The iota Exchanges - Set 1

iota, founded in 1999, is an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the art of light and movement by constructing a database of information about artists (biographies) and their works (films, videos, performances, instruments, etc.) as well as bibliographic references (books, articles, exhibition catalogs, etc.). It's emphasis on dynamic media such as film and video animation represents another flavor of visual music.

The following exchanges were taken from the early days of iota's discussion group. Due to HTML limitations on page length, links to additional exchanges are found at the end of this page. One approach to accessing the information in these exchanges is to read them from beginning to end. Given that many (but not all) subjects in the iota Exchanges can be found in list below, another approach is to use the links in the list. Most of the items in the subject list relate in one way or another to visual music and compositional thinking.

The iota Exchanges subject list for Sets 1 and 2:

From: Ron Pellegrino <>
Subject: Re: video synthesizers
Date: 7/31/99

>Does anyone have any information on video synthesizers or analog video synthesis that is not found on the site below? thanks! -dave


Pellegrino - After spending some time on the above listed website I realized all the video synthesizers included there were hardware. I, and I´m certain others, have based our video synthesis work on software video synthesizers running on affordable desktop computers. In the early 70s when I saw the video synthesizers of Beck, Hearn, and Sandin, I figured they were very much like personal art works and, as such, unlikely to become models for the sort of semi-mass production that would make them as affordable and accessible as music synthesizers. So through the 70s I stayed with music generated films and music generated projected laser animations in my visual music events. The situation changed in 1983 when I started using an Apple IIe with an NTSC output and a number of inexpensive software video synthesizers in my visual music research and performances. Shortly after 1985 my main video synthesis performance system was the Amiga 1000 with a video digitizer, a genlock, and a variety of software, some off the shelf and some homebrewed; that system is still one of my favorite systems on the road. Today´s software video synthesizers for the Mac are mind boggling. Top of the heap are Greg Jalbert´s BLISSPAINT and Eric Wenger´s METASYNTH and his latest stunner, ARTMATIC; for me none of these are performance video synthesizers but they´re great at generating video modules to be used as part of a performance mix with a realtime system such the Amiga system described earlier.


>-----Original Message-----
>To: <>
>From: Lee Roskin <>
>Subject: [iota] Re: An Introduction
>Date: 03 August 1999 22:02

»Personally, I think that the questions you raised at the end of your
»posting are interesting with respect to the question of what place does
»linguistics, judgement, criticism or one might say "thought" in general
»relate to audio/visual art. This is an old question but for me the
»intellect is best left out of the sensual, transcendental experience.
»Forget language, forget quantify and qualify -- they are of no value to
»us and are counterproductive to the experiencing. I suppose art
»criticism has it´s place somewhere. This reminds me of evaluations of
»Jackson Pollack's work. What for? What value? Perhaps in the market
»place, for the collectors, for the media directors. I dunno, makes no
»sense to me. But ""art" is not about sense, is it? Too many words and
»ideas. And here are a few more -- words about not using words. "A
»meaningful work of art" means nothing to me but I didn´t go to art school
»and never read any books on the subject.

»Lee Roskin
»Techno Light & Sound


>From: "Benji Merrison" <>
>To: <>
>Subject: [iota] Re: An Introduction
>Date: Tue, 3 Aug 1999 23:35:17 +0100

>I agree with you in many respects - please do not misinterpret my
>provocative remarks. As an artist myself - of orchestral and
>electroacoutsic music, as well as audio-visual art - I am well aware that
>the essence of art is through those indefinable, subliminal factors which
>resonate with our existence. Indeed, the best artistic experiences are
>those which you cannot, and do not wish to analyse. As this is a discussion
>group, however, my intention was to provoke others to share their own
>perception of that art. Their own individual interpretations of the
>experiences that you mention. Indeed, if no-one had every done this before
>us then we would not even posses the word art, that you yourself use.

>How can we not be interested in the theories of those who have trodden our
>footsteps before us? Surely, we must all ask the question of what we are
>doing when we constuct our art. I«m certainly not saying that art should,
>ot even can be dissected. In fact I«m sure it can not. What you suggest is
>that art exists in isolation from our own existence, our own minds. Surely
>not! Art is tangible, it has humanity written all over it. Why else has it
>resonated so closely with human society since the word was defined. Are you
>saying that you put no "thought" into your creations? That you have never
>been influenced by anyone - or never looked twice at a painting? I would be
>suprised if this were the case.

>So I concur - art should always remain mystery. But if were not to report
>our observations on our own artistic quest, then what use has that journey
>been? Indeed, what do we have to discuss here?



From: Ron Pellegrino <>
Subject: Indeed, what do we have to discuss here?
Date: 8/3/99

The answer to Benji´s question - "Indeed, what do we have to discuss here?" amounts to an exchange of perspectives and a rattling of cages. I´m certain I´m not alone in valuing the opportunity to see through someone else´s eyes, hear through their ears, and think through their thoughts especially when what they´re seeing, hearing, and thinking is beyond my experience.

Roskin´s assertion that "the intellect is best left out of the sensual, transcendental experience" may be true for him but for those of us who value a more balanced approach to art and life, rationality and intuition make great dancing partners. Richness and depth come from an integrated multidimensionality based on all the human faculties, not just one or some.

Ron Pellegrino

To: greg paynter <>
From: Ron Pellegrino <>
Subject: Re: visual music, synaesthesia
Date: 8/5/99

> I must say I have been a fond passive observer of
>your site for a while now and must say that I am most
>impressed with the depth of information it posesses.

>At present I am 2 weeks away from a visual music
>performance season called 'synaesthesia' through the
>Universiy of Melbourne Australia. Essentially my jazz
>quartet tenor sax (me), bass, drums, piano improvise
>in response to a visual score in the form of a short
>film (b/w) consisting of visual motifs and then that
>audio is subsequently visualised using a vision system
>creating that which you are more than familiar, the
>synaesthesic relationship, 'seeing sound'.

>I was however wondering if you had any recomendations
>for visualisation software given the constraints being
>L/R Audio sound mix (poss. 4 channel ) and a Pentium
>II 233 , 200MB Ram, *MB AGP graphics card.

>Currently I am having severe difficulty trying to get
>pure data to process adc dac data from my sound card.

>and am in fear of resorting to something like geiss or

>Do you know of anything that is a little more
>responsive than geiss / cthuga and yet not quite so
>low level as pure data.

>My intentions were to hopefully be able to make colour
>assignments based on key, mode or notes and well
>basically as sophisiticated a process model as provide
>an as accurate as possible 'synaesthesic'
>representation as possible.

>I would be most appreciative of any suggestions you
>may have


>Greg Paynter


Hi Greg:

Thanks for your kind words about my site.

Your work sounds like fun. I'd love to see what you're doing. There was a period of about 6 years during the middle 70s that I included some of those games in my road shows at universities. I composed a series of five music synthesizer generated films (the Lissajous Lives film series) and used them in residencies and public shows by teaching musicians to relate to the visual imagery as dynamic graphic scores. That was a good time.

For me, at this point in the evolution of affordable software for affordable computers, it's all too slow, clumsy, and unstable for producing advanced materials in live performance. But in my studio I use a Fairlight Voicetracker to process a single (could also be mixed down) channel of audio that gets converted to MIDI which can be used to control all sorts of electronically generated light or sound. But it takes a fair amount of massaging and fine tuning to get anything other than the ordinary. In performance I mix video modules that have been composed in my studio with live digitized and processed video and perform the entire process in real time in the same way I've made music all my life.

Now a more targeted answer to your questions might be to explore the use of software like Bomb and Onadime

Good luck in your work and stay in touch.

Ron Pellegrino

>From: Aaron Ross
>Subject: [iota] visual music: definition?
>Date: Thu, 05 Aug 1999 13:16:35 -0700

>Hello friends,

>I´d like to tighten the focus of the discussion a bit. Especially since
>this list is brand-new, I think it´s important to lay the groundwork by
>posing some basic questions which are undoubtably on-topic. Those will
>hopefully lead to deeper conversations. Perhaps in this way the list
>archive will develop into a document which shows the progression of dialog
>from basic concepts to advanced theories and practices.

>Philosophical arguments about the nature of art, Apollo vs. Dionysus, the
>role of art criticism, etc. certainly have a place in this discussion, but
>I think it´s important to note at the outset that there are as many points
>of view as there are individuals. I personally believe very strongly that
>"transcendent" art is a synthesis of reason and intuition (or
>what-have-you) in a delicate balancing act. But who am I to say in what
>proportions those elements should manifest in the work of others? In my
>opinion, the studied technique of the Renaissance masters is every bit as
>valid as the wild emotions of the Expressionists. Let´s try to wrestle with
>the topic at hand, and not with one another.

>To get the ball rolling, I pose the most basic question of all:

>"What *is* visual music?"

>That, perhaps more than anything, should be the point of this discussion
>list: an attempt to define a "new" art form. What are the necessary
>conditions for this art form, and what sets it apart from all others? The
>corollary to that question is, what does this art form have in common with

>The very term "visual music" suggests a close association with aural music.
>It could even imply that visual music and aural music are part of a larger
>category. If that is the case, then this larger category of art forms would
>probably encompass all of the senses, at least in theory. But I am getting
>ahead of myself; until we have direct and absolute control over our own
>neurology or the actual physical universe (as per nanotechnology), this
>all-encompassing art form cannot exist.

>Or is the term "visual music" merely an analogy? Is this a term imposed on
>an art form, which bears superficial conceptual resemblance to another art
>form, merely for lack of a better expression?

>I think few would argue that visual music cannot exist in the absence of
>sound. There are plentiful examples of silent works which undoubtably have
>a "musical" quality. But what does that mean? What is it that makes James
>Whitney´s silent films musical, but the Lumiere films (for example) nonmusical?

>This leads to the questions of representationalism and narrative. Could it
>be that the use of abstract forms, and the avoidance of direct
>storytelling, leads to an appreciation of visual elements for their own
>sake, and thus approaching the pure abstraction of music? I'm not so sure,
>because aural music is full of representation and narrative, and is not as
>abstract as some would like to believe. Vocal folk music is usually
>narrative in the extreme, but no one would argue that it is not music.
>Likewise, the advent of technology has resulted in the transformation of
>so-called "nonmusical" or environmental sound into music, beginning with
>the Futurists, perfected by the practitioners of musique-concrete, and
>popularized today with digital sampling techniques. This means that music
>is more representational today than ever. (Paradoxically, it is also more
>abstract today than ever, since many sounds found in electronic music bear
>little relationship to sounds in the natural environment.)

>So if narrative structure and "objective" representations do not disqualify
>aural music, how is it that so much of what we call visual music is
>"abstract," "absolute," or "nonobjective?" Could it merely be that this is
>a coincidence, due to early associations with abstract expressionism and
>constructivism? Or is it an indication of an inherent tendency of the art
>form? What about artists like Harry Smith or Larry Jordan, whose work is
>clearly representational, and is identified with surrealism? Are these
>works of visual music? I would say yes, but the question remains, WHY?

>Could it be that musicality rests on mathematical principles, such as the
>natural harmonic series, etc.? I´m sure many would assert that this is
>true. But this is merely a starting point, an establishment of the rules
>which were meant to be broken. The traditional musical parameters of
>rhythm, pitch, and timbre are descriptions of phenomena, but none of them
>are necessary to the definition of music. Perhaps these musical qualities
>are sufficient conditions, but not necessary ones. All that is required is
>the sound itself, a listener, and someone to call it music. Some harsh
>microtonal interval of two pure sine waves may be unpleasant to our ears,
>and that may have a basis in biology rather than social conditioning. But
>does that mean it is not music? Hardly.

>At this point an attempt to define the art of music (and, by extension, all
>art forms) breaks down. It appears that the only necessary condition for
>the ontological status of "work of art" is that someone asserts that
>status. If someone says it is art, then it is art. Duchamp's readymades are
>the perfect example.

>So how do we back away from this precipice without falling into the abyss?
>Is the attempt to define an art form by its intrinsic qualities, rather
>than its social structure, a doomed enterprise? I don't think so, or I
>would not be writing this post. Rather than offer my theories at this
>point, I´d like to open up the discussion to learn what others think.

>The whole question of "what is art" is probably beyond the scope of this
>discussion, but it does have bearing on the question, "what is visual
>music?" I have many more specific questions about visual music,
>synaesthesia, counterpoint, representation, narrative, and so on, and I
>look forward to offering them for discussion at a later time.

>Thank you,

>Aaron Ross

>Aaron Ross


From: Ron Pellegrino
Subject: Re: [iota] visual music: definition?
Date: 8/6/99

Wrestling with ideas and meaning is good exercise for the brain. It maintains old synapses and creates new ones to benefit your intelligence. It's absolutely wrong to interpret that wrestling as a personal attack. The trance state is also beneficial for the brain but overemphasizing it leads to a flaccid intellect. That's easy enough to test. Just try to carry on a conversation with anyone who's overindulged in hallucinogens or relaxation regimens.

Decades ago when I posed the "What *is* visual music?" question to myself I realized that my personal holy grail - what you see is what you hear and what you hear is what you see - was only one of many perspectives in the field. A relatively recent upshot of that realization is the inclusion of a section of my website called Visual Music Flavors that provides interested parties with a sense of the scope of the field. In my notes I have other flavors and links to be included soon. I also welcome suggestions.

Defining visual music at this early stage in its evolution is a bit like buying shoes for a growing child. In a short time the child will outgrow the shoes. And if you insist the child wears those shoes, their feet will become deformed. Far better to let the feet and field grow unconfined by hard boundaries (definitions), rules, and preconceptions.

Early on in any emerging field there's always the presence of the academic inclination to define, standardize, and codify the field. It always makes very good sense to resist that pressure because once an emerging field reaches a critical mass, definitions and standards seem to emerge naturally on their own schedules. During the early stages of an emerging field an exchange of perspectives, experiences, and materials will create the richest mixture out of which the field can grow. That rich mixture also provides work for the academically inclined in the form of data gathering, organization, and analysis. The settlers always follow the pioneers.

What I'm saying above takes nothing away from some of the excellent questions raised by Aaron Ross that point in the direction of an aesthetic foundation for visual music. Just stay clear of hard definitions and, instead, encourage people to enjoy the pleasure of discovering and cultivating their own ways and their own voices. Today, the opportunities for freedom and originality are in precious short supply. An emerging field like visual music presents us with one of those rare opportunities in the history of art. Let's not squelch it.

Ron Pellegrino

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