James Seawright – Interactive Light & Sound Installations [1965-71]

Electronic Peristyle - James SeawrightElectronic Peristyle – James Seawright [1968]

James Seawright’s Electronic Peristyle [1968] is a work emblematic of the sensory ‘Magic Theatre’ exhibition held at the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, 1968. The show, refracting cultural interests of the era, included stroboscopic light and sound installations, optical works and mirrored chambers by artists and musicians such as Robert Whitman and Terry Riley. Electronic Peristyle contained a transparent plastic sphere, home to 12 photocells, which were housed above a cylindrical box capable of firing 12 individual light beams. Gallery visitors were able to occlude the paths of the light beams ensuring they did not reach their photoelectric destinations. These interruptions of light were responsible for a random participatory sonic composition where the pitch of oscillators and volume of amplifiers were changed over time. ‘By walking on the heightened floor visitors could listen to the constantly changing data decoded into a melodious, background of sound.’

Electronic Peristyle - James SeawrightElectronic Peristyle – James Seawright [1968]

The construction of Electronic Peristyle reflects the architectural experimentation of the same era. A clear acrylic spherical object is centered inside of circle of components echoing the futuristic and utopian counter cultural works of Haus Rucker, for example. The kinetic works of Lazlo Moholy Nagy (especially his Light-Space Modulator) and Nicolas Schöffer’s cybernetic sculptures are also intimated upon.

Scanner - James SeawrightWatcher (in Life Magazine) – James Seawright [1965]

Dome - James SeawrightDome – James Seawright [1965]

Scanner - James SeawrightScanner – James Seawright [1966]

Thomas Dreher explores the process and electronic components of this early interactive light/sound installation in detail and also correctly proposes Seawright anticipating the computer aided interactive installations of the mid and late 90s.

Network III - James Seawright Network III – James Seawright [1971]

pdp8lPDP-8L computer that James Seawright used to program Network III

In another interactive work by Seawright, Network III, pressure sensitive floor sensors activate an array overhead lamps, 400 in total, to create illuminated patterns. The system was controlled by a PDP 8-L computer programmed by Seawright using the machines native assembly language.’ If three or more visitors entered the space, then the program shut down with ‘a spectacular blowup’ due to ‘processing speed and memory capacity limitations’.

Further Readings:
Light and Sound Installations by James Seawright and Vladimir Bonacic – Thomas Dreher

Further Viewing:
Video documentation of Seawright’s more recent kinetic sculptures.

Related posts:
The Spatio-Lumino-Chronodynamic Towers & Sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer

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