Randall Packer - Course Information

Electronic Media and Culture

EA 210
Syllabus - Spring, 2003
Maryland Institute College of Art
Thursday, 9:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Randall Packer, Instructor
Email: rpacker@zakros.com
office hours: TBA
Website: http://www.zakros.com/
On-line course information: http://www.zakros.com/mica/
EMAC technical support information

Course Description

Electronic Media and Culture is a broad overview of the tools, aesthetics, and cultural paradigms brought about through the application and integration of electronic media with art and design. Students will be introduced to an array of multimedia tools and techniques used in the production and authoring of graphics, text, animation, video and sound. The goal of the course is to develop practical and critical skills vital to the creation and interpretation of digital and electronic art forms.

Week 1


    Review of course objectives, assignments, and projects.

    Overview of the history of art and technology: Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

    Introduction to media types: image, text, sound, video and animation. The course will cover basic techniques in working with the essential components of digital production, understanding their unique processes, methods of editing and manipulation, and strategies for creative application.

1. Digital Imaging – We will overview basic techniques in digital imaging in Photoshop: digitalization through various input processes including scanning and digital photography; resolution; sizing and positioning; and file formats. Glossary of terms.

Macintosh basics - The Macintosh operating system as it is used in digital production: file management; file and directory naming; directory paths; saving and backing up. Desktop example.

Assignment #1 : Media Transformations - The history of technology can be viewed as a continuous transformation of our culture and the way we interact in society. Communications technologies, media technologies, information technologies, machine technologies have all had impact on the quality and nature of our daily existence.

This assignment is to capture those transformations resulting from electronic media as a composite of photographic images. Over the next two weeks, we will collect images that reveal transformations resulting from media that are taking place all around us. These images can be of people, places, broadcast media, billboards, etc. The only requirement is that each image reveal how the electronic media has altered some aspect of the human or social condition as a result of its implementation and use.

Times Square collage

Week 2

1. Digital Imaging – We will continue with more advanced techniques in digital imaging including: layers and layer properties; moving images, adjusting color and light values; cloning and touchup; flattening and saving.

Wagner to Virtual Reality collage

Assignment #1 : Media Transformations - The second part of the assignment is to take your collection of images and create a collage, sequence or juxtaposition. It is up to you to decide how you want to layout your composite: the number of images, size, orientation, configuration, etc. It is important though that the result articulate your perspective on the transformative nature of technology. Utopian? Dystopian? Optimistic? Future as Blade Runner? This is your observation.

Lynn Hershman - Phantom Limbs
Nam June Paik - Electronic Superhighway
Jenny Holzer - Truisms
William Gibson - Neuromancer

Sign up with Rhizome.org List, a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1996 to provide an online platform for the global new media art community. The Rhizome.org community is geographically dispersed, and includes artists, curators, writers, designers, programmers, students, educators and new media professionals.

Reading: William Gibson, Academy Leader, pgs 247 - 251. Write a brief summary.

Week 3

1. Digital Imaging – We will continue techniques in digital imaging including: adjusting color and light values; cloning and touchup; flattening and saving.

Review of Mac Basics.

Discussion of Rhizome.org and William Gibson's Academy Leader.

Assignment #1 : Media Transformations - Work on projects: critique and presentation of completed works.

Week 4

2. Text – Introduction to text manipulation in Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator's vector graphics capability allows the manipulation of text as a graphic object, while retaining the ability to scale the object without loss or degradation (as is the case in Photoshop's rasterized imaging). We will cover the creation of text objects, paths and text aligning, transforming techniques, file formats, etc.

Assignment #2 : Media Avant-garde - During the early 20th century, the avant-garde, most notably such movements and schools as the Futurists, Dadaists, Constructivists, Bauhaus, de Stijl, and Surrealists, were interested in treating text as a graphic object to be manipulated, not limited to its literary connotation. In particular, El Lissitzky spoke of the potential for representing text as a dynamic medium, with the speed, movement and intensity of the modern age.

Now with such advanced tools as Illustrator, we have unprecedented control over text elements as expressions of meaning and dynamic shape. The assignment is to write a text as your own statement of revolutionary thought pertaining to digital media and how it is advancing artistic expression. Your design should reflect how you might imagine the representation of the digital medium through text elements: it's speed, virtuality, changeability, interactivity, and immersive qualities. The result is to be a printed poster "advertising" digital media as a revolutionary new medium for artists and designers.

Avant-garde texts and graphics.

Contemporary Projects:

Mark Amerika - Grammatron, Phone:e:me
Plumb Design - Visual Thesaurus
Vuk Cosik - ASCII Art
Jodi - Jodi.org

Week 5

2. Text – We will discuss outputting Illustrator files for print: color, resolution, settings, etc.

Assignment #2 : Media Avant-garde - Completion of posters.

Reading: F.T. Marinetti, "Futurist Cinema," pgs 10 - 15. Write a brief summary.

Week 6

3. Sound – Introduction to sound production in SoundEdit 16. We will overview basic techniques in recording, digitizing, editing, processing, and mixing digital audio.

For 10/21 - Assignment #3 : Sound Habitat - Such artists and composers as the Futurists, Edgard Varése and John Cage introduced the idea in the early 20th century that any sound could be used for compositional purposes, not just traditional ones played by musical instruments. They introduced percussion sounds, noises played by instruments, recorded sounds, and electronically generated ones.

For this assignment we will collect found "sound" objects, collected in your apartment or house and its surroundings. Any sound that you think might be interesting in the sonic reconstruction of where you live. No musical instruments or recorded music! Just those that you record, such as: ambient sounds (traffic out the window, people talking in the next room, someone cooking in the kitchen, etc.); sounds that you compose (such as banging a pan, vocal sounds, walking, running, etc.). The resulting composition should be a portrait of your everyday life and habitat through sound.

For 10/21 - Reading: John Cage, "Diary: Audience 1966," pgs 91 - 94. Write a brief summary.

For 10/21 - Listening: " Luigi Russolo (Futurists), "Risveglio di una Citta; Edgard Varèse; Poéme Électronique; John Cage, Cartridge Music. Write a brief summary explaining how these composers have transformed noises and electronic sounds into musical composition.

Week 7

3. Sound – Advanced techniques in sound production including: special effects, filtering, changing tempo, etc.

Discussion of Cage reading.

Assignment #3 : Sound Habitat - Complete sound compositions.

Week 8

Midterm Critique – Present your sound project and Rhizome Net Art News presentation.

Week 9

Complete Midterm Critique – Present your sound project and Rhizome Net Art News presentation.

5. Hypermedia – We will cover the essential techniques for constructing hypermedia environments in Dreamweaver: layout, integrating text and graphics, hyperlinks, etc.

Assignment #4 : Media & War

War is upon us again.

The foundation of a free society is its ability to receive information that is honest and unbiased. However, in this age of instant and global media, when wars are staged for the media, the information we receive is becoming increasingly filtered by the networks and their corporate sponsors and ownership.

This assignment is intended as a critique of the media through the use of the new media. We will employ the Web to stage our own unique, individual response in the form of a Web Log or Blog.

A Blog is an on-line medium that challenges the broadcast paradigm as an alternative form of sending and receiving information, based on the many-to-many rather than the one-to-many broadcast paradigm. This allows individuals to communicate information directly to one another around the globe, bypassing the broadcast media all together.

We will keep an ongoing journal over the next five weeks reflecting on the war and the way in which the media is filtering information and affecting our perspective and judgment.

This assignment will involve the formation of a direct response to the War in Iraq as it unfolds over the coming weeks. We will view the network news media, including CNN, MSNBC, and Fox; we will view coverage in the on-line news media, including:

New York Times On-line

CNN On-line

MSNBC On-line

Fox News On-line

and we will also look at alternative news sites such as:

Independent Media Center

Media Channel

and blog sites:

We the Blog


In our responses we will incorporate images, sound, video to present our own unique view and perspective of the War in Iraq. We will construct our blog in Dreamweaver, learning authoring and interactive techniques specific to the medium of the Web.

Week 10

4. Media & War – Work on projects.

Week 11

4. Media & War – Work on projects.

Questions: Is it possible to better understand cultural differences through the information we receive from the media? Is filtered information useful?

How can artistic and creative expression and critique fill this gap, bring us together, allow us to better understand the world and its conflicts?

Sites to look at:

Campus Anti-War Network


Iraq Journal

Iraq Diaries

Common Dreams

Web techniques: preparing graphics in Photoshop; pop-up windows, nested tables and split rows and columns; horizontal rule.

Assignment: Alex Galloway, "Hacking Multi-Player Games" Tuesday, April 8, 7 pm, S3.

Week 12

4. Media & War– Work on projects.

Reading: Lynn Hershman, "Fantasy Beyond Control," pgs 299 - 305. Write a brief summary.

Week 13

4. Media & War– Work on projects.

Week 14

5. Media & War– Final Critique

For the final Critique, we will prepare the following:

  • Present your Media & War project
  • Write a 250 word brief summary about your project and how it uses the tools and processes of new media to comment on contemporary issues
  • Lead a brief Q & A discussion with the class

Assignments and Grading

Readings and Discussion (20%)

Attendance (on time) is mandatory and will be incorporated into the grade. Each student is required to participate in class discussion focusing on readings and lectures.

Projects (40%)

Biweekly projects will be assigned focusing on the application of digital tools and techniques.

Final Project (40%)

A final project will consist of a hypermedia work that integrates all the media through the Web.


Required Reading

Multimedia : From Wagner to Virtual Reality, edited by Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, W.W. Norton, 2001.


Each student is required to store their work on zip cartridges or firewire drive.

Internet Access

Everyone is required to have an e-mail account. All written assignments will be handed in electronically by e-mail. Each student also has individual Web space for on-line assignments.