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
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.
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
The Visual equipment consisted of
The Sound and Musical elements of Synchronos 72 consisted of the following
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
Of the music involved in the production Covell, perhaps more in his natural element as music critic describes the various works in glowing terms
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Meiron, Art Guardian UK. Ostoja Documents Mortlock Collection. Library
of South Australia.