One of the things I used to enjoy doing with my old Sinclair Spectrum computer was stitching together short pieces of graphics-generating BASIC code in order to create a much longer compilation of the same, a visual mix comprised of the Spectrum’s crude logarithmic spirals, nested polygons and blinking squares. From the looks of it, Dazzle (1993) is a similar process applied to slightly more sophisticated computer graphics (made with an Amiga?), and with additional help from a vision mixer.


The graphics were created to accompany 45 minutes of electronic music by Jonn Serrie, so this is essentially a video album although it also looks like another of those Laserdisc releases targeted at psychedelic voyagers. As I’ve noted before, the Internet Archive now has a lot of this stuff, none of which seems likely to ever be reissued so it may as well be archived there. Dazzle is simpler than the tripping discs but its formal qualities place it closer to abstract cinema than all those reels of dated 3D renderings.

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The abstract cinema archive

Pixillation, a film by Lillian Schwartz


A new arrival at Rarefilmm, Pixillation (1970) is another example of short, abstract film-making which nevertheless may be unique in its combination of early computer graphics with organic effects created by illuminated oils and crystalline growths. This was Lillian Schwartz’s first film (made in collaboration with Ken Knowlton) after she become artist-in-residence at Bell Labs. Many more such films followed, continuing her exploration of computer graphics.

The electronic score for Pixillation is by Gershon Kingsley, a composer best known for the albums he recorded with Jean-Jacques Perrey, and for writing one of the first synthesized pop hits, Popcorn, although it was a cover of Kingsley’s tune that became an international success in 1972. Kingsley made a lot of electronic music but this is the first time I’ve encountered any of it as a film soundtrack. I think it’s also the first piece I’ve heard of his that isn’t a light-weight novelty.

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Switched-On… hits and misses

The World of John Whitney


John Whitney’s abstract films haven’t always been easy to see on YouTube, and when they do turn up they’re often poor quality, so this was a welcome discovery, a 38-minute compilation of Whitney shorts taken from a Japanese laserdisc. A couple of the items mentioned in the on-screen contents list are absent from the video. The actual contents are as follows:

Arabesque (1976)
Matrix III (1972)
Matrix I (1971)
Permutation (1968)
Catalog (1961)


Catalog is a showreel of Whitney’s earliest film experiments, a compilation within the compilation. Many of Whitney’s films are among the earliest examples of computer animation, made in the days when creating any kind of computer graphics meant laboriously plotting co-ordinates into a program which would then be fed into a machine the size of a wardrobe; the resulting video output was captured on film by a camera pointed at a monitor, a process you can see in operation in a short demonstration of Whitney’s working methods, Experiments in Motion Graphics (1967). Colour overlays and superimposition transform these simple cathode-ray shapes into things of beauty, with Whitney’s soundtracks being the icing on the cake: Arabesque is accompanied by the santur playing of Manoochehr Sadeghi, while Matrix III features an extract from Terry Riley’s Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band.

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Weekend links 643


Freundschaftsfoto (1964) by Jürgen Wittdorf.

• “It’s truly astonishing how Laswell collided with vastly divergent musicians and genres while somehow still representing complementary musical spheres.” Yes, indeed. Mixes of the week: Bill Laswell Research Institute: Vol I & II, two 90-minute collections at Aquarium Drunkard dedicated to the career of the indefatigable musician/producer/catalyst.

• “These pieces are created using custom developed software and laser specialised machines resulting in highly detailed laser cut works on layered paper with some works comprising over a thousand individual parts.” Works in paper at Studio Ibbini.

• “The visual history of polyhedra is littered with false starts, poignant failures, and allegories unable to convey the weight of their subject matter.” Noam Andrews explores the history of rendering polyhedral objects in art.

• “When it came to homosexuality, the east was as bourgeois as the west.” Homoerotic art from the communist era by Jürgen Wittdorf (1932–2018) receives a reappraisal.

• More MR James: All of James’ ghost stories in a single volume at Standard Ebooks, the home of free, high-quality, public-domain texts.

• More mixes: A mix for The Wire by NikNak, and XLR8R Podcast 769 by The Sun Ra Arkestra.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Tracing the history of railways in Japan through art.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Marie Menken Day.

Angeline Morrison‘s favourite albums.

Ghost Train (1961) by Virgil Holmes | Ghost Train (1961) by Electro-Tones | Ghost Train (1962) by The Partners

OM I, a film by Myron Ort


As should be evident from the stills, OM I is yet another example of psychedelic cinema, and a very good one at that. Myron Ort’s 20-minute silent film (add your own soundtrack) originates with experiments the director made in the late 60s and early 70s using hand-painted stock combined with optical printing.


The film isn’t wholly abstract—the raw material includes shots of people and animals, together with heavily processed military footage—but the processing creates a kaleidoscopic feel by mirroring many of the shots, one of those simple tricks that’s always effective. (For a more recent example of mirrored psychedelia, see the monochrome mushroom freakout in A Field in England.) There’s a lot more like this at Myron Ort’s Vimeo page including two sequels to OM I, and a related film Ommo, which runs hand-painted raw material through the optical printer to delirious effect.

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