Audiovisualisers has a page dedicated to the arcane history of video synthesizers, machines used to output a variety of mainly abstract imagery through the use of internal video pattern generators. Many of these analogue devices were originally intended for use in live performance settings and are driven by oscillators. In much the same way as sound synthesis has developed in recent years, monolithic analogue hardware has been replaced by computers and virtual oscillators. As artefacts of a bygone age, these video synthesizers are works of art in themselves. For an overview of the technologies used in these early machines check out Jeffrey Siedler’s introductory article.
‘The first video synthesizers appeared on the scene almost a decade after the development of completely integrated audio synthesis systems. Video synthesizers are technically more complex than audio synthesizers with video signals covering a frequency spectrum 100 times greater than for audio signals, and must be constructed according to precise timing synchronisation – the signal must be time-based for a viewable picture to emerge. Because of this reason, the development of video synthesizers had taken longer to emerge compared to its audio counterpart (Dewitt in Vasulka, 1992).’
This led to in systems where the resultant image was the product of the inherent circuit design, or where the electronics produced a more specific visual or psychological effect.
Precursing video synths by quite some years is the ‘Piano Optophonic’ created by Vladimir Baranoff RossinÃ©, a Russian Futurist painter in 1916. The piano used painted glass discs, which rotated as light passed through them (recalling the mechnism of the ANS sound synthesizer).
‘The Optophonic Piano generated sounds and projected revolving patterns onto a wall or ceiling by directing a bright light through a series revolving painted glass disks (painted by RossinÃ©), filters, mirrors and lenses. The keyboard controlled the combination of the various filters and disks. The variations in opacity of the painted disk and filters were picked up by a photo-electric cell controlling the pitch of a single oscillator. The instrument produced a continuous varying tone which, accompanied by the rotating kaleidoscopic projections was used by Vladimir RossinÃ© at exhibitions and public events.’
Looking at the resultant imagery one can only conclude that, in essence, this is the granddaddy of the machine-projectors that were used in the late 60’s West Coast lightshows. Ultimately RossinÃ© could be named the first VJ!