Beyond the canvas
Tripping the Light Fantastic

Page Index

  1. Synchronos '72

  2. The Performance

  3. The Problems of Time

  4. The Question of being First.

 

 


Fig 1. Ostoja and laser projection.



 

If the artist has outer and inner eyes for nature,
nature rewards him by giving him inspiration.

Kandinsky

Synchronos -
Greek, syn (together); chronos (in time).


Fig 2. Ostoja with the Laser Projector designed and built by technicians at the Australian National University

Synchronos '72

IN 1970 Ostoja-Kotkowski received a Creative Arts Fellowship at the Australian National University. Since his return from the Churchill Fellowship in 1967, Ostoja had been working at the Weapons Research Establishment in Salisbury, near Adelaide, with their laser beam equipment. He had first seen this new form of light, that came close to the intensity of the red light of the inland deserts, in the Bell Laboratories in the USA. His imagination had envisaged its potential use in theatre and Sound and Image. He immediately set about experimenting with the only unit available to him, in Salisbury.

In 1968 he had included laser beams as a tool for his artistic expression with the use of projected laser beams appearing in his 1968 Sound and Image production.. Whilst working at the ANU, he was provided with the assistance of several scientists and technicians who were both interested in, and qualified to, develop Ostoja's intention to produce a system in which sound, either live or recorded, would be enabled to trigger changing patterns of light and colour projected onto a screen. This machine was, in his convention of descriptive names was called the Laser-Chromason system.

The period of Ostoja-Kotkowski's Creative Arts Fellowship at the Australian National University (ANU) overlapped with that of Australian composer Don Banks who was also Director of Music at the University of London's Goldsmiths' College. This was to be of advantage to both artists as it allowed them to collaborate on an unconventional project, which was to attract both adverse and complimentary publicity.

With the assistance of the scientists and electronics technicians employed at the ANU, and it was with their ingenuity and patience, he was able to produce a system of laser beam projection which he, in characteristic terms, labelled the Laser-Chromason System. This imaginative system allowed the sounds (composed music) to trigger movement in the projected laser beams creating patterns dependent on pitch and amplitude. With this combination the beam was seen to react to the pitch and rhythm of the music that was fed into the system. This was projected onto a screen above the heads and equipment of the musicians who were playing live on the stage.

 

 


Fig 3. Ostoja's early laser experiments images produced images similar to the early television produced electronic paintings.

 


Fig 4. Laser produced geometric image.

 


Fig 5. Projected image produced for Synchronos 72

 

 

Laser beams were to play an important part in the artistic output of Ostoja-Kotkowski. Lasers were invented in 1960 at the Bell Laboratories in America. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) produces the nearest possible to pure light. The laser produces light that is of unified wavelength, described as "coherent" light, as opposed to normal visible light that is a mixture of wavelengths and can be described as "incoherent" light. It is this purity that gives the intense colour that was and has been the attraction to those involved in the art use of laser light.

In the early days of this light source there were two main types of lasers in relatively common use, the ruby pulse laser and the more continuous gas laser. The beams were used as an intense enough light to make practical the theoretical ideas that Professor Denis Gabor from Rugby, UK, had formulated in 1948. His idea was to earn him great recognition as a Nobel Laureate in 1971.

As much of the development of the laser was carried out for defence purposes it was this access that was sought. The defence industries had the technicians, the money and the technical facilities that were necessary and experimental artists such as Ostoja needed to turn to such a facility to discover and develop the means and ideas. In an article in the Arts Guardian, in 1977, Meirion Bowen gives a description of the use of lasers in performance and it is of interest to demonstrate how the use of lasers had developed in the few years since Ostoja's first use of them in 1968.

Bowen discusses a performance in the UK which was held at the Royal Academy in London and was entitled Light Fantastic. The programme used both lasers and holography with the prediction that the laser beam and the three dimensional holographic image will revolutionise film, theatre and rock-group light shows, just as they have already begun to make miracles happen in fields such as eye surgery and space research. Like Ostoja, the artists concerned with Light Fantastic required the use of expertise outside their own knowledge. They used a research physicist from Loughborough University; John Wolff who was responsible for the light shows for the rock band The Who and a special effects artist from the film and television industry, Anton Furst.

The Guardian article, which was found in Ostoja's collection of articles and noted in his hand writing as one of the best reviews, intimated that because of the cost of the laser light productions there was the need for the financial backing of the rock industry, in this case in the guise of The Who, to enable the Royal Academy to develop the expertise to present further productions of this type. It was in the best interest of such a successful group to be the entrepreneur because they were able to use the technology to their commercial and artistic advantage in their future concerts. Here is the commercial use of a technology that came about via the experimentation of those involved in both the development of a scientific discovery that had no particular intended application and the subsequent development in a serious, and by definition, non-commercial, technology hungry art form.

Whether or not Ostoja was the first to use lasers in the theatrical sense is difficult to prove as the development from simple usage to the sophistication of The Who, or Pink Floyd performances in London, was so rapid. There were many captivated by the technology, willing to experiment and to produce the extraordinary light images that could appear within the performance space with the fine definition, extraordinary colours and intensity of the laser. In the Guardian article the author makes the observation:

What we have here is not merely a piece of esoteric research, but a potential goldmine. Its future will see the creation of three-dimensional colour images, images that can be stored easilyÉ.reproduced also in close combination with sounds likewise controlled and spatially directed. 1

The article continues:

In theatrical terms, its exploitation will be comparable to the prolific use of the illusion of perspective in stage design .... post-Gotz Freiderich productions of The Ring will undoubtedly sport a holographic Valhalla, not to mention the dragon. 2

Like Ostoja , the British artist, Anton Furst designed a theatre of the future that would allow the presentation of light images free from screens and controlled directly by the artist. Significantly and defiantly Ostoja noted in the margin of the article the following words:

Laser used in theatre Adel. Festival of Arts 1968! By Ostoja in his Sound + Image Production. 3

He at least knew his use of lasers to be a world first!


Fig 6. Synchronos 72 screen and setup at rehearsal.

 

Quotes from the
programme of
Synchronos 72

I am not seeking to smear art with science, as some of my critics claim, but I am trying to free the imagination from the impediments of means. Electronic methods of making images can lead to a more immediate articulation of idea, and to an art which is taking place within today's environment. (Quoted from the catalogue of the 1964 Argus Gallery Exhibition in Melbourne.)

 

Social artefacts can become a tool and an integral part of cultural artefact, micro-macrocosmic art. The cultural artefact contributes to the movement to bridge the gap between painting, sculpture, kinetics and sound; tool as a tool works towards closing the gap between concept and experience, unopened to one of the many futures greed has still left us.

 

I will try to translate the sounds into visual images in time with beat, movement, pitch, theme, etc. of the compositions.

 

I will use light as my 'paint' medium. The light will be formed into shapes and colours, rhythm and intensity by electronics and mechanical and optical means. One of the devices - chromosonics - I introduced to Australia in 1964. Photographically made images will be screened by several projectors by remote control. In the last four years I have been using colour infrared film to make my semi-realistic, surrealistic and abstract images. The infrared film, plus optics and filters are giving me strong colours and flexibility of form that is not possible with ordinary colour film.

 

I will be generating laser images to 'synchronise' with mood, tempo and form of the music. Some images will be produced on several screens by automatically programmed methods

 

One of my instruments is called a theramin which is an electronic instrument that emits sound when the hand is brought close to it.

 

I see sound in colours, shapes and kinetics. I can hear colours and shapes in sounds and frequencies. The interpretation of musical composition into visual images is, of course, very subjective. Another artist would see and hear the same composition in a completely different way. I do feel however, that there is a universal law that gives the expression a general direction. I like to work on the principle that Braque expressed so well: I like emotion that is guided by intellect.

 

It is not the quill or the pen or the typewriter or tape-recorder that writes good poetry - it is the artist behind them.


Fig 7. View of Vcs3 and AKS Synthi synthesizers, instruments and screen

 

 


Fig 8. Laser image from Synchronos 72. One that Kubrick would have been proud of for 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

 


Fig 9. Op Art style image produced by the Laser projector for Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 10. A NASA image projected in Synchronos 72. The feeling of distance and space were well known to Ostoja as he was able to "fly" to places unknown. Many of his theatre and Sound and Image projections reflected the images he obtained from NASA..

 

 


Fig 11 Laser projection similar to the images taken in space by NASA. Ostoja's childhood developed imaginative "flying" allowed him to see images that were remarkably similar to those produced by the space programme.

 

 


Fig 12. This image is similar to the electronically produced shapes produced for the 1964 Argus Gallery exhibition. The technical restrictions in the 60's gave way to colour with laser projections. Steps on the journey to discover the raw colours of the Outback.

 

 


Fig 13. Abstract image projecting human anatomy. Synchronos 72.

 

 


Fig 14. Multiple images projected during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 15. Landscape with figure projected during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 16. Nude with electronically produced background projected during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 17. Images the the critics found objectionable in Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 18 Multiple images of a face projected during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 19. Scene taken during performance of Synchronos 72, one of the sequences that the critics objected to as distracting from the more sophisticated laser and incandescent images.

 

 


Fig 20. Extraordinary colours produced by laser projection during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 21. Distorted Architectural image projected during
Synchronos 72. Relatively simple distortion in the 21st century with computer manipulation but in 1972 this image displays the photographic sophistication available to Ostoja.

 

 


Fig 22. Brilliant projected light images matching the colours of the inland

 
 

 

The Performance

 

Synchronos 72 was the culmination of the work carried out by Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski during his Creative Arts Fellowship at the Australian National University and his collaboration, with Australian composer Don Banks who was, at the time involved in a similar Creative Arts Fellowship. Emeritus Professor Sir John Crawford, CBE and Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University described this project as unique in Australia and rare in the world. cohesive

 

The artists have called on technology in search of new forms of expression to present creative achievement. It is a valid search, for we live in a technologically based society and it is natural that the influence of technology should be reflected in our art. This occasion, however, does not seek to demonstrate or suggest that traditional creative factors are to be overtaken by the use of modern machines to produce pleasing sounds of brilliant colours. 4

According to Ernest Llewellyn, then Director of the Canberra School of Music Synchronos 72 was a world first.

This work consisted of a programme of music varying from chamber music to the jazz style of the Don Burrows Quartet. All music on the programme were especially composed by Australian composers. The music was recorded and Ostoja-Kotkowski produced images, which were designed to react to the sounds. Banks described the intentions of the work as a simultaneous projection and interaction of images and sound.

You can only experience a piece of music in 'time' whether it's five minutes or fifty. Against this a painting does not move or change - except through you imagination, possibly - and it's an immediate experience. What we are doing is to have both music and the visual image as an 'experience in time.' Here it's a fluid situation where the sound and image meet on 'equal' terms and can influence one another. 5

The music for Synchronos 72 was collaboration between four composers, Banks, Larry Sitsky, Don Hollier and John Crocker, with original works for the project, and John Sangster. It featured musicians of the calibre of the Don Burrows Quartet (Don Burrows, George Golla, Ed Gaston and Alan Turnbull and soloists such as Lois Bogg (Mezzo Soprano), Lesley Bishop (Percussion), Leonard Fischer (Horn), David Shephard (clarinets) and Christian Wojtowicz ('Cello). Composers Don Banks and John Crocker performed on the Electronic Music Studio, Larry Sitsky performed on the Moog Synthesiser and Piano and David Hollier on Electronic Organ and Celeste. As an indication of the type of machinery available to the composer in the period the programme of Synchronos 72 lists the following as used for the concert.

The Sound equipment consisted of

  1. 1 Mini Moog Synthesiser
  2. 2 Electronic music Studios (EMS)(London) Ltd VCS III Synthesisers
  3. 1 EMS Synthi AKS Synthesiser
  4. 1 EMS Synthi AX synthesiser
  5. 5 Stereo Tape Recorders
  6. 2 Four Track Recorders
  7. 4 Stereo amplifiers
  8. 8 Loudspeakers
  9. 10 microphones
  10. 3 Sound Mixers
  11. 2 Sequencers
  12. 3 Voltage Controlled Keyboard

The Visual equipment consisted of

  1. 7 Pradovit colour 35mm projectors
  2. Laser Chromasonic Unit - built at RSPhysS, ANU, Canberra.
  3. Q.I. Light Chromasonics - Toolcraft, Goodwood, South Australia
  4. Projector Controls - built at Electronic Workshop, Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (A.E.T.T.) Sydney.
  5. Audio-visual light control and mixers - Australian Physical Laboratories, A.C.T.

 

 

The Sound and Musical elements of Synchronos 72 consisted of the following

  1. Don Banks - Shadows of Space.
    4 track electronic tape. Canberra School of Music and ANU Electronic Music Studio. It opens with low, organ like sounds and chords appearing in different perspectives through 4 loudspeakers. A high pulsating sound appears which develops rhythmically and is 'shadowed' in four parts. This builds to a climax before returning to the opening material with its quiet low chords.

  2. Donald Hollier - Hymn To The Sun.
    Mezzo Soprano, Chamber Ensemble and tape. Cantata for solo voice and six instruments. This is a setting of the famous words of St. Francis of Assisi in a translation by W.H. Draper. The work is written in the form of a set of variations and is laid out thus:
    Introduction; Theme for voice: Variations I to XII: Epilogue. (In variation XI the famous old Hymn Tune The Old 100th is woven into the texture.

  3. Don Banks - Equation III.
    Don Burrows Quartet, Chamber Ensemble and Sound Synthesisers. Composed especially for Synchronos 72 the work is a continuation of the composer's earlier works Equation I and Equation II which were written for a combination of jazz and chamber music groups. However it is this time there is the addition of electronic performance instruments, including the clarinet played by Don Burrows. This has its own amplification system with extended ranges, and is further channelled at times through a VCS 3 synthesiser.

  4. John Crocker - Four Cycle.
    4 Track Electronic Tape This piece was prepared at the composer's private electronic music studio and shows the wide range of sounds available from present day small synthesisers. There is a transition from the chaotic opening of percussion sounds to the placidity of the central section. There follows a 'sound mural' where ostensibly static material has an intense cellular life. The piece dies down to complete relaxation. Throughout its composition the piece has many visual associations for the composer.

  5. John Sankster - Kaffir Song.
    Don Burrows Quartet. This is a piece, which the Don Burrows Quartet has very much made their own. It features Burrows on school fife, and opens with an extended dialogue between fife and drums before reaching the main tune.

  6. Larry Sitsky - Concert Aria.
    Mezzo Soprano, Chamber Ensemble, Moog Synthesiser and Tape. The composer writes:- My concert Aria was specially commissioned for Synchronos 72. In the scheme of things a dramatic piece was needed and hence my choice of words : a collage composed of sections of the Book of Job, Genesis, the Book of Kings and extracts from an early poem of mine. The subject matter deals with the position of the outsider in our society, as detailed by Colin Wilson in his book "The Outsider".

  7. Don Burrows - In Camera.
    The Don Burrows Quartet Written very much with the images of Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski in mind, the piece has an immediate rhythmic appeal. It is flexible in its presentation, owing to the many improvised passages and displays the talent of the members of the quartet.

  8. Don Banks - Aria From Limbo.
    Mezzo Soprano, Chamber ensemble and Tape This is a new version of two sections of my cantata 'Limbo' which was first heard at the Adelaide Festival of Arts this year (1972). The text is by the Australian poet Peter Porter.

  9. Banks, Burrows, Crocker, Hollier, Sitsky. The Electronic music Studio, Don Burrows Quartet and Chamber Ensemble.
    This was a team effort, which involves everyone in improvisation
    within a predetermined framework. As befits a finale it builds to a climax, a whirl of colour and sound.

Synchronos 72 Lumiere December 1972 Publisher Richard Walsh Melbourne Andrew Clark Article

Andrew Clark's article in Lumiere (1972) describes the performances of Synchronos 72 and it is valuable to consider this first hand account of the performances that not only presented the first performances of projected laser beams reacting directly to live music performance, but also brought together a collection of musicians and composers of note.

According to Clark:

Synchronos 72, an attempt at fusing both music and visual image into "and experience in time" goes close to - and in rare moments achieves - its aims. Too often, however, the combination of colour and sound jars excessively - with the clash of images, a cacophony of electronic sound and live music. Throughout the 90-minute performance there is instrumental and vocal music, taped and live electronic music, integrated with visual images projected on six screens. Some of the visual effects comes from two laser chromosonic units designed by imagist Stan Ostoja, the rest from still shots - distorted and straight. 6

Clark states that The first problem in any audio visual presentation is that of combination - artistic and practical - to form a total effect. He quoted Lindsay Rodda who wrote in the August (1972) edition of Lumiere, a multi media presentation must have this audio-visual unification, otherwise the presentation can become a hotch potch of conflicting images, each detracting from the other.

Rodda is quoted as saying that even when the entire projection area is not covered, the fact that multiple images stimulate a substantially higher percentage of the retina than single projection images must have some effect on the viewer. Whether this adds or detracts from the viewer's enjoyment must be contingent upon whether the visual elements are cohesive - relate to each other sequentially.

Clark then continues with some direct information about the actual presentation as it used compositions by Don Banks, Larry Sitsky, Donald Hollier and John Crocker and the various mood (sic) synthesisers, lasers and tapes were augmented by a few chamber pieces. Added to this were the enthusiasm, talent and experience and resourcefulness of the Don Burrows Jazz Quartet.7

Banks work, Shadow of Space, for four track electronic tape, was described by Clark as containing possessive, organ like sounds, were matched with striking blues, purples, oranges and greens and interspersed with the meandering of orange spots.

The powerful effects made the audience attentive and seemingly possessive to the point where the retina and ears are one, where the presentation affords the audience an almost cutaneous sense of dumbed pleasure.

A 'point of Synchronos' is rarely reached in other pieces, in Equation Three, for instance there was the exuberance of Don Burrows matched with (or against) complicated imagery by Ostoja, with oblique references to some finite principles of Archimedes, a Coteau-like drawing done by computer, and the recurring dazzle of laser colour. As Ostoja himself said, the interaction of musical composition into musical image is very subjective. However, he feels that the electronic methods of making images can lead to a more immediate articulation of idea, and to an art which is taking place in today's environment. Apart from repeated explosions of colour, which sometimes occur, he fails to get across the sheer tonal beauty in Burrow's flute - or, from another point - the music does not back up the image; certainly, the two fail to fuse into articulating an idea, mood of dimension. However, the style is innovatory, the content revolutionary. Any critic can be equally condemned for not being prepared - or, more pertinently - too expectant, of a conventional response to what is still an unconventional art form - multi-media. If the aims of the two art-forms together are to play some form of mutual articulation process fusing into one, perhaps there is very little the listener-viewer can immediately extend the experience to in his own mind. 8.

Musician and critic, Roger Covell indicated in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9th October 1972 that there was a problem for an audience in 1972 to listen to a performance that would be commonplace in the future.

The marriage of music and responsive image enters a sensuously beckoning phase. It is certain to seem primitive by the standards of 20 or even 10 years from now and it underlines the problems of adjusting present day performing conditions to a new technology; the unsuitability of existing halls for multi media presentations, the cumbersomeness of much of the equipment. 9

This prediction has often been proved to be accurate and it is perhaps the case that experimental performance incorporating music and image has suffered from the expectation that it can exist in the same spaces as its more conventional counterparts. The observation can perhaps be made that many performances of experimental music that could have taken place have been found not suitable for the conventional spaces and as a result there has been less development and understanding of the medium than would have been ideal for those involved.

Covell interestingly gives full marks to Banks and Ostoja for their organisation skills and suggests that those who attended would appreciate the fact that they were there because they would see a glimpse of the future when, he predicted, the experimental:

will be part of the experience of everybody and may well be generated at will from the electronic resources wall of the average sitting room. 10

His prediction has come true as far as commercial entertainment is concerned, although his time frame of ten to fifteen years was rather expecting too much, but as far as the general home acceptance of the generation of experimental multimedia we still hake deal of education of the general population is concerned. Further to this prediction Banks and Ostoja were quoted in the Sydney Telegraph detailing their projections into future technical predictions. It is obvious from the interviews that the two artists had discussed their thoughts at length.

Both men are passionately interested in producing sound and images from pure thought and are sure that developments now taking place - notably the tapping of the alpha rhythms (electrical impulses) of the brain. Mr Ostoja has already designed a theatre of the future in which three-dimensional images produced by thought will hover in the air before the audience. "This is what the theatre will look like in 50 years, he says producing a stunning design. It is, after all, not a new idea. It goes back to the 15th century. The idea does not sound too improbable after one view Mr Ostoja's chromosonic units and laser-operated giant eyeball, speak to it, or better still, sing or play to it - and it responds by producing a coloured image. The Don Burrows Quartet plays to it, and evokes a dazzling display. Ostoja thinks Tibetan Monks might be able to do it now: it would require absolute thought control, but would also be very good for use in psychotherapy. When he goes back to London Mr Banks is anxious to catch up on the latest research into tapping the alpha rhythms. "You could just think your own music and project it through loud speakers." He says. "On the visual side work is already going on in American with the projection of images straight on to the optic nerve." Sound and Images through thought may be some way off yet but Don Banks points out that projecting your own artistic event at home may be a good deal closer. He waves at the enormous spread of electronic equipment across the front of the Conservatorium Stage. "Microcircuitry could make all this disappears into a panel in the wall of your living room. 'This panel could contain, radio, speakers, TV Stereo, tape recorder, speakers and a movie camera. All you may need to do is to slip a slim wafer into a slot and you will produce a sound and image result, which will be a complete home artistic experience. Possibly even with scent. 11

Perhaps this quotation demonstrates the ability of both Ostoja and Banks to think past the present and into the future. Of course, many of the predictions have come to pass including the ability to change images by thought process.

It is appropriate to include here the description Covell gave of the actual performance. He displays a wonderment of the types of effects Ostoja was able to achieve and compares them with those of the Kubrick film, 2001, expressing the opinion that Kubrick may well have been glad to borrow some of the effects conjured up by Stan Ostoja for the buzzing marvels of Bowman's final journey to a stellar epiphany. Covell preferred the laser projections rather than the other more conventional images. The laser shapes were describes as intermittent visual interludes or levitations are only occurring when the main laser unit traced sprawling green nebulae and sculptured whorls of light. The conventional images took on a distracting family resemblance and the ever presence of the conventional slide projectors noise as images are changed was extremely distracting.12 The critic did not like the

the lapses into naturalistic image making. Bare trees against wind-curdled clouds ought to be at least as poetic as abstract shapes. Instead they remind us of the better efforts of our amateur photographer friends or the centre spread of a popular picture magazine. I subscribe to the view that there are a few things more pleasing than the naked female body at its best, but the multiple breasts-and-nipples and athletic nudes projected for "in Camera" were as banal as commercial porn. 13

Of the music involved in the production Covell, perhaps more in his natural element as music critic describes the various works in glowing terms

Multi-track tapes by John Crocker provided brief and rather exhilarating examples of spatial separation and mechanical patterning in sound. Don Banks' introductory Shadows in Space was evocative and concise and his Equation! for the Don Burrows Quartet, chamber ensemble an electronics and positively captivating ...... Donald Hollier's Hymn to the Sun, striking for its emphatic use of percussion, and Larry Sitsky's Concert Aria added voice to works essentially part of the concert tradition but given new timbral boundaries by electronics, while John Sangster's Kaffir Song was a dazzling example of the Don Burrows' brand of virtuosity. 14

The Sunday Telegraph critic started the rumour that Ostoja and Banks were to be invited to open the next Adelaide Festival Theatre but, they added, Banks would be unavailable as he was to return soon after to the work he had in London. 15

Margaret Jones of the Sydney Morning Herald (October 5th 1972) described Synchronos 72 as:

Laser beam shapes of the purest and most brilliant red wander like planets in space across a five-panel screen in the Conservatorium Main Hall, dodging a rather rude Beardsley drawing projected as a test image. The red is a 'new' colour evolved by Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, who is operating the lasers. He has achieved a blue green so brilliant that it makes an aquamarine stone shining in the sun, look pale, he says. 16

Maria Prerauer in an article again in the Sunday Telegraph was sometimes sceptical of the actual production but was overall enthusiastic that this type of production should be encouraged. She was not starry eyed about the work being the first of its kind but was rather more interested in recognising the fact that it was the opening of a new door in artistic endeavour:

.....may be the first of its kind in the world. But it's only the start of something. It was a triumph of technology, a splendid piece of mechanical juggling. But as a creative art it was still at the mud pie stage. 17

Prerauer expressed her concern for the trend to mechanical performance describing the machines as however professionally handled are no substitute for imagination, refined engineering no rival for aural or visual creation. She continued I've yet to meet a piece of metal with taste or a reel of film with passion - unless man put it there. She was then encouraging as she could see the promise that the new combinations of electronic and live music and film and light to form a whole new kind of art of the future seem as infinite as the universe. 18

With this encouragement the critic lapsed into fairly scathing comments about the performance perhaps hoping for the slickness of good old Walt Disney in the animated version of the Bach abstract in Fantasia. She described this thought as heretical, but the underlying belief in truth of the criticism is apparent. She was aware of previous theories and uses of image with music and saw Synchronos 72 as an extension of these.

Ptolemy "dabbled in the subject in 200AD. Jesuit Professor Alexander Kircher enlightened the early seventeenth century with the view that music was the ape of light and that everything audible could be made visible. Isaac Newton's 'Opticks' (1704) mathematical relationship between light vibration, seven colours of the spectrum and the seven tones of the diatonic scale. Scriabin's symphonic Prometheus has a line throughout the score to specify which colour is to be projected at various points of the performance of the music. It is now usually left out. 19

 

However scathing the criticisms of Synchronos 72 the fact remains that this was the firs experiment in a long line of performance works which eventually led Ostoja to the performances at the Ballarat Festival where the Ballarat Symphony Orchestra and other local bands thrilled audiences with the laser images that Ostoja created and the performance at the Royal Adelaide Show where a quarter of a million people watched the laser show. Perhaps the culmination of a lifetime of achievement on the Australian continent was the invitation to return to his native Poland and to present a series of concerts and exhibitions using music from Bach, Polish compositions and that of Gondwanaland, the Australian contemporary band.

The Problems of Time

In 1984 the major Australian players of technology in art, or at least those within the knowledge of the Australia Council, were reported in the Council's publication Artforce. It is apparent from the variety of technologies represented that there was a diverse range of imaginations at work at the time. In the year of Orwell's prediction that Big Brother would be watching there was a contrary demonstrated interest in the ability of the mind to extend beyond the conventional. David Worrall, composer of experimental music was then attached as a composer, to the Music Faculty of the University of Melbourne since has been in charge of the Australian Centre for the Arts and Technology at the Canberra School of Music, Australian National University. In his contribution to Artforce he states, as Ostoja had been advocating since the late 50's, that:

The ultimate use of computers will come, when the systems have developed to the point where a composer will only have to think a sound to hear it. 20

Composer, Dr Martin Wesley-Smith, who started his interest in electronic music in 1969 in the Electronic Music Studio at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, expressed his personal difficulty in listening to much of the technologically based music of the time. He discussed the natural filter that enabled an audience to be selective over time.

We hear the best of 19th Century music but with electronic music, we hear the whole lot, but it is often hard to know whether it is good or not. I believe in letting .... the selection of the good from the bad takes it's course in the passage of time. 21

It is easy for critics to dismiss a particular work, a concert, a concept or, in the case of Ostoja's early experimental visual and aural works, an exhibition. Wesley-Smith's filter of time perhaps remains the most viable method in which the future acceptance of technology as art equal to the old masters. However, the works of the past have arguably been available in a permanent form; in the case of music, a reproducible written score, the painter's canvas or the sculptor's solid form. It is true, however, in aural art forms, that the performance has always been the item that has been lost to posterity. It is only in the written word, reporting the actual event, that there is a record of how a performer performed, his technical prowess, and indeed how the composition was accepted by the audience, that allows us to understand the actual music. It is also true that we can now reproduce a work of Mozart or Beethoven, we can be particular about the instruments used and the correct of use of convention of the time, but we cannot reproduce the actual music that was heard at the time of original and subsequent performances. It is now apparent that the visual arts are travelling through the same dilemma that the music world has lived with and accepted over time. The impermanence of the works of performance art works, including music, theatre and technologically based kinetic visual art performances, creates a dilemma that the object based past works did not have. If the viewer of the solid work needs initial opinion to be reinforced or confirmed, or, in fact, denied, it is within the nature of the work for this to be possible by revisitation. It is possible to approximate the nature of performance of musical works and to be satisfied that initial opinion was correct. In the case of music this possibility is provided by the very nature of the conventions of musical notation and the desire of the composer to have the composition reproduced as accurately as possible and that the performances subsequent to the first are significantly similar with allowance for place time and expertise of the performers.

It is perhaps in the theatrical performance and with the extension to performance art works that the least ability of the "composition" to be recorded beyond memory has been evident. The dynamic nature of the performance, its four-dimensionality, its variation from performance to performance, all conspire to make the recording of the actual work, before the technological advances of the twentieth century, too complex to be practical. As little as we know of the actual performance of musical performances of the time, we know less of the actual nature of the performances of the works of Shakespeare, or of the quality of the acting of the period. Our opinions are determined by the contemporary written reports , by distilled opinion of cultural and societal aspects of the period and of political and personal influence of powerful characters of the time.

Even with the modern methods of recording and reproduction there is little chance of accurate reproduction of a performance work. Conventional cameras are biased in their direction and ability to see the full picture and they record only an instant in time that is biased to the camera operator, tape recorders hear only that which is within their technological design and video and movie cameras can only give an approximate and biased selection of the totality of the visual aspects available to the human experience.

Perhaps memory becomes the sole method of reproduction available to the artist. It is a singularly human ability to absorb, filter and reproduce an event in a personal, dynamic and individually selective manner. The event can be reproduced at will and as accurately as the observer finds necessary. With the complex nature of modern works, intended to make an impression on an audience, perhaps even to make a difference to the viewer, this dynamic reproduction can be satisfying. A work that indeed makes an impression on an observer, becomes part of the observer, and continues to do so as long as the observer continues, and it changes its influence on the observer as that person's life unfolds. This can be a powerful means of the work of an artist being important within society.

The restatement of a work in memory becomes a new work, filtered by time and experience, opinion and the atmosphere around the time when the work is recalled. In memory, the work can be adapted by the person who was initially exposed to the original work. The work becomes refreshed and individual elements of it, those which are particularly relevant to the time and memory trigger, become emphasised, exaggerating their own importance and adapting the initial work in a way that continues the initial performance into a new performance.

John Cage wrote that he wanted to dissociate himself from the music that was the outcome of his composition. The proposition that the memory is the ultimate extension of an artist's work would allow Cage's intention to be fulfilled.

 


Fig 23. Architectural distortion Photography. Projected during Synchronos 72

 

 


Fig 24. Laser images from Synchronos 72. Image bears a close resemblance to the black and white Electronic Paintings of 1964 and 1966.

 

Developments from the early laser projects


Fig 25. Laser projection, Barry Stern Gallery, Sydney, 1979,
The red laser beam made conventional red seem brown.
One would not be surprised if, in 1989, Ostoja presents a
light kinetic which makes his current one look dull.
Adrian Rawlins.

 


Fig 26. Laser Projection, Solaris, 20th 21st, and 22nd October 1986
in the Lecture theatre CSIRO National Measurement Laboratory,Bradfield Rd., West linfield.
The Sun Mural produces colours, shapes and kinetics derived
from the sun. (Mortlock PRG 919/15/1743)

 


Fig 27. Ostoja and the laser projector, Chromason.
Australina National University, 1972

Click Here
Fig 28..
Sound and Image publicity

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Fig 29.
. Ostoja-Kotkowski Laser Projection.

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Fig 30
Ostoja-Kotkowski Laser Image. The figure at the bottom of the image gives some idea of the scale of the projection

 

 

The Question of Being First.

 

It is perhaps of little consequence that one artist or another is the first to develop a technique, a new concept or even a new technology that can be used to express artistic imagination. When one is able to narrow a particular source of artistic endeavour and to state categorically that this was the first usage of that particular technique, there can often develop counter claims from other sources or from the output of another school of thought. Often the various claimants are working with similar materials and with similar aims in view and, if the "firstness" is of importance, at the same time.

If "firstness" is of importance then there is, perhaps, a need to define the essence of being first, the artist thought of the new endeavour. If this were to be considered the defining moment there are many difficulties thrown up as obstacles to the definition. An idea has not been considered as a concrete enough matter to be allocated the importance, for instance, to be patented or copyrighted. The definitive moment is that time in which the work is presented in publishable form, as an image, a book, a written score. The object of "firstness", the original item thus becomes available for public presentation, open to scrutiny by peers and inevitably the critics.

With a musical work the first public performance can be preceded by the concrete form of the written score as a series of written instructions in a language that the translator, the performance musician, is familiar with and conversant with the techniques necessary to perform the translation into sound. The work has thus been presented in a form that is accessible to the listener, the intended audience. It is perhaps more difficult to narrow down so precisely the invention of a particular musical form or divergence from the conventional that could be considered to be a first.

There have been examples of extraordinary departures from convention such as the works of John Cage which were so different from convention that they can be considered to be the first of the genre. The work 4'33" (tacet) for any instrument(s) (1952), for instance, presented as a work for musician(s) who demonstrate an intention to perform a musical work but who purposely do not make sounds on the instruments at their disposal,must be considered a major departure from convention. The works is accompanied by an intellectual intention that makes the work of greater depth than it appears to be at a cursory glance. It also is an end product to that time in the intellectual progression that was Cage's intention. It uses sounds that are from within the environment of the performance space of which the composer (and performers) has little or no control. Christian Wolff describes the work and its relatives as a representation of logical and graphic extreme, a paring down of notation to a point where almost nothing appears to be indicated. They are at once transparent, ambiguous and fluid . Cage's intellectual firsts presented generations of composers and performers with the confidence to present the extraordinary. His concern also with the theatre of music has had, perhaps, the most dramatic effect on western performance with a determination of intellectual freedom within the presentation of musical works, but without much of the conventional baggage that western music has developed and carried with it over recent centuries.

The concept of "firstness" in the past was perhaps more relevant than is the case in the present day. When artists came to a point where there was an apparent need for the invention of a new way to achieve a particular intention, it was often the artists themselves who experimented with the media in which they worked. The invention of a material, a new tool, a new medium or a new technique, relied on artistic ingenuity created by necessity. Examples can be drawn from many areas of artistic endeavour. When medieval musicians needed to express more complex textures than that provided in monodic forms, the obvious extension of the techniques was to add more voices in melodic and then harmonic form. Those involved in both composition and performance proved capable of this extension and Western music was enabled to develop into more and more complex forms.

To consider particular firsts several examples become appropriate within the present study. As an example, the development of opera in western music can be, in the words of Kobbe's Complete Opera Book , "conveniently" attributed to a time and place. Although there had been many musical forms that included a dramatic element before Peri's Euridice in 1600, including his Daphne (1597) which has been lost through time, it was the school of thought known as the Camerata, that decided that they would produce a form that would use the elements (music and words) of Greek theatre. They produced a manifesto that was to be the building blocks upon which opera would develop as arguably the most complex of western musical forms. Musical historians felt that this "first" was important enough for it to take its due place in musical history. It is also possible that there were others coming to the same point at the same time in history, but the prominence of the Camerata within their society is also perhaps a factor in the recording of their intention as a first.

In the twentieth century, perhaps one of the most important developments in the visual arts was made primarily by Kandinsky, who, in 1910, was "the first" to produce a completely non objective, abstract painting. Other artists were producing paintings, which were of no recognisable object, including some in Russia, France and Italy. However, working independently, and in geographic isolation, Kandinsky also produced the theory that supported the departure from convention into the world of his imagination. The development of the abstract form was not a sudden occurrence for Kandinsky. It was rather the culmination of experience and influence, history and the need for change, his imagination, the uncompromising application of his education, his sense of the ridiculous and his eccentricity, that allowed him as artist the ability to see past the conventional and into the realms of the abstract. His works became microcosms of thought and imagination that were complete in themselves rather than part of a wider universe.

It is interesting to conjecture on the importance of the isolation, in the town of Murnau in upper Bavaria, in which Kandinsky and Gabariele Munter had settled (1908). Kandinsky found inspiration in the landscape and the change in surroundings facilitated the breakthrough that the artist was seeking. Having had early training as a scientist, a lectureship in law, experience in various schools of thought including the Bauhaus, Kandinsky sought a place away from the mainstream in which to search for his truth in art. For several years he moved slowly from the figurative to the abstract.

In reference to his 1914 painting Picture with Three Spots, at the end of the period of Kandinsky's solitude, Whitman writes that form becomes coherent out of chaos. The picture having no visual reference outside itself, is therefore a microcosm, obeying its own laws and emerging in coherent form in its own way; moreover this growth, because it is determined by a man who is himself part of nature, will ultimately be governed by the same laws of nature. The proposition that Kandinsky was the first to produce both the concept of abstract art and the manifesto that embodied his philosophy behind the works, is seen as important in the history of art; indeed a formidable first indeed.

Note that the composition of a particular work within a genre, whether it is of a musical nature or one from within the visual arts in its many forms, or a combination of both, may be original but not necessarily the first in the genre. The definition of the "first" in this case is the radical departure from convention by the invention and intervention of new techniques within particular genres or combinations of genres. There is a difference between, on the one hand, the radical expansion of a genre and, on the other, the generation of a new form. The artist working within a convention can, by demonstration of extraordinary ability, take a prominent place within the history of the genre and this can be justly deserved. It is, however, possible that the originator of a radical departure is not the one who will be recognised and given the deserved place of prominence within the hierarchy of artistic endeavour. It is often the one who picks up the invention and develops it into a formidable school of thought and action that receives the recognition for the use of the invention. The "firstness" is thus hidden and not necessarily recognised as important.

This distinction is important in the consideration of the works of Ostoja-Kotkowski as he worked within the conventional forms but was constantly seeking new ways of expressing his imagination by pushing the artistic boundaries which can often be observed around convention bound artists.

The ability to be able to be recognised as the first in a field of artistic endeavour is becoming more difficult to establish as the ability of artists to communicate becomes more efficient. The proliferation of computer systems and the essential programming for the production of art works of a variety of types becomes, with some exceptions, beyond the expertise of the artist who must then rely on the expertise of the technician whose intention is not necessarily the application of expertise to the production of art works. The programme, available commercially in virtually all parts of the world at the same time and used as the trigger for the development of the art work, becomes the equivalent of the conventional system of musical notation for the composer, the canvas, paint and tools of the conventional visual artist, the stone and tools of the sculptor, and the time and place of the theatre artist within convention.

The proliferation of such new technical tools and their ready availability, has determined that there are, not only new usages of contemporary conventions, but that they also are of such influence in their channelling of technique, that the new can be paralleled in many places at the same time. A new technical development in computer programming, speed and capability, for instance, immediately generates a proliferation of new works that are not necessarily radically different from one another. Geographic isolation is no longer a determining factor as the same technical tools can be available at the same time in any region, prompting thought with the same means no matter to what cultural genre the new tool is applied. A school of thought is thus dictated as much by the tools available as the radical departure from convention.

A comment at the Australasian Computer Music Conference, Wellington New Zealand, in 2000, was very pertinent to the discussion at hand. One who had not been active in the area of computer music composition for fifteen years made the statement at the final session of the conference that, from his experience within the 1970's, the only difference that he could be determined in the musical output, was that the technical ability had improved such that there was now no hiss on the tapes, an ever present feature of the 1/4 inch tapes of the conventional tape recorders of the early decades of the genre. This places the invention and early development of the electronic generation of music as of considerable importance and that the resultant usage of the genre has produced much work of little departure from the new conventions within the overall musical output of the western world. Perhaps this needs Wesley-Smith's filter of time to determine the genius of the genre.

 

 

In recent times, with the proliferation of electronics and the development of the equipment and techniques involved becoming more complex, it can be observed that it is the developed equipment and the consequential techniques that have triggered the artistic usage. The examples that can be given here were of great consequence to the development of music.

It was, for instance, Robert Moog, an electronics engineer with an interest in music, who developed the voltage controlled system to adapt both the physical principles of music and electronics to the practical production of music.

Here the engineer, albeit with an ear for music, provided the ingenuity, invention and physical machinery upon which it was possible for the musician to produce a variety of musics as wide as the imagination. Convention bound Western music, has been firmly entrenched in instruments that have changed little from one generation to the next. As with Cage, Moog enabled the musician/composer to use "non-musical" sounds in the musical context and to be able to do so with efficiency and ease, providing there was access to a studio which had the appropriate machinery.

Music composition became technically complex, relying on machinery as much as inspiration and the realm of the adventurous composer returned to paper while a new generation of technician/musicians developed where the emphasis on required knowledge was biased towards the technical aspects rather than necessarily on the music. There have been instruments that have kept the musician in focus and allowed for the development of the purely creative output but these have become expensive and largely outside the pocket of the individual composer, who in the past needed only inspiration, paper and ink. The new instruments required attachment to an institution with an interest in experimentation and this often meant that there were many who were not able to participate fully in the development of their art. In recent decades the more common, portable and commercially available instruments rely more on the dictation of factory production techniques and technical development removed from the individual artist's influence. Many are also firmly entrenched in the Rock and Roll genre and to well tempered scale systems that are a restriction on their use.

For a considerable period the availability of equipment to the composer was at the institution level and the practical availability to the artist restricted by physical lack of access. The development of the computer "home studio" and the development of programmes such as Cubase, by Steinberg, which can largely replace the absolute necessity for recording studios full of equipment with a personal computer and a relatively small number of peripherals, has allowed the creative process to develop. The more recent Sibelius, where the technician is no longer the dictator of practice, allows the musician to rule, using conventional musical notation, performance instructions and structure and to adapt the electronics to the style of music the musician needs to produce.

 

________________________________________________
Footnotes

 

1.Bowen, Meiron, Art Guardian UK. Ostoja Documents Mortlock Collection. Library of South Australia.

2. Bowen, Meiron, Art Guardian UK. Ostoja Documents Mortlock Collection. Library of South Australia.

3. Bowen, Meiron, Art Guardian UK. Ostoja Documents Mortlock Collection. Library of South Australia.

4. Crawford, J.G. Forward to Synchronos 72 Programme. Australian Music Centre Library Sydney.

5. Crawford, J.G. Forward to Synchronos 72 Programme. Australian Music Centre Library Sydney.

6. Clark, Andrew. Synchronos 72 Lumiere December 1972 Richard Walsh, Melbourne.

7. Clark, Andrew. Synchronos 72 Lumiere December 1972 Richard Walsh, Melbourne.

8. Clark, Andrew. Synchronos 72 Lumiere December 1972 Richard Walsh, Melbourne.

9. Covell, Roger. Sydney Morning Herald. 9th October, 1972.

10. Covell, Roger. Sydney Morning Herald. 9th October, 1972.

11. Perauer, Maria Sunday Telegraph Oct 29 1972, Sydney.

12. Covell, Roger. Sydney Morning Herald, 9th October 1972

13. Covell, Roger. Sydney Morning Herald, 9th October 1972

14. Covell, Roger. Sydney Morning Herald, 9th October 1972

15. Perauer, Maria Sunday Telegraph Oct 29 1972, Sydney.

16. Jones, Margaret. Sydney Morning Herald. October 5th 1972.

17. Perauer, Maria Sunday Telegraph Oct 29 1972, Sydney.

18. Perauer, Maria Sunday Telegraph Oct 29 1972, Sydney.

19. Perauer, Maria Sunday Telegraph Oct 29 1972, Sydney.

20. Humphrey, Sonia. Extending Creativity: the computer. Artforce Australia Council. No 45. 1984 p.6-7

21. Walls, Sarah. Electronic Music - the promise of aesthetic possibilities. Artforce Australia Council. No 45. 1984 p.7