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Optic Ear

Various video artists strip media down to the essentials to show the basic unity of sound and image.

The merging of sound and visual composition has been a central concern for many artists of the last century. Optic Ear presents three works of media art from a key moment in the early 1970s when artists were increasingly using video and micro-computer technology and moving increasingly away from film. Unlike experimental “synaesthetic” film from the period, which similarly proposed to collapse sound and image through a more fluid and expressive non-representational imagery, the media projects on display here deploy hard edge geometries, and focus on the frameworks of each respective media.

Norman McLaren’s Synchromy uses optical techniques to compose the piano rhythms of the soundtrack. He then transfers these, in multicolour, into the frame of the picture, in effect allowing the viewer to see what he or she hears.

In Noisefields, Steina and Woody Vasulka use the non-signal of white noise as a basis to explore colour and shape. The electronic signals do not carry any other information, while a Colorizer and circular motif is used to create a pulsing effect so that the work’s content is its modulation of video noise.

In Elizabeth Vander Zaag’s Not Fiction, custom software was created for the artist based on a basic interpolation program. This software transposes the points on one vector to the points on another vector. The artist uses the constraints of the technology of the time to investigate abstraction and geometrical relationships. After a series of vector line drawings are interpolated, the phrase This is Not Fiction appears on the screen. The process according to the artist enacts the “writing of words (and fictions)” with this new technology. The superim-position of the words over the profile of the artist gives further proof of the shift from pure mathematical signals to the human imagination.

Image credit: Steina Vasulka and Woody Vasulka, Noisefields (1974), 12 minute colour sound film transferred to DVD.