A talk on Video Synthesises to accompany the Catching Light panel at ISEA2013


Session Title:

  • The History of Things to Come

Presentation Title:

  • A talk on Video Synthesises to accompany the Catching Light panel at ISEA2013



  • Panel: The history of things to come

    This paper looks at the video synthesiser as a primary visual/audio source of abstract images in International and Australian video art. Video synthesisers are mostly analogue or hybrid devices having an analogue video signal as their output; they are not computer imaging systems, although several were controlled and patched by using a microprocessor. They can be played live, and are more like musical instruments than computers in their usage. The presentation begins by examining the variety of devices that were built and the techniques used in most video synthesisers, and looks briefly at some of the earliest video synthesisers from the U.S. and Britain. Video synthesisers began as colourisers; e.g. Eric Siegal’s device of 1968 – or manipulators of the colours of an existing image; e.g. the Paik/Abe video synthesiser of 1970. As audio synthesisers became more readily available they, or oscillator packages derived from them, began to be used as pattern generators; e.g. the EMS Spectre, of 1975, which also used digital shape storage devices in read only memory. Pattern storage using digital memory was also a feature of the Beck Video Weaver, of 1973, which used writable memory to store shapes and read them out to the screen. The presentation then follows up with more detail on a variety of video synthesisers built and used in Australia. These include John Hansen’s hybrid analogue and digital microprocessor-controlled video synthesiser that eventually became a fully-fledged 2D Computer drawing package, Peter Vogel’s specially designed collection of oscillators that he used to produce an enhanced Musicolour device, the EMS Spectre used at La Trobe University by Warren Burt, David Chesworth and other students of Burt, and finally the series of video synthesisers built in Sydney by Stephen Jones over the period from 1978 to 1982. The presentation will include short video excerpts from many of these machines.