaps more important than recording, at least
at this early stage. Retrieval systems are more difficult to perfect
than recording devices. Nam June Paik has illustrated this problem
with the difference between the English alphabet and Chinese
characters. "Retrieval is much quicker with Chinese characters," he
explains. "You can record (write) quicker in English but you can
retrieve (read) quicker in Chinese. One is retrieval-oriented, the
other is recording-oriented— but you read more than you write." Thus
it is quite likely that video-computer systems will be available for
home use with one-inch videotape, half devoted to video information,
half to digital storage codes.
After some twenty-five years of public television, we are just now
developing a sense of global unity that is destined to affect directly
the life of each individual before this decade is past. We have seen
that technology already is fragmenting and decentralizing broadcast
3 Electron beams in camera-tubes and picture-tubes scan the screen in 525 horizontal
lines from top to bottom. This is standard in the United States. Associated with this is
what are called "lines of resolution." Since microwave broadcasting tends to dissipate the
coherence of a signal, it is composed of only approximately 320 lines of resolution by the
time it reaches home receivers.

262 Expanded Cinema

The Picturephone: "A completely new video
environment and life-style." Photo: Bell
Telephone Laboratories.
television. Soon entertainment and localized functions of the video-sphere
will be handled by CATV and videotape cartridges, leaving broadcast
television free to perform vital new tasks. Large communi-cations
conglomerates such as RCA, CBS, ABC, CBC, BBC, Euro-vision, Bell
Telephone, AT&T, and COMSAT are now planning net-works of planet
analysis that will result in television as a constant source of global
metabolic and homeostatic information.
Direct satellite-to-home television has been technically feasible for some
time. Scientists at Bell Telephone and COMSAT anticipate fifty domestic
communications satellites in orbit by 1977. The total system will be
capable of 100,000,000 voice channels and 100,000 television channels.4
Hughes Aircraft engineers estimate that within the decade individual roof

4 Videa 1000 Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 3 (New York: Videa International, January, 1969).

The Videosphere 263
top antennas will pick up twenty-five to thirty channels from "local"
satellites in addition to whatever video information the home may be
receiving from CATV and videotape cartridges.5
Existing satellites now deliver photographs and video images with
such high resolution that "COMSAT typesetting" is possible. A CBS
satellite system employed by the military to flash reconnaissance
photos from Vietnam to Washington reportedly resulted in color
qualities "as good or better than National Geographic." In 1969, RCA
engineers began work on video cameras and receivers capable of
10,000-and possibly 12,000-scan-line resolution. Also in that year,
RCA officials proposed that NASA's TIROS M meteorological
satellite could be converted into an "earth resources" vehicle to help
overcome food shortages and combat pollution problems. Equipped
with special high-resolution 5,000-scan-line cameras in a 500-mile
orbit, the satellite would yield picture resolution equivalent to 100
feet above ground. Higher resolution would be possible, officials
announced, but some countries would complain of "invasion of
On the receiving end, the next few years will see the development
of transistorized sets with 500-hour rechargeable batteries; TV sets
that can screen 16mm. movies through the color cathode tubeby
using built-in telecine systems; so-called spectral color 3-D television
without Polaroid glasses; four-by-six-foot cathode tubes only one
foot thick; self-correcting color receivers that will correct even broadcast
errors; one-gun color sets that will eliminate three-gun
registration problems; stereo TV; new color TV projection systems
that will project six-foot color images with brightness and registration
equal to studio monitor equipment; two-dimensional laser color TV;
tubeless TV cameras smaller than a man's hand, coupled with TV
receiving tubes the size of a quarter. And it is estimated that the flat
wall-size plasma crystal screen will be distributed commercially by
Individual personal expression through videotape has begun only
recently, and the artist who works with videotape as his own
personal medium of expression is still quite rare. However, new
developments in small inexpensive portable videotape recording
systems will completely revolutionize this mode of artistic freedom.
5 Ibid.

264 Expanded Cinema
As early as 1968 several firms demonstrated prototype low-cost
home VTR systems in the thousand dollar price range. It is expected
that by 1973 one will be able to purchase a color TV camera, color
VTR unit, and color display console for less than $1,000. By
comparison, similar equipment in 1970 ranged from $11,000 (Sony)
to $50,000 (Ampex).
However, within the next few years we'll witness the growth of
video cartridges and cassettes into a market greater than that
presently enjoyed by books and records. The potentials are so
impressive that Jean-Luc Godard, possibly in a moment of passion,
once vowed to abandon his feature-film career to make "instant
newsreels" via portable videotape equipment. The first serious
competitor to Columbia's EVR system will be Sony's videotape
cassettes for home VTRs, to be marketed by 1973. At approximately
the same time RCA will introduce its "SelectaVision" unit, which will
play pre-recorded tapes through any TV set using a safe low-power
laser beam and special scratch-proof vinyl tape. Virtually all video
hardware manufacturers are developing their own versions of the
videotape cartridge storage-and-retrieval system.
Meanwhile a whole new area of feature film cartridge projection
systems has developed to compete with the video cassette market.
Kodak, Bell & Howell, Fairchild, and Technicolor have demonstrated
cartridge projection systems for home viewing. Zeiss-Ikon has
developed a compact textbook-size cartridge projector for 300-foot
cassettes of 70mm. film divided into twelve separate image tracks to
produce two hours of color sound movies in stop-motion, slow
motion, and reverse, using a capstan drive instead of sprockets.
It is now obvious that we are entering a completely new video
environment and image-exchange life-style. The videosphere will
alter the minds of men and the architecture of their dwellings.
"There's a whole new story to be told," says video artist Scott
Bartlett, "thanks to the new techniques. We must find out what we
have to say because of our new technologies."

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics
The underlying principle in creative use of videotronic hardware
might be called "video synthesizing," just as we speak of sound
synthesizing in the Moog process. There are no special restrictions
inherent in the video signal as opposed to the audio signal. Anything
that can be done with sound can be done with video if the proper
hardware is available. The basic ingredient of alternating current is
identical in both processes, and represents potential for as many
variations as the equipment will allow. Just as the new filmmaker
seeks to synthesize all the elements of his technology, so the video
artist attempts to synthesize the possibilities of his medium in the
creation of electron synaesthetics.
Since present television studio equipment was not made for the
purpose of aesthetic experimentation, artists have been forced to
work within parameters that amount to video imitation of cinematic
techniques: electronic equivalents of cinematic wipes, fades, superimpositions,
and traveling mattes. There are, however, certain advantages
in working with video systems to achieve variations of
these effects quite unlike their cinematic counterparts, and with
considerably less expenditure of time and effort.
The Television Camera
In standard photography a photosensitive emulsion on a strip of
acetate is exposed to lens-focused rays of light that form an image in
the emulsion. A similar principle is involved in television except that
the image is translated into coded electronic-signal information and
is then "erased" to make way for another image. Inside every TV
camera, instead of film, is a photoconductive camera tube. These
tubes are called variously Image Orthicon, Vidicon, Staticon, and
Plumbicon, depending on the chemical makeup of the tube's
photosensitive surface, which is called the photocathode screen. For
many years the Image Orthicon was the standard camera tube.
Recently, however, the Plumbicon, whose photosensitive surface is
composed of lead oxide, has become the popular camera tube.
According to how much light is focused onto the surface of the

266 Expanded Cinema
photocathode screen, each tiny photosensitive element becomes
electrically charged, building up a "charge pattern" across the screen
proportional to the lights and darks of the televised scene. This
charge pattern is swept across, or "read," by a beam of electrons
emitted from a cathode gun in the camera tube. The beam
neutralizes each picture element on the photocathode screen as it
sweeps across, producing a varying electric current that corresponds
to the pattern of light and shade in the televised scene.
As each photoconductive element on the screen is scanned by the
electron beam and relinquishes its information, it is said to be "wiped
clean" and can therefore respond to any new light image it may
receive through the camera lens. This charge-forming and
systematic "reading" is a rapid, continuous process with the entire
photocathode screen being charged, scanned, and recharged thirty
times per second to produce a constant scan-line pattern of 525
lines resolution, the standard in the United States.6
The Television Receiver
The video picture signal thus produced is subsequently amplified
and cabled through a video switcher/mixer console in the studio
control room where it is transformed back into a picture on monitors
that operate like home television receivers. Cathode-ray tubes in
television receivers are called "kinescopes." In them, a cathode gun
like the one in the camera tube sprays the phosphor-coated screen
with a beam of electrons synchronized with the exploratory beam in
the studio camera. The phosphor coating glows in the path of the
beam as it scans the picture tube. Horizontal and vertical "sync
pulses" keep the two beams in step.
A beam of constant strength would produce a white rectangle of
fine horizontal lines, which is called a "raster" and is the basic field of
the picture. But if the beam's strength is varied, the trace-point
brightness is varied also. When the video signal is made to regulate
the picture tube's beam, a pattern of light and shade can be built up
on the screen's phosphor corresponding to the distribution of lights
and darks focused through the camera lens— thus a duplication of
6 Gerald Millerson, The Technique of Television Production (New York: Hastings House,
1961) and Howard A. Chinn,Television Broadcasting (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953).

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 267
the televised scene. This picture fades and is continually replenished
by the rapidly-scanning beam so that we see a clear, complete
image. In relatively low-resolution systems such as the 525-line U.S.
standard, a so-called rolling effect of the scan-lines can be detected
on the picture tube. In high-resolution systems of 1,000 to 5,000
lines, however, the resulting image is unflickering and extremely
The same principles are involved in color television except that
four camera tubes are incorporated inside each camera: one each
for the basic colors red, blue, and green, and one black-and-white
tube for use in aligning and resolving the three colors. In color
television receivers, three cathode guns instead of one are used to
scan the phosphor screen, electronically "mixing" the palette
according to the distribution of hues in the televised scene.
The electron beam scanning the photocathode screen in the
television camera requires a certain strength, a certain amount of
electric current, in order to reproduce the image completely with
sharp definition and contrast. Controls on the camera called "gain
control clippers" are provided to assure that the beam is receiving
proper energy to reproduce the image. By deliberately starving the
electron beam of its required current, highlight details are washed
out of the picture, causing the image to be retained or smeared in
the camera tube. Any motion occurring in the brighter areas of the
televised scene will produce a lingering smear of the image similar to
the phenomenon of retinal persistence in human vision, but slower
and longer lasting. Accidental beam-starving often is noticeable in
musical programs when brass instruments develop flaring jelly-like
trails as they move. Deliberately causing and exaggerating this effect
is known as "de-beaming" or "rolling off the beam."
In color television, beam energies can be controlled in any of the
three primary color tubes inside the camera simultaneously or
separately. This means that the smear will be in one or all of the
three colors and their combinations. Thus a human face or figure
can be made to have brightly-colored outlines or ghost images that
seem to stick to the screen as the figure moves. In addition, the
three color tubes can be deliberately de-aligned from the
coordinating black-and-white tube, producing three separate color

268 Expanded Cinema
images moving together in time but spatially differentiated, as
sometimes occurs accidentally in offset color lithography.
Keying and Chroma-Keying
The video equivalent of cinematic matting is called "keying." As in
cinematography, the purpose is to cause one image to be inserted
into another image so that the background image is effectively
obscured by the insertion. Cinematic matting is mechanical whereas
video keying is electronic. There are two basic methods of keying:
"inlay keyed insertion" (static mattes and wipes), and "overlay keyed
insertion" (traveling mattes). Inlay keying involves a picture tube
displaying a plain white raster on its screen, which is seen through a
transparent masking plate (or "cel") by a lens focused onto a photo-
tube that triggers a switching circuit. We select part of Camera One's
picture to be matted out and make an opaque mask (cardboard, etc.)
to cover the corresponding area on the cel over the inlay tube's
raster. The switching circuit automatically blanks out that area in
Camera One's picture, allowing the rest to show through wherever
the circuit "sees" the inlay tube's raster. Camera Two's picture is
automatically inserted into the matted area. Numerous wipes are
possible simply by moving a mask over the inlay tube's raster. These
wipe masks may be manually or electronically operated. Or they can
be photographed on motion-picture film, which is then run through a
telecine projector whose video signal triggers the switching circuit.
In overlay (traveling matte) keying, the switching circuit senses the
scale of grays in a televised scene. Clipper controls on Camera One
are adjusted to select the particular gray-scale level at which a
keyed insertion from Camera Two is desired. This level of luminosity
is known as the "switching tone." If a white switching tone is
selected, Camera Two's picture will be inserted into Camera One's
picture wherever the circuit "sees" the switching tone or a lighter
one. If a dark tone is selected, the insertion will be made wherever
the circuit "sees" that tone or a darker one. The shape of the
insertion is determined by the shape of the switching tone areas in
the scene. There must be a marked tonal difference between the
inserted subject and its surroundings for the switching circuit to
operate effectively. For example: Camera One shoots a dancer in

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 269
black leotards against a white backdrop; Camera Two shoots a
striped pattern. If a white switching tone is used, the dancer will be
seen against a striped background. If a black tone is used, the
dancer's body will be filled with stripes and the background will
remain white.
Ordinary use of keying as described here usually results in the
same sort of unconvincing, tacky visual effects as are generally
produced by traveling mattes in movies: that is, a scene in which two
images are trying unsuccessfully to be one. The problem lies in
general insistence on "clean" mattes. Tonal differences of at least
fifty percent on the gray scale must exist between the subject and
surroundings, otherwise the switching circuit reaches points where it
cannot distinguish between forms. This results in image-breakthrough
and ragged "fringing" of matted edges, destroying the desired
illusi on of "objectivity." In synaesthetic videographics, however,
keying is employed purely for its graphic potential in design
information. Since there's no attempt to create the illusion of a
"foreground" figure being inserted into a "background" field, image-
breakthrough and edge-fringing are no longer a problem. In fact,
they are deliberately induced through a technique called "tearing the
If there is no second video source, all areas of a scene above a
white switching-tone turn black and all areas below a black tone turn
white. If the scene contains a wide range of gray-scale tones with
little contrast a great deal of image-breakthrough and edge-fringing
will occur to the point where one cannot distinguish between the two.
Electronic metamorphosis has occurred. If the scene is a medium
close-up of faces in low contrast and a white tone is used, all facial
highlights will turn black while all lower gray-scale values will remain
normal. If a black tone is used, facial shadows will flash white while
lighter values reproduce normally.
If the clipper, or sensor of the gray-scale level, is adjusted up and
down the scale instead of being left at one level, the result is a
constantly "bleeding" or randomly flaking and tearing image. This is
called "tearing the key." In the scene just described, this would result
in a constant reversal of dark and light tones and a general
disintegration and reappearance of the image. If a second video
source is used, which happens to be the same image we're seeing,

270 Expanded Cinema
except through another camera, the result is a bizarre solarization
effect of flashing outlines and surfaces, or a composite in which an
image appears to be inside of itself.
Gray-scale keying is possible also in color television, flaring and
intermixing colors based on their gray-scale luminosity. However,
Chroma-Key, although limited in some ways, provides certain
advantages in color video work. Chroma-Key does not sense gray-
scale luminosity but rather color hues. Any combination of the red,
blue, and green primary tubes can be selected as the keying hue.
Whenever a background is a particular hue, it will be keyed out and
a second video source will be inserted. Any combination of colors in
the spectrum can be used, but blue is normally employed because it
is most opposite to skin tones and therefore provides the widest
margin for "clean" mattes. If a blue-eyed girl is in front of a blue
background and the Chroma-Key is set for blue, "holes" will appear
in her eyes into which any other video source— including another
image of herself— can be inserted.
In July, 1968, WCBS-TV in New York featured the Alwin Nikolais
Dance Company as part of its Repertoire Workshop series. The
dance composition, Limbo, was designed especially for Chroma-Key
effects and thus provides an excellent example of a certain approach
to this technique. In one scene of Limbo a man is threatened by
disembodied hands and arms. He is tossed aloft by them and,
according to the program description, "all of life's little problems are
thrown at him." To achieve this effect the principal dancer and the
chorus were positioned in front of a blue backdrop, all on the same
camera. The chorus members were dressed completely in blue
except for their hands and arms. Using a blue Chroma-Key, this
meant that wherever there was blue in the picture, the background
camera shooting smoke would show through. Thus the hands and
the principal dancer appeared to be floating through smoke clouds.
At one point, the hands appeared to pull confetti and streamers out
of nowhere and throw them in the air. The colored confetti was
concealed with blue confetti covering the top of the pile. It was
invisible until it was pulled out in the open.
In another segment, serial rows of running dancers were
suspended in green space. The inside of the dancers' bodies was a

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 271

Chroma-Key video matting makes
arms of Alwin Nikolais dancers seem
to float in space. Photo: WCBS-TV.
series of wavy stripes that moved from right to left to accentuate the
effect of motion. Two cameras and three videotape recorders were
used. In this way, three separate "takes" of one row of dancers were
combined in the final image. On take 1 the camera framed the
dancers at the top of the screen. The dancers were placed against a
large blue canvas backdrop that curved down to the floor, permitting
even lighting so that the dancers' full figures could be matted. The
background was a green slide that appeared wherever there was
blue in the picture. The outlines of the dancers cut the "hole" in the
matted green slide, and these "holes" were filled by another camera
shooting a revolving drum with painted stripes on it. This was
recorded on videotape 1 (VT-1). This was played back to the studio
where a wipe was used to combine the first level of dancers on tape
with a second level of dancers now being framed live in the center of
the camera. The resulting composite of two rows of striped dancers
was then recorded on VT-2. This was played back to be combined

272 Expanded Cinema

Two cameras and three VTRs were
used to suspend candy-striped dancers
in green space. Photo: WCBS-TV.
with the third level of dancers using the same process. The total
effect was recorded on VT-3.
In another vignette the dancers were to represent the torments of
everyday living, from crawling sensations to jangling nerves. The
final effect was of two lines of dancers, toe to toe, lying side by side
on clouds and water, holding long tapes above their head to
represent nerve endings. The outlines of bodies and tapes were
filled with red. The segment was done in two takes. The first take
was tape-recorded with the dancers lined up on the right side of the
screen. On the second take, the dancers moved to the left side of
the screen. The tape was played back and combined with the live
action using a vertical wipe. Later this effect, plus goldfish and
crawling ants, was inserted inside the body of the principal dancer.7
7 Technical descriptions of the Limbo program were provided by Herb Gardener, WCBSTV
Studio Operations Engineer, in How We Did It, a publication of the WCBS-TV
Repertoire Workshop, New York.

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 273

Two VTRs were wiped together in this
composite scene from the Limbo
program. Photo: WCBS-TV.
While demonstrating the nature of Chroma-Key, these examples
also clearly show how a purely electronic medium with an
unexplored range of possibilities has been used to imitate the older
discipline of cinema, and to express an archaic intelligence that
insists upon "objectivity" and linear development in graphic forms.
The rigid adherence to "clean" matting implies disdain toward what is
obviously the unique property of video keying: "metamorphosis," not
overlay or insertion. The new consciousness seeks the transformation
of realities whereas the old consciousness ventures no further
than a timid juxtaposition of "objective" realities that retain their traditional
identity. The fact is that there exists no cinematic equivalent of
video keying. Tearing a key in grays or colors produces graphic
designs of unique character, blending form and color in a manner
virtually impossible in any other medium. Video keying is inherently
synaesthetic; such a claim can be made for no other aesthetic

274 Expanded Cinema
If a microphone is placed too close to its amplifier it squeals. If a
television camera is positioned too close to its monitor it squeals
also, but it squeals visually. This visual noise, like audio noise, is
called "feedback." Video feedback may be intentionally induced and
carefully controlled to produce graphic effects possible only through
this technique. The most common effect is the infinitely-repeated
image similar to the infinity effect of fun house mirror chambers. This
can be done with one, two, or three cameras shooting into the same
monitor that displays their output. One or two cameras can shoot
into a monitor that displays their output in addition to an image from
a third camera. There are a number of combinations based on the
principle of the squealing camera.
Telecine Projection
Because it is the video equivalent of a cinematic optical printer, the
"telecine projector," commonly known as the "film chain," plays an
important role in the production of synaesthetic videotapes or
videographic films. It is a device that projects slides or films directly
into television cameras whose signals are sent through a
switching/mixing console and then are broadcast or videotaped.
Telecine movie projectors are modified to project at the video rate of
30 fps instead of the cinematic rate of 24 fps. (A video "frame" is the
amount of signal information produced in the thirtieth of a second
required for the camera-tube electron beam to scan the photocathode
screen one time.)
Since certain limitations are inherent in the physical and technical
characteristics of a live studio setup, the film chain offers many
advantages in the production of videographics where image control
and graphic integrity are extremely important. The video signal from
a film chain is "live" in the sense that a slide or movie is being rerecorded
live. Thus it is possible to televise scenes that have been
prestylized and could not exist live in front of a studio camera. These
may then be combined on videotape with normal studio scenes.
Most film-chain cameras employ Vidicon tubes, which can be
controlled just the same as studio floor cameras. In fact, film-chain

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 275
vidicons often are more flexible to work with, since studio cameras
are fine-tuned and one frequently is forbidden to alter their adjustments.
De-beaming and keying film-chain cameras produces a very
different effect, a more subtle effect than the same techniques in live
studio cameras, for the simple reason that film loops can be fed
through the system. Film loops allow one to rehearse, as it were, the
precise moments at which a certain effect is desired. Endless takes
can be made with the same image, an advantage not possible in
studio situations. For tape-mixing purposes, monitors show which
film-chain images are upcoming, and several film chains can be
synchronized for mixing onto one tape.
Slightly different procedures are involved in using film chains for
the production of videotapes as opposed to videographic films. The
primary difference is in the ability to manipulate colors. In filmmaking,
the usual procedure is as follows: Original footage is shot on
16mm. or 35mm. high-contrast stock from which a workprint is
made. This print may then be edited in the usual fashion or fed
directly into a video system through the film chain. High-contrast
stock is used to overcome the image-breakdown effect of video
scan-lines, and to retain image quality as much as possible through
the three separate stages of videographic filmmaking: original
footage, videotape, and kinescope (videotape images recorded on
movie film). This process would tend to obliterate the subtle
shadings of slower, more sensitive film stocks.
Once the high-contrast work print is formed into loops and fitted
into the film chain, it can be processed through the video mixing/
switching system, augmented by de-beaming, keying, wipes, and
compounded with other video sources, either live-action, tapes,
films, or slides. The final master tape may be edited before a
kinescope is made. Assuming that the imagery has already
undergone three edits— first as original footage, then in film-chain
mixing, then as a master tape— a fourth edit may be performed on
the kinescope footage. This is then processed through an optical
printing system where color is added.
Since video colors reproduce poorly onto film, most videographic
films are shot in black-and-white with color added optically after
video processing is completed. However, as in the case of Scott
Bartlett's OFFON and Moon, color can be added to black-and-white

276 Expanded Cinema
film by running it through a three-gun, color film chain. The color is
induced electronically through the video circuit and appears on tape.
The same reproduction problem remains when a kinescope is made
of this color tape, and the final color print must be augmented in
optical printing. Videotronically-induced colors are desirable for their
unique qualities of electron luminescence, which cannot be duplicated
in chemical photography.
Since synaesthetic videotapes are made with no intention of
transferring them onto film, color reproduction is no problem. Tapes
may be composed entirely through the film chain from looped film
information, or composites of film, live action, slides, and other
tapes. Color or black-and-white film stocks may be used since videotape
color in a closed-circuit playback situation is always superior to
the incident-reflected light of movie projection.
Videotronic Mixing, Switching, and Editing
The television switching/mixing console, described by Stan Van-
DerBeek as "the world's most expensive optical bench," is an array
of monitors and switching circuits by which different sources of video
information are selected, mixed, and routed in various ways. Within
its basic ingredient— alternating current— exists the potential for an
art of image-synthesizing that could exceed the boldest dreams of
the most inspired visionary. Yet, because the equipment was neither
conceived nor constructed for aesthetic purposes this potential has
remained tantalizingly inaccessible. Traditional use of the video
system to imitate cinema is, in the words of one artist, "like hooking
a horse to a rocket." Still most artists are quick to admit that even
this limited potential of the television medium has not been fully
Most video systems are capable of handling only three image
sources at once. Although any number of sources may be
available— most larger systems accommodate approximately twenty-
four— the maximum capacity for viewing is any combination of any
three of those sources. This is an absolutely arbitrary limitation
based only on the intended commercial use of the equipment, for
which three video sources are perfectly adequate. A few systems
can accommodate four video sources at one time. Still fewer, called
"routing switchers" or "delegation switchers," have five available

Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 277
sources, each of whose five input terminals is fed by five more so
that the image potential becomes any combination of any five-timesfive
video sources. This is a positive step in the direction of video
Compounding this image limitation is the cumbersome and
unwieldy physical layout of the switching console itself. The primary
reason is that video hardware has been design-oriented around the
literary narrative mode of the cinema it imitates. It is built to
accommodate a literary instructional form in which the elements are
relatively simple and linear. In reality, the unique capabilities of video
are perhaps even further from the narrative mode than cinema. No
amount of written instruction could communicate the complexity of
technical and intuitive maneuvers involved in the synaesthetic
videographics we are about to discuss; and even if that were
possible, no engineer could spend the time required to read and
carry out those instructions: the program would never reach the air.
Video hardware has been designed around a depersonalized
instructional motive whereas it clearly should have been designed to
accommodate personal aesthetic motives since all technology is
moving inexorably in the direction of closer man/machine interaction
and always has been.
The result of this traditional perversion of the medium is that any
attempt at creativity becomes extremely complex and often flatly
impossible. Even relatively simple effects used commonly in movies
— such as dissolving from one matted title to another matted title—
are not possible with normal switchers. The desired effect is a
background scene over which title credits, either static or in motion,
dissolve from one set of words into another set of words without
changing the background. In video this requires a very elaborate
device called a "double reentry switcher" with six rows of push
buttons for each video source. Combinations of any of two-or threetimes-
six buttons must be used in order to get the effect on the
Assume that one wishes a video image in which colors are
automatically reversed while blacks and whites remain the same; or
reversing the blacks and whites while colors remain unchanged;
draining a picture of all colors but one or two; enhancing only one or
two colors so that they become vivid while other hues in the scene

278 Expanded Cinema

Stan VanDerBeek at work in "the world's
most expensive optical bench," the mixing/
switching control room at WGBH-TV,
Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Gene Youngblood.
remain stable; warbling a picture so that it looks like shimmering
water; composite wipes, so that the edge of the wipe moving across
the picture is not a hard edge but rather modulated by the audio or
modulated by gray scales or colors; numerical camera controls that
would cause one portion of a scene to grow larger or smaller
according to the control setting. All of these things are possible in
existing video technology, yet are not available to the artist in the
form of a mixing/switching console. Moreover, they are potentially
possible in a totally random and instantaneous fashion, whereas
much labor and many hours are required to achieve the same
effects in the cinema.
In addition, there is no reason that video switching must be push-
button controlled so that the operator of a common master-control
switcher must select combinations of approximately one hundred
and twenty buttons. Effects could easily be tone- or voice-actuated,
or controlled by hand capacitors, photoelectric cells, or correspond


Cathode-Ray Tube Videotronics 279
ing pairs of voltages for transition effects. All of this could be realized
in integrated circuitry, reducing the mammoth proportions of existing
switchers by many times. Delegation or routing switchers could
accomplish with twelve buttons what now requires more than a
The potentials of a video system are so vast that it becomes
physically impossible for one person to have them accessible to him
in a workable manner. This is where video-computer symbiosis
becomes necessary. Virtually every possible alternative can be
programmed into a computer, which then can employ them in a
specific programmed order, or within random or semirandom
parameters. Computer-controlled switchers can and will be designed
that allow simultaneous processing of the video source by computer
program, audio modulation, and manual override. In this way all
desirable features of synergetic technology would be available: the
randomness of a computer, which can be infinitely more "random"
than any human; the video being semicontrolled by its own audio;
and finally the artist manually overriding the whole system. Thus it
would be possible to preset all conceivable combinations of
alternatives for one video source, which could be actuated by one
button or one audio tone. These capabilities not only exist within the
scope of existing video technology, they are virtually inherent in the
nature of the medium.
Until recently the one major advantage of cinema over video was
sprocket holes and frames: that is, the ability to do stop-frame
animation. For many years the closest that video could come to this
was the digital method of videotape editing such as the Ampex
Editec system or the EECO system. These methods involved the
digital timing of the videotape cue track in hours, minutes, seconds,
and frames. Thus it was possible to pre-edit a videotape session by
setting a dial, or to do post-editing and single-frame animation,
though extremely time consuming and lacking precision. Remarks
video artist Loren Sears:
One of the hardest things to do is stop the recorders and try to sync them up
again. So the goal is to go from start to finish in planned lengths but still keeping
the tape recorders running. So I tried doing some animation with an Editec
system. You can animate by presetting anything from one to thirty-six frames,

280 Expanded Cinema
and there's a manual override that keeps repeating the same frame as long as
you hold it down. You lay down a cue track and set the machine going in an
automatic mode. It has a seventeen-second cycle time in which it rolls to a stop,
backs up and lays down a pulse where it's to pick up next time. It took about four
hours to do twenty or thirty seconds of animation, whereas in film that's all instant
with the single-frame button. This is exactly the reverse of other aspects of videoversus-
film, in which video is much more expedient. It's an extreme example, but
it's something that film can do easily and there's no advantage of doing it in
television; you waste time, and you can be more creative infilm.
However, greater animation control and simplicity is now possible
in video through computer-controlled color disk recording such as
the Ampex HS-200 system. It provides all of the editing freedom that
previously was possible only with film, plus the ability to pre-program
the insertion of cuts, wipes, dissolves, and other effects exclusive to
video— all instantaneously, with the push of a button. Digital
identification and retrieval of any frame within four seconds allows
skip-framing and stop-motion at normal, fast, and slow speeds in
both forward and reverse modes. Apart from this positive note, I
have stressed the limitations of the video system as an aesthetic
medium because they need to be emphasized, and because the
many positive aspects of videographic art will be quite clear in the
pages that follow.

Synaesthetic Videotapes

VT Is Not TV
It is essential to remember that VT is not TV: videotape is not
television though it is processed through the same system. The
teleportation of audio-visual information is not a central issue in the
production of synaesthetic videotapes; rather, the unique properties
of VTR are explored purely for their graphic potential. An important
distinction must also be made between synaesthetic videotapes and
videographic cinema: the videotape artist has no intention of
transforming his work into film.
"I've come to find out that there's a lot of difference between
seeing something on a TV screen and seeing it projected," explains
Loren Sears. "The two-dimensionality of the movie screen as simply
a surface for reflecting a shadow is quite obviously incident light.
Television doesn't have that two-dimensional quality at all; it doesn't
strike you as a surface on which something is being projected, but
as a source. It comes as light through a thing."
It is perhaps not surprising that the most important work in
synaesthetic videotape has been done through affiliates of the
National Educational Television network (NET). In 1967 an experimental
video workshop was established at NET's San Francisco
outlet, KQED, with funds from the Rockefeller Foundation and the
National Endowment for the Arts. Two years later the workshop had
become the National Center for Experiments in Television, with a
grant from the National Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In 1968 KQED became involved in a third project. In collaboration
with San Francisco's Dilexi Foundation, the station provided facilities
and assistance to artists commissioned to work in the video medium.
Some of the most impressive videotapes to be seen anywhere
resulted from this project, notably Terry Riley's Music With Balls and
Phil Makanna's The Empire of Things.
Meanwhile, that same year, NET's Public Broadcasting Laboratory
(PBL) produced a program of video experiments by six artists
including Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, and Otto Piene. The show,
called "The Medium Is the Medium," was produced at WGBH-TV in
Boston, where later in 1969 Stan VanDerBeek became the first of

282 Expanded Cinema
several artists to take up residence under a three-year Rockefeller
grant. He was followed by Nam June Paik.
A new breed of television management is evolving as teledynamic
video consciousness saturates the noosphere. Since the fundamental
art of television rests in the hands of the broadcaster— the
ability to move information through time and space— his attitude
toward the medium is a matter of cardinal importance. We know
what most broadcasters think of the medium; in the following pages,
in addition to discussing artists and their work, I hope to present a
new attitude from a new generation of TV management. Until
videotronic hardware becomes inexpensive enough for individual
use it is the producers, directors, and station managers who make
today's video art possible. Brice Howard of the National Center, John
Coney of the KQED/Dilexi programs, and Fred Barzyk of WGBH are
exemplary of the new vision in television.
Videospace: The KQED Experimental Project
With few exceptions, most of the work produced during the first
year in the experimental workshop was black-and-white videotape.
The approach seemed balanced between use of the medium for its
kinaesthetic design potential, and the medium as vehicle or
environment for some other aesthetic content. Artists in residence
included a composer, Richard Feliciano; a poet, Joanne Kyger; a
novelist, William Brown; a painter-sculptor, William Allen; and a
filmmaker, Loren Sears.
In addition, various guests were brought in throughout the year,
participating from one week to three weeks. These included Ellen
Stewart of the Cafe La Mama theatre troupe; Paul Foster, one of the
playwrights who had come out of that workshop; Eugene Aleinakopf,
an expert in television law; Maurice Freidman, a theological
philosopher, particularly known in the United States for his English
translations of Martin Buber; Robert Creeley and Charles Olson,
poets; and Joel Katz, a New York psychiatrist.
The two most vital functions were performed by Robert Zagone
who was resident director of the actual videotaping sessions, and
Brice Howard, organizer and administrator of the project. I asked him
what answers had been found to the project's two questions: What is
the nature of the medium? Can an artist work in it?

Synaesthetic Videotapes 283
BRICE: Yes, the artist can work in television. Of course it's quite a
different system from that of the artist. Artists generally are one-toone
people. They and their medium are in direct contact. But the
television system engages a great many people; any product of
that system is the product of a number of people. No single human
being can make anything in television. And of course television
equipment is not easily available to the artist either.
GENE: One possibility is working through the medium of the
cassette videotape cartridge rather than a broadcast system.
BRICE: No question about it. But it s a long way off, not so much
technologically and commercially, but philosophically. The kind of
work going into the EVR cartridge now is institutional. The artist
will be the last to participate.
GENE: And what have you discovered about the nature of the
BRICE: Where I'm having the greatest difficulty in reporting this
occurrence is in discovering ways of separating the medium from
its broadcast, distribution characteristics. Television has been a
broadcast system, and for that reason its technology and its
practice grow essentially from that logic, the logic of distribution.
We accepted the inference that we were not obligated to produce
anything. And because of that, all kinds of things happened. If we
had started out by saying "let's make a program" it would have
been a pretty redundant or repetitious thing.
GENE: In your estimation the technology is separate from the
BRICE: The emphasis so often gets centered in the technological. I
want to take it away from the technology because it really is not
that. So frequently I find myself saying, when confronted with
technical questions, "It is not technology; it is attitude shift that is
making this happen." Indeed, there is no technology in any of the
experiences we've had that is greater than that which exists in any
standard television studio. We went after our goal from a different
place. For instance, you can experience some of our material and
feel that you're discovering an enormously rich technical
breakthrough, when as a matter of fact what you're experiencing is

284 Expanded Cinema
process. And the same process would be with clay, paint—
anything. In this case the material just happens to be the electron.
All the tapes have no post-editing, are records of process, records
of discovery, untouched, nonobjective, nonprogrammatic. Very
often the most meaningful moments were those in which some
incredibly remarkable, mercurial connection was occurring among
a number of people, and the process was constantly feeding back
upon it.
GENE: Were certain visual effects deliberately sought?
BRICE: When you describe a particular visual effect achieved in our
work it must be remembered that there are so many other
elements involved. Television has been fed by four currents of
recent history, and one not so recent: cinema, radio, journalism,
and theatre. And the characteristics of these histories affected the
making process. You mention a specific effect and I might tell you
that keying is the technical means by which you acquire that effect.
But in order for that effect to be genuinely valuable we have to add
theatre's part, journalism's part, radio's part, and film's part. Then
keying becomes something meaningful.
GENE: What effect does radio have on keying?
BRICE: It has to do with the architectural space in which the
experience occurred. You see, the fascinating character of the
space in which some of the sources of the mix are acquired is that
it's a space of a different order. The television studio is affected
architecturally by the influences of theatre and radio. For example,
the audiometrics— the acoustical character of that situation— is
very much influenced by microphones which preceded television.
And how sound pickup sources affect the order of masses, planes,
volumes, compositions, so on. Very frequently the imposition of
that technology, which has nothing to do with the experience you're
seeking at the moment, is there nonetheless and has to be taken
into consideration, forcing certain kinds of compromises. For
example there's no reason that an omni-directional acoustical
transducer cannot be devised to pick up all the sound in all the
360-degrees of cubic space within the studio. But there isn't one.
And that's partly a factor of radio and partly a factor of film.
The architectural space itself is very close to theatre, from which
film derived its basis, etcetera, etcetera. And indeed in a conven


Synaesthetic Videotapes 285
tional studio, ask a so-called set designer, stage designer,
television art director (all those terms apply to the same man in
television; all those terms are used in television), you ask that man
to fix you an environment and more frequently than not he'll fix you
an environment that looks like it's on a stage. Indeed you can
almost see the proscenium arch. Now the cubic space with which
you are dealing in this newer mode of television is of a different
order entirely. The only space which is valid is the space on the
surface of that monitor. Whether or not one wants to argue about
the word "space" is irrelevant as long as you understand the intent.
I'm saying that it isn't in the studio, it's in the monitor. Now, the
monitor screen has some remarkable characteristics. Among other
things, it itself is information irrespective of anything you put in it—
sign, symbol, rhythm, duration, or anything. It is delicious all by
itself, if you want to enjoy it, though its matter is apparently of a
totally random character. It is different, for example, from the
reflective surface, which is a movie screen, off which light bounces
with the image intact. But television is an electronic surface whose
very motion is affecting the motion that you're putting into it. And
what is really the richest part of television, less its technology, less
its cubist nature, less its incredible colorations and shapes and
motions and excitements— it's now, it's capturing the damned
actual with all of its aberrations. Television will help us become
more human. It will lead us closer to ourselves.
Robert Zagone: The Music of Electrons
Virtually all of the project's black-and-white tapes, plus a one-hour
segment of a regular KQED color program called West Pole, were
directed by Robert Zagone, one of an increasing number of video
artists who approach the medium from the side of the new
consciousness. ("I mixed the programs," Zagone said. "We don't use
the term 'director' any more.") Out of more than forty hours of tape
approximately fifteen hours were considered relevant. Of these I
have selected two for discussion here.
The first is a brief but devastating exercise in feedback techniques,
which was among many effects accompanying a poetry recital by
Robert Creeley. This particular episode involves the gradual

286 Expanded Cinema

Multiple-camera feedback techniques
produced this disintegration of form
in Videospace at the KQED Experimental

Synaesthetic Videotapes 287
disintegration of the poet's profile in silhouette. In addition to the
figure, other image sources included multiple translucent plastic
surfaces being fed into a monitor that was taking images from still
another source. At one point all three cameras shot the same
monitor that displayed their images.
The result is an almost visceral, physical quality to the image as
endless waves of flaking matter peel away from the silhouette,
slowly at first, then faster and more chaotically, with ever-increasing
convolutions of geometrical patterns. A kind of serial nightmare, like
a magnetic field suddenly rendered visible, the reverberations of
chiaroscuro flip hectically in giant sweeping flak bursts of light until a
shimmering white glow is all that remains of the image of a man. "It's
really a matter of where your head is at with respect to the
technique," said Zagone. "I would say that it would take eight months
to achieve in film the same effects that took us one minute and forty-
five seconds with Robert Creeley's recital. And even then the texture
would never be the same."
Like most videographics, the immediate impression is of seeing
something that one has never encountered before, except perhaps
in dreams. This was even more pronounced in Zagone's interpretation
of a solo dance sequence involving a male dancer in six
levels of delayed tape superimpositions of de-beamed positive and
negative images. Three cameras taped the dance simultaneously as
Zagone mixed. At first the dancer is silhouetted in black against a
white field. A second and then a third image of himself, delayed and
slightly staggered with each superimposition, appear like ghosts who
follow him through his routine. Suddenly the background becomes
dark and the dancer develops a glowing white outline or halo; his
facial characteristics become ominous with huge white eyes and
exaggerated features. Still more delayed images appear until there
are six figures of the same dancer seen simultaneously at various
points in time, like visual echoes. The richness of the image was
varied with each superimposition, causing some images to stand out
while others fade almost into nothingness. Finally, as though trapped
in some video world where space and time are out of register, the
dancer looms large and close, peering into (out of) the camera
(monitor) as though to examine the "real" world of men.

288 Expanded Cinema

Six levels of delayed videotape superimpositions
of de-beamed positive
and negative images were combined
in this experiment at KQED.

Synaesthetic Videotapes 289
"The technique is satisfactory," said Zagone, "but requires
immense sophistication on the part of the user. You must constantly
be thinking in advance— where will you be five superimpositions
from now? How will you deal with the tape at that point with respect
to the images you're creating now? We had no plan for that
sequence ten minutes before it began. The conceiving of it took
place as it happened in the cathode tube. It's all in the electrons. The
effects exist nowhere but where you see them. It's not in clipper
levels or blanking pulses or blacks and whites— that's not where it's
at. The most successful moments occurred when we had absolutely
no preconceived notion of what would happen."
In May, 1968, Bob Zagone directed two half-hour segments of
KQED's West Pole, featuring a rock concert by The Sons of
Champlin. Even for young filmmakers of the San Francisco/Berkeley
area, where synaesthetic cinema is part of the life-style, this initial
exposure to pure video amounted to a revelation. An article in the
rock newspaper Rolling Stone described the show as "more
psychedelic than underground movies." The realization that
something so common and "public" as a television set could be the
source of virtually unprecedented visual experiences was the
beginning of a new socio-technical awareness that is now common,
as are the West Pole techniques. Colors bloomed, flared, and
melted; shapes disintegrated and intermixed; the picture-plane was
demolished in a cascade of spectral brilliance— the Bonanza fan,
who knew that television was capable of something more, finally saw
that potential in all of its phosphorescent shimmering beauty.
GENE: What were you reaching for in theWest Pole work?
BOB: I just wanted to fuse the electronic music with electrons. Video

is very close to music and rock music is very close to video.
GENE: What effects were you particularly pleased with?
BOB: Tape delays and de-beaming, primarily. We had been
working with refinements of those techniques regularly for six
GENE: There's a fabulous scene where the fellow is singing: green
gaseous clouds move across his mouth, and when he opens his
mouth to sing, the inside is intense red.
BOB: That's a combination of tape delay, feedback, de-beaming,
tearing the key, and the black-burst generator which suffuses any
color with black.

290 Epanded Cinema

Loren Sears: Sorcery. 1968. VTR.
Black and white. 30 min. "I wanted to
express a feeling of entrapment in the
electronic environment."

Synaesthetic Videotapes 291
Loren Sears: The Sorcery of Neuro-Aesthetics
Loren Sears regards television as an extension of the central
nervous system, and thus employs the term "neuro-aesthetics" to
indicate the unique character of videographic art. Sears produced
seventy-five minutes of experimental videotapes as an artist in
residence at KQED in 1968. The best was called Sorcery, which he
codirected with Bob Zagone. "Every medium," Sears explained,
has a fundamental means of operation. In film it's sprocket holes, registration,
optics, frames. The characteristics of television are different. In both cases,
however, there's a strategic way of using the medium effortlessly.Sorcery was an
attempt to go right through the medium using what it can do easily.
It occurred to me that if media are extensions of the central nervous system,
it's like you're taking on an extra load. There's more of yourself to deal with,
because while you're putting things out of it, you're also taking them back in. So
I'm certain there are hallucinations which occur entirely within this realm. It has its
own ability to create, its own importance, its own way of seeing things. It shapes
the world-view information that's put in and taken out of it. So I wanted to do a
very intuitive piece that would express a sense of the video mode of operation. I
wanted it to evolve without a script simply from camera techniques, mixing
techniques, a set, two people clothed in an odd fashion, some props like death's
heads. So I put Joanne Kyger and Chuck Wiley, with his violin, in front of a rear-
projection screen for slides.
I wanted to express a feeling of entrapment in the electronic environment. You
watch television and all you know is what's going on in television. That's all you
really find out. There's no way to tell if that's really what's going on in actuality. It
was pretty difficult to think of a way to suggest that, so I just told Chuck and
Joanne that they were totally trapped in this milieu and their problem was to try to
get through it somehow to outside reality through some kind of divination. They
were left alone in the studio with these instructions and two cameramen who had
been given shooting patterns to follow. They ad-libbed their way through it. Chuck
played his violin. And what happened was that they began to feel it. It began to
work on them.
Through de-beaming and keying of one camera while a second
camera was on tape-delay, an ominous sense of the video environment
was generated through most ofSorcery. Relatively representational
images slowly disintegrated into swirling diaphanous lines and

292 Expanded Cinema
clouds of light. The death's head melts into vague outlines through
which are seen smoky crumbling faces and ghostly superimpositions.
Long sections of the half-hour tape are composed of
swirling lines as sounds and voices are heard as though from
another world. Humans interact with clouds of electrons, which seem
finally to engulf them.
"Any medium can be transformed by the user," Sears said. "The
paradigm for it all is music. There's the music of the medium, which
means it also has a muse. We can learn from it. Television has been
used as an attraction, a come-on, an effect. Nothing used for effect
is an art." Just as in his synaesthetic cinema, Sears merged
aesthetic and technique. There are no effects when form and
content are one.
Conceptual Gallery for Conceptual Art
The traditional triangle of studio-gallery-collector in which art
historically has thrived is slowly being transformed. The
psychological effect of television's totally immaterial nature may be
largely responsible for the contemporary artist's awareness of
concept over icon. For several years Gerry Schum has operated a
unique "television gallery" (Fernsehgalerie) at a station in
Dusseldorf, West Germany. "In art," he explains, "there is a general
change from the possession of objects to the publication of projects
or ideas. This of course demands a fundamental change in artistic
commerce. One of the results of this change is the TV gallery, more
or less a conceptual institution which comes into existence only in
the moment of transmission. After the broadcast there is nothing left
but a reel of film or videotape. There's no object that can be seen 'in
reality' or be sold as an object."
Somewhat similar ideas inspired San Francisco art dealer James
Newman to transform his Dilexi Gallery into the Dilexi Foundation in
December, 1968, with the purpose of "allowing more freedom for the
artist, reaching a general audience and making art an organic part of
day-to-day life." Newman was among the few gallery owners to
recognize television's potential as the most influential gallery in the
history of art. He engaged in a joint project with KQED-TV to

Synaesthetic Videotapes 293
establish a regular series of programs in the form of an "open
gallery," not to sell objects but to move information— the experiential
information of aesthetic design and concept.
Newman commissioned works by Robert Frank, Ken Dewey,
Walter de Maria, Yvonne Rainer, Ann Halprin, Julian Beck and the
Living Theatre, Robert Nelson, Frank Zappa, Edwin Schlossberg,
Terry Riley, and Philip Makanna. The first pieces, televised in the
spring and summer of 1969, were unanimously acclaimed. Chiefly
responsible for this success was KQED producer-director John
Coney, who coordinated, produced, and codirected many of the
video projects, working closely with the artists.
Terry Riley: Music With Balls
Rarely has the multiplex structure of any film or videotape been so
totally integrated as in the transcendental composition Music With
Balls (see color plates), conceived by Terry Riley and commissioned
by the Dilexi Foundation in 1968. It was the work of three men
whose separate disciplines meshed in synaesthetic alloy: Terry Riley,
composer; Arlo Acton, sculptor; John Coney, video mixer. Music With
Balls is a dialectical synthesis of nonverbal energies that strikes
deep into the inarticulate conscious. It inundates the beholder in
megabits of experiential design information, aural, visual, and
kinetic. To understand it we must understand its four elements:
music, sculpture, cinema, and video.
Riley's music is strongly influenced by the work of LaMonte Young,
with whom he is closely associated. Yet it can be said that Riley's
music is unique in itself and represents, with the exception of Young,
the most vital and refreshing American musical composition of the
late twentieth century. While he is seriously involved with the "row"
and "stasis" techniques that inform Young's work at a fundamental
level, Riley is able to subsume a wide range of musical structure,
combining the climax and directionality of Western music with the
stasis of Eastern modalities. The result is cyclic precision and a
buoyant mathematical randomness.
For Music With Balls, Riley pre-recorded four tracks of fourteen-
cycle beats with a tenor saxophone and a Vox electric organ. Each
beat was assigned a pitch, thus forming a tonal "row" that he played

294 Expanded Cinema
back through oscillators. Various levels of tape delay were possible
by starting and stopping one or more of the tracks randomly. In the
studio Riley sat behind a bright red table, flanked by his tape
equipment. Against the recorded, delayed, and oscillated time cycles
he played rhythmic variations on his saxophone, effectively generating
a static yet melodious macrostructure of cycles containing epicycles
within epicycles. The music was alternately tense and
relaxing, a shimmering trilling universe of aural bubbles penetrated
randomly by syncopated wailing crescendi and diminuendi. The
overall effect was magical, soothing, hypnotic.
Two stereo speakers were fitted into two of Arlo Acton's giant black
spheres that were swung from the studio ceiling on long wires and
revolved around the set in diminishing circles, pushed periodically by
black-clad girls at either side. Thus the amplification of the cyclic
music was itself heard in a physically cyclic fashion as it swirled
about the empty space. A smaller chromed sphere was set in
pendular motion, like a giant metronome, just above Riley's head.
This had a calming, centering effect.
This auditory/tactile/kinetic environment was then processed
through cinema and video on several levels, all corresponding to the
cycle/epicycle mode. Tiny ball bearings suspended from threads
were filmed in ultraslow motion with a high-speed camera to make
them seem heavy. The resulting film of swinging spheres was made
into twelve loops that were then superimposed over one another in
all the various combinations and as many levels of multiple-exposure
as possible on one master print that had been cut into a strip as long
as the entire program, twenty-six minutes. This was fed through a
film chain as one possible video source.
Two floor cameras shot Riley in wide-angle and close-up, and also
focused alternately into a color monitor and a concave mirror. "The
mirror gave the entire image a curvature which corresponded to the
cyclic nature of the whole piece," Coney explained. "Also it broke the
repetition of the circular orbits by making them elliptical. Shooting the
color monitor was not done for feedback but simply to achieve an
electronified or subaqueous visual patina. A rather blue cast. Also it
accentuates the scan-lines which are appropriate to TV, and we
used them as a design element. In addition it gave us the ability to

Synaesthetic Videotapes 295
have the same picture running synchronously on two different
scales. Seeing the image a bit larger on one camera than the other.
That produced a very interesting cycle effect, particularly when we
dissolved to another image."
The master tape of Music With Balls is a fabulously rich mantra of
color, sound, and motion. Huge spheres sweep majestically across
the screen trailing comets of shimmering ruby, emerald, and amber.
Contrapuntal trajectories intersect, pierce, and collide. Keying, de-
beaming, wipes, and dissolves result in phantasmagoric convolutions
of spatial dimensions as Riley is seen in several perspectives
at once, in several colors, alternately obscured and
revealed on various planes with each pass of a pendulum. The
composition builds from placid serenity to chaotic cacophany to
bubbly melodiousness with a mad yet purposive grace. Acoustical
space, physical space, and video space become one electronic
experience unlike anything the cinema has ever known.
Philip Makanna: The Empire of Things
"I'm supposedly a sculptor," remarks Phil Makanna, "but there's
something strange and maybe decaying about making things—
things— peopling the overpeopIed world with more junk, not really
touching anyone. More than anything I feel the frustration,
desperation, of wanting to be able to reach out and hold your heart."
With the startling beauty of his synaesthetic compositionThe Empire
of Things (see color plates), Makanna reached out through the
videosphere and held the hearts of thousands.
A combination of sculptor, writer, filmmaker, and electronic
engineer, Makanna was conducting a creative television course at
the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland when he was
commissioned by the Dilexi Foundation in 1968. At the college,
Makanna focused on TV as a medium specifically for such "fine"
artists as sculptors and painters. His approach followed two
directions simultaneously: videotape as a self-contained aesthetic
experience, and closed-circuit television as an environment for live
events of a theatrical nature. These included a collaborative effort
with the Mills College Electronic Tape Music center, involving live
performers, eight television cameras, twenty monitors, and eight

296 Expanded Cinema
audio recorders functioning simultaneously. In another project, three
and four acts of King Lear were presented simultaneously in several
modes: actors seen in rear-projected movies, actors in video
projections, actors seen through several closed-circuit monitors, and
"live" actors on a stage.
But it remained for the medium of broadcast television, andThe
Empire of Things, to reveal to Makanna a means of reaching out to
the hearts of the public. "He has such a powerful conceptual mind,"
recalls John Coney, "that all I did was guide him into a general
technical format, offered suggestions that he could use as a matrix,
and explained the capabilities of the color-film chain in painting video
color. We processed The Empire of Things entirely by de-beaming
the guns of the film chain. We formed the film into loops and
practiced over and over again until the balance between form and
content was perfect. We had a couple of engineers— Larry Bentley
and Wayne McDonald— who were very interested in that piece of
equipment as an electronic painting palette."
While Music With Balls wholly nonverbal and concrete, The Empire
of Things is that rare combination of words and images often sought
but seldom achieved. Makanna miraculously manages to contrast
the abstraction of words with the concreteness of images, clarity with
ambiguity, alternating between evocation and exposition to produce
an overwhelming emotional environment of evocative powers. The
title of the piece is the title of a short story by H. L. Mountzoures that
appeared in the New Yorker magazine. An offscreen narrator reads
the entire story aloud while we see a collection of images shot by
Makanna specifically for this purpose, combined with stock footage
from old movies, newsreels, and TV commercials.
Mountzoures' story is itself a masterpiece of imagist prose, often
indistinguishable from poetry and only occasionally linear in
structure. A parable of war in surrealistic and extra-objective terms, it
consists of alternating haikuesque impressions of things observed,
events remembered, nightmares experienced, and realities confused
in the first-person consciousness of the narrator. One is completely
caught up in this strangely beautiful story as it unfolds with a
masterly richness of language. At the same time, however, the
images are generating their own, quite separate, world of impres


Synaesthetic Videotapes 297
sions. One is caught in a sensorium of contrasts, a dialogue
between visual and aural absolutes from which arises a pervasive
sense of abstraction. One is made keenly aware of nuances seldom
expressed with such clarity in any art form. The synthesis of harmonic
opposites is raised to perfection.
Word-and-image connections are tangential at best, and often
starkly antithetical in conceptual content. The narrator might be
speaking of old belongings in an attic trunk, for example, while we
see a line of men on horseback at the rim of a steep cliff. As the
horses plunge down the incline, video de-beaming turns the sky
orange and sends mint-green flames streaking behind them. The
scene becomes an Expressionist painting of green shadows and
purple highlights quivering in a liquid mosaic of hues. This almost
Daliesque image of rainbow horses melts into an Impressionist
vision of sun-dappled woods. A horse and rider move slowly through
trees whose colors suddenly detach and float in midair. Images
merge until all that is left of the horseman is a cloud of electronic
pigment moving nebulously through a spangled field of Seurat-like
pointillist fragments. Elsewhere a man rides a bicycle that melts
beneath him; he performs a strange dance ritual on a deserted
beach as the sky seems to burst in spectral madness. Never have
conceptual information and design information been so poetically
fused as in The Empire of Things.
We haven't even begun to explore the potentials of the medium [Coney
remarked]. Part of it lies beyond our reach because of stringent union regulations
as to who can use the equipment and who can't. Part of it lies beyond the reach
of the technicians who are authorized to use it. Videotronics will never come of
age, will never be useful for creative purposes, until the knobs are put in the
hands of the artist. We haven't even begun, for example, to work with really
controlled color design. One built-in characteristic of television is the ability to
manipulate spectral colors. There's a tremendous amount that can be done with
muted and controlled colors that we haven't even started to do.
Television's biggest problem today is learning how to let go. Essentially that's
what I'm trying to do; I want to let go of control without creating a disaster on the
set. I want to open television to the extent that film is open. You see a multiplicity
of voices and ideas in film on a number of levels of intent, interest, and
seriousness. It doesn't always have to be "professional" to be true. And truth is
what we're after.

298 Expanded Cinema
WGBH-TV, Boston: "The Medium Is the Medium"
"The reason we're experimenting," explained Fred Barzyk, "is that
a large portion of the public is really ahead of television. They can
accept more images and ideas at once. They're watching
underground films; they're commercial buffs who are fascinated by
how many cuts there are in a Pepsi-Cola ad. These are the people
who could easily be turned on to educational television if it had the
proper ingredients." With young producer-directors like Barzyk taking
an interest in television as an educational experience, the ingredients
are certain to be there sooner or later.
It was at WGBH, for example, that the program "What's Happening
Mr. Silver?" was originated. A regular experimental feature on pop
culture, the program proved so successful that it was carried also by
most other ETV stations except KQED in San Francisco, where it
was found to be "technically innovative but slightly sick." In 1967 the
program's host, David Silver, conducted his weekly show from a bed
in the center of the studio floor, in which he reclined naked with an
equally nude young lady.
We wanted to experiment with every possible aspect of the medium [Barzyk
explained] and intimate behavior in the form of nudity became one factor. We
tried to create new problems in the broadcast system so that we could break
down the system as it existed. We adopted some of John Cage's theories: many
times we'd have as many as thirty video sources available at once; there would
be twenty people in the control room— whenever anyone got bored they'd just
switch to something else without rhyme or reason.
"The Medium Is the Medium" came out of this show in one sense, because
after two years of "What's Happening Mr. Silver" we had so totally bombarded the
engineering staff with experimentation. We took the attitude that the engineers
would have to change their normal functions. In most of the television industry a
video man is a video man, an audio man is an audio man, a cameraman is a
cameraman; they never step over each other's bounds. We created a situation in
which each one of them was asked constantly what he could do for the station.
We told them they were artists. We said each week, "We don't know what we're
going to do, here's our raw material, let's see what we can do with it." So out of
this the audio man had his sources running, the cameraman had his sources
running, and so on.

Synaesthelic Videotapes 299
 Initially there is a great deal of resistance from the engineering staff, as might
be expected when you change someone's job conditions. We deprived them of
their security. I mean, you know what a "good picture" is: flesh tones, lighting, so
on. But we deprived them of that. We said on our shows it doesn't really matter.
One engineer turned off his machine. He didn't think it was right. A year later he
came up to me with three new ideas that we might be able to use. So the
pressure is reversed to bring creativity out instead of repressing it; we have the
most production-oriented engineers in the whole country, I'd say. In effect we tell
them the station is experimenting and we ask them not to be engineers.
It was in this environment that the experimental program "The
Medium Is the Medium" took form in the winter of 1968-69. The
contributions of Allan Kaprow, Nam June Paik, and Aldo Tambellini
are discussed elsewhere in this chapter; Otto Piene and James
Seawright were also among the six artists who participated in the
Otto Piene: Electronic Light Ballet
Otto Piene's work with luminescence, pneumatics, and lighterthan-
air environments is among the most elegant examples of
aesthetic applications of technology. The artist's exquisitely delicate
sense of proportion and balance, as demonstrated in his Light
Planets, for example, is always stunning to behold. His synaesthetic
videotape Electronic Light Ballet was no exception.
Typical of Piene's austere sensibility, only two image sources were
used in this piece: a grid of colored dots that melted in rainbow
colors across the screen; and a videotape of Piene'sManned Helium
Sculpture, one of a series of experiments with lift and equilibrium
that the artist conducted as a Fellow at M.I.T.'s Center for Advanced
Visual Studies. The helium sculpture involved 800 feet of transparent
polyethylene tubing in seven loops, inflated with approximately 4,000
cubic feet of helium, attached with ropes and parachute harness to a
ninety-five-pound girl for a thirty-minute ascension into the air,
controlled from the ground by ropes attached to the balloons and
The ascension was staged at night in the parking lot of WGBH,
which was illuminated by colored floodlights. Over this slow,
buoyant, ethereal, surrealistic scene Piene superimposed a geometrical
grid of regularly-spaced colored dots similar in effect to the
multiple-bulb brilliance of his light sculptures. In exquisite counterpoint

300 Expanded Cinema

Otto Piene: Electronic Light Ballet. 1969.
Hi-Band Color VTR. 15 ips. 5 min.
Lighter-than-air space contrasted with vivid
videospace in Piene's usual elegant fashion.

Synaesthetic Videotapes 301
to the balloon scene the dots flared brightly, became liquid, developed
spermlike tails, and finally dripped oozing globlets of color across the
screen. The technique was deceptively simple: de-beaming the separate
guns of the color camera with a strong hot light source shining through
multiply-perforated stencils. Both the stencils and the camera were
moved, causing a sperm-shaped burn-in of intense colors. If a dot
appeared originally as yellow and was moved, the de-beamed "tail" would
remain yellow but the "head" of the comet-shaped light would suddenly
turn red or green. The effect, as in all of Piene's work, was quietly elegant,
revealing the potentials of the medium in the hands of a true artist.
James Seawright: Capriccio for TV
James Seawright, then technical supervisor of the Electronic Music
Center of Columbia and Princeton Universities, was best known for
kinetic/electronic sculptures. In fact, Capriccio for TV (see color
plates) was Seawright's first experience with video as a creative
medium. Whereas Piene's effort was a ballet of light and air,
Seawright processed an actual ballet pas de deux through the
videotronic medium to produce an inspired dance of form and color.
In contrast to the elaborate yet unimaginative convolutions of the
CBS "Limbo" program, Seawright's piece was simple and effective.
He televised two dancers— his wife Mimi Garrard and Virginia
Laidlaw— against a score of electronic music by Bulent Arel. In the
first two "movements" the dancers were shot in negative color and
were superimposed over reversed images of themselves, producing
a Rorschach-like mirror effect similar to bas-relief "flopping" in the
cinema. In the concluding section Seawright televised the scene with
three cameras that recorded only one of the three basic colors each
onto three separate tapes. In addition, one camera was on tape
delay so that a second dimension of abstraction was added. It was
therefore possible to see two images of the same figure performing
the same action at different stages in different colors, whereas the
other figure was equally abstract in other colors. The image took on
a ghostly quality, suggesting colored X rays or dream sequences in
the mind's eye. Space, time, form, and color were brought into
concert in an unforgettable video experience.

302 Expanded Cinema
Nam June Paik: Cathode Karma
"Cybernetics, the art of pure relations, has its origins in karma. The Buddhists
say karma is sangsara, relationship is metempsychosis. Cybernated art is
important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be
"My experimental television is not always interesting," admits Nam
June Paik, "but not always uninteresting: like nature, which is
beautiful not because it changes beautifully, but simply because it
changes." Paik is the embodiment of East and West, design scientist
of the electron gun, pioneer ecologist of the videosphere. He is to
television what John Whitney is to the computer; he does with TV
sets what David Tudor does with pianos. "Television has been
attacking us all our lives," he says, "now we can attack it back."
This Korean-born genius has been attacking it back longer than
anyone, and in his own inimitable fashion. The bloody head of an ox
was hung over the door to his first video exhibit in Wuppertal,
Germany, in 1963, as a shock device "to get the audience into a
oneness of consciousness so they could perceive more"— as in Zen,
the master would strike the pupil. Although he never really harmed
anyone, Paik was for several years a cultural terrorist, a kind ofdeus
ex machina of the Orient, who left in his wake a series of demolished
pianos, clipped neckties, bizarre junkyard robots, and scandalized
audiences from Holland to Iceland. John Cage once remarked that
"Paik's work, performances, and daily doings never cease by turn to
amaze, delight, shock, and sometimes terrify me."
In recent years Paik has abandoned his mixed-media environmental
Happenings to concentrate exclusively on television as an
aesthetic and communicative instrument. Independently, in collaboration
with scientists, and in a special research and development
program with the State University of New York, he has explored
nearly every facet of the medium, paving the way for a new generation
of video artists. His work has followed four simultaneous directions:
synaesthetic videotapes; videotronic distortions of the received
signal; closed-circuit teledynamic environments; and sculptural
pieces, usually of a satirical nature.
There are approximately four million individual phosphor trace-
points on the face of a 21-inch television screen at any given

Synaesthetic Videotapes 303
moment. Paik's canvas is the electromagnetic field that controls the
distribution of these trace-points in horizontal and vertical polar
coordinates at 525 lines per second. By interfering, warping, and
otherwise controlling the cathode's magnetic field, he controls the
four million glowing traces. "It creates the possibility of electron-
drawing," he says. "It's better than drawing on a CRT with a light pen
because it's multicolored and provides interaction with the air
program." (See color plates.)
Although he is continually developing new parameters of control
and interaction with television, most of Paik's basic techniques were
developed in the period 1963-64 in collaboration with Hideo Uchida,
president of Uchida Radio Research Institute in Tokyo, and with
Shuya Abe, an electronics engineer who, according to Paik, "knows
that science is more beauty than logic." Paik has outlined three
general areas of variability with these techniques. ("Indeterminism
and variability are underdeveloped parameters in the optical arts," he
says, "though they have been the central problem in music for the
last two decades. Conversely, the parameter of sex has been
underdeveloped in music as opposed to literature and the visual
The first level of variability is the live transmission of the normal
broadcast program, "which is the most variable optical and
semantical event of our times... the beauty of distorted Nixon is
different from the beauty of distorted football hero, or not always
pretty but always stupid female announcer." Paik estimates that he
can create at least five hundred different variations from one normal
broadcast program.
The second level of variability involves the unique characteristics
of circuitry in each individual television receiver. Paik has resurrected
several dozen discarded sets from junkyards and brought them back
to wilder life than ever before in their previous circuits. "I am proud to
say that thirteen sets suffer thirteen different varieties of distortion,"
Paik once announced, and then added: "1957 modelRCA sets are
the best." By altering the circuitry of his receivers with resistors,
interceptors, oscillators, grids, etc., Paik creates "prepared televisions"
that are equivalent in concept to David Tudor's prepared

304 Expanded Cinema
The third level of variability is the manipulation of these prepared
TVs with wave-form generators, amplifiers, and tape recorders to
produce various random, semirandom, or completely controlled
effects, examples of which are: (a) the picture is changeable in three
ways using hand switches: upside-down, right-left, positive-negative;
(b) the picture can become smaller or larger in vertical or horizontal
dimensions separately, according to the amplitude of the tape
recorder; (c) the horizontal and vertical electron-beam deflection of
normal TV is changed into a spiral deflection using a yoke oscillator-
amplifier, causing an average rectangular picture to become fanlike;
(d) the picture can be "dissipated" by a strong demagnetizer whose
location and rhythm contribute variety; (e) amplitude levels from
radios or tape recorders can be made to intercept a relay signal at
the grid of the output tube so that the picture is visible only when the
amplitude changes; (f) asymmetrical sparks flash across the screen
when a relay is intercepted at the AC 110-volt input and fed by a 25watt
amplifier without rectifier; (g) a 10-megohm resistor is placed at
the vertical grid of the output tube and interacts with a sine wave to
modulate the picture; (h) wave forms from a tape recorder are fed to
the horizontal grid of the output tube, causing the horizontal lines to
be warped according to the frequency and amplitude.
Once a set has been thus prepared, the simple flick of a switch
results in breathtakingly beautiful imagery, from delicate Lissajous
figures to spiraling phantasmagoric designs of surreal impact and
dazzling brilliance. Tubular horizontal bands of color roll languidly
toward the viewer like cresting waves; flaccid faces melt, twitch, and
curl, ears replacing eyes; globs of iridescent colors flutter out of
place. When videotape playback systems are used as image
sources instead of broadcast programs, the extent of control is
multiplied and the visual results are astounding.
However, technical descriptions tend to underplay the sheer
intuitive genius of Paik's video art. His techniques are hardly
exclusive and are far from sophisticated (engineers say he does
everything he shouldn't), and his cluttered loft on New York's Canal
Street is scientifically unorthodox to say the least. Yet out of this
tangle of wires and boxes comes some of the most exquisite
kinaesthetic imagery in all of electronic art. "My experimental color
television has instructional resource value," he suggests. “Kinder


Electromagnetic distortions of the video
image by Nam June Paik. "Out of this
tangle of wires and boxes comes some of
the most exquisite kinaesthetic imagery in
all of electronic art." Photos: Peter Moore.

306 Expanded Cinema
garten and elementary school children should be exposed to electronic
situations as early as possible. My experimental TV demonstrates
various basic facts of physics and electronics empirically,
such as amplitude modulation, radar, scanning, cathode rays, shadow
mask tubes, oscillography, the ohm principle, overtone, magnetic
character, etc. And it's a very pleasant way to learn these things."
Perhaps the most spectacular of Paik's videotape compositions was
made early in 1969 for the PBL show "The Medium Is the Medium" at
WGBH-TV in Boston, where later he became artist in residence. Paik
brought a dozen of his prepared TVs into the studio; using three color
cameras he mixed these images with two nude dancers, tape delays,
and positive-negative image reversals. The nude slow-motion
dancers in multiple levels of delayed action suddenly burst into
dazzling silver sparks against emerald gaseous clouds; rainbow-hued
Lissajous figures revolved placidly over a close-up of two lovers
kissing in negative colors; images of Richard Nixon and other
personalities in warped perspectives alternated with equally warped
hippies. All this was set against a recording of the Moonlight Sonata,
interrupted periodically by a laconic Paik who yawned, announced
that life was boring, and instructed the viewer to close his eyes just as
some fabulous visual miracle was about to burst across the screen.
Later in 1969, Paik produced an impressive teledynamic
environment called Participation TV. The first version was shown in
an exhibit called "Television as a Creative Medium" at the Howard
Wise Gallery in New York City; it was then modified into Participation
TV No. 2 for the "Cybernetic Serendipity" exhibit in Washington, D.C.
The principle of the piece involves three television cameras whose
signals are displayed on one screen by the red, green, and blue
cathode guns respectively; the tube shows three different images in
three different colors at once. Color brightness is controlled by
amplitudes from three tape recorders at reverse phase. Thus the
viewer sees himself three times in three colors on the same screen,
often appearing to float in air or to dissolve in shimmering water as
multicolored feedback echoes shatter into infinity. This was repeated
on three and four different TV sets arranged around the environment.

Synaesthetic Videotapes 307

"Television has not yet left the breast":
Nam June Paik with Charlotte Moorman in
TV Bra for Living Sculpture. Howard Wise
Gallery, New York, 1969. Images are
modulated by musical tones played on the
cello. Photo: Peter Moore.

308 Expanded Cinema
"The real issue implied in art and technology," he has said, "is not to
make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and
the electronic medium… I suggest Silent TV Station, which transmits
only beautiful 'mood art' in the sense of mood music. What I'm aiming
at with my Lissajous figures and other distortions is a television
equivalent of Vivaldi, or electronic Compoz. Lumia art will then
become a permanent asset in the collections of millions of people.
The Silent TV Station will simply be there, not intruding on other
activities, and will be looked at exactly like a landscape or a beautiful
bathing nude of Renoir. Normal TV bores you and makes you
nervous; this soothes you. It's like a tranquilizer. Maybe you could call
it video-soma."
Paik's exquisite sense of satirical irony comes through most
effectively in his video sculpture pieces. In TV Bra for Living
Sculpture, Paik covered cellist Charlotte Moorman's bare breasts with
two tiny three-inch TV sets whose images were modulated by the
notes played on her cello. "Another attempt to humanize technology,"
Paik explained. For an exhibit titled "The Machine at the End of the
Machine Age" at the Museum of Modern Art, Paik contributed a chair
with a built-in TV set in place of the seat: one was able to sit on the
program of one's choice. For an exhibit at New York's Bonino Gallery
he constructed a video crucifix of glaring and ominous proportions;
and in the privacy of his studio loft there sits a box containing a TV set
that peeps through the vaginal opening of a photographed vulva.
"Art," he says, "is all activities, desires, phenomena, that one cannot
Aldo Tambellini: Black TV
"Our creative involvement with television must begin now so that the electronic
energy of communication can give birth to new visions: we will face the realities
which astronauts and scientists know to be part of life."
Intermedia artist and filmmaker Aldo Tambellini has worked
creatively with television in many ways for several years. He has
produced synaesthetic videotapes, videographic films, and closed-
circuit teledynamic environments. All of his work, in whatever medium,
is concerned with the theme of "black," both as idea and

Synaesthetic Videotapes 309

Aldo Tambellini: Black TV. 1964-68.16mm.
Black and white. 9½ min. Two years of TV
news compressed into a staccato barrage
of sight and sound.

310 Expanded Cinema

Aldo Tambellini: Black Video Two. 1968. VTR. Black
and white. Both image and sound were generated
electronically. Made in collaboration
with engineer Ken Wise. Photos: Peter Moore.

Synaesthetic Videotapes 311
experience. For Tambellini, black is the womb and the cosmos, the
color of skin and the color of the new consciousness. "Black is the
beginning," he says. "It is birth, the oneness of all, the expansion of
consciousness in all directions."
Tambellini began working with videotape in 1966-67 as part of his
intermedia presentations. This work was subsequently expanded
into live, closed-circuit, and broadcast video experiments. In the
spring of 1969, Tambellini became the recipient of a grant from the
New York State Council on the Arts in a project to develop
relationships between artists and television engineers. He worked
with technologists at five educational TV stations throughout New
York, producing several experimental programs.
Also in 1969 he was one of six artists participating in the PBL
program "The Medium Is the Medium" at WGBH-TV in Boston. The
videotape produced for the project, called Black, involved one
thousand slides, seven 16mm. film projections, thirty black children,
and three live TV cameras that taped the interplay of sound and
image. The black-and-white tape is extremely dense in kinetic and
synaesthetic information, assaulting the senses in a subliminal
barrage of sight and sound events. The slides and films were
projected on and around the children in the studio, creating an
overwhelming sense of the black man's life in contemporary
America. Images from all three cameras were superimposed on one
tape, resulting in a multidimensional presentation of an ethnological
attitude. There was a strong sense of furious energy, both
Tambellini's and the blacks', communicated through the space/time
manipulations of the medium.
Black TV is the title of Tambellini's best-known videographic film,
which is part of a large intermedia project about American television.
Compiled from filmed television news programs and personal
experimental videotapes, Black TV has been seen in many versions
during the four-year period in which Tambellini constantly re-edited it.
"Since my interest is in multimedia and mixed-media live events, and
in experimental television, I think of film as a material to work with,
part of the communications media rather than an end in itself. In the
future we will be communicating through electronically transmitted
images; Black TV is about the future, the contemporary American,

312 Expanded Cinema

Aldo Tambellini in control room of WGBH-TV, Boston.
Below, a scene from Black (1969), an experimental videotape
he produced at the station with 1,000 slides, seven 16mm.
projectors, thirty black children, and three TV cameras.


Synaesthetic Videotapes 313
the media, the injustice, the witnessing of events, and the expansion
of the senses. The act of communication and the experience is the
As Tambellini's remarks indicate, Black TV is about perception in
the intermedia network. It generates a pervasive atmosphere of the
process-level perception by which most of us experience the
contemporary environment. Since it involves the use of multiple
monitors and various levels of video distortion, there is a sense of
the massive simultaneity inherent in the nature of electronic media
communication. Black TV is one of the first aesthetic statements on
the subject of the intermedia network as nature, possibly the only
such statement in film form.
Black Video One and Two are representative of the techniques and
approaches involved in Tambellini's videotape compositions. He calls
them "video constructions" to emphasize that they are self-contained
image-and sound-generating units, which do not take image
material either from broadcast programs or closed-circuit cameras.
Instead, special circuitry is devised to generate both image and
sound electronically on two monitors. These completely synthetic
videographics can be juxtaposed with other image material to create
a sense of convergence between different worlds. As in most of
Tambellini's work, archetypal white globes, spheres, or expanding
coils are seen suspended in a black video void. Various forms of
video noise are generated to accentuate the purely kinetic aspect of
the tapes. Most of this work was first produced in 1967-68, and has
been incorporated into Tambellini's intermedia presentations and
Black Video Two was exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery in New
York in 1967. Two years later, Wise commissioned Tambellini and
two engineers from Bell Telephone Laboratories to produce a work
for his exhibit "Television as a Creative Medium." Tambellini and the
engineers, Tracy Kinsel and Hank Reinhold, came up with Black
Spiral, a beautiful example of aesthetically manipulated video
circuitry. The normal rectangular raster of the TV picture was
transformed into a circular raster by modification of the circuitry from
an xy coordinate system to a polar coordinate system. As a result,
the broadcast picture appeared as a flowing spiral; any movement in
the picture caused the spiral to swoop and explode in giant gaseous

314 Expanded Cinema
curls of glowing phosphors. "Television is not an object," Tambellini
said. "It's a live communication media. Black Spiral brings you live
information. One day we will look at nature as the floating astronauts
do in a spiral or circular form where no up or down or gravity exists."
The sound was transformed by modulating normal audio signals
from the television station with a random audio signal.
"The artist will have to get to this medium and begin to explore all
possibilities," Tambellini urges. "After all, television is actually an
image made of light which travels through time and space. I'm
interested in getting to that particular point to actually show that light
is a constantly moving and ever-changing form, that light is energy,
and the same energy which moves through us is the energy which
moves through the universe. It is the same energy we have discovered
in the atom. When creative people begin to get involved
with this idea of energy rather than making objects for someone,
they will be exploring possibilities for everybody, art will be an
exploration for all of mankind."
Eric Siegel: Video Color Synthesizer
"I see television as bringing psychology into the cybernetic twenty-first century. I
see television as a psychic healing medium creating mass cosmic consciousness,
awakening higher levels of the mind, bringing awareness of the soul."
In 1960, as a high school student of fifteen, Eric Siegel won second
prize in the New York City Science Fair for a home-made, closed-
circuit television system he constructed from second-hand tubes, a
microscope lens, and junk parts. The following year he won another
prize in the same competition for a home-made system called "Color
Through Black-and-White TV." Although highly successful as a
technician, he was virtually unknown as an artist until his spectacular
"Video Color Synthesizer" was exhibited at New York's Howard Wise
Gallery in May, 1969. It was clear the television generation had
produced another genius.
The synaesthetic videotape Psychedelevision in Color, made by
Siegel on his own home-made equipment, was at least as creative
as works by more established artists represented in the exhibit, and
according to some critics was the outstanding work of the entire

Synaesthetic Videotapes 315

Eric Siegel: Psychedelevision. 1968-69.
Synthesized VTR. "Great waves of curling
clouds sweep under and over the viewer
in turbulent fury."
show. "A work of genius," wrote video artist Peter Sorensen in a rave
review devoted entirely to Siegel's tape. A reviewer for Time found
Psychedelevision ". . . closer to Kubrick's 2001 than to Disney's
Fantasia... a glowing visual abstraction."
Siegel's synthesizer is a device that converts the gray scale of a
video signal (in this case from a portable videotape recorder
playback unit) into changes in hue on the screen of a color TV set.
The results are, according to Siegel, "electronic Rorschach patterns
in the context of a metaphysical statement." The statement is the
tape he prepared for processing through the synthesizer, and this
tape itself was recorded through special equipment that the young
artist, characteristically, calls his "magic box." This device, more
aptly described as a "video effects generator," processes images
from a portable TV camera during the actual taping: the images are
transformed during the process of moving from the camera to the
videotape recorder.

316 Expanded Cinema
One segment of Psychedelevision involves variations on a portrait
of Albert Einstein as recorded through the effects generator and
tinted through the color synthesizer. Einstein's face is seen in
infinitely-repeated multiples, then implodes, bursting into a shower of
fiery sparks, reforms again from the fragments only to melt into
Daliesque puddles.
Because of the peculiar nature of the color synthesizer, the colors
of Psychedelevision are unlike most other video hues: now organic
in appearance, now like shimmering metal or mercury, glowing with
an unearthly light, trembling in fierce brilliance, like the colors on the
inside of the retina. But in the best kinetic art it's form as well as
color that determines the kinaesthetic effectiveness of the piece.
Siegel's forms are virtually indescribable: great waves of curling
clouds sweep under and over the viewer in turbulent fury, quite
reminiscent of the Stargate Corridor in 2001. Random fire bursts of
phosphorescent crimson flash across this eerie landscape. Suddenly
the forms become bilaterally symmetrical, with shapes and colors
streaming wildly from the center of the screen.
"Psychedelevision is my attempt at video mind expansion," Siegel
explained. "A new science must be created which can reach the
inner core of human beings. One of the most important tools of this
new science will be television. I've been thinking of a television
system which would take impulses from a human being through
electrodes in a positive feedback loop: the person would be able to
watch his own neurological reactions to the video patterns and video
information generators activated by himself. The American Dream no
longer is evolving. It's in a state of decay. Television must be

Videographic Cinema
"We use video technology in filmmaking," explains Loren Sears,
"exclusively for its graphic potentials. You can't really 'represent' or
carry over satisfactorily into film the electronic viewing experience of
watching television. You can carry the graphics over, but not the
actual electronic experience." In the best videographic cinema,
which we are about to discuss, the artist is at least able to
approximate or suggest the luminescent atomic world of video
imagery. As Sears indicates, however, the motivation is more toward
the graphic characteristics exclusive to television, which simply
cannot be duplicated by cinema alone.
"Metamorphosis is the main thing you can do with video that you
can't do with film," says Scott Bartlett. "But video plus computers
could do it even better." As it turns out, the optical effects of many
Hollywood films have for several years been done on high-resolution
videotape since that medium is less expensive to edit than film. But
the fantastic capabilities inherent in videotape are not used; it is
employed only as an imitation of cinema.
In the work discussed here, film and video technologies have been
synthesized together, often through many generations of processing,
to achieve graphic character unique in the world of film. Since one
automatically thinks of any movie image as having been
photographed by a camera, videographic films are quite startling on
first encounter. Nothing in one's experience with moviescan explain
how such visions were captured on film— and indeed they were not:
videographic cinema might succinctly be described as a film of
videotaped film. "Color is the biggest problem," Bartlett admits. "It's
very difficult to control. But more stable circuits are being developed
all the time. The possible range of video color is as great as the
range of color in any other medium. And because you're right there
watching it happen you can deal with the psychological nuances of
color and form."
Scott Bartlett: Tribal Television
"There's a pattern in my film work that could be the pattern of a hundred-
thousand movies. It simply is repeat and purify, repeat and synthesize, abstract,
abstract, abstract."

318 Expanded Cinema
With his first film, Metanomen, made at San Francisco State
College in 1966, Scott Bartlett went practically as far as possible
within the structural limitations of black-and-white film and conventional
cinema technology. Winner of the 1966 National Student
Film Competition, Metanomen was a stunning kinaesthetic experience
in which form and content merged in synaesthetic alloy. It
became immediately obvious that with more elegant structural
technologies Bartlett could raise this form/content metamorphosis to
higher levels of graphic integrity. Like the best synaesthetic cinema
Bartlett's films are not about an experience: they are the experience.
Here we find kinetic empathy soaring to poetic heights.
Early in 1967, as Bartlett recalls, "television sort of found me. I had
been superficially exposed to it, as my friend Tom DeWitt was in the
TV department at school. That summer another friend, Michael
MacNamee of Washington State University, said he could set up a
TV studio situation for me at a station in Sacramento. I didn't know
what would come of it, but OFFON came of it. And now Moon has
come of that. Going into television doesn't mean I've abandoned
cinema. It's a matter of expanding my technical vocabulary. I'm still
doing Metanomen things, and I'm still doing OFFON things. But it's
all adding up; I'm creating a new vocabulary."
Winner of many international awards, OFFON (see color plates)
was the first videographic film whose existence was equally the
result of cinema and video disciplines. Like all true videographic
cinema, OFFON is not filmed TV, in the way that most movies are
filmed theatre. Rather, it's a metamorphosis of technologies. "That's
becoming a kind of aesthetic common denominator," says Bartlett.
"Marrying techniques so the techniques don't show up separately
from the whole. It's crossbreeding information. That's what a
computer does, too. Having several aesthetics force each other into
their separate molds and then sort of seeing what happens."
What happens in OFFON is extraordinary. The basic source of
video information was in the form of twenty film loops that Bartlett
and DeWitt had culled from more than two-hundred loops they had

Videographic Cinema 319
made for a multiprojection light concert called Timecycle, described
as a "two-hour moviemural." The iconographic character of the
Timecycle imagery was clean and simple since it was intended for
use in addition to other image projections. These loops were
superimposed over one another to a depth of as many as eleven
print generations for one strip of film, separating images from
background, positives from negatives, adding colors to separate
strips, and then recombining them optically.
Black-and-white loops were fed through a color film chain in the
television control room, adding videotronic phosphor-texture to the
cinematic graphics. Simultaneously, other loops and portions of Glen
McKay's light show were rear-projected onto a screen on the studio
floor, which was televised as a second video source. Both video
sources were routed into one monitor: two images riding between
two incoming channels, each pattern competing for exhibition on the
monitor, generating a cross-circuited electronic feedback loop ". . . to
the point where white information in competition with itself breaks
down into colors: spectral breakdown." A second TV camera
televised the monitor, feeding the signal to a videotape recorder.
This master tape was again processed through the switching/mixing
system. Instead of being recorded back onto film in the usual
kinescope process, a special camera was set up in front of a monitor
that filmed at the video rate of 30 fps instead of the movie rate of 24
"The entire process took three hours," said Bartlett. "The
advantage I had was that all the material was on loops and I could
just keep adjusting knobs and arranging appliances, cameras and
such, until I had what I wanted, and then just film a burst of it." This
videographic imagery was again processed through an ordinary
cinematic optical printing system in Bartlett's studio. "The video
colors were pale, but they were for that special texture that you can't
get any other way. After I had that, I separated the film into AB rolls
and dyed the strips with food color. One roll was dyed one color,
another roll was dyed a different color. I built a trough and filled it full
of dye and rolled the film from one reel through the trough and up
along banks of heaters. I sat atop a ladder and very slowly rolled the
film through this assemblage at a rate of about five or six inches a
minute. Took me all night. A yoga dedication."

320 Expanded Cinema
It was well worth the dedication. OFFON begins with a close-up of
a huge blue-red eyeball that pulsates with the sound of a heartbeat.
The eye is both human and video: suddenly it bursts into an
electromagnetic field of vibrations and becomes a slowly-expanding
force field, a tight ring of bright red in a pale blue universe. The red
ring blossoms into a constellation of scattering sparks and suddenly
we see the image of a mirror-doubled dancer throwing out multiple
layers of arms like a human flower in bloom. "The multiplication of
arms was done in cinematic optical printing," Bartlett explained. "But
the multiplication of the multiplications was done in video: the halos
around the arms were created by video feedback."
Pink and blue sea gulls wheel languidly around the disintegrating
dancer, whose image slowly melts into an infinity of geometrical
echoes. This evolves into a close-up of a girl's face that seems to be
streaking off, disintegrating but somehow holdingtogether. "That's a
good example of hiding one technique inside another," said Bartlett,
"by doing essentially the same thing with both systems and just
compounding one action. Two pieces of film of the same shot were
flipped over so that the left became the right. This was printed back
onto the left, except out of register so that it staggered behind,
apparently trying to catch up with the right. And the shot itself initially
was a very slow zoom, rocking the camera back and forth while
zooming in on the girl's face, who was herself rocking back and
forth. When that was fed through the monitor it was refilmed by a
zoom lens which was also rocking and swaying."
OFFON moves with dynamic thrust through a succession of
images that never seem separate from one another, each evolving
into videographic metamorphosis, exploding, glowing, disintegrating,
cracking into infinity until it all ends with a final burst of kinetic
energy. Later in 1968, Bartlett made a second videographic film, this
time in black-and-white, called A Trip to the Moon. It involved a live
panel discussion between Bartlett and friends on the subject of the
new consciousness, cosmic unity, and metamorphosis. Films and
slides of the moon and rockets were keyed into the scene randomly
and certain interesting effects were achieved by associating audio
and video feedback techniques. However, the film was too long
(approximately half an hour) and not varied enough to support its

Videographic Cinema 321
In the spring of 1969 Bartlett set about remaking A Trip to the
Moon, but the film that resulted, simply titled Moon, became a wholly
new work with only a few seconds of original footage remaining.
Moon proved to be his most satisfying work, more impressive even
than OFFON, because in addition to spectacular videographics it
also was constructed around a substantial conceptual content. It was
completed less than two months before the first moon landing, yet is
more effective in its metaphysical evocative power than many of the
films of the same thematic content made since then.
Moon begins in a black void as we hear a recording of the Apollo
Eight astronauts reading from Genesis. Under this is a rather spacey
track from the Steve Miller album, Sailor. Suddenly the black void is
recognized as a night sky as we approach a distant airport whose
lights seem to float in deep space. The image is flopped; the runway
lights become a starry corridor similar to the slit-scan corridor of
2001. This gives way to stop-frame, optically distorted footage of
astronauts boarding their craft before takeoff. The pale colors and
unearthly motions lend a kind of dreamlike déjà-vu quality to the
scene as these hooded creatures lumber slowly toward the giant
We see the ocean and a dawning sky. As though from another time
and place, we hear reverberating voices speaking of the Universal
One, cosmic unity, the I Ching. A purple face appears in the sky and
is fragmented into infinity. Waves of the ocean— obeying lunar
gravity— crash in slow motion, and over this we see skip-frame
video-distorted scenes of the lunar module simulator spinning and
maneuvering in space.
Now we're inside a television control room with several monitors
reflecting the faces of men whose words seem far away. The control
center appears like some window onto a video space of another
dimension. A roaring wind takes us soaring through towering clouds,
an ethereal atmosphere similar to the opening sequence of 8½.
Aqueous fingers of de-beamed video phosphors stretch across the
sky like phantom visitors from another galaxy. A spaceman whirls
through the clouds, flashing and sparkling like an asteroid. The
graphic tempo increases with flashes of light and a tremendous roar
until the final crescendo. The last image we see is the ocean
receding from a beach.

322 Expanded Cinema

Scott Barlett: Moon. 1969. VTR/16mm. film.
Color. 8 min.". . . A purple face appears
in the sky and is fragmented into infinity..."

Videographic Cinema 323
Moon is a beautiful, eerie, haunting film, a product of the New
Surrealism, all the more wonderful for the fact that we do not actually
see the moon: only the manifestation of its power here on earth: the
ebb and flow of the waters that cover three-quarters of our planet.
The film contains some of the most spectacular manipulations of
video techniques Bartlett has yet achieved, sending fiery rainbows
into a cloudy sky, transforming men and rockets into shattering
crystals, creating a portrait of the cosmos in continual
The magic of the film [said Bartlett] is its totally undefined meaning, the purely
visceral message. The message could be called a code that we're trying to learn
about, a code for connections to new space and new consciousness, a code for
making it to the moon metaphysically, paths for your mind to get out where you
can reach anything. In some ways technique equals meaning: the stop-frame
action means mechanically defined space and time and the feedback layers are
like accordion time— all the times stacking up on top of one another.
Commercial film makers use certain images or techniques as standard
recognizable givens. Like the way a dissolve for them means the passage of
time. But for us dissolve means "blend." Not so much one, not so much the other,
but something in between the two, getting from one to another. It's valuable to
hang somewhere between two different realities as a dramatic element. Dali does
that. You see a face but then you realize the face is made up of a woman's ass
and a cow and a flagpole or something. Your mind goes from one understood
state to another understood state and you realize that you've voyaged in that
The understood state toward which Bartlett was headed in the
latter part of 1969 was a "tribal television network" linking thirty or
forty experimental video centers on the West Coast, some of them
sponsored by rock groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the
Grateful Dead. "It will be a family of production centers cabled
together and co-broadcasting with an FM radio station," Bartlett
explained. "The FM radio would provide the mainstream
programming and the disk jockey would be televised and would
switch on visuals during records which would be electronically
synthesized interpretations of the sounds. The production centers
would make specials which would always supercede the main entertainment.
The television station would be a voice: a natural

324 Expanded Cinema
accelerating pace for more people sharing more knowledge. The
tribal television would allow art and science to wed in a media
marriage free from commercial concerns, free for pure experiment."
Tom DeWitt: The Leap
"I look at the medium through its manipulation of time and space. Man's ability to
manipulate space is very limited. Actually a space change is almost inconceivable.
The same with our control of time. We're contained in clock time.
But the medium at least seems to control space within completely malleable
After his collaboration with Scott Bartlett in the making of OFFON,
Tom DeWitt made his own extraordinary videographic film, The
Leap, completed late in 1968. Although the two films were born at
approximately the same time and place in San Francisco, they are
dramatically different in almost every respect: evidence not only of
two strongly individualistic personalities, but of the latitude for
personal expression possible in the videotronic medium.
"I turned to cinema as a vehicle for expressing my intuition,"
DeWitt explained. "I find myself only at the threshold and I can see
no horizons. I try to use technology flexibly to realize dream images,
but I would hardly call my work more than the first crude stage of
image-manipulation through modern technology. I've been trying to
learn enough about image technologies so that if I ever make a
dramatic statement I'll know that it's being communicated through
the essence of the medium. There was a time when I had my copy
of Fortran and began to learn it— I saw computer art as a potentially
limitless field — but I decided to explore what I could contribute
through videographic cinema."
The leap of the film's title might be interpreted in several ways, all
of them appropriate: a leap of consciousness from one reality to
another; a leap in image technology from cinema to video; a leap to
escape the suffocating boundaries of metropolitan life (in this respect
The Leap is a continuation of the theme of DeWitt's first film,
Atmosfear); and finally it might be seen as a leap to escape the
purely videotronic world of the film's imagery. However one chooses
to view it, The Leap unquestionably accomplished DeWitt's motivaion:
"I wasn't satisfied with the film until I felt that without any verbal

Videographic Cinema 325

Tom DeWitt: The Leap. 1968. VTR/
16mm. film. Color. 6 min. "A man
seems to interact physically with
videographic apparitions...
androgynous symbols and arcane
electronic voodoo..."

326 Expanded Cinema
references it would take you on an emotional trip, reacting purely to
the essence of cinema and television."
Whereas OFFON is composed entirely of iconographic, geometric
concrete imagery— organic figures processed through the medium
until only a fundamental primary structure is left— The Leap is
impressive for its mixture of pure video space with representational
filmic space. Thus an ordinary man seems to interact physically with
videographic apparitions, moving in and out of different space/time
realities, fluctuating between the physical and the metaphysical with
each stride of his leap toward freedom.
We see a man jumping across rooftops and racing up a grassy
hillside. He dodges through a jungle of billboards, ominous
structures, and forests of barbed wire. This is the basic vocabulary: a
man running through an industrial landscape in search of nature. But
through the video system this simple footage was transformed into a
breathtaking constellation of exploding perspectives, shimmering
masses of color, androgynous symbols, and vast realms of arcane
electronic voodoo. There are endless zooms into quivering video
centers, rectangles within rectangles of vanishing imagery. In mid air
the man's body becomes a videotronic ghost filled with vibrating
silvery shock waves. A simple motion is shattered into a thousand
mirror images reverberating into infinity. Intersecting space grids
completely demolish perspectival logic. Positive becomes negative,
up becomes down, inside is out and outside is in.
In making The Leap, DeWitt first shot approximately one-hundred
and fifty feet of high contrast, black-and-white film that was
processed through a video system. "By compounding the imagery
through the video mixing panel I expanded the image material into
about eight-hundred feet," he said. "While the film was running
through the system, I added effects by keying, wiping, and debeaming,
inserting images into each other. One of the film-chain monitors
had a camera on it, so whenever I switched to that camera I got a
feedback. That studio had only two monitors for four film projectors
and two slide projectors, so some of the calls were blind, based on
what I thought was back on the film chain. I could see the final mix
on monitors, plus one of the two sources coming in from film chains,
plus images coming in from a videotape recorder we started to use
after the first session. So at about three layers deep it got pretty

Videographic Cinema 327

Scott Bartlett filming Tom DeWitt at work
in television control room. Photo: William

328 Expanded Cinema
complex. I was very happy because I was penetrating an area that
was completely new to me; but if I were doing it over again I'd want
more control. I'd want to see all the images feeding in; I'd want
synchronization between the images, and I'd master roll the images
before I put them in."
During fifteen hours of studio time DeWitt was assisted by an
engineer who operated the videotape machines, an engineer
operating the two film chains, and a man on the feedback camera.
DeWitt made all aesthetic decisions at the master control panel.
"One of the main things I like about video," he explains, "is the
immediacy of seeing what you're doing, which is a tremendous
balancing effect because you can make decisions on the spot which
feed back into the work you're creating. It's much more spontaneous
than working in film, where you're never really sure what the results
will be until you get the film back. Plus the effects built into television
which are very difficult to get in film, particularly keying and wipes."
The master tape was re-edited as a whole before a kinescope was
made. The kinescope was edited through conventional film
techniques, and color was added on DeWitt's home-made optical
printer. This footage was edited once again, and finally an electronic
sound track was made by Manny Meyer, who composed the track for
OFFON. "I wanted to express an emotion," DeWitt said. "Certainly
you're triggering something in the unconscious when you start
playing with space/time alterations."
Jud Yalkut: Paikpieces
Recognized as one of the leading intermedia artists and filmmakers
in the United States, Jud Yalkut has collaborated with Nam
June Paik since 1966 in a series of films that incorporate Paik's
television pieces as basic image material. Yalkut's work differs from
most videographic cinema because the original material is videotape,
not film. They might be considered filmed TV; yet in each case
the video material is selected, edited, and prepared specifically for
filming, and a great deal of cinematic post-stylization is done after
the videographics have been recorded.
In addition to Paik's own slightly demonic sense of humor, the films
are imbued with Yalkut's subtle kinaesthetic sensibility, an ultra-
sensitive manipulation of formal elements in space and time. Paik’s

Videographic Cinema 329

Jud Yalkut: Paikpieces. (Left column)
Beatles Electroniques. 1967. VTR/
16mm. film. Black and white. 3 min.
(Right column) Videotape Study No. 3.
1968. VTR/16mm. film. Black and white.
5 min.

330 Expanded Cinema
electro-madness combined with Yalkut's delicate kinetic consciousess
result in a filmic experience balanced between video and cinema
in a Third World reality.
The two films illustrated here— Beatles Electroniques and
Videotape Study No. 3— are part of a forty-five-minute program of
films by Yalkut and Paik, concerning various aspects of Paik's activities.
The other films include P+A-I=(K), a three-part homage to the
Korean artist, featuring his concert Happening performances with
Charlotte Moorman, Kosugi, and Wolf Vostell; his robot K-456
walking on Canal Street in New York; and his color television abstractions.
Other films in the Paikpieces program are Cinema
Metaphysique, a nontelevision film in which the screen is divided in
various ways: the image appears on a thin band on the left side, or
along the bottom edge, or split-screen and quarter-screen; and two
other films of Paik's video distortions, Electronic Yoga and Electronic
Moon, shown at various intermedia performances with Paik and Miss
Beatles Electroniques was shot in black-and-white from live broadcasts
of the Beatles while Paik electromagnetically improvised distortions
on the receiver, and also from videotaped material produced
during a series of experiments with filming off the monitor of a Sony
videotape recorder. The film is three minutes long and is accompanied
by an electronic sound track by composer Ken Werner,
called Four Loops, derived from four electronically altered loops of
Beatles sound material. The result is an eerie portrait of the Beatles
not as pop stars but rather as entities that exist solely in the world of
electronic media.
Videotape Study No. 3 was shot completely off the monitor of the
videotape recorder from previously collected material. There are two
sections: the first shows an LBJ press conference in which the tape
was halted in various positions to freeze the face in devastating
grimaces; the second section shows Mayor John Lindsay of New
York during a press conference, asking someone to "please sit
down," altered electronically and manually by stopping the tape and
moving in slow motion, and by repeating actions. The sound track is
a political speech composition by David Behrman. In his editing of
these films, Yalkut has managed to create an enduring image of the
metaphysical nature of video and its process of perception.

Videographic Cinema 331
Ture Sjölander, Lars Weck:
Video Monument in Sweden
In the fall of 1967, intermedia artists Ture Sjölander and Lars Weck
collaborated with Bengt Modin, video engineer of the Swedish
Broadcasting Corporation in Stockholm
, to produce an experimental
program called Monument. It was broadcast in January, 1968, and
subsequently has been seen throughout Europe, Asia, and the
United States. Apart from the technical aspect of the project, their
intention was to develop a widened consciousness of the communicative
process inherent in visual images. They selected as source
material the "monuments" of world culture— images of famous
persons and paintings.
The program was created in the form of a black-and-white
videographic film, made with the telecine projector from other film
clippings and slides. The films and slides first were recorded on
videotape and then back onto film for further processing. Image
distortions occurred in the telecine process of recording film on
videotape. The basic principle involved was the modulation of the
deflection voltage in a flying-spot telecine, using sine and square
impulses from a wave-form generator. With the flying-spot method
used by Swedish television, the photographic image is transformed
into electrical signals when the film is projected toward a photocell
with a scanned raster as the source of light. The deflection voltage
regulates the movement of the point of light that scans the screen
fifty times per second.
In the production of Monument, the frequency and amplitude of the
flying-spot deflection was controlled by applying tones from the
wave-form generators. Thus image distortions occurred during the
actual process of transforming original image material into video
signals, since the scan that produces the signals was electromagnetically
altered. In principle this process is similar to methods
used by Nam June Paik and others, except that the Swedish group
applied the techniques at an early stage in the video process, before
signal or videotape information existed.
After the videotape was completed from various film clips, a
kinescope was made, which was edited by Sjölander and Weck into
its final form. The result is an oddly beautiful collection of image

332 Expanded Cinema

The King of Sweden as
seen in videographic
film Monument (1967),

Videographic Cinema 333

Paul McCartney in Monument.
sequences unlike any other video art. We see the Beatles, Charlie
Chaplin, Picasso, the Mona Lisa, the King of Sweden, and other
famous figures distorted with a kind of insane electronic disease.
Images undergo transformations at first subtle, like respiration, then
increasingly violent until little remains of the original icon. In this
process, the images pass through thousands of stages of
semicohesion, making the viewer constantly aware of his orientation
to the picture. The transformations occur slowly and with great
speed, erasing perspectives, crossing psychological barriers. A
figure might stretch like Silly Putty or become rippled in a liquid
universe. Harsh bas-relief effects accentuate physical dimensions
with great subtlety, so that one eye or one ear might appear slightly
unnatural. And finally the image disintegrates into a constellation of
shimmering video phosphors.
More than an experiment in image-making technologies,
Monument became an experiment in communication. Monument
became an image-generator: newspapers, magazines, posters,

334 Expanded Cinema
record albums, and even textile factories began using images from
the videographic film. Sven Höglund, a well-known Swedish painter,
entered the project after the film was completed. He made oil
paintings based on the Monument images because he found them
"parallel to my own creative intentions; I had for a long time been
working on problems concerning transformations of forms. My
painted versions of the images became another phase of the
experiment in communication called Monument.
"Other phases were silk-screen prints, illustrated magazine
articles, posters, giant advertisements. In each phase Monument
experiments with pictures in their relation to spectators. The
common denominator is the mass-media picture, especially the most
commonly seen pictorial representation, the television picture. The
pictures in the film are so well known to the public that they have
been invested with symbolic meaning. People recognize them and
are able to retain this identification throughout all the transformations
and variations of the electronic image."
Lutz Becker: Horizon
The young German artist Lutz Becker began experimenting with
video feedback techniques in 1965 at the age of twenty-four. In the
period 1967-68 he produced three films of these experiments as a
student in the film department of the Slade School of Fine Art,
London, in collaboration with the BBC. Experiment 5, Cosmos, and
Horizon are little more than documents of the cathode-ray tube
experiments and thus are not particularly significant as examples of
videographic cinema per se. They do, however, clearly demonstrate
the degree of control and precision that is possible in this technique,
and will serve to illuminate our conception of it.
In cooperation with BBC engineer A. B. Palmer, Becker began his
experiments by focusing a TV camera on the blank white raster of its
own monitor— the pictureless glowing rectangle produced by a
constant strength of electrons. A point of light appearing momentarily
on the monitor as a result of unavoidable "camera noise" will be
picked up by the camera and reproduced again on the screen. If the
monitor raster and camera raster are suitably registered, the
reproduced point will coincide in position with the original and will be
sustained as the cycle repeats. Depending on the totalgain around

Videographic Cinema 335

Lutz Becker: Horizon. 1968. Video
feedback. 16mm. Color. 5 min. Tightly
controlled phasing between a TV
camera and its own output monitor.

336 Expanded Cinema
the feedback loop— that is, the video signal's tendency to exceed
the electrical limits of the equipment— the point brightness will either
increase until limited in some way, or decrease to extinction.
If the two rasters are deliberately placed slightly out of register, the
reproduced point then appears alongside the original, the next
alongside that, and so on. The visible effect is that the point of light
moves across the picture as the positional errors are integrated. The
direction and velocity of the movement depend on the direction and
degree of misregistration. The point can be made to move
horizontally or vertically by shifting the registration between the two
rasters in horizontal or vertical modes. Changes of raster amplitude
(adjusting the strength of the picture signals) produce either a
convergent or divergent motion in the picture. If one raster is tilted
relative to the other, the movement becomes circular.
By combining these raster-misregistration feedback techniques
with careful adjustment of camera controls Becker achieved a wide
variety of concrete motion graphics, which he describes as
"sustained oscillations in two dimensions.'' Further effects were
realized by reversing the magnetic field of one raster scan. Original
signals on the left were reproduced on the right, then on the left, and
so on. The pattern thus achieved is symmetrical around a central
vertical line. Further convolutions were obtained by combining scan
reversals with raster misregistrations. These are some of the
feedback possibilities employing only a blank scanned raster and
attendant noise patterns. An entirely different range of effects can be
obtained if a second and a third video source are introduced into the
feedback loop.

Closed-Circuit Television
and Teledynamic Environments
"Television can't be used as an art medium," claims Les Levine,
"because it already is art. CBS, NBC, and ABC are among the
greatest art producers in the world." The art of which he speaks is
the art of communication. And, after all, art always has been communication
in its most eloquent form. But until television, artists have
been inventors first and communicators second. Artists have created
things to be communicated: they have not created communication.
But television is neither an object nor a "content." Tele-vision is the
art of communication itself, irrespective of message. Television
exists in its purest form between the sender and the receiver. A
number of contemporary artists have realized that television, for the
first time in history, provides the means by which one can control the
movement of information throughout the environment.
In this respect television is not fundamentally an aesthetic medium,
at least not as we've traditionally understood the term. It's an
instrument whose unique ability is, as its name implies, to transport
audio-visual information in real time through actual space, allowing
face-to-face communication between humans or events physically
separated by continents and even planets. The self-feeding, self-
imaging, and environmental surveillance capabilities of closed-circuit
television provide for some artists a means of engaging the
phenomenon of communication and perception in a truly empirical
fashion similar to scientific experimentation.
This approach to the medium may in fact constitute the only pure
television art, since the teleportation of encoded electronic-signal
information is central to its aesthetic. The actual transmission of
information across space/time is not an issue when video equipment
is used only for aesthetic manipulation of graphic images as in
synaesthetic videotapes and videographic films. I use the term
teledynamic environment to indicate that the artist works directly with
the dynamics of the movement of information within physical and
temporal parameters. The physical environment is determined by the

338 Expanded Cinema

Les Levine with Iris. 1968. Three TV
cameras and six monitors in an eight-by-five
console. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert
Kardon, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Closed-Circuit Television and Teledynamic Environments 339
characteristics of the closed-circuit video system. The artist is concerned
not so much with what is being communicated as with how
it's communicated and the awareness of this process. Thus
television becomes the world's first inherently objective art form.
Les Levine: Iris
"Machines that show the human organism itself as a working
model," says Les Levine, "may eventually destroy the need for
psychology as we know it today." Essentially an intermedia artist
who works in plastics, alloys, and disposables, Levine was among
the first conceptual artists on the New York scene focusing more on
idea than icon. Naturally he turned to television, the most conceptual
of all creative media. As a video artist Levine is best known for two
closed-circuit teledynamic systems, Iris (1968) and Contact: A
Cybernetic Sculpture (1969).
In both works the motivation is somewhat psychological: Levine is
fascinated by the implications of self-awareness through the
technologically-extended superego of the closed-circuit TV. "I don't
tend to think of my work purely in psychological terms," he explains,
"but one must assume some psychological effect of seeing oneself
on TV all the time. Through my systems the viewer sees himself as
an image, the way other people would see him were he on
television. In seeing himself this way he becomes more aware of
what he looks like. All of television, even broadcast television, is to
some degree showing the human race to itself as a working model.
It's a reflection of society, and it shows society what society looks
like. It renders the social and psychological condition of the
environment visible to that environment."
In Iris, three concealed cameras focus on an environment (one's
living room, for example) in close-up, middle-distance, and wide-
angle. These images are displayed on six black-and-white TV tubes
mounted in an eight-foot console that also houses the cameras.
Combinations and distortions of images interact from screen to
screen in a kind of videotronic mix of the physical and metaphysical
elements of the environment. Seeing three different views of oneself
in combination with three others is a unique experience.
"Looking at Iris," he remarked, "many people are greatly surprised
at the way they actually look. They see themselves the way they

340 Expanded Cinema
usually see other people on television, and they have to make some
kind of judgment about themselves in terms of themselves as a
piece of information. That's what Iris does most of all, it turns the
viewer into information. The viewer has to reconsider what he
thought about himself before. He must think about himself in terms
of information. You notice people in front of Iris begin to adjust their
appearance. They adjust their hair, tie, spectacles. They become
aware of aspects of themselves which do not conform to the image
they previously had of themselves."
Contact: A Cybernetic Sculpture continues the principles of Iris on
a somewhat expanded scale. It involves eighteen monitors and eight
cameras mounted in a sleek eight-foot stainless steel console, nine
monitors and four cameras on each side beneath plastic bubble
shields. As in Iris, the cameras produce close-ups, mid-range and
wide-angle views as images shift from screen to screen every few
seconds. Each monitor screen is covered with a colored acrylic gel
so that a given image may be seen in nine different colors as it swirls
through the closed-circuit system.
"Contact is a system that synthesizes man with his technology,"
Levine states. "In this system, the people are the software. It relies
totally on the image and sensibility of the viewer for its life. It is a
responsive mechanism and its personality reflects the attitudes of its
viewers. If they are angry, the piece looks angry. Contact is made
not only between you and your image, but how you feel about your
image, and how you feel about that image in relationship to the
things around you. The circuit is open."
Levine is rather indifferent to the physical structure of the consoles
that house his video systems. "I don't tend to consider my work in
aesthetic terms," he says. "I don't make a work with any aesthetic
principles in mind. If it happens to be a nice object to look at, that's
fine. What a TV set looks like is only of value in terms of iconic
imagery. However, what comes on the TV set is the real intelligence
of the object, which has no intelligence until the software is injected
into it. People don't look at the TV set, they look at the tube and the
tube is always pretty much the same shape. But television is
constantly re-wiping itself and printing over all the time, so that
depending on what information is available at any given moment the
image will be different. So there's really no image, no definite image.

Closed-Circuit Television and Teledynamic Environments 341

Les Levine with Contact: A Cybernetic Sculpture.
1969. Photo: courtesy of Museum of
Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois.
One could equate it, because of its flexibility, with looking at a person
sitting in a chair: he looks as he always looks except that his
behavior changes your image of him. Television has this quality: it
always somehow looks the same, but it's always doing something
Frank Gillette, Ira Schneider: Wipe Cycle
Unlike Levine's work, the effect of Wipe Cycle, by the young New
York artists Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider, was to integrate the
viewer and his local environment into the larger macrosystem of
information transmission. Wipe Cycle was first exhibited at the
Howard Wise Gallery in New York in 1969. It consisted of nine
monitors whose displays were controlled by synchronized cycle
patterns of live and delayed feedback, broadcast television, and
taped programming shot by Gillette and Schneider with portable

342 Expanded Cinema

Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider: Wipe Cycle.
1969. TV camera, closed-circuit system,
nine monitors, tapes, broadcasting. Photo: courtesy
of Howard Wise Gallery, New York.
equipment. These were displayed through alternations of four programmed
pulse signals every two, four, eight, and sixteen seconds.
Separately, each of the cycles acted as a layer of video information,
while all four levels in concert determined the overall composition of
the work at any given moment.
"The most important function ofWipe Cycle," Schneider explained,
"was to integrate the audience into the information. It was a live
feedback system which enabled the viewer standing within its
environment to see himself not only now in time and space, but also
eight seconds ago and sixteen seconds ago. In addition he saw
standard broadcast images alternating with his own delayed/live
image. And also two collage-type programmed tapes, ranging from a

Closed-Circuit Television and Teledynamic Environments 343
shot of the earth, to outer space, to cows grazing, and a 'skin flick'
bathtub scene."
"It was an attempt," Gillette added, "to demonstrate that you're as
much a piece of information as tomorrow morning's headlines— as a
viewer you take a satellite relationship to the information. And the
satellite which is you is incorporated into the thing which is being
sent back to the satellite. In other words, rearranging one's
experience of information reception."8 Thus in Wipe Cycle several
levels of time and space were synthesized into one audio-visual
experience on many simultaneous frequencies of perception. What
is, what has been, and what could be, were merged into one
engrossing teledynamic continuum and the process of
communication was brought into focus.
Allan Kaprow: Hello
The elements of randomness and chance, which Allan Kaprow has
explored so successfully in his Happenings and environmental
events, were brought into play in a television experiment conducted
by Kaprow with the unique facilities of WGBH-TV in Boston for "The
Medium Is the Medium." The station has direct closed-circuit inputs
from a number of locations in the Boston-Cambridge area: a line to
M.I.T., another to a hospital, another to an educational videotape
library, and a fourth to Boston Airport. These were interconnected
with five TV cameras and twenty-seven monitors that Kaprow
utilized as a sort of sociological conduit, demonstrating the
possibiliti es of creativity in the act of videotronic communication,
including obstacles to communication.
Groups of people were dispatched to the various locations with
instructions as to what they would say on camera, such as "Hello, I
see you," when acknowledging their own image or that of a friend.
Kaprow functioned as "director" in the studio control room, ordering
channels opened and closed randomly. If someone at the airport
were talking to someone at M.I.T., the picture might suddenly switch
and one would be talking to doctors at the hospital. Thus not only the
process of communication was involved, but the elements of choice
and decision-making as well. Kaprow has suggested a global form of
8 From an interview with Frank Gillette and Ira Schneider by Jud Yalkut in "Film," East
Village Other, August 6, 1969.

344 Expanded Cinema
Hello, interconnecting continents, languages, and cultures in one
huge sociological mix. The information transmitted in Hello, he
emphasized, was not a newscast or lecture but the most important
message of all: "Oneself in connection with someone else."

"Shall we... use the new art as a vehicle for a new message and
express the human longing which light has always symbolized, a
longing for greater reality, a cosmic consciousness, a balance
between the human entity and the great common denominator, the
universal rhythmic flow?"

The Artist as Ecologist

For some years now the activity of the artist in our society has been
trending more toward the function of the ecologist: one who deals
with environmental relationships. Ecology is defined as the totality or
pattern of relations between organisms and their environment. Thus
the act of creation for the new artist is not so much the invention of
new objects as the revelation of previously unrecognized relationships
between existing phenomena, both physical and metaphysical.
So we find that ecology is art in the most fundamental and pragmatic
sense, expanding our apprehension of reality.
Artists and scientists rearrange the environment to the advantage
of society. Moreover, we find that all the arts and sciences have
moved along an evolutionary path whose milestones are Form,
Structure, and Place. In fact, man's total development as a sentient
being can be said to follow from initial concerns with Form or surface
appearances, to an examination of the Structure of forms, and finally
to a desire to comprehend the totality of relationships between
forms, that is, Places. Since it generally is thought that art represents
the avant-garde of human insight, it is interesting to note that
science itself has evolved through Form, Structure, and Place
appreciably in advance of the arts.
The conception of the principle of the atom by the Epicureans in
Greece approximately 2,000 years ago began that stage of science
chiefly concerned with Form, which included the contributions of
Euclid, Descartes, Copernicus, and Kepler. The Structural phase of
science might be epitomized by Newton and Clerk Maxwell, although
we must leap forward in time and include Rutherford and Bohr, who
found a structural model for the atom in the planetary system. The
stage of science that I've designated as Place is represented by
Einstein and Max Planck, and has to do with space/time, synergy,
and entropy, all of which subsume both Form and Structure.
If further evidence is desired, one need only examine the technology
of the respective scientific eras. As Bronowski has pointed
out, a characteristic invention of the Scientific Revolution was the

The Artist as Ecologist 347
telescope, which Galileo demonstrated in 1609, a tool for perceiving
form. A characteristic invention of the Industrial Revolution was the
power machine to perform the routine work of the human muscle,
thus a structural tool. And the characteristic invention of the Cybernetic
Revolution into which we are moving is the digital computer,
which does the routine work of the human brain: the cerebral realm
is the "Place" in which all experience resides.
It is interesting to note that the terms economy, ecumenical, and
ecology share a common Greek root: oikos, a house. Following a
period of Karmic Illusions (pre-Space Age history), the Renaissance
Man emerges from his cocoon with difficulty (the generation gap) to
find himself the master of a whole house and attendant guest
cottage (the moon), and with nothing to do— the Leisure Problem. So
the artist, not the politician, finally is accepted as the true legislator of
mankind. Today's artists work empirically with problems of leisure
and decision-making. Men like Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris,
and Robert Whitman are concerned more with the personal
responsibility of their audience than with creating objects to be
"owned," since ownership is seen as an irresponsible concept when
the obvious need is for global synergy. So we see that Duchamp's
penetrating description of art as "defined by context and completed
by the spectator's response" anticipated the present symbiosis of
artist and ecologist.
That description also anticipated the burgeoning of intermedia art
as one of the most significant developments of twentieth-century
society. Buckminster Fuller has differentiated mind from brain by
demonstrating that the brain performs "special case" functions on
individual, discrete bits of information, whereas mind is concerned
with "general case" metaphysical relationships and implications. In
our discussion of intermedia art I intend to present the general case.
This approach begins with the word itself: I might have usedmixed
media, certainly a more common and identifiable term; but an
environment in which the organisms are merely mixed is not the
same as an environment whose elements are suffused in metamorphosis.

During the 1960's a group of artists and engineers, working under
the name USCO, pioneered in the development of multimedia
performances and kinaesthetic events throughout the United States,
Canada, and Europe. More recently, Gerd Stern and other members

348 Expanded Cinema
of USCO have joined with a group of behavioral scientists from
Harvard University to form the Intermedia Systems Corporation,
whose purpose is to ". . . explore multi-channel audio-visual techniques
and design of facilities, hardware and software" primarily for
use in education, but with a view toward entertainmentas education.
Since education is the obvious direction in which virtually all
communication is trending, perhaps this group's definition of the
word intermedia would be most appropriate here: "Intermedia refers
to the simultaneous use of various media to create a total
environmental experience for the audience. Meaning is communicated
not by coding ideas into abstract literary language, but by
creating an emotionally real experience through the use of audiovisual
technology. Originally conceived in the realm of art rather than
in science or engineering, the principles on which intermedia is
based are grounded in the fields of psychology, information theory,
and communication engineering."
For some time now it has been clear that intermedia art is trending
toward that point at which all the phenomena of life on earth will
constitute the artist's palette. It is the purpose of this chapter to
illuminate the direction of that trend and to cite a few pertinent
examples. As with all other Paleocybernetic phenomena, the
direction is simultaneously toward inner and outer space, the
microcosm and the macrocosm. On the one hand, intermedia environments
turn the participant inward upon himself, providing a
matrix for psychic exploration, perceptual, censorial, and intellectual
awareness; on the other hand technology has advanced to the point
at which the whole earth itself becomes the "content" of aesthetic
activity. The term "light show" must now be expanded virtually to
include the aurora borealis, since hemispherical lumia displays are
possible in the creation of artificial plasma clouds in space (see color
plates), the launching of rockets to generate atmospherical events,
or urban environmental generators such as Nicholas Schoffer's
monumental Cybernetic Light Tower, which transforms the skies of
Paris into panoramic fantasias of color.
Implicit in this trend is another facet of the new Romantic Age. The
new consciousness doesn't want to dream its fantasies, it wants to
live them. The child of the Paleocybernetic Age intuits that his life
could be a process of nonordinary realities if the energies of the

The Artist as Ecologist 349

Stan VanDerBeek with multifaceted surface
for multiple-projection intermedia environment.
Photo: Richard Raderman.
globe were properly distributed. We're developing all these fabulous
hardware systems that soon will make life a process of continual myth-
generation for the individual as well as the collective ego.
"We're just fooling around on the outer edges of our own sensi-bilities,"
says Stan VanDerBeek.
Unconsciously we're developing memory storage and transfer systems that deal with
millions of thoughts simultaneously. Sooner than we think we'll be communicating on
very high psychic levels of neurological referencing. It's becoming extremely rich. This
business of being artist in residence at some corporation is only part of the story; what
we really want to be is artist in residence of the world, but we don't know where to

350 Expanded Cinema

Stan VanDerBeek presides over intermedia
presentation at his Movie Drome in Stony
Point, N.Y.
Photo: Bob Hanson.

apply. Major internationalizing by artists is going to become very important, and
so will the myth-making process. What we're looking for in some sociologically
appropriate way is a third side to each confrontation: a way to deal with each
other through a medium.
All media, like the automobile and telephone, are essentially a third party which
relates us to whatever else it is we're doing. I think the student riots are a
manifestation of a deep-seated awareness of this problem. There's such a
contagiousness now with rioting; I think we realize that rarely do we directly deal
with issues, personally, physically, intimately, with real body contact. That could
easily be the cause, or at least partial cause, of the riots. We suddenly realize
that riots may be the only real form of theatre left in which we're not just an

The Artist as Ecologist 351
But, you see, being an audience is necessary. A major factor in living in an
overpopulated world is that we really cannot deal with each other directly. As the
Japanese do, for example. They've spent thousands of years cultivating this idea
that they're there but they're not there. Because they've been jammed together
for a long time, they've learned how to do it. Now our culture is moving in that
direction also. That's one reason for all these transfer systems— photo-reality,
mock-reality, artificial intelligence, whatever term you choose— are spontaneously
and unconsciously evolving. It's a tremendous urgent unconscious need to
realize that we can't really see each other face to face. We only see each other
through the subconsciousness of some other system. Cybernetics and the
looping-around of the man/machine synergy are what we've been after all along.
Who knows, but certainly for the last thousand years man has been inching
toward that point, and now we're running full speed. And, of course, the machines
we're running toward can trip us up as easily as not. We really can't be certain.
But movies are the ultimate illusionistic system. I'm working more and more with
tools that show it can go far beyond its present form. Holograms obviously are a
key direction to go into: where things are stored on a molecular level.

World Expositions and Nonordinary Reality
In this forthcoming global activity of continual myth-generation,
dramatic-fiction cinema will find a new and vital role to play. Although
obsolete in one respect it will become enriched in another. While
videotape cartridges and cable television will bring conventional
cinema into the home on an individual level, society will seek its
communal mythic experiences in elaborate intermedia environments
found today only at world expositions where the average citizen is
able to experience, for a limited time, the wealth and inventiveness
that is kept from him in everyday existence.
"There's a basic human need for a communal experience of
vision," observes Roman Kroitor, who developed the spectacular
Labyrinthe for Expo '67 at Montreal. Kroitor's Canadian firm, Multi-
screen Limited, has perfected a revolutionary projection system to
be included in a chain of local theatres with screens seven stories
high. The process, originally called Multivision, was developed for
Expo '70 in Osaka. It involves 70mm. film projected horizontally
rather than vertically. Through what is known as the "rolling loop" or
"loop-wave" method of film transport, the Multivision projector throws
an image as high as the ordinary 70mm. frame is wide (each frame
of Kroitor's film is the size of a postal card and has fifteen sprocket-
hole perforations). The rolling-loop system removes virtually all
tension from the film during transport through the projector at 336
feet per minute, stopping and starting every twenty-fourth of a
second. Thus it is possible to project a seven-story image of perfect
steadiness and crystal clarity.
As the name Multivision implies, the movie contains from three to
several dozen independently-moving images on the screen
simultaneously, thus approaching on an environmental scale what
had existed in 16mm. synaesthetic cinema for decades. Here,
however, the synaesthetic experience is three times the size of
Cinerama and encompasses a ninety-degree span of vision from
any location in the theatre. "New kinds of storytelling and new
audience tastes will result from this technology," Kroitor said.
"People are tired of the standard plot structure. New film experiences
will result, in which there'll be a tight relationship between

World Expositions and Nonordinary Reality 353

Chamber One of Roman Kroitor'sLabyrinthe at Expo '67, Montreal, Canada.
From eight balconies on four levels on either side of the space, the audience
could see a huge screen on the floor and another perpendicular to it. Both
screens were approximately forty feet long. Some 288 speakers surrounded the
Photo: courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.


354 Expanded Cinema

Chamber Three of Labyrinthe, in a five-screen
cruciform arrangement. Photo: courtesy
of the National Film Board of Canada.
the movie and the architecture in which it's housed. We took a step
in that direction with Labyrinthe. A new language is going to develop.
There are ways in which shaping the relationships of images cuts
through the superficial realities and reaches for something deeper."
Francis Thompson, a pioneer in large-scale multi-image film
techniques, currently is working toward both micro- and macro-
environmental experiences. "We're interested in films expanding and
swallowing a huge audience," he said, "but we're also interested in
pictures the size of a wristwatch. We would like to make the world's
smallest motion picture as well as the largest. As regards the idea of
expanded cinema, I would like to make a theatre that would be a
huge sphere, as big as Radio City Music Hall or larger, and seat the

World Expositions and Nonordinary Reality 355

Two scenes from Francis Thompson's We AreYoung for the Canadian
Pacific-Cominco Pavilion at Expo '67. The six-screen arrangement
covered a total area of 2,952 square feet. By comparison, normal commercial
theatre screens average 450 square feet.

356 Expanded Cinema

The Diapolyceran Screen at the Czechoslovakian
Pavilion at Expo '67. The 32 by 20
 foot screen was composed of 112 rear-
projection cubes containing two slide
projectors each. In turn, each slide
projector was equipped with a tray of eighty
slides that could be changed in half a
second. Thus each cube was capable of
displaying 160 images in eighty seconds.
The entire wall could be one picture, or
sections of it could be delayed or speeded
as desired. Photo: courtesy of Bergen
Motion Picture Service.

World Expositions and Nonordinary Reality 357

The Diapolyceran Screen, Expo '67. Photo:
courtesy of Bergen Motion Picture Service.

358 Expanded Cinema
audience around one side of it: a series of balconies so everybody's
in the front row. The audience would become part of the sphere. The
picture comes around as far as you can see, and beneath you too.
"What I would like to see is a theatre with so great an area that you
no longer think in terms of a screen: it's the area you're projecting
on. Your images should come out of this great, completely-
surrounding area and hit you in the eye or go off into infinity. So
you're no longer working with a flat surface but rather an infinite
Thompson's other major interest is the earphone/eyephone
concept similar to the hoodlike training devices used in aircraft and
aerospace navigation schools. A mini-dome or individual sphere is
lowered over the head of the viewer. "You have images that
completely fill your field of vision and sound that would fill your entire
range of hearing." Thompson also finds in expanded cinema the
potential for a new consciousness and life style. "Through formal
relationships of images, most carefully planned, you can produce the
most powerful kind of communication. With a great sphere you're
introducing people into a whole new visual world which would be
emotionally, physically, and intellectually overwhelming."

Cerebrum: Intermedia and the Human Sensorium

The technology to produce such environments as Kroitor and
Thompson describe has existed for some time; what has not been
available is the necessary consciousness. Man has been so busy
proving his right to live that he has not learned how to live. Thus we
exist in an environment almost totally bereft of aesthetic sensibilities;
we are conditioned by architecture of the most vulgar design; our
entertainment is of the lowest level of conditioned response to
formulas; our traditional mode of interpersonal relationships is
practically bankrupt of integrity; the economic system forces us to
act for "profit" rather than use; there is hypocrisy and violence
everywhere. Disneyland is this culture's idea of a sensorium.
Yet the evolution of intermedia, from the primitive shadow show to
Wilfred's color organs to the cybernetic phantasmagorias of
contemporary world expositions, indicates an increasing human
capacity to assimilate and comprehend more complex environmental
stimuli. The existence of something like New York's "Cerebrum,"
therefore, is hardly surprising: it's one of many current phenomena
that constitute a pattern-event toward the eupsychia that is implicit in
the intermedia experience as a kind of sensory-stimulation laboratory.

Cerebrum is among the first indications of an imminent trend that
simultaneously will transform and unite those disparate social
experiences characterized by "nightclubs" on the one hand and "art
galleries" on the other. Cerebrum is neither. There's nothing for sale
at Cerebrum except time. And although certain synthetic events do
occur, they are such that one's relative participation determines their
effectiveness. So one could say that Cerebrum not only isn't an
object, it doesn't even lay claim to an identifiable, marketable
experience; that's because Cerebrum (the place) exists in cerebrum
(the mind). Fundamentally, one purchases three hours of time in
which to practice leisure, decision-making, interpersonal responsibility,
body awareness, and sensory perception; Cerebrum's "guides"
supply the necessary intermedia environment.

360 Expanded Cinema

Sensory-kinetic multimedia experience at
Cerebrum in New York. Photo:
Ferdinand Boesch.
An evening at Cerebrum follows from Form to Structure to Place.
You get out of the cab in a sleazy slum neighborhood and ring a
buzzer. The door opens automatically and closes behind you,
locking. You find yourself in a small black cubicle about four feet
square. A hidden speaker asks your name, and after a few minutes
one of the walls opens. You are led to an anteroom where you are
asked to remove your shoes. A boy and a girl, obviously nude
beneath diaphanous flowing gowns, lead you down a narrow corridor
to a large white rectangular space.
This is the Form level: from a dark closet to a larger room, down a
narrow hallway to an open space. Next comes the Structural experience:
the floor actually is a raised, carpeted platform sectioned
into geometrical islands inset with electronic control panels. These

Cerebrum: Intermedia and the Human Sensorium 361
islands are approximately three feet above the real floor, and you are
forced to pay close attention to where you step.
The guides lead you to a particular island (there are about ten of
them, each accommodating four persons). You are instructed to put
on a gown, and are invited to remove beneath it as much of your
clothing as you desire. Glancing around, it becomes obvious that
nearly everyone is nude beneath his gown, so you strip. The sensation
is delicious, especially for men, who are not accustomed to
being naked beneath a long silk gown. One is immediately self-
conscious, but not embarrassed; one simply becomes fascinated
with the feel of one's own body in its silken envelope.
The first half-hour of the three-hour "session" is spent adjusting to
the environment, staring at bodies as they pass in silhouette,
wondering what to do with yourself, and finally venturing off your
island to walk among the other guests, feeling the air onyour skin:
this is the Place experience. A noticeably eclectic selection of music
(from polkas to swing-era ballads, ragas, rock, symphonies) seems
to come from nowhere in particular, and a cool passive light show
plays ambiently across the walls and ceiling. Eventually, the guides
pass around tambourines, gongs, triangles, and flutes, encouraging
everyone to play along with the Muzak.
During this time I began to notice what for me was the most
interesting aspect of the experience. People began to act outtheir
fantasies, get into their own realities, perform anonymous little
psychodramas. One refined-looking, silver-haired, middle-aged gentleman
knelt and gazed lovingly at his matronly wife as she danced
before him like Scheherazade, palms pressed together over her
head, hips swaying in silhouette. It was, perhaps, a fantasy they had
never realized in the privacy of their own bedroom. Elsewhere, a
beautiful young girl who wouldn't remove her panties was "raped" by
her husband, who peeled them off beneath her gown as his friend
held her arms. She squealed in mock anger and false modesty, but
an hour later could be seen twirling about the room like a ballerina,
her gown flying far above her shapely hips.
Thus, for some, Cerebrum becomes an excuse to do and say
things they might not otherwise attempt. The two examples I've cited
occurred rather anonymously, and probably went unnoticed by most

362 Expanded Cinema

Cerebrum: "All the senses were stimulated
in various subtle ways." Photo: Ferdinand
of the guests. The nature of Cerebrum is such that it would be
difficult to create an unpleasant scene.
I found the unisex effect of the gowns quite stimulating. At one
point male guides came around with mint-flavored menthol ice that
they smeared on our lips with their fingertips. "What does it taste
like?" they inquired softly, as though not expecting an answer. This
intimate contact with a complete stranger in a relatively "public"
setting was a challenging experience, particularly for men, who are
not as disposed as women to physical intimacies in public. The
young men were followed by girls who daubed our foreheads with a
similar skin -tingling substance. These sensual encounters had an
ethereal, gentle, transcendental effect. One appreciates the delicacy
and poise necessary to accomplish them without embarrassment.

Cerebrum: Intermedia and the Human Sensorium 363
Then the guides began collecting guests together in groups of six.
They instructed us to form circles and clasp hands in the center, like
spokes of a wheel. They squirted hand cream into the tangle of
fingers as we closed our eyes and felt our hands melt into others,
rubbing and squeezing anonymous flesh. We then lay on our backs,
feet touching in the center of the circle, and wiggled our toes against
one another as the guide squirted them with the slippery cream. The
effect was extraordinarily erotic.
At one point a scented fog was released from beneath the platforms,
filling the space with an eerie haze through which one could
see ghostly figures moving and dancing. Needles of light from a
mirror-globe cut through the fog like electrons in a cloud chamber; it
was beautiful. Next a huge parachute was spread out; half of the
guests lay on the floor beneath the parachute as the other half stood
around its circumference, raising and lowering it to form a suction
that lifted gowns, and exposed bodies, but no one cared; we just
closed our eyes and enjoyed the sensation, rather like dreaming that
one's bed is flying away.
All the senses were stimulated in various subtle ways: the touch
and taste of the camphor ice on the lips, the slippery intermingling of
hands and feet, the scent of the vapors, the kinetic stimulation of the
light show and parachute, the visual alterations in the general level
of luminosity that also affected one's perception of forms and
distances. Bits of melon and fruit were passed around, as well as a
communal mug of Coke. There was no sensation-numbing alcohol.
A kind of hypnotic centering took place when a giant balloon,
anchored to an outlet in the center of the floor, began inflating slowly
with a loud steady hiss. The balloon was illuminated from a spotlight
on the floor beneath it and glowed eerily as the houselights were
dimmed. Everyone sat in the lotus position and gazed as the
luminescent sphere loomed above our heads. Then it was deflated
just as slowly. A simple but effective experience.
At Cerebrum one is voyeur, exhibitionist, and participant. One is
both male and female. One is a walking sensorium. Surely we can
foresee that not-too-distant day when "nightclubs" will be operated
by art dealers who commission artist-guides to create ecological


364 Expanded Cinema
experience places that will resemble Cerebrum in many respects. In
other ways, however, the intermedia palaces of the near future will
embrace bold new vistas of human experience. "I can envision a
world in which people's lives are recorded," says intermedia artist
Tom DeWitt, "and a massive amount of material is accumulated, vast
libraries, and people who never meet other people but just spend
their lives editing audio-visual records of their own existence. When
you look at a mixed-media show there's an awful lot of information;
it's beyond the comprehension capabilities of most people. But if it
were an intermedia show made for an individual whose life was
being portrayed, he could relate to it. I can imagine people having
traumatic experiences in such an environment and coming to some
idea of who they really are." In the pages that follow I hope to
demonstrate that intermedia art is but another path in man's ancient
search for himself.

Intermedia Theatre

Susan Sontag once defined the "two principal radical positions" in
contemporary art as that which recommends the breaking down of
distinctions between genres, and that which maintains or upholds
those distinctions: on the one hand seeking a "vast behavioral
magma or synaesthesis"; on the other hand pursuing "the intensification
of what each art distinctively is." She concluded that the two
positions are essentially irreconcilable except that "both are invoked
to support a perennial modern quest— the quest for the definitive art
Surely the definitive art form is not anti-environmental, as art must
be when viewed in terms of genres: to isolate a "subject" from its
environs by giving it a "form" that is art denies the natural
synaesthetic habitat of that subject, physical or metaphysical, icon or
idea. In the progression of art history through Form, Structure, and
Place, the idea of art as anti-environment has long been surpassed.
This is not to say that any activity that seeks to discover the essence
of a medium is somehow disreputable; on the contrary, the exclusive
properties of a given medium are always brought into sharper focus
when juxtaposed with those of another.
Thus, in intermedia theatre, the traditional distinctions between
what is genuinely "theatrical" as opposed to what is purely "cinematic"
are no longer of concern. Although intermedia theatre draws
individually from theatre and cinema, in the final analysis it is neither.
Whatever divisions may exist between the two media are not
necessarily "bridged," but rather are orchestrated as harmonic
opposites in an overall synaesthetic experience. Intermedia theatre
is not a "play" or a "movie"; and although it contains elements of
both, even those elements are not representative of the respective
traditional genres: the film experience, for example, is not necessarily
a projection of light and shadow on a screen at the end of a
room, nor is the theatrical experience contained on a proscenium
stage, or even dependent upon "actors" playing to an "audience."
1 Susan Sontag, "Film and Theatre,"Tulane Drama Review (Fall, 1966), pp. 24-37.

366 Expanded Cinema
Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Theatre
Pioneer intermedia artist Carolee Schneemann describes Kinetic
Theatre as "my particular development of the Happening, which
admits literal dimensionality and varied media in radical juxtaposition."
She works with untrained personnel and various materials and
media to realize images that range from the banal to the fantastic,
images which, in her words, "dislocate, disassociate, compound, and
engage our senses to allow our senses to expand into primary
feelings, as well as the sensitive relatedness among persons and
things." Through these methods she seeks "an immediate, sensuous
environment on which a shifting scale of tactile, plastic, physical
encounters can be realized. The nature of these encounters exposes
and frees us from a range of aesthetic and cultural conventions."
Since 1956 Miss Schneemann has continually redefined the meaning
of theatre. Though New York is her home, she has staged radical
intermedia events throughout the United States, Canada, and
Europe. Her best-known works include Snows, presented as part of
New York's Angry Arts Festival in 1967; Night Crawlers, staged at
Expo '67 in Montreal; Illinois Central (1968); and the film Fuses. I
asked what directions she will follow in future intermedia work.
CAROLEE: I'm moving more into technology and electronics. My
long-range project is completely activated by the spectators. I'll
sensitize the audience through a performance situation in which
detailed film images are set off by the audience as they move into
the performance environment. They'll activate overlapping timed
projectors. If they want a film to be shown again they'll have to
figure out what they did to make it start in the first place. These
films will show detailed aspects of performance situations: touching,
handling, moving. Then as the participants move in other
directions the actual materials shown in the films will be
introduced. They'll fall from the ceiling or be tossed out of boxes.
GENE: I take it you find film/actuality interactions effective in
involving the audience.
CAROLEE: Night Crawlers, which I did at Expo '67, was very
successful in this manner. I juxtaposed my Vietnam film with a

Intermedia Theatre 367

Carolee Schneemann:Night Crawlers. Expo
'67. Live performers (right) contrasted with
film projection.
little Volkswagen that drove in front of the film and stopped. It was
stuffed with foam rubber. My partner and I performed a complex of
physical handling on top of, and inside the VW while another
person was pulling all the foam out. It was a very intimate and
humorous event in front of this horrifying Vietnam film. Before it
began, a girl and I went through the audience and stepped on their
shoulders and knees and gave each person candy and cake. We
spoke to them. They got very turned on by the whole thing. At the
end we brought them into the performance area and played lights
and sound around them. They found elements of the environment
that they could start to tear down. They began rather hesitantly, but

368 Expanded Cinema
after they ripped a couple of layers of paper there'd be a message
greeting them, saying proceed, or directing them to paint cans. The
point seems to be to let people work out of impulses that are
blocked. If the situation is obvious they tend to be destructive.
They're working in daily life with outmoded kinds of repressions
and resistances. They tend to get violent. So we try to open up an
empathy between them and what we're doing that they're not
consciously anticipating.
GENE: Do you always use film in your theatre pieces?
CAROLEE: Yes, I tend always to use it in some aspect of an
environmental performance situation, primarily because of the
intensification of information it gives, which may just be sensory
information. And I use it to transform the environment. I tend to use
film very formally. Every element that goes into the environment I'm
working with is very carefully shaped in terms of scale, time
duration, what's going on in juxtaposition to a film. InIllinois Central
there was a three hundred and sixty-degree visual environment
that was changing and shifting all the time, composed of films and
slides. And I like using slides against films because I can start and
stop, overlap, black out, manipulate. I've been working with
portable projectors so that the image can be shifted in space.
GENE: Do you work with body projections?
CAROLEE: Yes, and I find it always satisfying. I do a lot of performing
just in the light of film projectors. So that it's a very compacted
image and there are no peripheral distractions. It becomes central
to the environment without your really having the sense of film,
because the bodies or forms of people are quite embedded in it.
GENE: Do you make your own films or work with found images?
CAROLEE: I animated the Vietnam film, shot it from stills with
various lenses so that it seems as if it's really moving. The images
in that film were central to the development of Snows. My Snows
movie begins with a very beautiful 1947 newsreel, a snowstorm, a
fall of confetti during a parade, and ends with a car exploding and
bursting into flames, then the Pope blessing people. One little
horrific element after another: volcanic eruptions, ships going
down... For my film Viet Flakes I shot a still of a Nationalist soldier
shooting a Communist worker. It's in three sections: he raises his

Intermedia Theatre 369
gun, he leans forward, and the victim is lying there with a dark spot
under his head. Then I got two newsreels of winter sports in Zurich
during World War II while all hell was breaking loose everywhere
else in the world. Then I made a little 8mm. film that played on our
bodies, showed a New York blizzard and a car driving through the
city. The projectors were either carried by hand or mounted on
revolving stools.
GENE: How did you work with film for Illinois Central?
CAROLEE: I went out in advance and shot footage of empty
horizons. Very slow, attenuated, linear footage. Then I borrowed
about five hundred slides of the same landscape, this absence of
form. And I used the slides stretched out against the film; while the
film would have a certain kind of horizon line, I'd have six duplications
of one slide horizon feeding into the film from all around the
room. And then as the film shifted, slide images would shift. It
wasn't decorative. I use films and slides as compacted metaphors.
It compounds the basic range of emotive material. It concretizes
the event, girds it in. While the live physical movements are
ambiguous and emotional, the films lend a banal insistence.
GENE: How do you think of your work in terms of their objective and
subjective aspects, actuality versus illusion?
CAROLEE: I've always thought that I'm creating a sensory arena,
and what you describe as kinetic empathy is very basic to the
process. Because the information, in terms of what we're able to
feel, how much the audience is able to open up, be moved and
touched— it's all completely of the moment. There's this strange
sort of fulcrum of the individual sitting there without narrative or
literary preparation to help him follow the action. It's all involved in
sensory receptivity. And I'm bombarding them, I'm giving them
more than they can possibly assimilate at any one point. Unlike
painting, which used to be my medium, where you could take a
great deal of time. And the thing is, with a static element, the
audience is actually being more active. You choose the time duration
and manner in which you experience the object. But my
theatre pieces call forth a whole other range of response areas. At
the end of Snows many people in the audience are crying, and
they don't really know why, because it all happens with an
incredible immediate speed and it's overwhelming.

370 Expanded Cinema
GENE: Some critics feel that many of the arts explore sensory
awareness or perception well enough, but that one doesn't come
away with a knowledge of a subject having been learned.
CAROLEE: I know that criticism, but it doesn't bother me because
it's not a real criticism anymore. What I'm going more toward is not
merely a sensory or perceptual activation of the audience but an
actual physical involvement. There no longer can even be the
situation of performers who prompt or provoke the audience; we
must deal directly with the audience itself as performers. As much
as we so-called actors need to be performers, so they need to
become performers, they need to enact that situation themselves.
They must give over a kind of trust in the situation and go into it. I
approach the audience with a great deal of care and tenderness,
never being physically aggressive. The media information may be
aggressive, but it's going to stimulate them in ways that I have to
be responsible for. So in terms of what that media might provoke, I
have to oversee it.
GENE: So in a sense one goes to the theatre for completely different
reasons than one used to; I hesitate to use the term "therapy," but
it seems to approximate something like that.
CAROLEE: We go to the theatre in search of inner realities because
of the bankruptcy of the myths and conventions we're used to dealing
with in everyday life.
GENE: Perhaps in the near future, the whole process of living will be
in this active seeking out of experiences.
CAROLEE: Right. What people really want is tactile confirmation, to
be in touch with their physicality, to be able to communicate, and to
grow, to touch one another and be touched. To get away from the
somnambulism of contemporary life. We get all this information
and there's absolutely no way to react. You're reading some horror
in your newspaper while eating your doughnut. And if you were a
natural animal you'd at least scream for fifteen minutes or chop the
sofa into bits— assuming that you can't go and change the thing
that the media tells you is an outrage. So we're trapped with all
these fears of real impotence.
GENE: What other kinds of environmental projections have you

Intermedia Theatre 371
CAROLEE: Smoke, balloons, and buildings. In Montreal I did an
outdoor event in which we carried the projectors and moved films
across buildings at night, the images breaking into planes and
fragments. The basic condition for my work is that whenever I find
out how something works, what makes it go, say in regard to
technology or any kind of element— even a human being— then I
want to change it. As soon as I saw what a frame was for film I
wanted to break it. I didn't want to be stuck with that same
Milton Cohen: Space Theatre
Milton Cohen, primary creative force behind the famous ONCE
group of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has, since 1958, been developing
what he calls "Space Theatre," a highly original and effective environmental
projection system for intermedia events. In fact Space
Theatre is more concept than system, for Cohen continually modifies
the hardware and architectural parameters of the theatre he has
constructed in his studio. Yet the motive remains, as always, "to free
film from its flat and frontal orientation and to present it within an
ambience of total space."
The core of Space Theatre is a rotating assembly of mirrors and
prisms adjustably mounted to a flywheel, around which is arranged a
battery of light, film, and slide projectors. The movement of the
mirror/prism flywheel assembly determines image trajectories as the
projections are scattered throughout the performance environment.
In the past, Cohen has positioned rectangular and triangular panels
about the space, to serve both as screens and as strategic points for
image interaction with live performers. Often these panels have also
been mobile— revolving, folding, or tilting— operated mechanically or
by hand in a manner responsive to the image being projected.
Cohen's most recent presentation was Centers: A Ritual of Alignments.
Here the projection surface was a translucent circular core
from which eight triangular screens radiated. Behind each screen
was a photoelectric cell that activated sound and strobe-light events
at various positions in the performance area. (Cohen often employs
the amplified sound of the projection equipment itself as the aural
complement of the imagery.) Behind the core, also described as the
"target" area, was a slide projector.