Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones Interview, Sydney, Oct 2011.

CM-A: You know my focus is quite narrow especially compared to the way you’ve been working. I am looking particularly at artists’ video.

S.J: My work generates a large amount of stuff and it generates a lot of interconnections. I am interested, as I have said, in the relations.

CM-A:  Well I am casting my net more narrowly. I am looking at the Australian sensibility and the Australian experience of artists’ video, whatever that might be. I am particularly interested in what happened in that first couple of decades. You seem to come up again and again in conversations as someone who is an important figure for a number of reasons: You began working with video in the early days, you have curated exhibitions, you were the technical person on a number of things. But you also have an incredible archive. You’ve become the unofficial archivist of early Australian artists’ video. My questions are all quite generic, and you can take the answers in any direction you like. To start with, I am interested in knowing what first attracted you to the medium of video.

SJ: There is not a succinct answer to that, but it is reasonably succinct. As I’ve mentioned I trained as a systems theorist. Now that was accidental, incidental and not a normal thing to do within the university structure. There was no course in systems theory. I had a psychedelic adolescence. Lets put it that way. I went to university with the intention of trying to understand what it was about consciousness or minds or persons that meant that this sort of stuff could happen. I was also interested in the occult and mystical stuff. So I wanted to know what all that was, so I went and studied  psychology at university and ran up against the absolute horror show of stimulus response oriented learning theory, ‘rats and stats’, behaviourism. I had a lecturer who decided that the aborigines couldn’t be as intelligent as white people because they didn’t succeed in the Piagetian Tests and it never occurred to him that they had probably never seen a straight stick in their life before.

CM-A: These tests are designed for people with a particular mindset or cultural conditioning- like IQ tests.

SJ: So, basically, I struggled with my lecturers in Psych for the first year and a half, until one of them, around the end of that period, said to me “what you actually need is to read this book by Fred Emery called Systems Thinking.[1] It’s a collection of works, writings by a bunch of people, including Ludwig von Bertalanffy, (1901-1972)[2] the general systems theorist – also including the cybernetics people. Of course that was a revelation. I then went and studied Biochemistry. Which was, at that stage, the only place you could do self-regulating systems, in Metabolic Regulation. Of course it speaks for itself, because it is a biological system, it’s self-regulating. The mechanism of that is metabolic regulation, and the Krebs cycle in glucose metabolism is the exemplar that is always trotted out.

I had done some computing. I worked in my first summer break, between first and second year, which was summer 69-70, I worked for a company called “Information Electronics” which was stripping TV sets and turning them into computer displays.

Then the third year, I went to the Defence Department Computing section. The reason I was accepted in Defence was because my father was in defence. He had very a serious security rating and that rubbed off on to me in those days.  So I got reasonably well exposed to engineering. My father was an engineer. I never intended to be an engineer. I was into psychology. I ended up being a hippy within this framework and got interested in a kind of network theory that didn’t yet exist. As far as I know there was no network theory at that stage. What I realized was that urban environments and particularly the physical urban plan of Canberra was a network structure. It was a network of places; points where things crossed over and nodes occurred because things happened there. I don’t know how I made that leap. It was intuitive in a sense. Looking back it was an important thing.  This developed my interest in systems, the hippy, earth sort of stuff as well as Buckminster Fuller that I used to follow. I read Whole Earth catalogues and so on. Also the theories around mysticism have something to do with things like that as well. So I was prepared for a situation in which people didn’t necessarily think in the standard way. I think probably that was the crucial point.

CM-A: So it was alternative-

SJ: We were all alternative. But I was alternative alternative, in the sense that I had a much wider spectrum of things that influenced me than possibly most people.

CM-A: So do you go from computers to video as a natural transition?

SJ: Computers come in later. I went with my general systems theory understanding, and this stuff that I had been doing on networks, and a very strong interest in psychedelic film, and electronic music. I was brought up on Stockhausen. I first heard Stockhausen when I was 12. My father had a really wide interest in new music. So he was very valuable to me. His loss earlier this year was disastrous.

So this gave me this ridiculously weird, broad, grounding and I could talk about anything. Also the fact that we moved all the time means that I was forced to be able to talk about anything. It also meant that I had no long lasting friendships. I had very few. Our first travel was when I was 18 months. We went to live in England for 3 and half years. We came back on my 5th birthday on a ship. And I went to the States when I was 14 or 15. All of that kind of stuff happened.

But, out of the interest in experimental film I met Mick Glasheen and Albie Thoms. I had been involved in setting up the university arts festival in 1971. This was not Nimbin, this was the previous one. I had invited Albie Thoms and Mick Glasheen to come down and show films. I also invited Martin Sharp to do a show of his The Incredible Shrinking Exhibition, which was his second exhibition. Basically it was a photographically shrunk version of the first show. And we hung that in the woods outside the Chancery building on the campus of the university. So the pictures were actually hanging in the trees. You wouldn’t do it now. You wouldn’t get away with it. Martin was really cool about that, which was great.

Mick and Albie came and stayed with us for that period. I think I was driving a Volkswagen during those days.

So that finished and I went back to university and continued whatever I was doing. I got more involved in this network stuff because of the development of an idea called The Learning Exchange. The Learning Exchanges were based on the idea that there are lots of people with a lot of practical knowledge out there, so why not draw them together to teach other people how things happen and work. So it was kind of alternative education. That was the time when the revolution in education was supposed to happen.

CM-A: The anti-university??

SJ: No we did not have one here..The Learning Exchange was a network of people from different cities who were interested in this way of thinking about teaching and education. So I became involved in that. Out of that I got involved in the Nimbin Festival, which was the next Aquarius Arts Festival (1973). That was where it all happened in Australia to a large extent. Nimbin is incredibly important. One of the things that happened in Nimbin, was that the people who were organizing it spent a great deal of time networking around the cities bringing interested people together to talk about what might happen at the festival. So all kinds of things from cooking sessions to learning exchanges to building systems and how you would convert a village into a festival site. And the Canadian Challenge for Change project had just started happening. Hoppy [John Hopkins] and the JCATS people in the Centre for Advanced Television Studies[3] and the whole IRAT scene in Britain had been happening, and they had been running this notion of community television. It didn’t escape notice here. In fact it received high-level notice here – particularly  the Challenge for Change project. Because it was the National Film Board in Canada, it got Australian Council for the Arts notice here. They were willing to fund some sorts of projects related to the Aquarius festival.

The directors of the festival, Johnny Allen and Graeme Dunstan, had this idea that they would like to document the festival on film, and video at that time was still a question mark. So they canvassed a few people, and two people particularly took this idea up. One was Mick Glasheen and the other was Joseph El Khouri. Joe lived in Melbourne and Mick lived in Sydney. Mick was studying architecture at the University of New South Wales and had been one of the illustrators of OZ magazine. Joseph was a budding filmmaker at the University of New England and had after finishing Uni come to Sydney and then went down to Melbourne and got involved in the independent filmmaking scene and started making some films. So those two, with a bit of support from other people around the Aquarius process, mooted the idea of establishing not just a way of documenting the festival, but actually something like a community television station for the festival. So they, in fact, proposed a cable network for the festival. And they got support to do this.[4] Not only that, they also got serious interest from Telecom – now Telstra – who would have not thought about it. Now, they wouldn’t even look at it. In those days, Telecom was a government thing. They had a research lab and were interested in stuff – in communications and stuff – and of course cable was all over the States (US), so they had to think about that. So they got money to buy two or three portapacks, a bench recorder for editing onto, a couple of cameras, a truck to transport the whole thing. Mick had been building domes. He was a total aficionado with Bucky Fuller. He had already made the first important video, what I would consider the first major video art piece made in Australia, in 1970. It was called Teleologic Telecast from Spaceship Earth: on board with Buckminster Fuller. That is a really important work. It was made on video and kine-scoped to film for distribution because in those days there wasn’t anyway of doing it. Even Eidophors were only black and white. It wasn’t until 3 or 4 years later that the GE Talaria came by, and you could get a colour Eidophor.

So that work meant that Mick had already been making films and AVs and multi-screen things and various techniques that would later have been used in corporate AV. But in those days it was highly experimental. You can read about it in the book – well some of it.

Anyway he made that video, and then in 1973 he and Joseph wrote the grant application. They got the money. They got the equipment, they got the truck, they brought the dome, and they set up the facilities and started cabling. They got there 2 weeks before the festival to run the cables. They found all sorts of trouble. It was incredibly difficult. They finally got the festival site and the township cabled up towards the end of the festival. And videos did get transmitted through this cable network out to locations around the town, the pub and the café as well as the main festival hub and all sorts of places. So stuff happened, and stuff was recorded. There was a lot of stuff recorded. They didn’t have enough tapes and some of the stuff was recorded over. The quality of the shooting was not very good because basically it was done by people who never handled a camera before, apart from Mick and Joseph, who did shoot stuff as well. But the intention was to let the festival people shoot stuff. So you’ve got this network set up – a loose relational network – oriented towards production to feed down the cable network. But there’s this network of individuals interested in varying degrees in the thing. Having met Mick before and having gone up to Nimbin as part of the Learning Exchange project, I met them all up there and hung out with Mick and the others a bit, and that introduced  me to the video side of it in a fairly direct way.

CM-A: So that was your first encounter with it?

SJ: Yes, May 1973

CM-A: Where you impressed with it?

SJ: I was impressed with the systems theory understanding that they had.

CM-A: So it wasn’t really the medium, it was the ideas around them?

SJ: It was the framework that counted.

CM-A: That is interesting because for most of the people I have spoken, it was something about the medium that was captivating. Whereas for you it is the ideas around what might be possible with it.

SJ: No, not quite. In a sense, here is an expression of the framework and you can make amazing stuff with it. Because the other thing that was being explored here was video feedback, and video feedback is really interesting. I mean Crutchfield’s work on complex systems[5] is a fascinating discussion of it, but what was clearly obvious was that here was something awfully reminiscent of a living system. If you got a bit stoned you were in trouble because it was totally hypnotizing.

CM-A: So you got involved with working with feedback?

SJ: That was my main interest. I am a cyberneticist and a systems theorist. I am interested in feedback. As I talk about it in my book, there are several layers of memory in the video. Video, as described by Daniel Palmer is “a medium without a memory”,[6] but in fact video is a medium of memory. And there are layers of memory. I more or less put it in three layers. There is the eidetic which is the immediate, which is feedback. Then there is the feedback you get when you play back the tape just after you’ve shot it so that you can show the people in the workshop how they were performing, and then there’s the historical record type of feedback. So you have these larger and larger scales of feedback circularity. So that was what, to me, was interesting

CM-A: So it wasn’t so much about feedback as a visual phenomenon. It was what was behind it.

SJ: Mmm. But the visual phenomenon was important as well

CM-A: Because it embodied the idea??

SJ: This is why the mysticism story is important. To many of us involved at that time, particularly those like Mick Glasheen who were interested in Bucky Fuller, it was a representation of how a system could be live and conscious. So we thought of it as a representation of consciousness. The feedback process we recognized then as being a complex system that could go live. In a sense I’ve been anti the mystistical, dualist view from way, way back. One of the arguments for this was that you could show how this system could go live, and maintain that ‘live’ condition, just by pointing a camera on a monitor and if you added a bit of modulation by turning it at an angle or putting your fingers in the way, it trailed and streamed. And if you got a mixer and you keyed into the background layer video of, say, people dancing, that all trailed and streamed. And if you had the fortune to have colour in your system as well, you were in heaven. So that is what I think got me into video.

CM-A: Did you start making feedback tapes as result?

SJ: Yes. Pretty much the first things I made were feedback tapes. They weren’t necessarily content free. I was also very interested in other things like Tai Chi, like Stonehenge, the archaeological history of us, the Anglo archaeology particularly, the ley lines. What the fuck was all of that about? I have got all the books. I have got a huge collection of books.  I’ve got Inigo Jones’s book on Stonehenge – the first edition.

CM-A: When was Inigo Jones writing about Stonehenge?

SJ: The book was pubished posthumously in 1665.

I was fascinated by all of that. All that feeds into the process. I was making what I called the Systems Interfacing Tapes. Because the other thing that we were really interested in was that there is a major problem with current language, and I outlined this when we were talking before. It is a matter of objects versus relations. Our language is a language of objects. What is going on is a world of relations and the processes that operate via those relations, and we needed to develop a language of relational processes, or at least it was the thought at the time. We didn’t have it articulated in that way, but we needed a new language. We had the Whorfian hypothesis[7] behind us, that language constructs your thought and regulates your thought. It is a terrible disaster when languages go extinct because we lose concepts. We lose understandings in the process. So language was fascinatingly important. And I figured that video would allow me to make work in new languages. I wasn’t the only one who was proposing this. This was the general idea within this whole framework.

Now this organization that was set up in Nimbin became Bush Video……..

CM-A: So you were involved with Bush Video from the start?

SJ: I was involved with Bush Video later. I wasn’t involved from the beginning, No. I went back to university after the festival, which was my last year of university. I finished my course. I was doing Biochemistry. I was doing Philosophy and Psychology. I was doing various things. I got my BSc. I really only passed it. I didn’t do very well. I was far more interested in this other stuff. Then I went away after university and became a hippy. I lived in the hills for a while. I lived in a farm.

CM-A: So no technology?

SJ: Very little. Eating out of the garden. No money, Nothing. I came back to Sydney and started hanging out with Bush Video. Actually, I missed a point. While I was at university – the last 7 months in university – I spent a lot of weekends hitch-hiking from Canberra to Sydney,  and I would stay at Bush Video – sleep on the floor of the studio and would be hanging out for the weekend and go back Sunday night. So I got to know them. What they had at the Bush Video studio was a big bank of monitors. They would leave spaces in the monitors and project films into those spaces, and they would have cameras in front of the monitors and shoot the whole array of monitors because you couldn’t do a mix or a cut-down any other way. I mean they had a mixer (which I’ve still got) and that did really good things but you couldn’t time-base correct with it. You couldn’t even gen-lock at that point. You probably could have if you had broadcast gear. Anyway, they didn’t have it. So I sort of got hooked into that and all the conversations. I had already been involved in Sydney anyway because I was born here. Even in High School I was involved with a lot of the art world network.

CM-A: But you didn’t go to art school?

SJ: No, much to my regret, in fact. I’d still be practicing if I’d done art school, because it would have given me a handle on the whole process of what it is to be self-critical, and to have the confidence to be able to argue against the arguments that were put onto me a few years later.

But anyway, over 1974 I became actively involved. When I came back to Sydney, Bush Video had moved into Paddington – up the street from the Paddington Town Hall. I don’t know if you had been introduced to the notion of Video Access Centres in Sydney.

CM-A: Yes, in the wider sense. I am aware of them, and that they were quite instrumental.

SJ: Parallel to the development of Bush Video, the people who had supported that, had brought the notions of the Challenge for Change project into Australia.[8] There was a very interesting government – the Whitlam government – at the time. They were interested in the arts. They were interested in introducing new methods of community communication because they thought that this would assist in the ‘liberation’ from the standard control of the media. Even then we had the Murdoch media controlling the whole fucking show. Basically he decided who gets in and who doesn’t. This is still what happens now. Look what’s happening now in Australian news. It’s all run by the Daily Telegraph.

CM-A: So the idea of a possible alternative system…

SJ: There was a strong idea of it in those days. One of the ministers, a man called Tom Uren who ran the Department of Urban and Regional Development. He was interested in regionalization, or decentralization in other words, and new modes of communication, new media. So basically, slightly later but pretty much in parallel with Bush Video and that experiment, a much larger project was in train, which at that stage was going to be a community-access video network – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth – I don’t know if there was one in Hobart. There were 3 in Sydney, 2 or 3 around Melbourne, 2 around Adelaide, 1 in Perth, 1 in Brisbane. The first manifestation of this in Sydney was an organization called City Video. It was set up in a building up in 445 Oxford St. It just so happened that in 444 Oxford St – directly across the road was Bush Video. So you had Bush Video on one side of the street and City Video on the other. The number of times we almost got killed carrying monitors across the street was is just beyond telling. (laughter)

But the access network had been set up with an engineering group, because part of the project was ultimately towards cable television – community television not just cable television: actual production. They intended to, in the near future, build some studios in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide. It did turn out to happen that way. So that in 74, you’ve got City Video and Bush Video across the road from each other.  The engineers from City Video used to come across the road and talk to us about what would be good to put in the studio. There was this consensual development of what a studio should contain for the kinds of things that we thought would be interesting to do. So you get a really interesting studio project developing there. Very nice mixer by Michael Cox. It was more or less custom-specified. Basically Cox used a standard modularization and you just routed out a desk panel and put in the switches. It wasn’t that difficult to customize it. There were some people in Sydney called Fairlight who were building strange video devices and starting to build strange music devices. In fact, the very first video synthesizer in Australia was built by a man called Peter Vogel at about 72, maybe 73 or 74, as a musicolour machine, but you were going to put it on your TV, not as musicolour – the idea was that it would be published as a kit in the hobbyist magazines. Peter and his mate Kim Ryrie were both schoolmates from Cranbrook, I think. Ryrie’s father was the publisher of a magazine called Electronics Today. It’s a whole little interesting process, a little eddy, going on there. They hadn’t started building the CMI at that point. They had been building an analogue synthesizer by that stage. They discovered a man called Tony Furse. He was working at Motorola selling their processor chips – 6800, 6805, and the 6809. He was interested in computer-generated music, a harmonic synthesizer: top clock, divide down, use all the harmonics to make up whatever waveforms you want. Fairlight – Ryrie and Vogel – got in contact with him and they joined up to build this computer generated thing because Fairlight had already started building a 6800 dual processor with a mailbox memory block, so the two processors could talk to each other quite comfortably. One looked after display, input and output. One looked after disc control and processing. They had already started this project and they were buying the 6800 from Tony Furse. So that, the CMI, was a concatenation of the two ideas. There has been a great deal of debate as to where the actual process of sampling, and storage of the sampled data, really arose, whether it was from Vogel, Ryrie or Furse and it caused a huge fallout later on over that argument. But somebody realised that rather than generate the waveform, you could actually store it in memory. I think Furse realised that. That was his concept. He realised you didn’t have to do it by harmonics, you could actually store the waveform in memory and you could draw the waveform on the screen, which was the CMI’s trick. That may well have come from Furse as well, I am not quite sure.

Basically what then happened was that having realised that you could store the waveform and just play it out, through DAC’s.[9] If you could do that and somehow figure how to get the waveform in, then you could pick up anything and store it and play it out at whatever clock speed you like, so you can change the pitch. So they figured out that, somebody bought an A-to-D[10] and built a buffer for it so you could drop it straight into memory, so you’ve got sampling. The apocryphal story is that it was someone’s dog that was used to make the first sample to make the first piece of music or something like that. That was going on in Boundary St. in Sydney, which is just down the hill. So, there was this kind of scene going on around Paddington and Darlinghurst.

CM-A: This was in the mid 1970s?

SJ: Yes.

CM-A: Did these guys figure there was a market for this?

SJ: Yes. For them the market started with the colourizer, which had been a precursor. The colourizer came after the video synthesizer project. The colourizer is what the video synthesizer project evolved into. They discovered a market for that because the only other colourizing for black and white video for academic institutions was the Michael Cox colourizer. So they thought they can build another one and that was quite good. They put one of those into the studio at  Paddington. Obviously the CMI was starting to fire by this point. Part of the reason for that is that it was really radical, and there was quite a lot of interest in computer music by this stage, that people just thought, “this is a really good idea, we got to get one”. Because it was supported by Don Banks and a couple of other high-level Australian composers. It then went off into the Rock and Roll market – Stevie Wonder and all that.

CM-A: So they made them for how long?

SJ: For 10 years, maybe?

CM-A; Did they make many?

SJ: Yes, heaps. It’s a major machine. It is a classic. You know Kurzweil’s book on intelligent machines? He doesn’t even mention the Fairlight, but it was around.

CM-A: Can you tell me a bit about the development of the video CVI?

SJ: The first thing that Peter was doing was building robots. That was while he was still at high school. He then went off to university to study electrical engineering or something like that. Then realised it was as boring as shit and that he didn’t need to be at university to do this. He started building hobbyist type of equipment. He built the colour music machine, which was an electronically generated video display colour music machine. That never took off but there are one or two copies of it in extant. I believe I have a board from it. I don’t know whether I still do. But I did have it at one stage. I don’t know whether I have the circuit diagrams for it.

Effectively what he did was generate parabolas, which are how you generate circles.  Basically he took the electronics of a wipe generator out of a TV studio vision mixer and the electronics of a function generator, combined them and then stuck those in as RGB into an encoder.  So Peter built his own PAL encoder and he built, essentially, this synchronizeable waveform generator. You could kick it with horizontal and vertical syncs and it would sync up to the edges of the video screen, or you could release it from the control of the syncs. The colourizer used the same background technology but it didn’t use the waveform generator. What it did was to take a monochrome (greyscale) input and slice it at 6 levels of brightness using comparators. The comparator outputs are then sent through pots and scaled, and you have control over the scaling so that you can then send scaled versions of each of those to the red, green, and blue channels of your encoder, and you get colourised block flat colour, like posterised images.

The CMI comes next; out of the Furse machine, which is called the M8. That is your digital storage of the waveform, however you get the waveform in, whether by drawing on the computer screen, or putting a microphone in front of whatever it was you wanted to sample and sampling it, or using fixed waveforms – sine wave and so on that are just stored in memory. Then there are several generations of Fairlight CMIs (computer music instrument). The first one was 8 bit and there is a very particular tone to the Fairlight CMI which is that breathy sort of thing – that’s glitching noise from the 8 bit DACs. They went to 16 bits to defeat that and that worked quite well. So that was CMI 2 or 3. CMI eventually turned into a disc-based sound editing system for high-end production studios. It was one of the first disc-based editing systems for that. But Fairlight failed because of a price war with Kurzweil in the States. And the last thing that was produced was the CVI. It was being developed around 84-85 and I think was released later in 85. I can’t remember exact dates, because I was involved. I saw it coming, in a sense, and I don’t remember when it got public. That was by a man called Kia Silverbrook, one of the engineers that worked for Fairlight and he thought “I want to build something for my kids to play with to make pictures on the screen”. He had a very smart idea; taking colour subcarrier as the clock. A subcarrier rate clock will give you 256 pixels by 256 lines so that if you’re reading or writing a static RAM that has got the access time, you can drive it in real time. You could get stuff in and out of the CVI in real time. So the clock is happening and it is divided down into addresses. Then you could do all those weird effects just by changing the addresses. If you change the addresses by adding an offset to the head of the address, you can get the picture to move across the screen. If you have a big enough offset, you can get the picture to move around the screen. If you run it so that you count up and then count down, half across, or some arbitrary position across, you can get the thing to split in mirror image. All you’re doing is changing the address counts. It’s really straightforward. And of course put the output through an encoder and off you go, you’ve got video. The failure there was that they really didn’t do proper syncs. I actually was hired to do the analogue input/output card, the decoder and the encoder card. I had to, not so much to do the design, but to do the next stage, the prototype and get it going. I had a terrible fight with Kia at some stage over proper syncs, which I lost but won in the long term. By that stage I had been asked to leave, because I wasn’t prepared to countenance something that couldn’t be run in a proper studio. He just wanted to do a domestic instrument, and I thought that’s silly. The point is that Peter Callas could have never done what he was doing with that machine, with his triple of those machines unless it was properly set up. No one else could have either. So the other problem with the first generation of the CVI was that because it was 256 lines, you had the black bars at the top and bottom of the picture.

CM-A: Peter (Callas) said he used an NTSC version when he was working in Japan.

SJ: Yeah, which didn’t have the problem. You see there’s 525 lines in an NTSC frame, which means you got 262 lines per field. So 256 lines will give you enough [in an active picture area] because of the blanking. So it worked fine with NTSC. So that was sort of the origins of all of that. Fairlight towards the end of that period was starting to get in trouble with the America company because of the lack of income coming back from America.

CM-A: Because they were selling them so cheaply?

SJ: Well they were forced to because there was a price war that was initiated.

CM-A: What did they cost at that time?

SJ: A Fairlight CMI? I don’t know $15,000 or $16, 000? They weren’t cheap. But, you know, they were not trivial machines either. CVIs were about $5,000, but it was the CMI that was the target of the price war. The CVI was irrelevant because it was so interesting but so weird. So a lot of people just took it up and it was cheap. The fact that it was a bit limited at that stage wasn’t the big problem. But it became a problem when Quantel appeared.

CM-A: But the Quantel is really expensive.

SJ: You see the people who made the money for Fairlight or who would have been the mainstay users of this stuff, wanted the best. They all went for Quantel because they all wanted to be in the broadcast world. That was the kind of dream.

But going back to 1974-75. I’m still in Bush video in the studio opposite City Video. The new production studios are being planned. Bush Video is making stuff and starting to teeter in terms of the consensus amongst the group. By the end of that year it was starting to look pretty shaky in terms of its integration as a collective. And I had no money. I had to take a job. I got a job at the University of Queensland so I was gone. Other people went through other different processes. But what did happen was that over 1971-74, Doug Richardson had written the first artists’ usable computer graphics package in Australia – I suspect it might have been one of the first really usable ones in the world. It was a rewrite of Sutherland’s Sketchpad[11] for the PDP8 and a big vector display. It wasn’t a raster machine, it was a vector machine. Now, Mick and some of the people in Bush Video had been going there and making stuff to use in their mix-downs and things like that. Also there was a lot of electronic music and dance going on. There was a dancer called Philippa Cullen who was doing the interactive work, which I talked about at Rewire (Liverpool, 2011). There were all sorts of things happening and everybody was involved. It was a very interesting dynamic – really dynamic – experimental art scene going on in Sydney at that stage. In late 1974 Richardson was invited to put together a show for a festival in Canberra to be called Australia 75: A Festival of the Creative Arts and Sciences. He put together a show for that called Computers and Electronics in the Arts. That drew everybody who was making stuff with electronics in the arts (sound, dance, visual, whatever) into this one central vortex in the ballroom of a hotel in Canberra. That was absolutely amazing. That was our Cybernetic Serendipity. It was an extraordinary moment. Lots of very strange things happened. It was a classic case of demo fever. When you want something to work, that is the guarantee that it is going to crash. That in itself produced some remarkable new developments.  Terrible things and great things happened during that week. That was March 1975.[12]

There was the access network and the community access. Artists used that because that was were the equipment was, and they did, and they were interested, and a lot of different stuff was being made. People were shooting stuff. Bush Video also had its own equipment.

CM-A: Where was this work being shown?? It sounds like there was a lot of interest in setting things up.

SJ: There was a place called the Filmmaker’s Co-op. Stuff was being shown there. Stuff was being shown in the Video Access Centres.

CM-A: So they were regular screening sessions rather than exhibitions?

SJ: It was a network. It is a really good question because I don’t have a good answer to that.

CM-A: Fair enough. I think this is often the case. We were making this stuff, and then there was a question about what you did with it once it was made.

SJ: Yes, there was a real issue about that. There was a big problem about distribution. It slowly started to be resolved but it took few years.

CM-A: Because for example, cable never happened?

SJ: No. That hadn’t happened yet.

CM-A: So it was the possibility that alongside the production, there  was the possibility of distribution…

SJ: Yes, right. What we wanted was the community television network so we could show stuff.

CM-A: Because you were interested in systems and the system also included some kind of dissemination.

SJ: We wanted that, but it wasn’t there, but people were making stuff. There were shows, and things like Computers and Electronics in the Arts was one of those shows. There were also lots of splits, bifurcation points amongst the people involved. One of the particular bifurcations that took place was between the political, the activists and the artists. It didn’t really manifest terribly badly until some years later. By about 1979-1980, it really caused terrible damage.

CM-A: Where did you find yourself, because you were doing this abstract work?

SJ: I was a bridge between everybody and I was all over the shop. I was among the first documenters of performance in Sydney. Bush Video were also leading on that before-hand, probably 3 years before I was doing it. I went up to Queensland. I was there for 18 months. The government changed. There was a coup basically. The money stopped. All the interdisciplinary projects in universities were killed. I lost my job. The only thing that saved me was that in those days, the Commonwealth Employment Office (the unemployment office) had attached within it a thing called Professional Employment Office, which was for graduates. And if you were a graduate you were supported.  You were left alone. You were assumed to able to be productive even if they had to provide you with the basic funding, which was enough to eat and maybe pay the rent. So I was very lucky. That is how I managed. And I virtually did an apprenticeship at the Paddington Video Access centre – around mid 1976. In ’75 I was involved in the Video Access Centre in Brisbane, because I was interested in video. I was in a job at the university where I bridged between the architecture people and the psychology people and we were doing Environmental Psychology. We were working out how you can make shopping centres seriously seductive. It was terrible what we were doing and what the actual implications of it are. We weren’t actually doing that, but we were looking at the low level basis of it, so we were in fact contributing to it.

When I walk in a supermarket, I can see exactly what’s going on. The stairs are always backwards. So you have to walk along the long way to get to the stairs. Or they keep changing the location of the food. You’ve got to go then and hunt for it and meanwhile you’ll notice something else, and impulse buy it, and you come out with more you came in for. Really dangerously smart. So I was doing statistical research on how people use public space. Also, because I was interested in video, I found myself teaching video for the architecture students from both the University architecture course and the Queensland Institute of Technology, now Queensland University of Technology, architecture course. And I got involved in the Brisbane Video Access Centre. I ran that course for most of  the middle period of the year. In the 1975-76 summer break I went to Britain because my parents were living there. My father was the Naval attaché to the Australian embassy in Britain at the time. So I went over there and spent about 6 to 8 weeks. I sought out video people, I met Hoppy (John Hopkins) and Sue (Hall). I was working at the Architectural Association video department.  I got a chance to make video and I met a few people.

CM-A: You did all that in 6 weeks?

SJ: Yes. I had nothing else to do. 6 weeks seems like really fast. It would have been the university summer.  So yes, 6 to 8 weeks max.

CM-A: It just seems like you did quite a lot in that period!

SJ: It’s odd, isn’t it. Then I came back. I had gone to ‘Australia 75’ myself, by the way, and shot some video there. Bush video broke up after that, after Computer and Electronics in the Arts, and Philippa Cullen died in July that year. Then the coup happened in the end of 1975. So basically the heart went out of everything. The whole scene collapsed. Everybody went back to the drawing board.  All of their things have been tested and found wanting in various ways, or they had found them wanting. As we all do when we are playing at that level “shit I can do it in this way, so let’s get on with it”, forget the old stuff.

Ultimately the heart of video moved to Melbourne. And it is through Warren Burt that that occurs. To my feeling it is, and to a very large extent I think that is the case. There is always other stuff as well. I didn’t really know Warren until late 1976. But he was there building a studio with a Spectre video synthesizer from EMS in Britain, Richard Monkhouse’s thing. So I got sacked from University of Queensland in April, just before the eclipse of the sun of that year. I was driving down from Brisbane to Sydney with my stuff and filmed the eclipse on the way down the Pacific coast. When I arrived back in Sydney I ended up spending some time with film-maker people, and getting involved in the Video Access Centre and began this informal apprenticeship with the video centre. Started by pulling cables through the wall as they were building the new studios in the building, which was in the Paddington Town Hall.  I was learning editing and how to make it feel right as well as technically right, and stuff like that. I was in many ways the person who was asked to come and look after the gear for productions by activist people whose task wasn’t to learn how to use the equipment but to make an important statement about something. A lot of feminist work – I was almost an honorary at some stage. I did work with groups where I was the only male in the whole thing. It was fine – never a problem for me, never a problem for them. Because I had the capacity to talk about this stuff and introduce it in a way that wasn’t complex. One of the skills that I’ve always had, is to able to describe how things worked without making it hard to understand

CM-A: That is because you understood it fundamentally. I think when someone understands something well they can explain it simply. If they don’t, then they get knotted up very quickly.

SJ: Yes, the techs were notorious for getting it knotted up and became notorious for being anti-feminist. The question is ‘was that accidental?’. My feeling is that to a large extent it was, because people just didn’t know how to explain stuff that is straight-forward to them. My primary rule was; you look at the connector, its shape, its number of pins and you find a mate for that connector on the panel and that is where it belongs. This is not so hard. Every connector had a different style.

CM-A: You are right. But the other part of that is the fault-finding situation when something is not working. You’ve got to identify what the problem is, and you’ve got to isolate the thing that is broken and to do that you’ve got to figure out how the system is working. Lots of people couldn’t do that. They were insistently pulling things out in this unsystematic way.

SJ: The advantage I had was not that I knew that, but simply that I started by looking at the connector, and saying that connector happens to fit that thing, so obviously where else is it going to go? And you don’t jam it in when it is not fitting. That is where most of the errors came from. 90% of the faults were people not connecting things up properly.

CM-A: We used to call it “finger trouble”.

SJ: Yes it was called finger trouble. When it is a bigger fault then that is a different problem. I wasn’t able to deal with it either. But that very rarely actually occurred.

CM-A: You are right. 9 times out 10 it was something not connected to something else, or it wasn’t switched on.

SJ: Lacing up the tape was always a little tricky as well though it was made easier because the lid of the box always had a diagram of the tape lace path in it. But you see, that would have been put on the floor, things on top of it…It just took an orderly mind. I was brought up with a reasonably orderly mind.

CM-A: You’ve got that and you came from that background. Your father was an engineer. So you would have got the “let’s take this step by step” attitude. One step begins the journey. Whether it is starting a PhD or wiring something in, you’ve got to do that. Otherwise you are snookered. But for some strange reason, people start to get panicky and they just throw things at it.

But let me take you back for a second. I am getting a great picture of how it all progresses. But I want to check with you about the abstract work that you were making when you got interested in systems. You made some works across the period when you were doing all these other things, going to places, getting involved on the support end of it, learning about new technologies. Were you also making things that you were showing in any particular situation?

SJ: Yes, to some extent.

CM-A: So did you think of yourself as an artist or was that irrelevant?

SJ: I never thought about it. It is not that I wasn’t an artist in some sense, and certainly wasn’t actively not an artist. I was a video-maker. I was interested in video. It is slightly further down the stream, that I curated a show which was a large collection of Australian video at the time. Took it to the States. The people here that I was involved with in the making of that show took the position – perhaps because I took the position quite strongly – that video was something in itself that was a medium and an art form. Basically I don’t give a shit what kind of video you’re making, I am interested in the spectrum of what it is possible to make with video.

CM-A: So you were interested in the potential of this new medium.

SJ: No, not the potential, but the extant production use of this medium. Which is activism, documentary, performance art, synthetic stuff, music video, everything.

CM-A: That show you curated and took to the States, when was that?

SJ: 1979. It went to The Kitchen (NYC). It was intended to go to the Berkeley Art Museum. It went to the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art and it went to the Video Inn in Vancouver. The reason it didn’t get shown at the Berkeley Art Museum was because the particular curator at the Berkeley Art Museum who had accepted the show decided that the only video that he considered to be video art was video performances by artists. There might have been three or four tapes of that. It would have gutted the show, but I refused to gut the show and we didn’t do it. That is a very important and famous curator.

CM-A: I remember that some of the early abstract American work, the stuff that Steven Beck did, Eric Siegel, even some of Paik’s stuff, when that was first made, that was what some curators latched onto as video art. Then they dropped it like a ton of bricks. There was an idea that it was the next generation of American art after abstract expressionism, that it come out of a painting sensibility.

SJ: In fact it was the successor to experimental film. It wasn’t the successor to painting at all. I mean it wasn’t really even out of the Whitneys, it was more like Harry Smith and Jordan Belson, and so on. Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema was a very important document at that stage that drew together our knowledge of all that sort of stuff.[13] It crosses the boundaries between film, video, computer…And of course, they came out of the “colour organ” from the turn of the century founded by Thomas Wilfred.

CM-A: Sorry I was taking you off track by asking about that show. Your activities are quite diverse, but one of the things that is central to my interest is how you were championing the video medium.

SJ: I was only concerned with the medium, and not with any particular ways in which you can use it. I was editing for people who were making really challenging activist documentary through to people who were making totally self-indulgent psychedelic music videos. That apprenticeship that I was talking about, at the Video Access Centre, that’s very crucial to the rest of the story.

Nam June Paik and Charlotte Moorman were brought to Australia by a man called John Kaldor in March/ April 1976. Because I was hanging out at the Video Access Centre I was asked to be the technical attendant day-to-day at the Art Gallery of New South Wales at the show. So I was the one who ran around and connected things up and generally was there. It was really cool. Paik and Charlotte were cool. I had to be responsible in terms of making sure things actually happened, but it was a great pleasure in fact. Paik was making really crazy stuff and the engineers at the Video Access Centre built a TV Cello for him. I think it is number 2, maybe 2 or 3. I am not sure. Subsequently, I’ve rebuilt this Cello several times.

CM-A: Have you?? Was it an artefact?

SJ: Because it was an artefact. It is an artwork. It is an object. It is in the art gallery collection. It was in John Kaldor’s collection for a long time, and then he bequeathed it to the art gallery. I am probably the only person in the world who has any understanding of it.

CM-A: So were you involved in building it?

SJ: I didn’t build it. I maintained it. I know how it works. I know exactly what has to be done. I know how to put it back together if it is busted.

CM-A: So Paik didn’t take it away with him?

SJ: No. It was paid for by the man who brought it out here. He was an art collector. He collected Paik’s work. He collected several Paik works. There is a TV Candle and a TV Buddha now in the Art Gallery of New South Wales and they are part of their permanent collection. The TV Buddha, Paik put together out of a JVC videosphere that he found in a pawn shop in King’s Cross and a Maitreya Buddha statue that he got from John Kaldor. I am pretty sure it was John Kaldor. Anyway, the Maitreya was sourced in Kyoto. But the original Maitreya is a Korean type of Buddha. So it is part of the whole Korean tradition into Japanese Buddhism. The Maitreya, of course, is the Buddha of the Future. The videoshphere that is there now is not the one that Paik used. It is the one that I rebuilt in 1990 out of that original work. Paik did take the first JVC videosphere with him. He left the Maitreya because that was John’s. He just borrowed that. He did take the sphere and that turns up in another TV Buddha somewhere else.

CM-A: Right, and you knew where it came from…

SJ: Well I only realized that a couple of months ago. I saw a picture and I thought: “I know that monitor”.

I then continued on with Video Access. We built the studio. That was much of 76. I was starting to make stuff again. This time I had colour because we had the studio and the mixer. So I did the Stonehenge piece, which I had originally shot as super 8.

CM-A: So you redid it as a video piece??

SJ: I only shot the raw material for use as a video, because you couldn’t get colour video easily. You certainly couldn’t travel with it. The Tai Chi Transforms piece was the same. I shot on super 8 and then transferred it to video in 76/ 77.

CM-A: So at this point you were working with all those different groups and you were seeing a lot of video by other people.

SJ: Yes. I was making video for other people. I wasn’t only seeing it, I was producing it.

CM-A: One of the questions I am asking the artists I’m interviewing is which works they saw by other artists at the time or whether they were even aware about what others were doing.

SJ: Well I was aware of what other people were doing, certainly in Sydney, not in Melbourne. I had some connections in Melbourne. Travelling to Melbourne was an expensive project in those days.

CM-A: So were there any works that did strike you as being interesting, or that connect to the things you are interested in?

SJ: All the Bush Video work. That was the key. The rest of it was more that I was voraciously interested in everything anyway.

CM-A: The things that Paik was up to, what was your impression?

SJ: Paik was a huge influence. Paik confirmed so much of what we were already doing. Yes he’d been doing it for years, and it was great to see because he fed us in the first place. He was working with that stuff, expanding and developing in strange and interesting ways. So it confirmed for us that that was really interesting stuff, something to continue pursuing. I think ‘76 was spent mostly working in the process of assembling the studio and getting things started.  At the end of 76 I put together a proposal for a show called Open Processes.  I meant that literally. What I did was that I put up an invitation for all sorts of people that I would put a studio into a commercial art gallery called Watter’s gallery in Darlinghurst. It is still there. It was one of the first commercial galleries to show conceptual art apart from Central Street, which was the other one in Sydney. There was one called Pinacothica in Melbourne, which was doing similar stuff. Also Realities Gallery in Melbourne was interested in high-tech light and kinetic work.  So I put this studio in, and I had invited everybody that I could think of who might be doing something interesting in performance, or music or dance or video or activism to come and get involved. We spent almost two weeks in the gallery, running day and night. I don’t know how I survived – I was 26 at the time. So, that brought together all kinds of people and lots of interesting and weird stuff, some fabulous electronic music, some fabulous improvised Jazz electronic, some really interesting dance performances, some extraordinary video installation pieces, lots and lots of minor performance stuff. It was all recorded. Sadly I ruined most of them by fucking colourizing the shit out of them. I am so unhappy about what I did that I hardly dare show it to anybody. (Laughter)

CM-A: You wish you’d kept the raw footage.

SJ: We were colourizing on the fly. This was the real footage. (laughter). We had two or three cameras, a mixer, and a colourizer. We had one of those fantastic TV oscilloscopes that we could point the camera at, feedback cameras, monitors everywhere. It was fantastic; installations in a couple of spots. But I over-killed it. It’s a terrible thing because the material was great and some of the sound material was really great. But the pictures are embarrassing beyond belief. Dreadful!!


I’ve still got it, and somewhere along the line, I will try and dig some of it out. I have been digging some of the sound out. There is some fascinating stuff.

CM-A: It would be interesting if one could reverse the process and decolourize.

SJ: You can’t, because it has all been broken down, because of the keying and the structures of the colourizer. It was essentially rail-to-rail signal coming out of the colourizer. You can’t do it. Heaps and heaps of uncoordinated feedback as well. That can be boring after all.

CM-A: So it was going on live on screens?

SJ: Into the gallery, yes. Everybody was in there. The other reason it was kind of fucked is that they were completely amateur camera operators. “If you want to use a camera, come in and grab the camera”.

CM-A: Hoppy talks about what he calls ‘hose piping’. He told me that video art and all other manifestations influence television eventually because you never saw hose piping on broadcast television, now you see it all the time. It represents a subjective view or something. It has gone from this kind of steady POV shot to wave the camera around and that signifies free natural…

SJ: That comes from the movie where the kids apparently found a dead body in the forest or something like that.

CM-A: The Blair Witch Project?

SJ: Yes the Blair Witch Project. That all comes from there. I mean that camera technique had its origins in what bad camera work was.

CM-A: Yes absolutely. Anyone can pick up a camera, no tripod…

SJ: Our work was half tripod, half free camera. We had Miller fluid heads, so it wasn’t that bad. The point is that people just pointed to anything.

CM-A; The things that you made, the ones that you put your name on, were they always single screen tapes, or where they sometimes multi-screen things?

SJ: No. They were always single screen tapes

CM-A: Were you interested in installations?

SJ: I was, but we couldn’t get sync in those days. RS-422 came along eventually and made life a lot easier, and then the DVD player and the Pioneer protocol. I actually built DVD synchronizers for Pioneer players myself here, which would stay in lock-step for any amount of time and would do any number of machines and keep them absolutely in lock-step. This is in 2000s.

So I was making single screen works, Yes. There was very little option to show them. There was a video screening that was running every year called the Video Mayfair, which was on the first weekend of May – Mayday holiday. This is where a lot of stuff was being shown. They had a full spectrum of work, from documentary, access stuff through to art stuff..

CM-A: That was happening annually?

SJ: It was annual from mid-1977. In September 77 there was a show called Video Spectrum put on by Warren Burt and the La Trobe University student union. He was teaching in the music department. They put together people from Melbourne and other people including Bill Viola. I went down as well. This is actually where Bill Viola met Kira Perov.

By ’77, we were starting to get the Video Access studio working and in the second half of that year, I started being the main technical producer there, which meant that I was the one making the works on the technical level. I was a proper studio technical producer doing the camera line ups, the phase control, the editing, making sure that the tapes are rolling, driving the mixer and all of that stuff. I would be working for people doing this sort of stuff.  I wasn’t earning any money. They weren’t paying for using the studio. It was thankfully on the unemployment benefits. That was the only thing that was keeping me alive. I mean they were getting their money’s worth, though now the government would never acknowledge this sort of thing as getting their money’s worth.

CM-A: In retrospect all of this stuff that you were doing was really important to the culture.

SJ: Yes. I think they would disagree with that too, but that is a minor detail. At the end of ’76 we had the second Sydney Bienniale and I also provided technical support for that. I was, as I describe it, the “auto-rewind mechanism.” I would beetle out every half an hour, rewind the tapes and restart them because it was all half-inch open reel at that stage. Well there might have been one U-matic, or something like that. But the Stelarc pieces were all on half-inch tapes.

CM-A: So you were making work, you were advising, you were working on the kit and you were literally doing very basic technical work making sure things were running. But you were also curating.

SJ: Yes I was but not quite by that point. Within a year, I was. Basically in ’77 we were making all this stuff. By the beginning of ’78 there was nowhere to show it and I thought I’d better do something about it. So I put on a show in July ’78 called VideOzone where we took the cinema in the Paddington Town Hall. I happened to have relations who were the agents for GE in Australia, for their television systems and their Talaria video projector, which used a thin film of oil to generate an image, a single tube. It would blow up to a cinema screen size. I arranged to get that for absolute cost price – the cost of actually carrying it over to the cinema from the studio where it was. We put it in the cinema and ran a weekend of videotapes that we had been making. A lot of which I had produced for various people, and a lot of which others had made. There was all sorts of interesting things. Some of them became very controversial at one point and that caused a bit of a problem and a falling-out between people, which was really sad. But the show happened and so that was the first taste of it. Then somehow, and I am not entirely sure how this happened, a man called Jorge Glusberg, an Argentinian curator who was very much responsible for the Centro de Arte y Comunicación – the south American scene[14] came out here. We talked. He proposed a show. It was all in negotiation. We started collecting material. Something went wrong. I think we were refused funding. Then we had to stop. We continued collecting stuff. We put together a show, a collection through the agency of a particular curator, Bernice Murphy, whom I had already worked with over the Biennales, 76, 79, 82 and 85. I think she was the education officer at the Art Gallery of New South Wales at the time, and she took a strong interest in this new medium within the gallery scene. The Art Gallery of New South Wales has always been supportive in its own curious ways. It had one or two people who were open enough to recognize the potential of these things and to actually accept experimental art forms. The first show that included video in the Art Gallery, a live participation installation, was in 73. It was incredibly controversial. Spectacular impact. There is nothing like a controversy to make an art gallery popular to the public. It was great PR – just great PR.

But that was a Tim Burns piece, which I will leave you to figure out yourself. It is certainly in the book.

We’d got the initial project to a point where I felt that  “Okay look we’ve got a problem but there is no point in abandoning this idea”. Then Bernice Murphy came on board and she was involved with an organization called the Australian Gallery Directors Council, which was a peak body that looked after international exhibitions. She managed to get support from her board. She was influential and articulate. This project was turned into “Videotapes from Australia”, which went to The Kitchen. A duplicate copy was made that was sent to Venice, which then became part of the Venice biennial archive collection there.

CM-A: Was it shown at the Venice Biennial?

SJ:  Yes it was.

CM-A: That must have been some of the earliest video pieces ever shown there.

SJ: I don’t really know. We have to thank Anna Canepa for that, who was one of the big video art distributors in New York at the time. She came out here in 76. I am not sure whether she was associated with the Paik show, or whether she came out here for the Biennial. She was also partly involved in the sale of a collection of New York video to the National Gallery Victoria.

CM-A: So the collection is not there?

SJ: The collection is there but there is little written paperwork that is available. Paperwork was always a problem those days. It kind of vanished when people left. Either because people shredded stuff or took it with them. Hopefully people took it with them; then I can at least find them and ask if it is around. It is really handy when people take stuff with them because then it can be recompiled at a later date. The stuff I am hunting for, for this collection, is just frightening. There are no documents except in two big state libraries, whom all have 6 or 7 copies, but there is no way they are going to release them.

It’s insane. It has happened here, not so much with the contemporary art scene, oddly enough, because we actually have some intelligent keepers. But the computer world, one of the most significant computing exercises that took place in Australia was in Canberra around 1972-75 and all the equipment that was stored away was thrown out. Nobody gave a shit. One of the most significant artworks that was made in Australia at that stage in terms of what I am dealing with, electronic art, was by a man called Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski. It was a responsive laser thing, and that was given to the university art gallery and lost.

CM-A: How could you lose something like that??

SJ: You can put it into the foyer of one of the buildings of the university for exhibition, and the building manager can decide that 5 years later that they don’t want it anymore and throw it away. By the time anybody realizes that the damn thing’s gone missing nobody knows where the hell it was tipped.

CM-A: This is what makes those things so rare when they do turn up.

SJ: There were only two made. One of them was in an Adelaide Museum, which has also been closed. I have been quite incapable of getting to the people who took that gear and stored it somewhere…

CM-A: So it might be still around?

SJ: I am hoping it is still around. Without having to spend 6 months walking around Adelaide, a level of some connection is necessary.

CM-A: It is funny how as someone who was actively involved in making these things,  you are now involved in having to trace them and dig them back up. I think this is quite intriguing. You were the midwife and now you are the undertaker,

SJ: Fortunately I am not the undertaker because I am Frankenstein or something.

CM-A: Yes, you are right. You are re-vivifying it!

SJ: That show then came back and toured Australia and a large chunk of it disappeared. I’ve managed to re-find about 75% of it and digitize it. But it toured regional galleries and somewhere along the line bits of it got lost in the tour and never returned.

The ’76 Biennale was the thing that set me up as the person who was responsible for the viability of video art in Australia as far as an exhibiting medium was concerned. They didn’t have anyone who understood the medium at the time

In ’78 there was VideOzone and then the Video Access Centre was sent broke by bad centre management – not the video centre management but the centre that was running the whole operation. Paddington Town Hall Trust was a management body that looked after the cinema, the restaurant, the NFTA (National Film Theatre) offices and the Video Access Centre space.  The Video Access Centre owned the Centre’s assets. But the trust assumed that they were owned by the trust due to some capacity to manipulate the legalities of these things. Lawyers are good at that. So they blew their money on self-indulgence. They went bankrupt and used the Video Access Centre as a fall guy.  The access centre had cost a lot of money. The money had all been provided through the trust but specifically earmarked for that project to finish it, which it did. So the access centre got the blame for the lack of funding, which was caused by someone trying to set up a restaurant for the ‘ladies who lunch’. That was the level of social scene that was running the show. It failed miserably. It was a bit like trying to set up something in Angel near Islington with a board of people from Sloane square. It is not going to work. They are not going to come.

The Access Centre was shut down and they tried to auction off the equipment at the centre to try and cover the cost. Thankfully, somebody put enough pressure on somebody in the Australian Film Commission, which was by now the funding body as opposed to the Australian Council, to get the film commission to buy everything back from the auctioneer. (The Experimental Radio and Television Board had been sent to the AFC because of rationalization.). So the Film Commission paid twice for this equipment.

CM-A: I hope they got a knock down price for it at least.

SJ: I am sure they would have.

CM-A: They might have been the only bidder.

SJ: Yes they were the only bidders, at that point. That then led to the Access Centre being re-generated as a new organization under the umbrella of another access centre called Western Access, which was made up of the outer western suburbs of Sydney (Fairfield, Parramatta..etc) access centres. That over 1980 was turned into Metro Television, which is now Metro Screen. The whole thing is still there. They changed the studio, pulled all the old analogue gear out. But that’s what you do. That’s normal. It’s not a problem.  It’s a pity that the Cox mixer went, but..

CM-A: Did it get thrown away as well?

SJ: I don’t know what happened to it eventually. It might have been thrown away. But I don’t think it was a negligent throw away. It was more about this thing is not working anyway.By this stage, I had run out of money and I had to get a job. I got a job in an organization called Leisure Allied Industries in their maintenance department. Leisure Allied Industries made and distributed video games for games parlours, Asteroids and Galaxians, tabletop games and all that kind of stuff. I learnt about digital electronics by maintaining those. There was a couple of good techs already there who showed me what was involved and got me to think through how it all worked, and so I learnt a lot about digital electronics. By 1978 I had started building video synthesizers. I had already been learning electronics by dint of two things, a very patient friend from Bush Video, named Ariel, who would answer questions endlessly and show me circuit diagrams and stuff like that, and the National Semiconductor Linear Applications handbooks and the data books for the actual chips. They are the most valuable things for starting electronics. They were brilliant to work with. Best way to sell your product is to teach people how to use it. Make the books, cheap, easy and available. They had to write application notes and data sheets for everything anyway, because they were the specification sheets for the chips and you had to know how to use the chips otherwise you could blow them up and they’re not going to sell. No one is going to buy them again. So that worked very well. I learnt about analogue electronics, building audio and video synthesizers. I actually built a chain of 3 video synthesizers, in ’78, ’79 and ’80. It was used in ’81. So I knew enough to be able to get into the games stuff.

CM-A: You were making the transition between analogue and digital.

SJ: It was coming anyway.

CM-A: With regards to the analogue synthesizers you spoke about, you said they were used, where they “one-offs”? Did you build each one for a specific project?

SJ: One or two projects, yes.

CM-A: Did you use them on any of your own projects?

SJ: Yes, the whole of the “Severed Heads” projects.

CM-A: So if you are talking about a particular work you also built a particular machine to make that work on?

SJ: Yes and no. Complex question. Because what happened in fact was that I built machines and I would find something to work with that machine on. But what happened was that for example, I made a series of works with SPK, (Socialists Patients Kollective) formed by Neil Hill and Graeme Revell, who is a big film music composer now. He was one of the early users of the Fairlight CMI. They had a Synthi AKS. There were a number of Synthi AKS in this country during the period. Phillipa Cullen had one, Steve Dunstan had one, and Neil Hill from SPK had one, as well as a couple others.  There were VCS3s at Sydney University. Phillipa Cullen used those. There were VCS3s and a Synthi 100 in Brisbane as well when I was up there. That was how I had started to learn electronic music and started to deal with electronics. It was through that.

So in 1978 I started building my first video synthesizer. It was a really rough build. I still got it all here. But I seriously doubt that I would ever be able to get it running again. The construction technique wasn’t good. I used that for the SPK thing, which is a wonderful noise work. SPK in a sense had, at that stage, the background of the Japanese noise bands with a lot of punk in it. So they were making this really extraordinary drum machine and bass, screaming vocals, synthesizer, guitar, sort of stuff, really extraordinary. The video was like noise and weird unlocked oscillations, and a bad video mixer that was dying. The video cameras with vidicons that needed to be completely replaced, but it was a beautiful thing, because it all fitted their notion of sound. I made that track and it escaped and I lost control of it. Somebody made a lot of money out of it. It wasn’t SPK. It was an individual who got between them and me, and decided that he had the right to give it to a big video distribution company in Europe who basically sold heaps of it, because SPK was huge at the time.

In late 78, 79 and 80, I was living in a squat. It wasn’t technically a squat but as close as you can get. It was a school building up in Darlinghurst. And in the valley around Darlinghurst near Sydney was this whole series of squats and art spaces. There was an incredible scene going on there – lots of New music and cabaret. SPK and Severed Heads played there and several other important punk and new music groups as well. I met Tom Ellard from Severed Heads there and I saw their first public show at a place called the Institute of Contemporary Events at Riley St., in Darlinghurst, in 1978. I built the second synthesizer over 1979/80.  The tour to the U.S. and Canada of Videotapes from Australia, which I curated went in ’79 and the beginning of 1980. I was away for about three months.[15] The collection then went on to Venice in 1980 and toured Australia as well.

CM-A: You went with the show?

SJ: I took them to North America, but I didn’t get to go to Venice. That was given to some body else; much to my chagrin and the chagrin of the person who had set it up for me to come across. But the Australia Council’s and one particular individual’s wisdom decided that somebody else should go over instead. You can’t really beat that I am afraid.

CM-A: I doesn’t seem fair since you put this whole thing together.

SJ: Yes I put the thing together and they got the credit. That has happened to me a lot. It is accidental because I am not very good at pushing myself. I am getting better at it. Anyway, in 1982 I was invited by the then director of Metro Televisionwho were running a monthly workshop seminar series. They would invite a bunch of people who were involved in different sorts of things to come and talk. That was really interesting stuff. They wanted to do one on new imagery.  They invited me to show my synthesizer. I said the best way to do that is to get a band and put my synthesizer in the studio, and we do some recordings of the band’s music in the studio. So I talked to Tom Ellard. They said yes. Severed Heads came along. We did the video and that was the start of the Severed Heads project. That used my synthesizer in the studio with the cameras and the mixer. We got some nice tapes. They were better controlled than the open processes period. It is essentially the same way of thinking about it.

CM-A: Why did you build a synthesizer?

SJ: Well there wasn’t one around.

CM-A: I was just curious as to whether it had particular operational qualities or aspects that you built into it that wasn’t available in other machines.

SJ: No. There wasn’t anything around. There was one in Melbourne, but I couldn’t get that. It was really the necessity. It was the need. I needed it, because I thought I needed to work with this. It is my kind of way of making video.

CM-A; Can you tell me a little about its capabilities and functions

SJ: It was a pattern generator basically, free running and locked up patterns. Essentially it was 8×8 matrix switcher. It had three dual channel mixers. So you had an A/B channel for each of them. Each of those had selected inputs. There  were straight oscillator inputs, there were function generator inputs. There were camera inputs, composite video inputs. There were pattern generator inputs that were sync-locked pulse width modulation (PWM) oscillators.

CM-A: So the machine could generate its own patterns from an internal source. So you didn’t have to feed the camera into …

SJ: Yes, you could make it entirely from gated and mixed oscillator patterns.

CM-A: It is quite compact. Did you have a name for it?

SJ: “The synth”. Dan Sandin was my inspiration. The Sandin Image Processor (IP) was the thing, because he provided me with a set of his circuit diagrams. He was very generous. I took the concepts and broke them down into some things.

CM-A: So do you have a copy of the plans he sent you?

SJ:  Yes

CM-A: So you were in correspondence with him?

SJ: No, I think I met him in the States when I was there, but I have never seen any of his tapes.

CM-A: He made an interesting tape which was a demo of his Image Processor called “A Five Minute Romp through the IP” .

SJ: I went to one of his talks on the IP in the States at the “Global Groove” when I was in New York in 79’.

CM-A: So you would have seen a version of that demo live. The tape is short version of that.

SJ:  I never saw the tape, but there is more to the story. Basically I took some of the concepts, and built my own versions of them. The key to what he was doing was a chip called the MC1445. Which was a doubly-balanced modulator chip. Essentially it is a multiplier chip. It has a pair of inputs and by controlling the voltage on another pin you could mix between the two input signals. So I got a hold of some of those, built some circuits around them. The IP circuits were really handy in telling me how to set those up and actually use the chip, and I built my own. So, that became the second synthesizer and that’s the one I used with Severed Heads.

I then became heavily involved with Severed heads. At the same time in ’82 the whole business of Leisure Allied Industry started to fall apart.

Anyway, two things in parallel happened that year and they were very much interwoven.  With the loss of the work at Leisure and Allied, I had set up a small studio in town and I needed to make something much more sensible out of it. A friend of mine, one of the other guys, who was working in Leisure and Allied got a space. He was the person who had done much of the legwork on this. A man called Jeff Cook. He found a space on top of a building in Surry Hills. It was a fabric maker. They spun yarn to make cloth. Oddly enough they were called Fantasy Knit. They had this space on top of the building, which had been or was designed to be the cafeteria for the workers in the building. It was a big balcony on the roof of the building concreted off and sealed. It was 1500 square foot, glass windows all around. We rented this place. It was extraordinary. Put the studio in there and started running post-production facility, because I was very unhappy with the way Metro was behaving. They were really only interested in activist work. They weren’t supporting the artists. In fact they were very strongly against. This was the split that I mentioned right at the beginning. There are individuals to blame for that. It is not necessary to go into that. There were people who were responsible for that. In a sense, there was a second sub-coup because the people who originally took over the interim period, after the bankruptcy of the Paddington Town Hall Trust, were actually very interested in both activism and the arts. They were supporting a lot of arts-based stuff. That was for me when I did the 79 biennial. But they were driven out by another faction within this whole Western Access structure. That led to denial of interest in other work because it was wanky. It was self-indulgent. They were only interested in the activist community television model. Community television was a big discussion by this point. So I set up a place for the others to work, and became the other post-production facility at that level.

CM-A: This was self-funded?

SJ: Completely. Everybody asked where my money comes from. I have got absolutely no idea where my money comes from. It just comes out of whatever it is I do. I got a small amount of money to build the second synthesizer on the basis of the fact that I managed to build the first one. That was the only money I had for quite a long period.

We charged people whatever they can afford. We made just enough money to keep going. This was in ’82, ’83, ’84.

CM-A: Were there enough artists coming??

SJ: There were enough people coming through. There were lots of independent producers coming through; people who should have, by rights, been using Metro at this stage. This was used by artists, young filmmakers and independent producers; some of who are now very successful. But they have forgotten about where they started. Anyway Severed Heads happened. One of the very interesting things is that I went to an auction to buy some gear, because this mixer turned up, and I badly needed a good vision mixer. It was another Richmond Hill dated 1969. It used double upstream re-entry so they had full delay lines and all that sort of stuff. The delays were cable, going around the building. You why know BBC Television Centre building at White City was circular? It was for the delay lines. They ran the cables around the basement to get the delays. It was the national delays for Edinburgh and Bristol.

So this was a really smart little mixer that was used at a place called Video Tape Corporation in Roseville, which is one of the first high-end independent post-production facilities. They were upgrading years ago and were getting rid of the crap. So I got it for $1600. This is a $100,000 dollar mixer. And lo-and-behold it’s the mixer that Mick Glasheen made for Teleologic Telecast from Spaceship Earth. How do I know? Because all the effects were identical. It came out of the same place where he made it. It was bought a year before he made his piece. They did his piece because they wanted to demonstrate what they could do and teach the operators how to do it. It’s now in the museum, the Powerhouse Museum.

CM-A: So you sold it on?

SJ: No, I just gave it to them. The company we set was called Heuristic Video. When that closed down in 1994 we just disposed a lot of stuff.

We had a For-A 300 TBC, which I modified to do mosaics and bit-dropping and all that kind of stuff so you can get good effects, and strobing and controlled frame delays and so on.

CM-A:  Were you using this kit to make your own work as well?

SJ: I was using it to make Severed Heads work.

CM-A:Were you earning any money out of doing this?

SJ: Not from Severed Heads. Nothing. Not until very late. The independent record company that was looking after Severed Heads records got us to make a couple of demo things for expo’s and stuff like that. They were advertising for that sort of stuff. So we made a little bit of money. I made a little bit of money from cutting clips, as well as made video clips for a lot of people.

CM-A: So, you were quite a skilled editor.

SJ: Yes, I have to say I was a very skilled editor. I am interested in music. Not that I am a musician, I can’t play music, but I can understand not just the rhythm but also the flow of the phrasing. So I would cut to the phrasing and not to the drum beats.  I once got quizzed by a very major video artist in England about all the Severed Heads stuff and was asked why I don’t cut to drum beats. I was told that I wasn’t doing it right.

So we were making all this Severed Heads stuff. Fairlight’s CVI appears. I worked for them for a short period building the decoder and encoder for them. Then I started to use that with Severed Heads and that is why I have a Fairlight CVI. Though in fact is not the one we used for Severed Heads, because we had to give that back at one stage. Nevertheless I got one later on.

CM-A: But for the first Severed Heads stuff you used the synth you made yourself.

SJ: Yes. We would make a clip in the studio for the songs we were going to use for the show, which were all the best songs of the season. So we make the clip which would be a combination of bits of Commodore Amiga computer graphics done by Tom Ellard, who turned out to be a wiz at that sort of stuff.  Heurisitc Video had a computer graphics system for titling and doing static graphics, 2-D paintbox type work in the studio called Conjure which was developed by John Hansen in Melbourne. It was really nice, until the Quantel came along. Quantel came along and sat on the market. They killed the market deliberately using specious patent laws. It wasn’t until Adobe took them to task over it that they lost. They killed Spaceward. Spaceward was great. The people who were running Spaceward were people I knew quite well by this stage, because I had been building a system for somebody over in Woollahra or somewhere. He was making videos for the Defence Department; training tapes and things like that. Using Spaceward CG to generate the diagrams was absolutely essential to what he was doing. Spaceward was brilliant. I got to know the guys at the Spaceward and visited them in the UK. Then they disappeared. I lost complete contact. They were really lovely guys and that was a really nice machine. Yes, Quantel was responsible for the destruction of most of the upstart computer graphic companies in the UK.

Anyway, so we had this computer graphic system and we did some really interesting stuff. My business partner, a woman called Wendy Spencer, turned out to be a wizard in doing this kind of stuff and made some really funny things. She did a comedy series for a regular weekend get together club in the Trade Union Club in Surry Hills, just behind the building where Heuristic Video was. They booked a floor there for the weekend, every weekend, and called it The Gap. It was this place where a bunch of young comedy entrepreneurs would pull a series of shows. Severed Heads had a show there. Wendy had organized a weekly or fortnightly comedy hour because a friend of hers – his name was Michael McBride – wrote quite funny comedy. So they would make the comedy at Heuristic Video. She would direct and edit the productions and do the graphics. She was good at that. And we’d make clips for other people. So it was a really interesting collaboration running between a bunch of people. We had most of the gear we needed anyway. So that went really well.

As for Severed heads, because I was making these clips for the music tracks we started showing the clips with the show, just playback on TVs. That was the first couple of shows, at a place called Art Unit in Redfern. Those shows then morphed into a situation were I would bring the synthesizer along and play the clips through the synth so we mixed patterns and stuff like that into them. That became the Severed Heads show. We did not need a light show because we had our video show and in a sense I am, arguably, the first VJ.  I invented the idea. We had been doing it before-hand in other circumstances, but with Severed Heads we toured around the world several time. We would put projectors up on the stage. We played in the Everyman Cinema in Hampstead in 1985. We toured the North America over 1986 and in 1992, right around the country, twice.

CM-A: That must have been pretty hairy!

SJ: It was fun. I called it Black Holes across America tour, because, you know, touring with a band you get up in the middle of the day, got to the venue, set up, you eat.  You do whatever needs to be done. You are basically inside this black hole, literally because all the clubs were painted black inside in those days. You come out 2 or 3 a.m., get into the truck, and got to the hotel. So you are living in this tunnel.

CM-A: Not very healthy.

SJ:We were young. There were lots of support drugs. Anyway, we did those tours and they were pretty good. I did make money on that. I made money on one of them, we made 2000 dollars each for the second North America tour.

CM-A: How long did this go on for?

SJ: 33 dates in 42 days.

But before that, at Heuristic, I had built a 3rd video synthesizer, which went into a couple of shows. That was a self-operating automatic machine on the basis of external events which it sensed either off the music, or a little key board I made, or some other way of triggering events. It would make random steps through sets of patterns. So the combination of patterns was always different. It would run forever and pretty much never make the same pattern again.

CM-A: Was it still drawing on some of the earlier-

SJ: No, it was drawing on collections of pulse-width modulation devices, standard oscillators, function generators and things like that

CM-A: Was it digital or analogue?

SJ: It was all hybrid. The second one, the one based on Sandin, was more analogue. But it was pretty much hybrid as well because the switcher was digital. It uses 4051 CMOS switches; eight input to one output switches, which with the appropriate drivers at the output end would drive the current load and so drive the buss. You had to put a follower on the end of it to drive the buss and terminate the buss properly. Apart from that, they were fine. They used 4051 switches for years in switchers and things like that, not video switchers but sound switchers. The Bandwidth wasn’t perfect but it was good enough.

CM-A: Were you recording the outputs?

SJ: Quite commonly. We never recorded a live show. I wouldn’t let anybody record a live show much to my annoyance now, because I would love to see some of it. We did record one live show but the idiot that organized the show refused to let us put the screen behind us. He wanted to put the screens all around the dance floor. The screens were in a U shape around the dance floor so we were looking into the screens, but we couldn’t be videotaped with the screen behind us so you never see what was going on.

Severed Heads and Heuristic Video ran through the 80s. At the end of the ’80s, around early or mid ’89, Heuristic Video was robbed three times in a row over about a 2 week period. They took everything, except the mixer. They came up and down the stairs 3 nights in a row. We were on the 6th floor. They must have walked up and down the fire escape with the monitors and the tape recorders.

CM-A: They must have known what they are after.

SJ: Oh yes, they knew. We’d been robbed twice before. It is clear that everybody knew. In fact, I think that some ‘punk’ artists, interested in video and the liberation of things from people who apparently had the money, ended up doing one of the earlier robberies. I believe they turned up in a ‘punk’ level studio.

They knew when I was away. We were insured, but the insurance was going to take about 6 months to come through. I had to go and generate some money because I had to get us going again. By some fortune, I talked to one of my colleagues in the same post-production industry. He was rebuilding a facility and needed somebody to join them in the installation team. So I got a job. We put 3000 cables into the floor. We did two serious editing suites. One telecine suite, a full sound suite and a graphic suite, with the machine room and tape decks. There must have been a dozen tape machines. I was then asked to do the documentation, so my work continued. It took us 9 months to build the place. It worked really well. It was a top-line studio for several years and it went through three bankruptcies and re-appearances with the same people running it under different names. Everybody lost their superannuation three times. All the creditors lost their money three times and so on. What that taught me was high-end broadcast post-production. I knew how to set up a studio. I knew how to tune a studio. That is even more important, because I would be the one regularly tuning the facility at that stage. I don’t know what it is but I was the smartest guy around. As egotistical as it sounds but it is pretty clear that somehow I knew more than my boss about digital electronics. My boss knew all about studios and videotape machines and telecine and how to do it, but I knew about digital, and the next thing we did was that we then decided to tackle a full digital facility. I did that from the CCIR 601 specifications. I designed and built everything myself from scratch. The only thing I didn’t do was the PC-board layouts. So I built a full DAC, which we used for years, in Vero-board with all the high-speed stuff; all on it. There was a 27 MHz clock running this thing.

CM-A: So you really did know your stuff.

SJ: I knew how to do it. That studio hung together for quite a while. In the process of building it, the assistant chief engineer, who was hired to be my assistant but had ambitions of his own, shafted the chief engineer and took over his job. After I finished the studio and trained everybody up on to how to use it and did the first full digital post-production in the place, I was thrown out.  So by that stage, we are talking ’94, I had been there for about 5 years. So what started out as a job to re-equip Heuristic video ended up as a 5 year job.

I learnt a huge amount. I wouldn’t refuse it if it were offered to me again. It was just the perfect job for me to do. What it did do was that it took me right out of the art world.

CM-A: Yes that is what I was thinking.  I guess that was the end. You didn’t go back to it, really.

SJ: I did. That’s why I am here now. So, I did that. I then freelanced for a while because I built a whole array of the kit that you needed to run a digital facility. The problem is that I was in competition with all the other big English and American kit manufacturers who were building CCRI 601 technology at the time. Because all the distributors here were only interested in distributing the stuff they got from overseas, I couldn’t get my product out. They weren’t interested. They were making the money off importing. They didn’t have to do any support. But I continued to build studios for people for another couple of years. I started to get back into doing installations for museums. Got back into doing art scene sort of stuff and eventually decided that that was what I am interested in doing.

CM-A: That must be a doddle compared to setting up their studios, technically.

SJ: Technically yes.

CM-A: I don’t mean on any other level, but in terms of…

SJ: No, it was trivial. But dealing with artists is not trivial. Also I was starting to make works for people again but didn’t have much facility at that stage. What I was really interested in doing at this stage was this thing called The Brain Project. I got interested in the question of consciousness again and started going to the “Towards a Science of Consciousness” conferences in Tucson. I realized, somewhere along the lines, that dualism is not the answer. Dennett helped with that. He didn’t help. He just confirmed.

I happen to know personally a woman who has no pineal gland, a perfectly intelligent capable conscious woman. It was cut out because it was diseased. She is perfectly conscious. No problem.  The whole scene was dualist in those days. Partly due to David Chalmers’ formulation of what was known as “The Hard Problem”, which questions the nature of qualia and how it is that this wet biological system can generate qualia; the qualities of the world that we experience. To my mind it is obvious, this is what wet biology does.

CM-A:  Because there are other ways to look at all of this that have nothing to do with the way we are set up to look at it.

SJ:  We are just the wet biology behaving. I am a not a dualist, so I could not be published. All the journals, the referees, were all dualist. There was no question about it. I even looked at the Science of Consciousness list for next year, that was around on the CAS list couple of weeks ago, it is the same story and the same group.

And they are only interested in talking to each other. I did think of going and putting a rocket up them but thought it is a waste of time

CM-A: It might be quite enjoyable.

SJ: But it costs money to go.

CM-A: Do you think these ideas that you are wrestling with connect up to a work of any sort?

SJ: Well they were supposed to, but I failed miserably. I couldn’t do it. I just did not have the capacity to do it. The nearest I got was this sort of stuff. That has been the one real failure of my practice.

CM-A: Well one has to have some kind of failure.

SJ: Yes but this is a major failure and it really stopped my practice. There were two things that stopped my practice. One was around 1981 when I was told by a number of people that the work that I was doing was just not interesting and not to be bothered with.

CM-A: But that was just not interesting to them.

SJ: Yes but they were important to me, because it was important to me to have content at that point. I thought I had, but they were seeing it as formalism.

CM-A: I am just wondering if there is some loop back through into the processes that you care about, the systems things and this interest of consciousness?

SJ: There is. It is the same story.

CM-A: Yes, but I mean as a way back into your practice.

SJ: My practice now is articulated. The notion of relations.

CM-A: Which you do through the book?

SJ: And through the talks. Basically my talk at ISEA-2011 was about relational processes as a way of thinking about interaction.

CM-A: Understood. I guess I am always going to go back and try to think about how  the idea can be manifest other than by articulating it through rational thought.

SJ: I am very didactic. I made one or two lovely works, but they were video music pieces. One of them I think is really beautiful but can’t get to show it any where because no one wants to show this kind of stuff anymore. I sent it to one of the German curators, and he said that they are not interested in this kind of psychedelic stuff from the 60s and the 70s

CM-A: But does that simply mean that he is missing the point?

SJ: Yes, obviously

CM-A: Do you know the work of Steve Reich?

SJ: The composer? Yes I do

CM-A: He just had his 75th birthday, and the BBC did an interview with him. I must have heard it about a month ago. Lovely interview. Right at the end, the interviewer asks him what advice would you give to anybody out there. He simply said “stick with it”.

SJ: That is exactly right. I realized decades later that that is exactly what I should have done.

CM-A: But you are still doing it.

SJ: I am but I am not, because my interests are so diverse. I am like a flood. What I do is a wave-front. It is not like a single projectile.

CM-A: It also depends how important and fundamental they are to you.

SJ: I did try and make a piece that covered some issues around self-organization. I started with 30 seconds of TV snow and built a piece that in vision and sound, was entirely made out of that 30 second of snow. It was highly articulated and organized. The sound worked quite well. The vision didn’t work as well. I showed it to a major senior curator. I got laughed at. I was so embarrassed.

CM-A: I guess it is very hard to ignore those sorts of authority figures.

SJ: I am very easily unnerved.

CM-A: The trouble with some of these people is that they’ve all got the authority about them. It also means that they are locked into their own thing.

SJ: That is what makes their career. This person happens to be a curator I respect immensely because he has done spectacularly good curatorial work.

CM-A:  So it was a voice of authority that one listens to and thinks that they must be right.

SJ: I failed to stick to it. Maybe I can call it back. Right now I got to stick to writing two more books.

CM-A: I’ve got the same problem. One more book. I don’t think I am going to do anything along the same line after that. I am going to try and move away from that kind of writing.

[1] F.E. Emery (ed), (1969) Systems Thinking, Selected Readings, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books.

[2] Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Problems of Life: An Evaluation of Modern Biological Thought, London: Watts & Co (1952).

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, General Systems Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. New York: George Braziller (1968).

Heinz von Foerster, Margaret Mead, and H.L. Teuber, (eds) Cybernetics: Circular Causal and Feedback Mechanisms in Biological and Social Systems, Transactions of the Seventh to the Tenth Conferences (on Cybernetics), 1951-54, New York, N.Y. Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation (1951-55).

Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics. Or Control and Communications in the Animal and the Machine. New York, Wiley, (1948).

[3] John “Hoppy” Hopkins, Cliff Evans, Steve Herman, and John Kirk, Video in Community Development, London: Ovum Limited for the Centre for Advanced Television Studies (CATS), (1972).

[4] Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art & Technology in Australia, 1956-1975, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, (2011).

[5] James P. Crutchfield, “Space-time Dynamics in Video Feedback”, Physica D, vol.10 (1984), pp.229-245. Available in David Dunn (ed.); Peter Weibel, Woody Vasulka, and Steina Vasulka (curators),  Eigenwelt der Apparatenwelt,- Pioneers of Electronic Art, Linz, Austria: Ars Electronica (1992), 190-207.

[6] Daniel Palmer, “Medium without a memory: Australian video art”, Broadsheet (Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia), vol.33, no.3, (Sept-Nov 2004), 20-21.

[7] John B. Carroll (ed.), Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, Mass.: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1956],  (1997).

[8] Warwick Robbins, “Challenge for Change.” Bush Video Tharunka, August 7, 1973, p.16.

[9] Digital-to-Analogue Converters

[10] Analogue-to-Digital Converter.

[11] Ivan Sutherland, “Sketchpad – A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System” Ph.D. thesis: M.I.T. 1962. MIT Lincoln Laboratory Technical Report #296, January 1963, and Proceedings of the Spring Joint Computer Conference, Detroit, Michigan, May 1963.

[12] Stephen Jones, Synthetics: Aspects of Art & Technology in Australia, 1956-1975, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, (2011).

[13] Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, New York: Dutton (1970).


[15] Stephen Jones and Bernice Murphy, Videotapes from Australia, Sydney: Australian Gallery Directors Council. Catalogue for a touring exhibition of Australian video art that went to the US and Canada, 1979-1980.