In the late 1970’s, video was an exciting experimental medium. Nam June Paik created the famous “TV Bra for Living Sculpture,” a piece where two tiny video screens covered cellist Charlotte Moorman’s breasts and her cello partly covered the rest. Other early video artists include Bruce Nauman, William Wegman and Peter Campus.
During my college years at RISD, I enrolled in a course that explored the fundamentals of video. This meant students had access to the Sony half inch reel-to-reel videotaping machines available during the time, which included both portable and stationary console editing units. The VHS videocassette format had recently been released, but was not commercially widespread or affordable. Reel-to-reel videotape was the medium for enthusiastic multimedia artists, and spirited art students were known to carry portable video units and expand the concepts of sound and vision in the studio.
There were a couple of tapes on my bookshelf that I had made 35 years ago. Every time I relocated, these tapes went with me, and although they were interesting relics to have on my bookshelf, I had no idea what was on them. It had been such a long time that I had completely forgotten. I finally decided to get the tapes digitized by Green Tree Audio Video Transfer in Saint Jacob, Illinois.
The quality of the material is terrible by today’s standards. The resolution is extremely low. There is significant dropout from sections on the video that have deteriorated through time. Thankfully, the digitization of the tape is the last time the videos will ever be played, since any subsequent playback will wear the emulsion off the tape even further. Despite the decay, there was some interesting material on the tapes.
One item of note is a section called “Watching the Piano, Playing the TV” which consists of how a translation of two mediums, the playing of a piano and the broadcast of a television, might be exchanged. The concept is worthy of thought and could lead to further experimentation between other instruments and electronic devices, but what I find most intriguing is the skinny young guy with the big head of hippie hair and full beard. Who WAS that person!?