The Korean artist Nam June Paik – initially graduated as a musician to then diversify his fields of interest in music, movies, video and television – was one of the firsts to deeply explore the video technology as expressive possibility, opening different pathways in this area and creating important zones for reflexion about the electronic image and its potentials.
For many years a member of Fluxus group, of George Maciunas, his performances, installations and ready-mades explored multidisciplinary fields from a provocative approach, deconstructing traditional elements of areas like music and innovating in the critical [or not so critical] use of yet incipient technologies, such like video and television.
Among his works, we could highlight the approximation between video and music, and, in particular, the
approximation of the piano and the TV set – both, in their own historical moment, the most expensive pieces of furniture found in a bourgeois home. These two devices were then targets of various interventions of the artist, that sought to produce new sound and visual effects through prepared pianos and TV sets - as he exhibited in one of his first great exhibitions: “Exposition of Music – Eletronic Television”, set up at the residence of the architect Rolf Jährling in 1963.
In this exposition, Paik presented works of fundamental interest to Marginalia Project, one of them named “Random Access Music”, in which sound devices (record players and tape recorders) had their reading units detached and offered to the manipulation of the visitors, that could use them to access parts of the recorded sound in the records and tapes in a random and unlinear way - producing themselves their own music by combining the sounds available.
Somewhat through this approximation, many of Paik’s projects were made in an analogy of the simultaneity of sound production of musical instruments with a moving image context. This was one of the premises in his presentation of the Paik/Abe Synthesizer, that he developed together with the TV technician Shuya Abe. According to him, the video synthesizer they created should be manipulated in real-time, like a piano, to produce various plastic effects in the electronic image.
From this experiment forth, many of Paik’s experiments dealt with real-time image production, and, some of them, with closed circuit video systems that fed back themselves, creating a variety of trail and superposition effects. In this array of experiments, the live television show “Good Morning Mr. Orwell” really shows out. Done in the beginning of 1984, it was accomplished in live broadcasting from New York and Paris. In one of the sections of the show, a couple danced before a blue screen and, through chroma keying, the background was replaced by the feedback of the signal sent to Paris and then back to New York, creating the trail effect through the delay produced by the physical distance between the two cities. And that too was combined with numerous image and sound superposition of signals coming from different points of the globe, effectively accomplishing a work made in no specific geographical place.
Paik’s approach to technology was frequently ambiguous, given the analogy he continuously proposed between technology and elements of eastern culture, such as Zen Buddhism – in association with musician John Cage. It’s interesting, however, his efforts to humanize the technological artifact, deconstructing its traditional uses in favor of producing different experiences and questioning the stable elements of its language and materiality.
It’s, many times, through these interventions that it is possible the insertion, among these artifacts, of elements before expelled from their constitution, allowing particular experiences of technological devices, as Paik does with “Random Access Music” and “Paik/Abe Synthesizer”, separating recorded music and video from a mechanical and linear reproduction so it may be physically and bodily appropriated by the artist or the public.