The Experience of Automata: An Alternative History of Audio-Visual Media


Session Title:

  • Automata

Presentation Title:

  • The Experience of Automata: An Alternative History of Audio-Visual Media



  • This paper is an extension of one delivered during a panel session at Sound Culture ’91 at the Performance Space in Sydney, Australia. It presents an alternate history of audio-visual media (including cinema, video, computer and installations and a ‘pre-model’ of the inter-relation of sound and image/movement in these media). It is alternative to the usual approach, which exclusively concentrates on the development of individual (usually visual) technologies.
    The aim here is to demonstrate how these media are part of the larger history of ‘automata’, which in the widest sense includes mechanical toys, mechanical gardens and theatres, early attempts at automated writing, speaking statues and voice synthesis as well as associated technologies and techniques (such as punch cards) employed within barrel organs and automated looms.

    Automata also form part of the history of control systems. Many were built as demonstrations of principles of automated control and give insight into what may be called the ‘experience of control’ that is both part of reactions to these machines and a fundamental aspect of notions of male creativity. This latter area becomes even more apparent when considering the mythological origins of these machines and techniques within western culture. The history of automata (including reactions to these technologies) allows for the construction of a second history: that of the experience of AV media.