MACHINES OF THE AUDIOVISUAL The Development of “Synthetic Audiovisual Interfaces” in the Avant-garde Art Since the 1970s



The Development of “Synthetic Audiovisual Interfaces” in the Avant-garde Art Since the 1970s

Jihoon Kim

L EONARDOEL EC TRONICALMANAC VOL 1 9 N O 3 I S S N 107 1 – 43 91 I S B N 9 78 – 1 – 906 8 97- 2 2 – 2 I

Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Volume 19 Issue 3

Live Visuals

volume Editors

Lanfranco Aceti, Steve Gibson & Stefan Müller Arisona


Özden Şahin

At stake in those experiments, albeit different in medium and approach, is that they are grounded in – and realize – the concept of ‘inteface’ as an aesthetic framework for constructing a mechanical system in which the two different modalities of sound and vision are connected in interdependent manner. Considered from Alexander R. Galloway’s perspective, the concept of ‘interface’ is delimited neither to the technical dimension of computation nor to the digital defined as a single medium. Rather, it refers to a system of the ‘threshold’ prevalent both in the pre-digital (literature, painting, theatre, and cinema) and digital forms of communication and arts, an aggregation of different material and technical components through which information or image “moves from one entity to another, from one node to another.” 2 In contrast to the more familiarized notion of the interface in the computer as serving to achieve transparency and purity, 3 the interface as threshold suits a variety of machine-based avant-garde arts that explore and foreground constitutive plurality, material heterogeneity, and technical hybridity. 이 부분 나에게도 아주 중요하다. This is particularly the case with the practices of audiovisual avant-garde art, as Ian Andrews aptly writes: “the ‘purest’ form of the audiovisual is one where there is a direct causal relation between audio and video – video being a direct consequence of the audio signal…or audio generated directly from graphics.” 4 (79)

In what follows, I will investigate the ways in which alternative models of the audiovisual apparatus have developed since the early 1970s as a number of filmmakers and video artists experimented with a synthetic relation between sound and image in the terrains of avant-garde art. Instead of depending upon the term ‘apparatus’ implying a rigid separation of different media arts, I will characterize the practitioners’ machine-mediated devices to generate the variation of visual imagery in relation to sonic or musical modulation as the “synthetic audiovisual interface.

My use of the term ‘interface’ in this context has two following implications.

First, the devices commonly aim at translating image into sound, or vice versa, by virtue of unearthing, transforming or recombining material and technical attributes of a medium including film, video, and the computer. Here the term ‘interface’ means the interfacing of auditory and visual components that comprise the medium.

Second, the devices are channeled into testing the ‘threshold’ of the relation between two perceptual modes (hearing and seeing) or between human perception and their operation, thereby investigating the interfacing of the human and the machine. While maintaining material and technical differences between each medium, I will argue that the three phases of audiovisual technologies, ranging from the celluloid-based cinema to the electronic to the digital medium, can be reorganized into a conceptual parallel in terms of a constructive and combinatory approach to the medium and a range of audiovisual effects – simultaneity, synchronicity, contiguity, incongruity, etc. – that the medium makes. What I intend to underline in this remapping is to find a range of correspondences between the avant-garde cinema that was chiefly seen to affirm film’s material specificity as its supreme devotion, and the avant-garde audiovisual art based on post-filmic materials such as video and the digital. Media scholar Yvonne Spielmann calls this correspondence “synchronicity,” 5 but it is important to highlight that the term is applied not simply to the interrelation of the two avant-garde practices, but also to their common underlying aesthetic and technical premises. (80)

윗 부분들이 아주 중요하다. 내 논문에 적용하다. medium to interface

In sum, my remapping of the different yet overlapping avant-garde audiovisual practices within the framework of interface ultimately aims at constructing a cross-medial perspective on the “conceptual synchronicity” 29 between film, video, and the digital. Examining the collision and exchange between the media under the similar formal variations leads us to see how each medium’s material and technical specificities go beyond reaffirming its conceptual and expressive boundaries and expand itself into dynamic, multifaceted manifestations through which it is ‘interfaced’ with its others. The concept of the ‘synthetic audiovisual interface’ then offers an insight into the extent to which the pursuit of the synaesthetic correlation between image and sound in the rich traditions of machine-based avant-garde arts has involved not simply the rearrangements of the two senses, but also a variety of material, technical, and discursive collisions that transcend the reductive understanding of the aesthetic functions of an apparatus as sharply distinct from those of the other. 결국 이 두 센스의 결합이 material, technical, discursive level에서 이루어졌다고 보고 있으며, 이는 즉  reductive apparatus view가 아니라, interface로 해석하는 것이 적절하다. 

In this sense, my brief rewriting of the history of the audiovisual arts across different media does more than trace and illuminate the historical precedents for the contemporary audiovisual live performances. From a broader standpoint, I argue that revealing the synchronicity of filmic and electronic/digital audiovisual practices in the light of designing the ‘synthetic audiovisual interfaces’ ultimately tallies with the need to invent what Edward Shanken calls the “hybrid discourse on the cultural and artistic convergence of avant-garde/contemporary art and new media art, which have largely been regarded as separate or mutually exclusive. As Shanken compellingly notes, since the 1960s with the advent of electronic and cybernetic technologies, new media art and avant-garde/ contemporary art have had as much correspondences as mutual autonomy and ostensible differences, in the sense that the theories and technologies at the (85) core of the historical developments of both occupy “a hybrid stance, straddling medium-specificity and a range of non-specific tendencies, including universality, intermedia, multimedia, and convergence.” 30 In this context, the “hybrid discourse” serves to bridge the theoretical and discursive gap between the two terrains and thereby establishes a stepping stone for leaping toward an alternative historiography of the entwinement of art and technology across different disciplines and media, and the concept of the ‘synthetic audiovisual interface’ is a small attempt to explore its possibilities. ■ (86)


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