Multimedia :
From Wagner to Virtual Reality

The expanded paperback edition is now available at

The Website companion is on-line at

Zakros Zakros InterArts

"Encyclopedia of sensory overload" – Wired Magazine

Multimedia : From Wagner to Virtual Reality chronicles the history of art and technology. It focuses on the avant-garde artists and engineers who have pushed the envelope of their respective disciplines to bring about the dissolution of boundaries that traditionally exist between the artistic and technological media. This approach to the history of the media arts was inspired by Richard Wagner's notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork), as he applied it to music drama and his design of the Festpielhaus opera house in Bayreuth, Germany in the 19th Century.

Research for the project was begun in the late 1980s with the production of seminal 20th century interdisciplinary performance works, including the San Francisco Tape Music Retrospective, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Originale, Mauricio Kagel's Sur Scene, and the MusiCircus of John Cage. This research later expanded to include digital media, particularly the evolution and integration of human-computer interactivity. In 1994, I began teaching the history, theory and practice of multimedia at the San Francisco State University Multimedia Studies Program, continuing in 1997 at the UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice, and now at the Maryland Institute, College of Art.

I have lectured internationally on the history of the media arts, and have given presentations that include: the Design Living Conference in Chicago; the conference on the Global Information Infrastructure at Waseda University in Tokyo, and the ISEA conference in Paris. I have curated lecture events, including Multimedia Pioneers and Virtual Worlds: Beyond the Screen at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere showcasing pioneering artists, scientists, and cultural theorists in new media.

In 1997 I completed an interactive timeline exhibit for the San Jose Museum of Art, chronicling the history of art, technology and culture from 1960 to the present. The project was created in conjunction with the exhibition Alternating Currents: American Art in the Age of Technology, works from the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 1998, work was begun on a hybrid publishing project co-edited with Ken Jordan. The print edition, published by W W Norton, includes a collection of seminal essays by artists and scientists, while the Website is a multimedia on-line exhibition sponsored by Intel and hosted by The book was released in June of 2001.

From the Critics:

Matthew Mirapaul - "In the computer age, "multimedia" usually means the audio and video on a Web page. But for Randall Packer, a composer and artist in Washington, the word has a certain "Ring" to it. NY Times

Douglas Rushkoff - "This book may be the Primary Source for years to come." author of Coercion, Why We Listen to What They Say

Sara Diamond - "Of great value to novices in the field and to serious theorists and educators." Director, Banff Center for New Media

Jon Katz - The best guide yet on a subject of central importance to anone interested in the future of media... historically significant. Slashdot

Joy Mountford - ""An evocative whirlwind tour throu 150 years of the work of artists and scientists in the field of computer-human interaction." Wired Magazine

Jason Spingarn-Koff - "A new educational project funded by Intel's wants to set the record straight. The just-released website and an upcoming book tell the "untold history of multimedia." Wired News

Annick Bureaud - "Not just another reader but a key source book in the field of art, science and technology history." Leonard Digital Reviews

Reena Jana - " "Now that the tech boom of the 1990s has settled down, we can finally look at the concept of multimedia in a context other than it being shiny, sexy, and new. In fact, now might be a more ideal time to examine multimedia's evolution-an ambitious task that co-editors Randall Packer and Ken Jordan attempt to accomplish in their just-released book, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, which offers up what they call 'the untold history of the multimedia revolution'..." Rhizome

Matteo Battanti - "Multimedia: From Wagner To Virtual Reality is an historical tour-de-force that discusses everything from the avant-garde to computer science. The book, complimentary to the amazing online exhibition ( is, without any doubt, the best guide ever published on a constantly evolving phenomenon that intersects arts and technology." Apogeonline (Italian)

Tony Reveaux - Packer and Jordan examine and discuss engineers whose visionary thinking initiated and continues to push the concept of multimedia forward... Ultimately, "Multimedia : From Wagner to Virtual Reality" reads like a Western civ of modern media. Film/Tape World

Mitch Nauffts - It is often said that to understand where we are headed, we need to know where we've been. Packer and Jordan have done us all a great service by assembling this detailed, thought-provoking, and at times troubling guide to the history of multimedia — and its implications for our collective future. Philanthropy News Digest

Ken Friedman - One plausible starting point for modern multimedia is the work of composer Richard Wagner and his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk. First published in 1849, Wagner's essay was a milestone in the conceptual and technical innovation leading to multimedia today. This is where Randall Packer and Ken Jordan begin their fine anthology. Design Research News