Through a blurry electronic prism.
January 29, 2012 8:43 AM   Subscribe

In an age where composite video devices are oft relegated to thrift stores, select videographers are embracing the format and its analog roots via video synthesis.

Video synthesis has a rich history with instruments such as the RE-4 Rutt/Etra, the Steven Beck Video Weaver, the Sandin Image Processor and that monarch of the 80s, the Scanimate (previously). Holding the commercial torch in 2012, LZX Industries manufactures a Eurorack format modular video synth with many examples of its use online. Only DIYers can hope to approach the Synkie, an open source alternative with schematics available and a video archive as well.

For the enthusiast, Video Circuits is a well curated blog covering video synthesis and other relevant subjects. From a less technical standpoint, Data Garden covers similarly themed AV occasionally. This MeFi post about UIC's Electronic Visualization Laboratory has additional material as well.

A few video synthesis pieces:

Black Dog Dreams
Lumpy Banger
John Foxx and the Maths - Interplay
Less Than 100 Views Of
posted by I've wasted my life (14 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
posted by infinitewindow at 8:45 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great post, thanks.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2012

There goes Sunday.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:40 AM on January 29, 2012

Reminds me of times playing with Winamp's AVS. Of course the game here seems to be how much you can do in a single scan line, it's no fair having a big bad frame buffer.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:03 AM on January 29, 2012

Oh yeah.. the early days of video synthesis was a great time for artists. I remember attending a seminar by Nam June Paik back around 1975 when I was a freshman in art school. He said he figured out how to do video synthesis by recording audio tapes and playing them directly into the deflection circuits of a CRT. Eventually he reverse engineered what sort of input signals would get the images he wanted. Then he had circuits built to create those signals. He imagined then as audio waveforms, so he was essentially building an audio synthesizer to drive a CRT, making it a video synthesizer. This was all pretty mindblowing for starving art students who thought they arrived in nirvana when we got our hands on Sony Portapak B&W video systems. Now the high end of video art went way up beyond our reach again.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

So cool to see a renewed interest in analog video synthesizers. Here’s one from a new generation of artists and engineers in NYC that have been rebuilding Rutt/Etra RE-4s and rescanning them with HD cameras.

The thing about analog video synthesis is that while there is a limited range of imagery that any of these machines can create, you don’t know exactly what is going to be created until you see what effect your patch cords and dial settings have had. In that sense it’s much closer to playing a musical instrument then to modern computer graphic image generation. That said, don’t hold your breath for the next Pixar movie to be made with one of these ☺

Great post, thanks I’ve wasted my life (it seems not, btw).

P.S. – “DOT CRWAL 4 LIFE” LOL Remember how fricken’ frustrating it was that no two NTSC monitors looked alike? (As in “Never The Same Color twice.”) Would that we had anything near that level of consistency toady on everyone’s computer monitors being used to view videos from the net…..
posted by Dean358 at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

would love to see this in HD..
posted by 3mendo at 11:17 AM on January 29, 2012

Omg! Was there in the world of YUV and chroma burst. And dot crawl... never mind Never Twice the Same Colour, we had Price Added Luxury. And it still didn't work properly. However, you could get such good results by the application of a modicum of tweakage: "What happens if we unsynch the clock to that DAC? Dunno. Let's see. Ooooh!" and "Try tapping some of that output and or-ing it into the shift register that's doing the second luminance channel. Ooooh!"

It was like experimenting with drugs (sometimes _while_ experimenting with drugs), in that the pleasure was fleeting, the long-term usefulness questionable and the time spent unjustifiable. But it felt so good, and was absolutely zeitgeist.
posted by Devonian at 11:26 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm about to take the plunge into building a modular video synth myself and I can offer some insight I've learned from the Muff Wiggler Video Synth sub-forum :

Right now the only name in the game is Lars of LZX. There is Dave Jones of the Experimental TV Center fame that is coming out with a system of his own, but no date has been set (though it seems some modules will be out soon, he has a few final prototypes). The main difference as I have read between the two systems is LZX uses 1v RGB Color signals while Jones uses 5v Composite Color signals. Jones is making a LZX < - > Jones module though, so it's not as though the two systems will be hugely incomparable. Both can interface with existing Eurorack audio modules, except LZX needs a voltage converter to step-up/down from 1v to the standard Eurorack 5v.

Synkie just seems waaaay off into the future. I've known about it for a year now and all they have released is a power module. I hope their project gains some traction.

LZX is also going to be recreating some of the classic Sandin circuits as eurorack modules as well.

The great/frustrating thing is that for the most part it's all hobbyist stuff, so there's really no ETA on when new stuff comes out and modules can sell-out.

3mendo: "would love to see this in HD."
It's possible as one can down-convert and compress an HD signal into an anamorphic 16:9 squeezed into a 4:3 and then up-convert.

An CBS engineer has devised a standalone HD Colorizer here, no word on when it will be available.
posted by wcfields at 11:56 AM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

GO LARS!!! I used to roll with him down in Denton TX back in the Argo days, met up with him a couple of years back when was living in Austin getting video synthesis set up at switched on. Dude is SUPER-fucking-legit awesome.

Thank you for this post, I always love seeing people I know gettin' their respects on da blue.
posted by roboton666 at 12:22 PM on January 29, 2012

Sony Portapak B&W video systems

Oh yeah. I had one of those. Made all sorts of crazy abstract stuff with video feedback, hanging magnets in back of the monitor and such.

Notice, kiddies, that it's open reel video tape. The thiings barely worked and images looked like signals relayed from Tralfamadore -- but it was video, by ghod.

Paik is one of my heroes, Charlie. Glad you got to meet him.
posted by Herodios at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2012

Mine too, Herodios. I wrote a eulogy for Paik when he died, you might like to read it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:41 PM on January 29, 2012

Awesome post. Very relevant to what I'm working on these days.

I didn't see any links to the team Critter & Guitari who produce some truly far out video and audio instruments.

Their Videoscope has been a great simple addition to my visual performances/installations.

I'm actually pretty disappointed that they are not making these video synthesizers anymore. I need one. ;_;
posted by synthedelic at 5:02 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In retrospect, I should have picked up the Critter & Guitari stuff for this post, I came across the Videoscope when I was researching and the I saw cellular automata item a number of months ago via MAKE. Unfortunately, due to its stomp box presentation I mistakenly lumped it into video bending/glitch scene which originally was going to a part of this post but seemed a little much after I reviewed all the video synth stuff.

As an aside, I dearly wish there was more video documentation on the internet of the Experimental TV Center.

Dean358: that link is amazing, I'd love to see more work along those lines.
posted by I've wasted my life at 6:12 PM on January 29, 2012

« Older Wrestling promo botches   |   The Gift and the Curse Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments