Self-reflexivity in video happens on several levels: First, the construction of an apparatus to produce processable images that simultaneously reflect the performance of the process. Second, video is revealed as an electronic medium insofar as the electronic signal can become equally an aural and a visual output, which manifests the technical interchangeability of audio and video and states the truly audio/visual quality of video. Third, the modulations of the signal in the output of light and sound are the true "content" of the performance, which in return has the specificity of video as its meaning, so that, in principle, the video-performance demonstrates self-reflexivity of the medium in endless regressions.
, a work from Steina, provides an early technical-aesthetic statement that video processing from the beginning involved image devices, in this case the Multikeyer and the Video Sequencer. The Vasulkas’ experimentation (they prefer to call it "play") is equally important regarding the transformation of electronic video and audio signals. Sound is produced by the video signal itself and accompanied by the actual sounds and noises in the studio. Corresponding to the real-time presentation of the visual performances of two cameras, the aural part of the video is also in real time, reflecting the processes of the making of the video. Orbital Obsessions,
in a way, is obsessively experimental in its modulation of the signal itself: that is, its voltage and frequency and the ways the signal could be translated from video to audio and could directly affect the "content" of the image, which in these segments is shown congruent with its form. Similarly, sound sources are interfered with, namely the noise of the manipulation of the audio/video signal are layered with environmental sounds from the studio, such as an off-conversation between Steina and Woody, classical music on radio, and the ring of the telephone. Because these sounds appear as noises they self-reflexively create the aural "content" which on the level of noise reflects the ambivalence between electronic space and real space in the different segments of Orbital Obsessions
In attributing the term video-performance to this installation process of audio/video experiments, I like to emphasize the performative aspect in Steina’s approach to video, which is driven by her experiences performing classical music and expands into research of the "performability" of the new medium with its technical devices. Performance, in this view, means an activity embedded in and not added to the medium video, which the artist shares with a set of technical devices, the machines. Thus, Orbital Obsessions
is just one part of a larger series of works (videotapes and installations, including Allvision,
1975, Urban Episodes,
1980, and Summer Salt,
1982) in which Steina "plays" with her idea of Machine Vision.
There are two major focuses of this work: one concern is with dissociating the point of view from the human perspective of the eye, while the other is to create spatial mapping through closed-circuit devices.
Earlier, in the conceptually related performances of Violin Power
Steina directly produced image effects in the course of the performance. (b)
Both performative works, Violin Power
and Orbital Obsessions,
exemplify the use of real time in video, which stresses the interactive capacity of the medium similar to computer digital processing, where interactivity and reversibility are common tools. In this context, playing a musical instrument live needs to be seen as a further, if not the most important, element that can be used self-reflexively in video to realize the medium’s inherent capacity for interactive expression. This notion of interactivity, first of all, is grounded in the interchangeability of image and sound "noise" and is carried out by "playing the image" with instruments that demonstrate the fluid character of image and sound as it evolves and fill the performance space. What Steina does when "playing video on a violin" is a reversible process, where the sound of the violin interacts with video, which in real time interacts with the sound of the violin.
In taking the processing of music as an input in video, the performances of Violin Power
points toward the Vasulkas’ broader interest in abstraction, or "video noise." For example, in using the Scan Processor in Time/Energy/Objects
(1975/76), which are various studies in line and raster processing, the idea was to explore the interplay of visual and aural abstraction from scratch and to create objects purely out of scan lines. The purest way of creating video through "video noise" is exemplified in the study No. 25
(1975) where the signal actually scans the field from top to bottom. (c)
were films of video experiments in black and white. They needed to be films because the visual output on the small screen of the Scan Processor was so low in resolution that a specially manufactured film camera was employed to film the tube in the higher resolution of 30-frame-per-second. In this regard, the ways in which Time/Energy/Objects
are films of video signal processing can be compared to a film image from the optical printer where the speed frame can also be altered. However, the production process of No. 25
is exceptional, because in other video experiments, such as The Matter, Explanation,
and C-Trend, (d)
Woody did rescan, but not film from the screen of the Scan Processor. A Dual Colorizer (Eric Siegel, 1972) (2)
was used so that the small screen image would be less visible with added color.
falls into the category of "noise objects" because the transformations that occur in the Scan Processor through the modulations of waveforms not only produce an endless visual process consisting of the interplay of horizontal and vertical synchronization pulses, but at the same time, bring forth the "noise" of a void image as it is bent, spread, and compressed. Where Woody regards these "energy objects" as models of images, it can be added that these experiments reveal the meaning of the "matrix" of electronic imagery, which lies in unstructured energy and encompasses the potential of all possible forms of imagery.
With the Scan Processor, abstract imagery that has no external source can be generated from the "magnetic material" itself. For Woody, this tool allowed deeper research into the appearance of the "frame structure" of the electronic image. His electronic experiments are, in a way, comparable to the notational experiments in natural sciences, because Woody’s aim is to define a syntax of organizing energy where the operation and the apparent forms are related to each other in a syntactic order. In his notes on Didactic Video: Organizational Models of the Electronic Image,
Woody explains the role of the Scan Processor regarding the possibility to control video processes: "Emphasis has shifted towards recognition of a time/energy/object
and its programmable building element — the waveform
... The majority of images, still or moving, are based on their capture from the visible world with the help of the camera-obscura
principle through a process involving the interaction of light with a photo-emulsion surface... Contrary to this, the conversion of light into energy potentials during electronic image forming is achieved sequentially
, giving particular significance to the construction of the referential time frame... The possibility of disregarding this organizational principle and realizing instead a total absence of such a process in certain modes of electronic image forming has interested me the most. The result has been an inevitable descent into the analysis of smaller and smaller time-sequences, a process necessary to understanding wave formations, their components, and the process of their synthesis and programmability. To me this indicates a point of departure from light/space image models closely linked to and dependent upon visual-perceptual references and maintained through media based on the camera-obscura
principle. It now becomes possible to move precisely and directly between a conceptual model and a constructed image." (W.V.)