Temple (1976) 4 minutes 30 seconds
Excerpt from Videocean (30 minutes)
Analog computer animation and electronic music by Vibeke Sorensen.
Produced at the WNET TV Lab, NYC
Digital restoration 2009, DMS Buffalo
Vibeke Sorensen produced several works at the WNET TV Laboratory in New York City between 1974 and 1976, including Temple, TV Tubes, Fresh Fruit, Monocules, and stereoscopic experiments. All were made using the Rutt/Etra raster scan modulation system for analog computer animation. The music was composed afterwards at the Electronic Music Studio at the State University of New York at Albany.
A color cover piece entitled “High Tech Video Art, Light Music by Vibeke Sorensen” was published in the February 1979 issue of Videography Magazine and included a still frame from her stereoscopic video experiments. The inside article entitled “Vibeke Sorensen: Demystifying Video Technology” by Victor Ancona included text written by Sorensen.
The Making of TEMPLE
by Vibeke Sorensen, 1979
TEMPLE will serve well as an example of my work to be analyzed for its technical and emotional content. When this piece was made in 1976, I was alone in the studio. After having spent time prior learning how to use the machines, I was comfortable enough to know exactly what kinds of images could be made and how. It is like speaking a foreign language: at first one memorizes the words and struggles with the grammar, but after a while one begins to think and even dream in that language. I felt that I was fluent in “Synthesizerese.” In fact, I felt as though I was in a trance, meditating. I felt so incredibly peaceful that I began to imagine that I was in a Temple. By that time I had made an array of dots on the Rutt/Etra synthesizer using only sine waveforms that were multiples of the horizontal and vertical frequencies (for 10 dots across, the frequency is 10 x 15,750 cps (the H frequency), and for 10 dots down it is 10 x 60 cps (the V frequency)). So when you multiply these two waveforms in the appropriate module, a multiplier, you get an array of 100 dots, 10 x 10. This information was used to control Z axis modulation (brightness).
The array was the basic image upon which I performed a variety of operations. The Rutt/Etra synthesizer allows one to alter the height, width, depth, and the horizontal and vertical amplitude of the raster. The resultant image is displayed on a cathode ray tube and rescanned by a black and white camera which then enters a video switcher for adding outlines, color, wipes, or other images. I chose outlines and color for Temple , for simplicity but also because I only had two hands and could not modify everything at once.
To create the illusion of rotation or folding over, I used a low frequency AC sine wave which would pass through zero in its oscillating amplitude and reach extremes on both sides of the center axis. What’s really happening is that the raster is slowly being squashed and unsquashed in reverse and then back again. If the “squashing” waveform is a multiple of either the H or V frequency and phase locked to it while controlling a corresponding effects module (ie. width for V and height for H), you get a static “squash” something like and hour glass (width) or a landscape (height). 2 lumps in the vertical (width) would mean that the modulating waveform is 2 x V, or 2 x 60 cps, or 120 Hz. 2 lumps in the horizontal (height) would mean that the modulating waveform is 2 X H, or 2 x 15,750 cps, or 31500 Hz. If the form is rounded, the wave shape is a sine; if it is pointed in the middle, it is a triangle; if it rises gradually and stops suddenly and starts over again, it is a ramp or saw tooth; if it is flat and starts and stops suddenly, it is a square wave or pulse. In TEMPLE , I used sine waves to shape the width, and a triangle and low frequency sine wave to control the height. I use the same information in the height to control the depth, thus when the image folds over, it appears to come forward. By performing upon this “patch” or setup on the synthesizer, I created the first set of changes.
There came a point in my meditation that I became aware of the fact I had transcended the technology, this is to say that the machine wasn’t controlling me nearly as much as I was controlling it. It was a vehicle for my expression much as a typewriter is a vehicle for a writer or a paint brush for a painter. I was imparting order and choosing from a vast array of possibilities only particular images and changes over time that expressed my mental state (much like a musician performing on a musical instrument).
I had already created an image which to me resembled a Chinese Pagoda or a Temple. Next, I wanted to express my realization, my understanding of myself in relation to the machine (physical expression), and understanding of myself in relation to myself (emotional expression). Like a sudden awakening from a trance, I made the image seem to explode and begin a complex metamorphosis. At that point I gave myself several patches to choose from, depending on how I felt they fit into the flow, a musical flow almost. The first set was a slowly moving sine wave controlling both the height and the depth, which made the butterfly-like shape which undulated and seemed to come right out of the monitor screen. This was further modulated using sine waves phase locked to the V frequency and upon which I performed. Then, at the right moment, I removed that patch and replaced it with a second one, which include low frequency square waves in the depth control, and made the image split into two levels of arrays passing by. Throughout, a low frequency sine wave modulating the height caused the flipping. Again, at the right time, I removed the second patch and replaced the first one and performed upon it until I felt the piece was finished; until I had succinctly completed my communication; no more, no less.
I composed the music afterwards. For quite some time, I have been interested in the phenomenon of synaesthesia. As a result, my approach to music composition for video art is twofold: to create sounds which to me are the sounds I imagine in my head when I see the images, and to set up an electronic music patch which is technically analogous to the video patch. The illusion of simultaneity is a result of hard work. The eye is synthetic: it is incapable of seeing green as a combination of blue and yellow. The ear, on the other hand, is analytic: it can distinguish instruments and notes in a complex orchestral chord. Therefore, to make a soundtrack seem as complex as the image looks, many voices and timbres had to be created, each one requiring a different audio patch. Consequently, the soundtrack is multi-tracked in contrast to the single pass needed to produce the image.
Technically, it is possible to produce the music and images at the same time, since both are electronically generated. However, most video studios are not equipped with electronic music synthesizers, nor are electronic music studios usually equipped with video synthesizers. Even if they were, I’m not sure that I would choose to use the sound of the image as the soundtrack. I would probably only use the slow moving waveforms (affecting changes over time) and have them modify a sound made by an entirely different patch on the music synthesizer. In general, a nice image sounds bad, and a nice sound looks bad. So, separate origins are necessary for my aesthetic, but having a common control-voltage source so they change in tandem.
If you listen to the soundtrack, you will hear a meditation chant: OMMMM. In general, creativity, for me, is a meditation.
© 1979 Vibeke Sorensen
(the text above was included in the February 1979 Videography article by Victor Ancona)