The Prometheus Institute and the Work of Bulat Galeyev

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Image: Light Composition Using Prometei-3

It's hard to sum up the interests and achievements of Bulat Galeyev, who died in Kazan, Russia, on January 5 at the age of 68. He was a teacher of physics and aesthetics. As a scholar, he published scientific research on synesthesia, and as an artist he staged his own theatrical performances that synthesized visuals and music. He studied and championed the work of Lev Termen, even when the theremin's inventor was nearly forgotten in his native country. Inspired by the ideas of early-twentieth century composer Alexander Scriabin, whose orchestral works are usually performed without the colored-light shows that he choreographed for them, Galeyev devoted his life to a multi-faceted study of art and sensory perception. The radical, interdisciplinary nature of his career is even more impressive when you consider that it evolved in the conservative, often stifling intellectual atmosphere of the Soviet Union.

Galeyev's base of operations was the Prometheus Institute in Kazan, a city about 450 miles east of Moscow. To gain official support and funding, Prometheus attached itself to an aviation engineering research institute, and its unique position in relationship to industry was not dissimilar from the experimental initiatives hosted by Bell Labs and Siemens in the West. Galeyev's line of inquiry was certainly not a priority for Soviet science. But when he founded Prometheus in 1962, the country was still euphoric from launching the first human into space a year earlier. The light-music concerts that Galeyev organized at Prometheus blended in with the widespread vogue for science fiction and futurism.

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Image: Debussy's Fireworks Played on Kristall

Thanks to Prometheus' close connections to an official research laboratory, its employees had access to equipment that ordinary citizens could never dream of. Galeyev and his team took advantage of ...

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Out-of-Body

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When the independent curator, publisher, writer and art dealer Willoughby Sharp died this past December at the age of 72, the art world lost an iconic figure. Active internationally in the art world since the early 60s, Sharp's name is most often associated with his role as the publisher and co-founder (with Liza Bear) of Avalanche magazine (1970-1976) and for his curation of the seminal art exhibition Earth Art (1969). Avalanche has become something of a cult classic in the art world. Consisting mostly of idiosyncratic editorials by Sharp and Bear and interviews with figures such as Joseph Beuys, Yvonne Rainer, Bruce Nauman, Lawrence Weiner and Vito Acconci, Avalanche helped define the art of an era while also redefining the role of the art magazine. The editors viewed Avalanche as an open space for artists and art, and this vision dictated the overall direction of the magazine. Sharp's seminal Earth Art, held at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1969, was the first major exhibition of land-based sculptural work, and it included artists such as Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Richard Long and Dennis Oppenheim (among others). It has also become somewhat mythologized as the exhibition where the young Gordon Matta-Clark, who lived in Ithaca, was hired by Sharp as an assistant and, thus, met the vanguard of the international art scene for the first time.

However, it should be noted that Sharp, himself, was also a performance artist, video artist, satellite artist and computer artist. In fact, his work at the nexus of art and technology is one of the most passionate chapters in his career, but has largely gone unnoticed. The art historian Frank Popper (who met and befriended Sharp in 1968) has offered one of the few accounts of this work in his book From Technological to Virtual Art. According to Popper, the introduction of television to American culture in the late 1940's had a tremendous effect on Sharp. "Almost instantly after DuMont television sets began to dominate living rooms and lives in 1948, television took control of Sharp, and he was transformed from just watching "Uncle Miltie" to being him," writes Popper.

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Electronics in the World of Tomorrow (1968) - Erkki Kurenniemi

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Via UbuWeb

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Required Reading

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"The technical computer specialists, on the other hand, have to become aware of the potential contribution of the artists, develop a respect for their pattern perceiving and pattern generating abilities, for their trained sensitivity to the exploration of novelty, their ability to select what is most significant; indeed—at their best—to make concrete the future before it happens, before we can define it, formalize it and verbalize it." - Leslie Mezei

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Interview with Mellotron Documentary Filmmaker Dianna Dilworth

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Reproduction, appropriation, and automation are three major ongoing concerns within contemporary music and art. It’s strange then that relatively few people know about two mid-20th Century musical instruments that embodied all of these methods: the Chamberlin keyboard and its offshoot, the Mellotron, the first instruments built on taped samples of the sounds of others.

In Mellodrama: The Mellotron Documentary, filmmaker Dianna Dilworth takes measure of the many players in the story behind these unruly sound machines, whose very existence ultimately shaped much of popular music. The film is a study in the unpredictability of innovation, and how each extension of the same technology can conflict with the intentions of those that came before it.

The film profiles the creators as well as the instruments themselves, spotlighting their influence on later musical tools and approaches, as well as their overwhelming influence on a wave of pop stars, from the Beatles to 70s progressive rock bands. Mellodrama premiers February 16 at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana.

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OffOn (1967) - Scott Bartlett

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Making of OffOn (1980) - Scott Bartlett


Via WFMU's Beware of the Blog

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Catalog (1961) - John Whitney

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Created with an analog computer and camera system John Whitney built by converting a World War II M-5 Antiaircraft Gun Director.

Via Javier Morales

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Share and Share Alike

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Long before flash mobs, liveblogging, and file-sharing were part of the vernacular, artists were creating social sculptures and elaborate systems for public collaboration. The upcoming SFMOMA exhibition, "The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now" takes a sweeping look at work that addresses co-authorship, exchange, and rapidity--all themes we associate with life in a digital society, but which the show traces back within a post-war art historical context. Organized by the museum's new media curator, Rudolf Frieling, the show includes works ranging from groundbreaking projects by Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, John Cage, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, Lynn Hershman, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Andy Warhol, to contemporary work by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Janet Cardiff, Minerva Cuevas, Antoni Muntadas, the Raqs Media Collective, Warren Sack, and Erwin Wurm. The show also casts a glance at the ways in which the title's theme has evolved with communicative media. Take, for instance, the old-fashioned gesture of audience participation. Tom Marioni's legendary public project The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art offers an intoxicating stance on the act, while MTAA's Automatic for the People: ( ) allows you to vote on the theme, props, and even subtitle of a performance they'll publicly enact at the museum on November 7th. If you can't make it to San Francisco to see the show and participate live, you can, of course, get in on the act with the online works. Because, really, the show's nothing without you. - Marisa Olson

Image: Lygia Clark, Diálogo:

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Art Keeps On Slipping Into the Future

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Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984) shares with artists like Josef Albers, Aldous Huxley, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller the legacy of having developed their practice at Black Mountain College, the creative mecca where these and other thinkers pushed the edges of visual art, music, literature, technology, and consciousness. His experimental films of the 1950s blurred dada collage and science fiction, and he was an early adopter of both analog processes and computer animation, establishing for him a godfather-like position in the origin-narratives surrounding new media. His often rough aesthetic anticipated glitch-fetishism by several decades and drove the surrealist aesthetic into new territory; yet this is not to say that his works didn't go down smoothly. (The internet is full of video evidence of his colorfully dreamy proliferations.) The artist is currently the subject of an exhibition at New York's Guild & Greyshkul gallery, where one can see VanDerBeek's contribution to the proto-history of digital copy-and-paste stylistics in the form of real copy-and-paste collages and his own reworkings of his early films. Much of the work in the show, including a "faux mural" he transmitted electronically to international venues, in 1970, was made in his days at MIT, where his immersion among scientists and engineers had a clear impact on his art. VanDerBeek had a futurist and almost cosmological approach to his work and was one of those artists known for spouting beautiful witticisms about finding universal modes of expression that transcended media and the confinement of traditional forms. At the end of the day, he also reminded us that "Art is the artifact of reality (not taken for granted)." - Marisa Olson

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4-D Hyper Movie (1962) - A. Michael Noll

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"The notion of creating art works through the medium of machines may seem a little strange. Most people who have heard about the experimental use of digital computers in creative endeavors have probably shrugged them off as being of no consequence. On the one hand, creativity has universally been regarded as the personal and somewhat mysterious domain of man; and, on the one hand, as every engineer knows, the computer can only do what it has been programmed to do - which hardly anyone would be generous enough to call creative. Nonetheless, artists have usually been responsive to experimenting with and even adopting certain concepts and devices resulting from new scientific and technological developments. Computers are no exception."

-A. Michael Noll -The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium (1967)

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