by James Whitney constructed by punching grid patterns in 5" x 7" cards with a pin, and then painting through these pinholes onto other 5" x 7" cards images of rich complexity and dynamism.

Yantra is a Sanskrit word meaning implement or machine. It can refer to a variety of systems, from simple meditational aids like mandalas, to the flux of cosmic energy that defines the essential flow of life and reality, or, in the specialized area of alchemy, to the vessel or grail in which the mystical transmutation is bred. But you do not need to know anything about these esoteric philosophies to see directly, and appreciate, the majestic visual transformations that happen in the film -- from gentle flickers between frames of pure white and black with no image at all, to seething masses of hundreds of points of light, each seeming to revolve in its own circuit. This range of quasi-musical variations of implosions and explosions, light and dark, hard-edged pure textures and thick, irregular, hand-wrought solarized textures induces a contemplation of the self and reality, identity and universality.

(William Moritz: "Enlightenment", originally published in First Light, Robert Haller, Ed., New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1998. Article courtesy: Center for Visual Music)


Source: Center for Visual Music



James worked on Yantra for about eight years (1950-58), meticulously painting the patterns of pin-point dots on paper cards, and hand developing and solarizing much of the footage. Although Lapis was executed in only three years (1963-6) with the aid of a computer, it can not be considered a computer-graphic per se, since the images were planned and hand-painted (exactly like those of Yantra, but on cel sheets) and the computer was merely used to ensure the accuracy of animation where hundreds of tiny dots must be precisely superimposed and moved in infinitesimally small graduations. And James seems to provide a Brechtian alienation from this astonishing technical perfection by including several momentary flaws, like a fleeting freeze in the action or a flash-frame from the beginning of a dissolve (again suggesting the cracks in raku ware).

(William Moritz, 1977, excerpt from manuscript in collections of Fischinger Archive and CVM. Manuscript written in English, Fall 1977, for translation and submission to Film als Film)


Source: Center for Visual Music



It’s difficult to see these films outside a special screening at a gallery or arts cinema. The Keith Griffiths documentary Abstract Cinema is an excellent introduction, including both Lapis and James Whitney’s Yantra among many other short works. However, this isn’t available to buy so viewing it means scouring TV schedules or waiting for some of these neglected works to turn up on YouTube. Gene Youngblood’s 1970 book Expanded Cinema discusses abstraction and the Whitneys and is available as a free PDF download here.


Source: John Coulthart



Yantra, 2nd generation, mittig, kugeln, flicker / strobe, Film


Digital Harmony (1980): On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art – John Whitney, Sr. wanted to create a dialog between "the voices of light and tone." All of his early experiments in film and the development of sound techniques lead toward this end. He felt that music was an integral part of the visual experience; the combination had a long history in man's primitive development and was part of the essence of life. His theories On the complementarity of Music and Visual Art were explained in his book, Digital Harmony, published by McGraw-Hill in 1980. (Paradise 2012)

Expanded Cinema (1970) - In a brilliant and far-ranging study, Gene Youngblood traces the evolution of cinematic language to the end of fiction, drama, and realism. New technological extensions of the medium have become necessary. Thus he concentrates on the advanced image-making technologies of computer films, television experiments, laser movies, and multiple-projection environments. Outstanding works in each field are analyzed in detail. Methods of production are meticulously described, including interviews with artists and technologists. (John Coulthart)

Film as Film: Formal Experiment in Film 1910-1975 (1979) is a catalogue of an exhibition held at the Hayward Gallery in London from 3 May until 17 June 1979 on rare, essential and controversial avant-garde film history.



Kandinsky (2009) edited by Tracey Bashkof is the first full-scale retrospective of the artist's career to be exhibited in the United States since 1985, when the Guggenheim culminated its trio of groundbreaking exhibitions of the artist's life and work in Munich, Russia, and Paris. This presentation of nearly 100 paintings brings together works from the three institutions that have the greatest concentration of Kandinsky's work in the world, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich; as well as significant loans from private and public holdings. (Guggenheim)

Psyk (2001) by Ali M. Demirel - Music video for the Plastikman track Psyk. Plastikman is probably the best known of Canadian DJ Richie Hawtin's production aliases. A study in minimalist repetitions. (pingmag)

Pfadfinderei is a design bureau operating on an international level. Finding and visualizing paths was the approach that led to the name Pfadfinderei (engl. pathfinders/ boyscouts). Starting off in Berlin in 1998 as a vector orientated design bureau, Pfadfinderei soon expanded to what might be called an enhanced multimedia Wurstfabrik. The big passion of Pfadfinderei's members has always been live visualisation of music. Back in the days they were VJing in various Clubs, nowadays they are planning, creating and performing visual installations on an international level. (Pfadfinderei)

Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 (2005) traces the history of a revolutionary idea: that fine art should attain the abstract purity of music. Over the past one hundred years some of the most adventurous modern and contemporary artists have explored unorthodox means to invent a kinetic, non-representational art modeled upon pure instrumental music. (Amazon)

Lillian F. Schwartz (*1927) is an American artist, known for some of the first use of computers in computer developed art. Lillian Schwartz is best known for her pioneering work in the use of computers for what has since become known as computer-generated art and computer-aided art analysis, including graphics, film, video, animation, special effects, Virtual Reality and Multimedia. (Lillian F. Schwartz)