“Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality” presented by Packer


Session Title:

  • UNESCO Session: Music

Presentation Title:

  • Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality



  • Overture
    The attempt to apply a definition to multimedia has been a difficult proposition. To begin with, multimedia as a description of artistic activity has changed dramatically since the 1960s when it referred to experimental forms of performance art, happenings, mixed media, and other forms of interdisciplinary art. In the 1980s, multimedia was applied to the plethora of emerging forms of entertainment and educational media from CD-ROMs to interactive games to virtual reality. Since the mid-1990s, multimedia has taken on new definition and significance with the emergence of widespread networked technologies, most notably the World Wide Web. It is no wonder the term has become problematic: vague, over-hyped and referencing a seemingly endless array of new media forms, genres, and commercial application.

    It was in response to this dilemma, particularly the medium’s lack of historical context, that I began my research in the late 1980s. It became clear to me at the time that an idealized model for contemporary forms of multimedia could be found in Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork), as well as the work of later composers whose artistic pursuits led them to the notion of composing with media. Throughout the 20th Century, artists and composers alike have explored the interdisciplinary realm of music theater, performance art, and interactive electronic media. Of prime importance in this analysis was linking experimental forms that blurred the boundaries of music and the arts to parallel movement in the cybernetic and information sciences – the work of engineers who also embraced interdisciplinary ideals and the quest for new avenues of subjective experience through integrated and non-linear forms.
    From this investigation, I began to explore a set of key paradigms that provided a conceptual framework for bridging these two seemingly disparate worlds of creative activity in the arts and sciences. This framework was distilled to five essential concepts that have come to form a meta-description for discussing multimedia: integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and the emerging narrative forms that have resulted from these evolving paradigms.

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