Some say videomaking is an art; some say science. Artists find it a medium burdened with a load of physics. Scientists think it as creative medium. Some of the happiest videomakers, however, combine deep technical knowledge with lively imaginations. They turn the potential of the medium toward surprising results.
Say you have a box that receives electrical signals and uses them to control the various parts of the video wave. It could, for example, use the frequency of the incoming signal to control the chrominance of a picture–or of specific pixels. The incoming amplitude might control luminance, or you might modulate the picture with it. Let’s call this box a video synthesizer. This box allows you–or anything you plug into it–to play video and audio the way you play a musical instrument.
Now, picture this. You tape an EEG sensor to your head. The EEG sends a signal to your video synthesizer. Your brain waves control hue, color saturation, and brightness of each pixel on a monitor. They also control the frequency and volume of the sounds you hear. Take control of your brain waves and you start generating moving images and music. Right off the top of your head, so to speak. To change the show, change your mind.
Maybe you’d prefer taping an EKG sensor above your heart. The results might have more emotional impact. Why not do both? Tape one chip to your head for video control and the other to your heart for sound.
Let’s call this biotic videomaking: using the body’s signals to produce images and sounds. It’s easy, it’s fun. You can literally make video in your sleep. Do you find it hard to take control of your brain waves and heartbeat? It would be fun to plug a lie detector into the synthesizer instead. Or you could plug in a microphone, and use the wave shape of your voice to control the video.
Still too close for comfort? You could use the outputs from any scientific measuring device to control the video synthesizer. Hook it up to a radio telescope and point it at the sun. Let the radiation from sunspots regulate shapes and colors. Voila, a moving visual-audible analog of the sun’s activities. You could plug anything into your synthesizer. An electron spin micrograph could render a video made by the molecules of various liquids as they mix and bind. Electrical thermometers and barometers would let the weather itself produce video. We could label such applications physico-chemico videomaking, if we had a mind to, physchem vid for short.
Do you call this sort of fiddling around “art” or “science”? Wouldn’t biotic and physchem vids be art forms controlled by scientific data? They could produce images and sound that are both aesthetically beautiful and analytically meaningful. Of course, they could also produce ugly stuff and nonsense.
With a moving-hologram projector, you could project any of these images into three-dimensional space. We’ve heard a rumor that chemists are making a polymer spray that freezes on contact with holograms. You see a 3D image you like? Spray it: instant sculpture. A standing image of one of your thoughts, emotions or the state of the sun.
Surely you wouldn’t keep all this to yourself. You would want to uplink your synthesizer to a cable system or satellite. Phone your friends and transmit your brain wave compositions to them. Don’t worry; you’ll see theirs too on your own receiver. You might send moving musical holograms into one another’s living rooms. See something you like? Spray it. Or take your friend’s image, work on it with your own thinking and feeling, and send it back changed.
Never heard of a video synthesizer? Such things do exist, but you won’t find them in your camera store. You could get an engineering type to make one for you–or build one yourself. But the real point of this imaginal exercise lies here: you can develop innovative uses for technology. You can throw together components in unique ways and bend the tools to your imagination.
Heissenberg taught that photons behave as particles when you run particle experiments on them. On the other hand, they behave like waves during wave experiments. He called that the uncertainty principle. Uncertain whether to call videomaking “art” or “science”? Maybe the problem lies with our categories.
Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.