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ThemesSound and ImageSound & Vision
Sound & Vision in Avantgarde & Mainstream [1]
Dieter Daniels

A number of different sound and image devices would have been needed to present this subject-matter multi-medially in the early 1990s: a slide projector, a video recorder, an audio-cassette tape deck or an audio CD player. A mere decade later this can all be done on a single digital platform, and so can be processed on this website in text, image and sound. The computer as a so-called universal machine replaces a number of individual, separate media apparatuses, it deals with images, sound and text at the same time. So it seems that the difference between image and sound now lies only in different data formats. [2] But when video data are combined with audio data, and vice versa, at the touch of a button [3] —can we say that technology has surmounted all the genre boundaries, and can we see the multi-media universal work of art as something we can take for granted? Hardly. So before we get to art, here are a few fundamental thoughts.


Let us not be deceived by the media technology of the universal machine: image and sound are completelyseparate physical phenomena. Sound wave are vibrations in the air, which is why airless outer space is so silent. Light is our name for the small proportion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to man. The full range of the spectrum ranges from kitchen microwaves to long wave radio transmitters. Put loosely: these phenomena are as alien to each other as a horse and a motorbike.

There is only one place in the world where light and sound affect each other mutually in a way that goes well beyond any technology or physics: in human perception. This is where the synaesthesia of sound and vision comes into being. It becomes an artistic experience, a state of audio-visual 1 intoxication and almost religious ecstasy. Torch dances in primeval caves, organ music in the light of Gothic stained-glass windows, Baroque firework music, Wagner's operas, psychedelic rock concerts, techno-parties—all these indulge our synaesthetic delight in audio-visions [4] (cf. text by Barbara John).

Mankind has been searching for a natural law on the relationship between colours and sounds for millennia. But no objective links can be established here, beyond the subjective classifications that identify ‹warm› or ‹cold› sound colours, for example. Hence it is not possible to find the secret of such a cosmic harmony because it runs counter to the current state of physics. There have been scholarly treatises about this, and even early pieces of apparatus, from ancient times to the Baroque era. [5] For example, from 1725 onwards, the Jesuit priest Louis- Bertrand Castel published several descriptions of a so-called «ocular harpiscord.» It brought him some considerable fame without anyone knowing whether it ever worked. Castel's interest was above all epistemological, not directed at realizing the device practically.


In fact there was a direct colour-sound link before any media technology, but this is found only in the perception process itself, it cannot be explained or observed, except by the people affected, who experience it themselves. Many people are able to experience or feel compelled towards syaesthetic perception throughout their everyday lives. When they hear music the world seems coloured to them, the seebright patterns. Works of art then appeared to make it possible to share this with other people (cf. the depiction of synaesthetic experience of a Shostakovich piano concerto by Matthias Waldeck). This seems to be an innate ability; as children they feel it to be normal, they are not aware that other people do not see these colours until later. They then keep quiet about their experiences, so that people will not think they are mad. Neuro-biologists have been investigating these psychological phenomena since the 1990s. [7] They use synaesthesia as a model for researching the way human perception functions, and also help people who experience it to enjoy their colourful world, rather than suffer.

Culture industry—media technology—avant-garde

The opposite pole to this inner, sometimes even secret combination of music and image is provided by the media industry's mass-media marketing strategies; these make a considerable impact on the public: no chart hit without a video clip, title songs on CD for every blockbuster film, television seeks out ‹superstars› etc. We live in an audio-visual commercial culture today, but the driving force behind it is the ancient desire for synaesthetic experiences. And to make sure that it always has something to chew on, the media industry is trying to link visual and acoustic products. So the extension of the markets in its turn drives the development of media technology and of new product formats. Is there no escape from this cycle?

Yes, says the thesis propounded here, history can be presented differently. Certainly the synthesis of image and sound is one of mankind's old dreams. But it is one we have been taking seriously for about 140 years. Artists and inventors, do-it-yourself enthusiasts and entertainers have been working on realizing it since about 1870. Aesthetic and technical innovations meet at the interface between image and sound. Artistic experiments, obsessive tinkering and genuine technical inventions emerge here in an alternating pattern of enthusiasm and despair, of success and failure. Only a very few of these results are finally washed into the mainstream of marketing by the mass media, most of them very much later. Despite all audio-visual commercialization, the synthesis of sound and image is still an open field for experimentation, anartistic and technical challenge. Today the sound and image media formats play as important a part as the institutional and commercial rules of music and the visual arts.

At the same time the synthesis of image and sound also remains an interface of avant-garde and mass effect. Artistic concepts often anticipate mainstream culture by decades, but without acting directly as models. It would be better to talk about ‹seepage› from top to bottom through the sediments of culture time strata. This anticipation or re-invention in a changed context is not to be confused with mutual appropriation between avant-garde and mass culture.

The pre-history of audio-visual media and arts 1870–1910

Right at the very beginning of the media society, from the second half of the 19th century to the start of the 20th, there were numerous attempts at synthesis in which art and technical invention can often scarcely be separated: inventors built colour organs, light pianos and similar apparatuses that have been forgotten today—and on the other hand painters try to capture music in pictures and composers also attempt to make their music visual.


One of these many apparatus builders is Frédéric Kastner, who invented his pyrophon in 1870. This new kind of instrument, which used coloured gas flames to produce light and sound at the same time, uses the physical effect of so-called «singing flames.» It is a hybrid of music and physics, of art and experiment. Making sound from light in this way promised contemporaries that they were getting closer to the cosmic harmony of nature that had been sought for so long. [9] This was why it also interested Richard Wagner, who saw it as implementing his idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk technically, and wanted to use it in his operas. But royal extravagance came to an end when Wagner's patron King Ludwig II was declared bankrupt by the Bavarian state.

Wagner's operas can be seen as early ancestors of multi-media audiovisions. This is taken up by an eloquent book title «Multimedia from Wagner to Virtual Reality» [10]

For Wagner, the individual arts of painting, dance,music and poetry had progressed a far as they could as early as 1850. The only way forward was to synthesize them in the «Gesamtkunstwerk» he was aspiring to. For this reason the «artwork of the future» he described was ultimately to be nothing other than a Wagner opera.


After many setbacks, his vision of opera as a «Gesamtkunstwerk» was finally realized from 1873 in a strange building, which in fact looks quite ugly from the outside, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. It is only from the inside that the structure of this built ‹media machine› is revealed: an extremely deep stage created a perfect three-dimensional image, the orchestra is invisible to the spectators, being placed in a narrow sound funnel. The perfect acoustics of the semi-circular auditorium without the otherwise customary boxes compel complete concentration on what is happening on the stage, there is no glancing sideways to see ‹who's who› in the circle. Orchestra and stage are no longer seen as separate locations, music and image combine in the spectator's head. We find this principle in every cinema today, but it was sensational at the time. Wagner's idea is justified by the success: only his operas are played to a prestigious international audience every year in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus—and the tickets are sold out five years in advance!

Contemporary painters, poets and thinkers are deeply impressed by this proto-cinema, which worked without film technology and electricity. In 1877 the prelude to Wagner's «Lohengrin» fascinated the painter Jean Jean Theodore Fantin-Latour so much that he depicted it in an picture that is almost abstract: «Lohengrin Präludium» (1877). Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Baudelaire are also among the euphoric contemporary witnesses who celebrated Wagner in their writings and helped to make him a worth forerunner of today's pop stars. Nietzsche coined the term «Hörspiel» [literally «listening play»—translator's note], which did not become common currency until later, with the invention of radio, to describe the interplay of image and sound in Wagner's work: «His art always takes him along the double route from a world as ‹Hörspiel› into a mysteriously related world as ‹Schauspiel› [literally ‹show play,› the usual word for astage play— translator's note], and vice versa.» [12] And Baudelaire wrote in a letter to Wagner about a synaesthetic colour experience when listening to his music, without even having been to Bayreuth. [13] This experience forms the starting point for his theory of Modernism, taking Wagner as an example. Instead of attempting a direct, objective correspondence between colours and sounds that had been sought for in vain from ancient times to the Baroque period, Wagner shifts the picture-sound coupling to its real location, subjective human perception. His universal work of art presents a complex interplay between music, theatre and stage set. Here he takes an aesthetically justified necessity and uses it to develop presentation techniques that anticipate many effects in the audio-visual media.

In fact these audio-visual media started to emerge at exactly the same time, but they were following pragmatic motives, rather than aesthetic necessity. In the year of the «Lohengrin» première, 1877, Thomas Alva Edison built a media device a long way from Bayreuth, in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This machine was the first medium recording time in human history: the ] Phonograph. This invention is in fact an almost random by-product of his work on improved telegraphic apparatus and Edison wasn't really sure what to do with it at first, so he started putting ideas for possible uses of the phonograph together, as this was the only way to make it sell. Unlike Kastner with his pyrophone, Edison was not trying to demonstrate aesthetic effects, but to make marketable products. In other words, the pyrophone is an aesthetic machine that like a work of art has its purpose within itself, whereas the «phonograph» is seen as a pragmatic machine that is made and sold because someone needs it for something.

The «Phonograph» did make Edison world-famous, but was still a commercial flop because the new medium did not find any convincing application. Further development of his invention brought Edison to the moving image, to his film projector, called a «kinetoscope,» and also to the first film camera. All he had to do was transfer Eadweard Muybridge's «chronophotography» to a similar apparatus that now played back images instead of sounds. And Edison was also trying to combine these two inventions, to that hecould synchronize image and sound in his «Kinetograph-theater».

The consequences can still be felt today: the success of the audiovisual media that shape our current lifestyle is based on a synthesis of Wagner's aesthetic effect and Edison's technical inventions. But there is still a long way to go to the present day. Edison's two inventions led to gramophone and film, and thus first of all to a separation of image and sound: the gramophone record removes all the visual aspects of music, and the silent film compels actors to use exaggerated gestures and audiences to read titles. Despite these technical obstacles, film and gramophone changed the world from 1910 onwards. They are standardized distribution and playback media and were used first of all to convey tried-and-tested cultural forms. So the future belongs to the pragmatic machines, not the aesthetic ones.

There could be a short digression here about numerous people who built synaesthetic apparatus in the early 20th century: Wallace Rimington's and Alexander Burnett Hector's color organs, Alexander Laszlo's color-lightmusic, Anatol Graf Vietinghoff-Scheel's «Chromatophone,» Mary Hallock Greenewalt's «Sarabet,» Thomas Wilfred's «Clavilux,» Raoul Hausmann's «Optophone,» which was patented but never built, to name just the best known. [14] But all these approaches ended up in the same sort of cul-de-sac. They remained hybrids between work of art and apparatus. These elaborate devices showed only their inventors' compositions. They are the complete opposite of universal machines: highly specialized, individualistic machines that therefore ‹die› metaphorically with their inventors and are forgotten. None of these artist-inventors succeeded in finding successors to use and develop his invention further. This makes them different from Wagner's shrine, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which still covers its costs even though it performs only its master's works. This digression would be the story of how synaesthesia failed because it was not possible at the time to surmount the difference between aesthetic and pragmatic machines.

Early avant-garde and the audio-visual media in the 1920s

A new generation of artists started to test out the aesthetic specifics of the audio-visual media around 1920—and this is the start of the actual story of what is now called media art. The first medium they tried out was film. The pioneers include , Dziga Vertov, Man Ray, Hans Richter, László Moholy-Nagy, Viking Eggeling, and as the first, but until today the least known: Walter Ruttmann. Like most of these artists he started as a painter, but in 1918 he painted his «Untitled (Last Painting).»

His visions of an art beyond painting are so far-reaching and concrete that it is worth quoting them more fully. Ruttmann writes about the «Tempo of our times: telegraph, express trains, shorthand, photography, rapid presses … have led to a hitherto unheard-of speed in conveying intellectual results … [This] means that the individual is constantly swamped with material that can no longer be dealt with by the old methods.» This «increased speed with which individual data are wound through» also provides the «reasons for our desperate helplessness when faced with the phenomena of fine art.» For this reason Ruttmann asks for «Malerei mit Zeit» [painting with time] which he intends to realize using film: «An art for the eye that differs from painting in that it takes place in time (like music). Hence a completely new type of artist that has hitherto been only latent will emerge, placed somewhere between painting and music. … In any case, the new art can count on a considerably larger audience than painting currently enjoys …«


Despite immense technical difficulties and without any official support, Ruttmann achieved his aim after years of intensive work: his first film, «Opus 1», was officially premiered in 1921. It was accompanied by a specially composed string quartet by Max Butting, and the three Opus films that followed until 1925 also had dedicated pieces of music. This distinguishes Ruttmann's approach from later attempts to interpret existing music visually, of the kind that made Oskar Fischinger famous. However, such works always retain their illustrative character.

The painterly, abstract images in Ruttmann's films are created with an apparatus he developed himself, which he even patented. So his method can besummed up like this: accelerated modern perceptions need a new art, but there is no technical solution available for this. It is only by inventing an apparatus that Ruttmann becomes a pioneer of the so-called «absolute film.» The film camera, a pragmatic machine, has to be combined with a new aesthetic machine to bring the film to itself, to help it achieve its own absolute pictorial quality consisting only of colours and shapes, that no longer needs to copy the outside world. Today, in the age of computer animation and video clips, this step seems just as natural as it was revolutionary and disturbing at the time.

Without being aware of each other, several artists were working on related ideas, and in 1925 the acclaimed matineé screening of «The absolute Film» took place in Berlin. Advertising and feature films also took up these ideas and built in absolute elements. But these abstract notions never developed into a real mass art, and Ruttmann soon distanced himself from «absolute fashion.»

At this time a new mass medium was emerging that was soon to become the equal of the cinema: radio. There is a paradoxical parallel with film: silent films have no sound—radio has no image. For this reason radio too struggled to find a new art form to come to terms with this specific aspect of the medium, and that was the radio play.

At first an attempt was made to fill out classical theatrical material with elaborate acoustic ‹settings›: sabres rattle, doors bang, feet march rhythmically on crunching gravel, all this had to be created appropriately and on time in the studio, as all broadcast were live, with a single microphone in the broadcasting studio. (see « acoustic stage set of a battle in the broadcast studio,» 1924) It was only the arrival of the talkies in the late 1920s that provided a storage medium offering a perfect synthesis of image and sound. The equipment needed for Tri-Ergon optical sound recording used to fill an entire truck, today such a device fits in your trouser pocket. It was possible to record sounds from ‹real life› and, for the first time, to process them using editing and montage. These techniques were first used for a radio play in 1930, its author: Walter Ruttmann.

But before we come to this radio play we must cast a glance at Ruttmann's work after the «absolute film.» In 1927 he made «Berlin. Die Sinfonie einer Großstadt»,a film without actors, without a screenplay and without a story. It consists simply of a day's events in the metropolis, and Ruttmann works by «selecting, grouping and using montage» on «natural material.»

Ruttmann also uses this «creeping up on reality» in his first and only radio play. The eloquent title «Weekend» (1930) in fact explains what the play is about: the events of a weekend from Saturday evening to Monday morning are presented using only sounds recorded on the spot, compressed into 11 minutes. It is an acoustic film without images, artistically as well as technically. Ruttmann himself refers to it as «photographic sound art.»

[16] [QT]

Ruttmann uses montage associatively, for example as the weekend dies away, almost literally: in the ‹fade-out› of the weekend, which can be taken almost literally: first the clink of glasses as ‹cheers› is said, then the animals' bells, finally the church bells, in the evening and at night, and in the morning the ring of the alarm clock and the rhythm of work making its reluctant start. As a sound montage, «Weekend» anticipates both Musique concrète (Pierre Schaeffer) in the 1950s and also the sampling of modern techno music. This potential for the future is demonstrated in 1998 by a CD intended as a tribute, «Weekend Remix,» containing various remixes of old sound material by DJs and electronic musicians, including Lippok Robert and his group To Rococo Rot (see the text by Lippok). [17] This places Ruttmann at the central intersection point of three development lines: the artistic search for visual music, the media-technical coupling of image and sound and finally the transfer of avant-garde developments into mainstream culture(see text by Diedrich Diederichsen).

In 1930, Ruttmann's motto was: «Everything audible from all over the world becomes material.» [18] Seven years later, in his «Credo» on the future of music, John Cage predicted: «I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the aid of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film, and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored.» [19] Ruttmann's «Weekend» is the finale for visual music inthe 1920s, while Cage is laying the foundations for the intermedia art of the 1950s/60s. Thus Ruttmann and Cage have little in common artistically except that they change from being a painter and a musician respectively into media artists because they follow a logic of technical and aesthetic development and foresee the scope of its effect. But it was not until over half a century later that these avant-garde ideas became part of mainstream culture: «Techno shifts the boundary between noise and music into the infinite nothing of being no longer perceptible,» wrote the pop theorist Ulf Poschardt in 1995.


Electronic media art in the 1950s and 60s

The 1920s avant-garde remained curiously without impact, in fact was forgotten about, as the example of Ruttmann shows particularly vividly. [21] It was not until the 1950s and 60s that those ideas are taken up again, first in New Music, and then in fine art. The electronic audio-visual media made this possible. In the early 20th century it was mainly ideas from fine art that were carried over into music, but now music takes over the leading role in this interaction for a time. [22] The crucial factor here is a radical questioning of the concept of the musical work, and then the technical advances made by the audio media.

Audio tape simplified the very elaborate and costly production needed for sound film, and made much more complex montage possible. Now for the first time musicians can conduct their own experiments with a recording medium, without a great deal of expense. John Cage devised a graphic score for his first tape composition «Weekend» in 1952. It was not possible to cope with this level of complexity using classical notation, Cage needed an image to compose sound. Eight tape recording tracks run parallel. Each of these tracks is made up of short pieces of sound whose sequence and form are determined by random principles. Cage uses 600 different noises as his basic material, the hand-written score covers 192 pages. Cutting and pasting thousands of tape snippets was also done laboriously by hand, and took almost a year, even though friends helped, —all for just four minutes of music.

It would be much simpler to produce a comparablycomplex montage using today's digital technology. The software presents the sound graphically, thus allowing direct interaction with it. That means that the distinction between the score on paper and laboriously recreating it on tape is no longer necessary, the digital score is also the instrument by which it is realized.

Williams Mix needed ten years after Cage to take the first step towards an interactive composition of this type in real time, still using a completely analogue approach with the good old tape recorder, under the title «Random Access». To do this he put his hand into the machine, took the sound head out and gave it to a listener. Nothing can be heard until the listener becomes actively involved and runs the head along the collage of tape. In the first version in 1963 the pieces of tape are pasted directly on the wall. So instead of a completed composition, Paik creates an interactive installation, and instead of just working on the tape recorder's software he modifies the hardware—a reception medium becomes a new production instrument. Paik also applied this «Random Access» principle to gramophone records in the same exhibition in 1963. 30 years before DJ culture Paik made the vinyl record into a musical instrument. More evidence of the avant-garde anticipating mainstream: the record player as a pragmatic machine for reproducing music correctly is used for another purpose and becomes an aesthetic machine and a creative instrument, and it is for this reason alone that vinyl records are still made on the principle of Edison's «phonograph.»

The title of this 1963 exhibition says a great deal: «Exposition of Music—Electronic Television» stands for Paik's transition from Paik the composer who came to Germany to study music to Paik the father of video art. For it was here that he mist presented his experiments with television sets, in which he transferred his experience with electronic music to the electronic image. [23] Preparing for this was a long and laborious process (as for Cage's audio tape montage): Paik tinkered with the old TVs he had bought second-hand for a year to make the passive consumer equipment into creative «Participation TV.»There was still no video equipment at this time, so Paik could also work by manipulating the current, broadcast TV program.And even that was very scarce: Germany had only one television channel in 1963, and it only broadcast for two hours each evening, from half past seven to half past nine.

Each of the twelve televisions in the exhibition is modified in a different way. Two of them played with image-sound links: when you make noises into a microphone, these are translated into rapidly oscillating patterns (see the tv with microphone). Or a tape recorder is attached to the monitor so that the patterns created by the music can be seen on the screen, without hearing them («Kuba-TV»). Here the millennia-old dream of synaesthesia is realized by a simple technical short-circuit. But despite all the irony, Paik's true aim is to transfer Cage's musical work with random factors to the pictorial arts. To justify this, he goes back to the physical qualities of the electron: «INDETERMINISM and VARIABILITY is the very UNDERDEVELOPED parameter in optical art, although this has been the central problem in music for the last ten years.» [24] Paik is thus expressly demanding that music's compositional principles should be applied to the pictorial arts. This corresponds with an industrial-technical shift from sound to image that was in evidence even in Edison's day, and that makes audiotape into videotape.

As soon as the first equipment came on the market, Paik hurled himself at video technology and announced programmatically in 1965: «It is a historical necessity, if there is such a thing as historical necessity, that a new decade of electronic television should follow the past decade of electronic music.« [25] But the video equipment the industry produced was not enough for Paik. In 1970, he and his technician Shuya Abe started to build his own «Video Synthesizer», with the support of a TV station. With this he is now able to manipulate electronic images and liberate them from the TV aesthetic to make them into artistic material that can be formed freely. Just as half a century before Walter Ruttmann had built his film apparatus so that he could work with film like with brush and paint, Paik now announces: «Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors & semi-conductors as they work today with brushes, violins & junk.» [26] The video synthesizer, like the audio synthesizer used in music, is intended first and foremost for live use, according to Paik it is to beplayed «in real time—like a piano. This is extremely interesting from a purely artistic point of view—something really new, that never existed before. You simply play and then see the effect.»


The video synthesizer was first used in the live TV broadcast «Videocommune» in 1970, on WGBH Boston. Paik and the station team improvised for four hours, even inviting passers-by from the street to join in with making a TV broadcast spontaneously. This makes joint improvisation, which is usual in music, possible with images as well, providing a new collective creativity model for the pictorial arts. The Beatles' complete works supplied the soundtrack for the four hours of «Videocommune.» Here Paik was anticipating many elements of the music clip.

Paik was not the only artist who worked on making video synthesizers at this time. There were large numbers of do-it-yourself enthusiasts, artists and musicians who were fascinated by electronic synaesthesia. [28] Most of the time modified audio synthesizers were used for processing images, as in Bill Hearn's 1969 «Vidium.» So even before digitalization it was possible to achieve a close, direct interplay between image and sound, as both are just electronic signals. Sound technology has been ahead of video technology, however, since the beginning of the electronic era. The reason for this is simple: a sound signal needs much less information than a video signal. That is why radio came before television, tape recorders came before video recorders, audio CDs came before DVDs. This technical lead still affects art today.

Avant-garde and mainstream since the 1990s

Since the 1990s, visual and acoustic culture and their respective media have been closely interrelated. (see text «Image-Sound-Relations» by Golo Foellmer/Julia Gerlach) This is because of the synthesis between image and sound technology when working digitally, which also makes the avantgarde's time lead over the mainstream shorter and shorter. Music exploited digital possibilities fully in both high and popular culture long before visual art. This is why electronic New Music developed a decade before video art and why there were DJs years before VJs. When looking back at theperiod from 1950 onwards it is possible to say: sound is the image's technical avantgarde. On the other hand, the context of fine art turned out to be more tolerant and open to the processualization and participation involved in the ‹open work of art› created by Fluxus and Happenings, and their continuation in media art. This is why today the category of media art is treated above all as part of art history and less of music history. The new type of artist placed between music and painting that Ruttmann was waiting for even in 1920 no longer has any lack of technical opportunities—they are available courtesy of the digital flood. But artists are never satisfied with what the industry offers them in terms of hardware and software. The DJ pioneers and sound artists built their own tools and wrote their own programs, and so do the VJs and some media artists.

Visual and acoustic teamwork does feature in artistic practice, but it is not always free of hierarchies (see text by Stephen Vitiello). In the pop context the music dominates: the popular video clips illustrate the rhythm and the storyline of the music. In a club the DJ is the boss, the VJ tries to follow the beat of the music and adapt to the style of the pieces. Conversely in fine art the visual aspect is to the fore—the person who did the sound for a media artwork is usually only in the credits. In the same way, the way music and fine art exploit their output commercially is still entirely disparate: for music, mass sales are important, whether of concert tickets or records. But fine art earns money by being exclusive, by selling small numbers of original works at a high price.

But since the 1980s, more and more artists have been working with images and sound to an equal extent. The pioneers include Laurie, at the latest since her «United States, Part 1-4» Multimedia Performances (1983). She uses live electronics for her performances with great complexity and invents new visual musical instruments, for example the video violin and the audiotape violin. In this way she constructs a bridge from high to popular culture, appears in museums and even got into the hit parade with her song «Oh Superman» in 1982.

A growing number of artists have been difficult tosubsume within the classical genres since the mid 1990s. While the art scene has been discovering club culture crossover and has sometimes used it quite superficially as a new source of inspiration, a generation of artists who have grown up with computers have been working on the more profound planes of image-sound combination. So here in conclusion are some examples of this. They also show different strategies for combining the evaluation systems of art and music.

Granular Synthesis has existed since 1991, its members are Ulf Langheinrich and Kurt Hentschläger, both originally fine artists (see text by Langheinrich). There is no division of roles in their collaboration, they are both equally responsible for sound and image. Their technically very elaborate live performances are intensive, indeed overwhelming, both visually and acoustically. Pieces like «Modell 5» (1994–1996) or «Pole» (1998–2000) are staged in different site-specific versions. The name is the programme: the original images and sounds are not themselves manipulated, but so-called ‹granular synthesis› creates completely new audio and visual worlds from the smallest image-sound particles. They also use the different economic systems of music and fine art: Granular Synthesis' live appearances are managed by a professional concert agency, but their videos and installations are sold on the art market by galleries.

Carsten Nicolai (aka noto) started as a painter, but he is now at least as well known as an electronic musician, using the pseudonym noto. He too succeeds in combining art's and music's different sales systems in a masterly fashion: he exhibits pictures and sound installations in museums and galleries, he runs the raster noton label [EL] for electronic music and appears as a musician in concert with live electronics and his own visuals. But unlike Granular Synthesis he leads a kind of double life, as he is seen either as a musician or an artist according to the audience. He clearly finds music's widely effective distribution structure more in tune with the times than that of art, which relies on the unique object. [29] Aesthetically Nicolai is interested in the relationship between visual and acoustic phenomena like phase shifts, noise and interference. He also uses natural science and perception theory to analyse them more precisely. As has already been said, light and sound are physicallyseparate phenomena that are associated only in terms of human perception. But Nicolai finds model processes for creating analogies for them within the phenomenon itself: in the 2001 «Snownoise» installation the growth of snow crystals is influenced by the sounds to be heard around them. Generative, self-organizing patterns and loops for sound and image were used in a comparable way in live performances like the «Crystals/reworked» (2003).

The 242.pilots group (HC Gilje from Norway, Lukasz Lysakowski from Poland and Kurt Ralske from the USA) do live video improvisations, sometimes as a trio, sometimes solo, sometimes with invited musicians, sometimes without. Shows like «242.pilots live in Bern» (2002) or «242.pilots live in Bruxelles» (2002) offer collective visual improvisation, like a jam session. Some VJs work in ‹crews› as well, but 242.pilots do not just merely illustrate DJs' music: the two sides respond to each other in the interplay of music and video. It is reminiscent of comparable distinctions in the 1920s, when Ruttmann's films were always accompanied by composition created especially for them, while Oskar Fischinger restricted himself to interpreting existing music visually.

These three examples show the importance of artistic and technical teamwork. Competencies are mixed in these teams, without a classical rolesplit between image and sound or composition and performance. They create work whose changing format adapts to the different institutional and economic contexts of music and art. Technical and artistic innovation are interdependent here. Two other examples show how far the boundaries of existing techniques and formats are exceeded here.

As a member of the Oval group, Markus Popp produced electronic music to which his colleagues contributed visuals. That was in the mid 1990. Now Popp is Oval (see text by Popp). Since 2000, with «Oval Process» he has been introducing a type of artistic production that stands somewhere between all the genres: «Oval Process» consists of software, an interactive installation based on it and a music CD that has sold successfully under the same title. But it would be wrong to see this just as a clever three-fold marketing strategy. Popp explains that by publishing this authorial environment he wants to make himselfsuperfluous, as anyone can now make his or her own «user-centric» music using the software. But nevertheless, «Oval Process» software is not a new tool, but just a demonstration of his own working method, which refuses to use the all-too-simple aesthetic prefabricated in the music tools, and insists on laborious manual digital work. [30] In many respects this is reminiscent of John Cage's laborious creation of the «Williams Mix» audiotape montage by hand half a century before, and also of the ideal of music without musicians, generating itself, so to speak, from the application of random programs. So Popp's «Oval Process» software provides an analogy with the graphic scores and like Cage, this detour makes him the artist who is shown in exhibitions and museums. But Popp's intentions remain strictly musical: listeners become users, and they are to be shown the conditions under which electronic music is produced and the crucial influence that programs have on aesthetic output.

Netochka Nezvanova goes a step further. She is a fictitious person named after a character in one of Dostoevsky's novels; some people also call her an «entity.» She appears only via the Internet, were she offers her software products but also mailing lists awash with cryptic messages. Her «Nato» software is currently one of the most popular tools used by all VJs for live visuals, as it can attach any visual object directly to a sound and thus create a flow of images that are linked to the music but can be mixed and edited as wished. But this software, unlike Markus Popp's, is not a semiartistic demonstration, but a sharply professional product with high licence fees that claim a monopoly. And besides (or should one say nevertheless?) Netochka Nezvanova has also been awarded a whole series of prizes in software art competitions for programs like «Nebula M.81», which also permit a direct transformation of image and sound data. This ambivalence is typical of an artistic figure whose name would mean «nameless nobody» if translated. This makes her even less open than all the examples mentioned so far to being placed in genres and categories, whether they are image and sound, or art, technology and commerce. And now passage from avant-garde to mainstream no longer takes decades, as in the case of Ruttmann or Paik, but happens almost simultaneously with the help of the product orartefact (the term work of art no longer fits at all) used in both contexts. All five current examples show that after over a hundred years of audio-visual media development it is not just the border between image and sound that is becoming fluid in many art forms (or should we say artefacts?). The old parallel history of aesthetic and pragmatic machines continues, but the borders between the two are questionable. As in the 1950s and 1960s, both the classical concept or the work and the position of the artist-author are being questioned. And although the marketing principles and cultural institutions of music and art have remained remarkably unchanged in this long period, the new technologies are producing an intermediate space that is not yet defined precisely. This offers hope of an alternative to the cycle of marketing, technical innovation and commercial cultural production. Let us go back to people with synaesthetic inclinations who often suffer from the fact that any music makes them see colours and shapes until they learn to enjoy this talent. Neuro-biology suggests that we all have synaesthetic experiences in our early childhood and learn to separate images from sounds only slowly. Perhaps the whole history of synaesthetic art simply expresses a yearning for this primal condition that we can never in fact achieve again. At least the computer is a universal machine that provides an image for fulfilling this wish. We can now slave away at programming it for the next hundred years.

Translation by Michael Robinson

© Media Art Net 2004