Jordan Belson on DVD

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Samadhi (1967).

“Jordan Belson is one of the greatest artists of visual music. Belson creates lush vibrant experiences of exquisite color and dynamic abstract phenomena evoking sacred celestial experiences.” William Moritz

Good things come to those who wait. Following their collection of Oskar Fischinger films, the Center for Visual Music releases Jordan Belson: 5 Essential Films in March. Fischinger worked on Fantasia and Belson also exerted some small influence on Hollywood with the special sequences he created for Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed (imaginings of the film’s Proteus computer) and Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (the vortex seen by Sam Shephard at the edge of the stratosphere). You can read more about Belson’s work in Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood, an essential guide to film outside the narrative mainstream.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ten films by Oskar Fischinger
Lapis by James Whitney
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood
The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

Ten films by Oskar Fischinger

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After complaining a couple of days ago about the difficulty of seeing works of abstract cinema, it turns out that a collection of Oskar Fischinger’s great animations appeared earlier this year.

Decades before computer graphics, before music videos, even before Fantasia (the 1940 version), there were the abstract animated films of Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967), master of “absolute” or nonobjective filmmaking. He was cinema’s Kandinsky, an animator who, beginning in the 1920’s in Germany, created exquisite “visual music” using geometric patterns and shapes choreographed tightly to classical music and jazz. (John Canemaker, New York Times)

Oskar Fischinger is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, embracing the abstraction that became the major art movement of that century, and exploring the new technology of the cinema to open abstract painting into a new Visual Music that performs in liquid time. (Biographer William Moritz)

We now understand Oskar Fischinger not only as a link between the geometric painting of pre-war Europe and post-war California but as a grandfather of the digital arts.
(Art Critic Peter Frank)

That’s good, so now how about the Whitneys, Jordan Belson, Harry Smith…?

Via Boing Boing.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lapis by James Whitney

Lapis by James Whitney

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Lapis (1966).

Proof of the conservative nature of cinema as an artistic medium can be found in the way its abstract practitioners don’t merit anything like the attention received by Piet Mondrian or Jackson Pollock. In cinema narrative is all, and it’s ironic that when artists such as Julian Schnabel or Robert Longo turn to film they end up telling stories.

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James Whitney’s Lapis (1966) is a classic work in this field, a 10-minute animation that took three years to create using primitive computer equipment:

In this piece smaller circles oscillate in and out in an array of colors resembling a kaleidoscope while being accompanied with Indian sitar music. The patterns become hypnotic and trance inducing. This work clearly correlates the auditory and the visual and is a wonderful example of the concept of synaesthesia.

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James and his brother John were pioneers of the use of computers in animation. Looking around for stills from Lapis turned up this fascinating page of early computer graphics:

In the early 1960s digital computers became available to artists for the first time (although they cost from $100,000 to several millions, required air conditioning, and therefore located in separate computer rooms, uninhabitable ‘studios’; programs and data had to be prepared with the keypunch, punch cards then fed into the computer; systems were not interactive and could produce only still images). The output medium was usually a pen plotter, microfilm plotter (hybrid bwn vector CRT and a raster image device), line printer or an alphanumeric printout, which was then manually transferred into a visual medium.

It’s difficult to see these films outside a special screening at a gallery or arts cinema. The Keith Griffiths documentary Abstract Cinema is an excellent introduction, including both Lapis and James Whitney’s Yantra among many other short works. However, this isn’t available to buy so viewing it means scouring TV schedules or waiting for some of these neglected works to turn up on YouTube. Gene Youngblood’s 1970 book Expanded Cinema discusses abstraction and the Whitneys and is available as a free PDF download here.

Update: Lapis on YouTube again, in full this time!

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Harry Smith, 1923–1991
Cronenberg curates Warhol
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood

Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood

expanded.jpgThis prescient out-of-print volume from 1970 is available as a free PDF download here. Also at the essential ubu.com. (Thanks to Jay for the tip!)

From the original back jacket copy:

“Today when one speaks of cinema, one implies a metamorphosis in human perception,” writes the author of this extraordinary book. “Just as the term ‘man’ is coming to mean man / plant / machine, so the definition of cinema must be expanded to include videotronics, computer science, and atomic light.”

In a brilliant and far-ranging study, Gene Youngblood traces the evolution of cinematic language to the end of fiction, drama, and realism. New technological extensions of the medium have become necessary. Thus he concentrates on the advanced image-making technologies of computer films, television experiments, laser movies, and multiple-projection environments. Outstanding works in each field are analyzed in detail. Methods of production are meticulously described, including interviews with artists and technologists. Expanded Cinema is filled with provocative post-McLuhan philosophical probes into: “the Paleocybernetic Age,” “the videosphere,” and “the new nostalgia,” all in the context of what the author calls “the global intermedia network.” In “Image-Exchange and the Post-Mass Audience Age,” Mr. Youngblood discusses the revolutionary implications of videotape cassettes and cable television as educational tools. His observations are placed in a comprehensive perspective by an inspiring introduction written by R. Buckmister Fuller. Vast in scope, both philosophical and technical, Expanded Cinema will be invaluable to all who are concerned with the audio-visual extensions of man, the technologies that are reshaping the nature of human communication.

About Gene Youngblood:

Gene Youngblood is an internationally known theorist of electronic media arts, and a respected scholar in the history and theory of experimental film and video art, which he has taught for 34 years. He is the author of Expanded Cinema (1970), the first book about video as an art medium, which was influential in establishing the field of media arts. He is also widely known as a pioneering voice in the Media Democracy movement, and has been teaching Media and Democracy for 30 years. He has lectured at more than 400 colleges and universities throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, and his writing is published extensively around the world. He has received grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The New Mexico Arts Division, and the New Mexico Endowment for the Humanities. He has taught at CalArts, The California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, UCLA and USC.