Randall Packer - Course Information

Introduction to Multimedia History & Theory
[Computers & Creativity]

Syllabus - Fall, 2004
American University
Multimedia Design & Development
College of Arts & Sciences

Tuesday & Thursday, 5:20 - 6:35 PM

Randall Packer, Assistant Professor, Multimedia
Dept. of Computer Science, Audio Technology Physics (CAP)
[email protected]
office: #162 McKinley
office hours: TuTh, 4:00 - 5:00 pm
MMDD Website: http://american.edu/academic.depts/cas/multimedia/
Personal Website: http://www.zakros.com/

On-line Course Information: http://www.zakros.com/au
Class Blogs

Course Description

Introduction to Multimedia Theory & History is an overview of the pioneering artists and scientists who have brought about the dissolution of boundaries that have traditionally existed between the artistic and technological disciplines. The course will survey the work and ideas of artists who have explored new interactive and interdisciplinary forms, as well as engineers and mathematicians who have developed information technologies and influential scientific and philosophical ideologies that have influenced the arts. Seminal artistic movements and genres will be explored, such as: the Futurists, Bauhaus, kinetic sculpture, Happenings, video art, electronic theater, etc. There will also be study of the invention of information technologies and new human-machine paradigms that have come to define the medium of the personal computer, including: cybernetics, augmented intelligence, hypertext, human-computer symbiosis, graphical user interface, etc.

This broad historical analysis will help illuminate an understanding of the emerging digital arts and its aesthetics, strategies, trends, and socio-cultural aspirations. Central to this analysis will be an understanding of key concepts for the interpretation of evolving multimedia forms: including integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and narrativity. The course will reveal how these primary elements of contemporary media have roots in experimental electronic, visual and performing arts prior to the digital era.

Students will develop commentary in the form of critical projects through the in-depth analysis of historical trends and seminal work in the media arts and information sciences.

Week 1 Overture

Review of course objectives, readings, assignments, projects, and grading.

Blogging as "hypomnemata": a medium for research, social discourse, and documentation. Sign-up on Blogger.com

Introduction to Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality through an overview of the interactive timeline, that covers 17,000 years of historical precedence and pioneering work and ideologies by artists and scientists, from the Caves of Lascaux to the present.

Assigned Reading

• Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, "Overture," Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Assignment: After reading the Overture, choose a concept from the "Pioneers" timeline and elaborate on how this idea has expanded your definition of multimedia. For example, Richard Wagner's cooncept of the Total Artwork, how does this idea broaden our understanding of multimedia beyond the computer and the applications used for multimedia production. Please limit your response to 500 words and enter into your blog. This assignment is due by class time, Tuesday, September 7th. We will discuss in class next week.

Week 2 Integration

Definition: Integration - The blurring of traditional boundaries between disciplines – such as the arts and science – or between discrete media.

We will discuss key 19th and 20th Century developments in the integration of the arts and technology, beginning with the work of composer Richard Wagner and his idealized notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork), followed by Bell Labs engineer Billy Klüver, who was a central figure in the New York art world during the 1960s with the formation of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology).

Assigned Reading

• Billy Klüver, "Northeastern Power Failure" 1966

due: Thursday, Sept. 9th.


How does the E.A.T. Pepsi Pavilion differ from Richard Wagner's music drama and his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork). How are they the same? How do the artists approach the integration of the arts. How do the various artforms and the technology of the day unite form a unified medium we call multimedia?

Please limit to 500 words (minimum 300) and enter into your blog.

due: Thursday Sept. 9th.

Week 3 Integration

Korean-born artist and composer Nam June Paik is considered the father of video art. During the 1960s, he integrated the new technologies of video into his performances with the Fluxus artist collective. (Dick Higgins, who coined the term "intermedia" was another Fluxus member.) By the late 1960s, he began creating more ambitious works, expanding video as a sculptural and installation medium. Most recently, the Guggenheim Museum presented a retrospective, the "Worlds of Nam June Paik."

Nam June Paik slide presentation.

Assigned Reading

• Nam June Paik, "Cybernated Art" 1966

Nam June Paik said, "Cybernated art is very important, but art for cybernated life is more important, and the latter need not be cybernated." Does the artist and designer have a responsibility to incorporate new media into their contemporary practice. Why?

Enter your response into your blog, between 300 - 500 words.

due: Thursday, Sept. 16th.

We will discuss your responses in class on Thursday. Everyone is expected to participate.

Contemporary Sites: Each week I will introduce new contemporary work from the Rhizome site, an on-line community devoted to the new media arts. This week, we will look at the report by artist Jonah Brucker-Cohen on the ISEA Festival (International Society for the Electronic Arts) held in Helsinki, Finland. He discusses works such as wearable, responsive video jewelery, the project examines how wearable technology can impact and change our environment, personal experience and social landscape. We will also look at a work by Jonah, the Homeland Insecurity Advisory System, created for my project, the US Department of Art & Technology.

Week 4 Integration

Review of key concepts related to the integration of the arts and technology.

Paper #1 due: Thursday, September 23rd, approx. 1000 words, enter in blog

We have discussed integration as the synthesis of the arts, as well as the synthesis of art and technology. We have explored artists who have incorporated the new technologies, advancing multimedia as a medium of artistic expression. Richard Wagner has stated that only through the synthesis of all the arts can art or design achieve its highest form of expression. What did he mean by this? How has Billy Klüver or Nam June Paik advanced this idea? Reference specific ideas and artworks we have discussed in class in your analysis. Do not generalize, it is important to support your critique with an understanding of the readings and our discussion of art projects. Refer to the syllabus, with links to various Websites, to research your response. Also, use your blog entries as a record of your thoughts and observations. That is the purpose of the blog! Stop by my office of you have additional questions.

Discussion of papers: topics posted on blog entries.

Reading Assignment (due Tuesday, September 28th): Norbert Wiener, "Cybernetics in History," Human Use of Human Beings : Cybernetics in Society, 1954

Blog Assignment (due Tuesday, September 28th): 300 word summary of why the study of cybernetics is important to society, specifically, the way in which humans interact with machines, and how that might affect the quality of life.

Week 5 Interactivity

Definition: Interactivity - Reciprocal exchange between the viewer and the artwork, the ability to manipulate media and objects intuitively and with immediacy.

This topic explores the evolution of the technical, aesthetic, and cognitive concepts behind human-computer interactions, and their influence on the art, design and application of interactive media. Beginning with the fundamentals of cybernetics as conceived by engineer Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s, we will discuss subsequent scientific breakthroughs in human-computer interaction including Douglas Engelbart's oNLine System and invention of the mouse.

Applications for consideration: Google, how does the search engine cope with the increase of information; webstats, how does the analysis of web traffic help us to better under how people use the web, gather information; The File Room by Antonio Muntadas; how does this on-line database show us how individuals can collectively gather information to make the public more aware of such issues as censorship in the arts; Please Change Beliefs by Jenny Holzer, is an on-line artwork that reveals the emphemeral nature of truth, brought about through collective interaction with her "Truisms."

Reading Assignment (due Thursday, September 30th): Douglas Engelbart, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework" (read Introduction only, pg 66 - 70)

Blog Assignment (due Thursday, September 30th): 300 word summary of how the personal computer can be used to augment human intellect.

Week 6 Interactivity

We will then explore the evolution of the graphical user interface, led by Alan Kay at Xerox PARC in California, where research was done to invent the personal computer.

Review of interactivity.

Reading Assignment (due Tuesday, October 5th): Alan Kay, "User: Interface : A Personal View"

Blog Assignment (due Tuesday, October 5th): 300 word summary of how the personal computer can be used to amplify or stimulate creative activity.

Contemporary Sites: This week, we will look at sites and artworks related to the interface. An early new art work, Desktop Is, looks at how we personalize our desktops, how they are an extension of our phyical space. Crank the Web introduces physical movement in how we navigate the virtual space. A work that deconstructs the interface into an html-induced abstraction, is The Shredder. And finally, for the ultimate deconstruction of the Web interface, Jodi.org.

Questions to consider for the midterm assignment:

Why does Norbert Wiener consider the study of cybernetics to be crucial to the quality of social life in contemporary society?

Is it possible, as Douglas Engelbart says, that computers can make us smarter and more productive, better able to solve problems? If so, how?

According to Alan Kay, the computer amplifies our creativity, takes advantage of our intutive skills for learning, art, etc. Is this true?

There are those who believe that computers fragments our thinking, shortens our attention span, causes multiple personalities, renders users illiterate, encourages voyeurism and pornagraphy, is an escape from reality, etc. What do you think?

Week 7 Interactivity

Midterm Assignment due Thursday, October 14:

We have explored how the evolution of interactivity through computing has been critical the relationship between the individual and the machine in the social context, to the augmentation of human intellect, and to amplify our creative capacities. Each of the scientists who made these claims: Norbert Wiener, Douglas Engelbart, and Alan Kay, took an optimistic view of the impact of technology and its effect on human interaction and our use of the computer. Others claim that technology can also be a negative force, that it draws us away from meaningful human interaction, that it is sterile as a tool for creative expression, and that it might have a destructive force on society as a whole that becomes increasingly reliant on technology. Such films as Blade Runner or Total Recall or The Matrix show the dark side of technology as a menace to individuality, social systems out of control, dangerous bio-tech research, or an excursion into a fantasy world gone awry.

What is your view? Do you view technology in a positive light, in which the interaction between man and machine can be used to improve the quality of life, or do you see a destructive tendency in these interactions, that we are become too machine-like, too reliant on technological systems, in our relationship to nature and to one another.

Be careful to refer to specific ideas presented in the essays we have read, in class discussion, and in examples presented in class.

Your essay should be a minimum 1000 words posted on your blog.

Week 8 Hypermedia

Definition: Hypermedia - The non-sequential linking of information, events, and discrete media.

"He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory." – Vannevar Bush

We will discuss the evolution of hypermedia and the non-linear association of information resulting in the collapse of traditional spatial and temporal boundaries. We will begin with Vannevar Bush's seminal investigation into the concept of the hyperlink through his design of the Memex in 1945, the prototypical multimedia workstation.

Projects and Web sites for review:

New forms of narrative and storytelling
My Boyfriend Came Back from the War
by Olia Lialina

New literary forms of fiction (hyperfiction)
by Mark Amerika

Hypermedia tools
Visual Thesaurus
by ThinkTank

New York Times

Assigned Reading for Tuesday, October 26th

• Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly, 1945
• Ted Nelson, Computer Lib / Dream Machines" 1974

Assigment for Tuesday, October 26th

Brief 300 word summaries

No class Thursday, October 21st. I have an opening in NY! See you Tuesday.

Week 9 Hypermedia

A disscusion of Ted Nelson's coining of the term hypertext in the early 1960s, in which non-linear associative thinking was applied to human-computer interaction.

Surrealist games: The Exquisite Corpse

-- Decide on a sentence structure (Article/Adjective/Noun/Verb/ Adjective/Noun to approximate the above example)
-- Each person writes a word fitting the outlined sentence structure.
-- Fold the paper over to conceal the written word and pass it to the next person.
-- The next person writes a word, conceals it, and passes the paper to the next person
-- Read the outcome.

What does this game tell us about non-linear writing?

For Thursday discussion:

Contemporary Sites: This week, we will look at my own work: the Media Deconstruction Kit, in anticipation of the Election Night Remix at the Black Cat on November 2, featuring DJ Spooky, myself and Video Syndicate. The MDK was created as a critique of broadcast media, the way in which the medium (particularly cable news) uses fancy logos, graphics, soundbites, etc., to distort reality and transform the news into entertainment and often propaganda. Also, the media is increasingly owned by coporate moguls who have special interests and ties to certain ideologies, which they often express via the news. Fox News, for example, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is a conversative and sympathetic to the Bush Administration. As a result, Fox News, which pretends to be "fair and balanced," is actually very biased. The Media Deconstruction Kit transforms the news into an aesthetic experience and thus strips it of its original intent, an artistic intervention. It also amplifies the hypnosis of the medium, making us aware of how news can be used as a narcotic to dull the intelligence of its viewers. As artists are concerned with heightening the sensitivity of the audience, the MDK illustrates how art can mediate between the powers that be and an unsuspecting, manipulated public.

The Remix: An appropriation from a source in which there is invervention and transformation of the original intent. Often cultural content such as newspapers, radio programs, television, Internet is recombined to form new context. There is often strong political objective in the remix, particularly when there is cultural content. Here are some examples of remixing:

DJ Spooky Website

DJ Spooky "Birth of a Nation"

Howard Dean

Department Works

Assignment for Paper #3. In light of our discussion of hypermedia, the non-sequential order of events, how does the "remix" draw from this form of writing, music and artistic creation. Hypermedia is the ordering events intuitively and sometimes without logic, drawing from the unconscious workings of the mind. How does the "remix" take off from this form of expression. Consider the Media Deconstruction Kit and its use at the Election Night Remix, as well as the above examples, and demonstrate how the ideas of Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson illuminate our understanding of the remix. Due on Thursday, Nov. 4., approx. 1,000 words, upload to your blog.

Week 10 - Hypermedia

Tuesday, November 2, 9 pm - 1am, Election Night Remix. Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW, $12.

Thursday, Discussion of paper #3.

Week 11 - Immersion

Definition: Immersion - The experience of entering a multi-sensory representation of three-dimensional space.

We will explore the evolution of virtual reality and 3D virtual space: multimedia as an immersive experience that engages all the senses. We will overview the research of artists and scientists dating back to the 1950s, including Morton Heilig, Ivan Sutherland, Myron Krueger, Scott Fisher, and Char Davies, who have pioneered the tools and aesthetics of virtual reality, stereoscopic imaging, and telepresence, leading to the creation of digital, immersive environments.

Assigned Reading for Tuesday, November 9

• Ivan Sutherland, "The Ultimate Display," 1966
• Scott Fisher, "Virtual Environments," 1989

Assigned Reading for Thursday November 11

• Char Davies, "Changing Space: Virtual Reality as an Arena of Embodied Being," 1997

Week 12 - Immersion

Discussion of recent research and artistic application of virtual environments including: Luc Courchesne's "Landscape One;"; Michael Naimark's "Be Now Here;" Perry Hoberman's "Bar Code Hotel;" and the CAVE system developed at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory that has spawned such works as Jeffrey Shaw's "Configuring the Cave."

Final Project: Choose a contemporary media artist, select one piece that you feel represents their work, and write a 1500 word essay discussing how their use of narrative is informed by concepts we have learned in the class. How has the artist engaged the audience through interactivity? Have they used non-linear forms derived from hypermedia? Does the work immerse the audience, and if so, how does this experience involve the viewer? Which disciplines have been integrated to form the multimedia work?

Ultimately we want to have a new understanding of narrative in multimedia. How have these artists redefined narrativity through the creation of new works that combine the evolving paradigms we have discussed.

Choose an artist from the list below, search the Web for their own site or sites focused on their work, decide which piece you want to discuss in depth. Let me know which artist you want to present by Thursday, November 18th, otherwise I will assign one. I want to avoid duplication, so please have a backup in mind.

Post the final paper on your blog. You may included links if you like, although this is not required.

During the last week of classes Dec. 7 and 9, we will have final presentations, consisting of a brief 5 minute overview of the work, showing Website examples: video, graphics, etc.

Eduardo Kac (genetics and robotics)
Perry Hoberman (humorous critique)
Michael Naimark (surrogate travel)
Marcos Novak (3D architecture)
Jeffrey Shaw (virtual environments)
Jonah Brucker-Cohen (network and wireless technologies)
Mark Napier (Internet art)
Alex Galloway (gaming and subversion)
Mark Amerika (multimedia and hypertext)
Tony Dove (interactive stories and characters
Julia Scher (surveillance)
DJ Spooky (remix and sound)
Anne-Marie Schleiner (gaming and character transformation)
Ken Goldberg (robotics and telepresence)
Masaki Fujihata (Internet and GPS technology)
Kenneth Rinaldo (robotics)
Golan Levin (animation and visualization)
Critical Art Ensemble (politics and topical issues)

Week 12 Narrativity

Definition: Narrativity - Interactive, branching forms that lend the user control over the narrative, diminishing the traditional primacy of the author's voice.

This final investigation focuses on the reshaping of narrative with new nonlinear, interactive, and electronic forms of media and communication. We will discuss William Burrough's cutup techniques used in writing his later novels, and applied to several experimental film projects in the late 1950's and early 60s, and the video artist Bill Viola's experimentation with time through video. Bill Viola's 25th-year Retrospective showcased his video installations in a walk-through labyrinthian exhibition designed by theater artist Peter Sellars and curator David Ross.

Assigned Reading

• William Burroughs, "The Future of the Novel," 1964
• Bill Viola, "Will There be Condominiums in Cyberspace?," 1985

[no class the week of November 22, 24 for Thanksgiving]

Week 14 Narrativity

Discussion of experimental narrative forms by contemporary media artists:

Jennifer and Kevin McCoy
Toni Dove
Jeffrey Shaw
Cory Archangel

Media theorist Pierre Lévy's critique of emerging new possibilities for artistic creation in the context of interactive, immersive, and hypermediated forms.

Assigned Reading

• Pierre Lévy, "The Art & Architecture of Cyberspace" 1997

Final discussion: the future of cyberspace and its impact on art and creativity.

LambdaMOO created at Xerox PARC in 1991 by Pavel Curtis.

Week 15 Final Project Presentation (Dec. 7 + 9)

During the final classes, we will have presentations, approx. 10 minutes per person, 5 minute overview of project, 5 minute class discussion critiquing the work. You can use the Web to illustrate your project with images, diagrams, examples, etc.

Assignments and Grading

Written assignments (20%)

Midterm Project (20%)

Final Project (50%)

Attendance and Class Discussion (10%)


Assigned reading

All reading will be from the instructor's "Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality," (co-edited by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan), as well as the companion Website located at artmuseum.net. The book can be purchased through Amazon.com.