[ index | 1968 ]

eric siegel

ERIC SIEGEL was another forerunner. He began building TV sets in high school and has continued building video equipment ever since. He was also the builder of an early video synthesizer, and another tool, his colorizer, has been used by half the artists in the country who want color in their tapes. Siegel's own work ranges from an early special-effects tape of Einstein to more recent personal documentary tapes.

- Johanna Branson Gill: VIDEO: STATE OF THE ART, 1976


In 1968 Siegel had shown his videotape Psychedelevision at Channel One, a video theater in New York City. He remembers that Tadlock told Wise about his work, and the gallery owner came to see it. He showed Wise several pieces, "but only the Einstein piece really turned him on." (22) Wise asked Siegel if he could do the same piece in color, and gave him $200 to buy a color TV set to build it. Like Siegel, many of the artists in "TV as a Creative Medium" were surprised when Wise paid them to complete their projects included in his show. For some, it was the first time that anyone had paid them for their work.

Siegel's Psychedelevision in Color (31) consisted of three tapes: Einstein, a manipulated image sequence of Albert Einstein's face, where his features radiate color and abstract imagery; Symphony of the Planets; and Tomorrow Never Knows, accompanied by the Beatles song. Both of the latter tapes display psychedelic imagery in conjunction with music, and Siegel jokingly refers to Tomorrow Never Knows, as "a kind of very early rock video." Today, however, this work looks like much more. Siegel's exploration of relationships between abstract imagery and sound entails sophistication not unlike that in the experimental films of Oskar Fischinger.

Wise also sought new avenues of support for artists he considered to be at the frontier of new technologies. In particular, he regarded Siegel as the "whiz kid" of the small, energetic video community. After his participation in "TV as a Creative Medium" Siegel traveled to Sweden and began designing a video synthesizer. Upon his return to the U.S., he approached Wise with the idea and Wise "was skeptical but agreed to fund it", according to Siegel, who then went to San Francisco to build a prototype. He recalls, "I was one of the strongest instigators of the video movement, and I saw that as my role. Both Nam June Paik and I did a lot of promoting to Howard Wise of the idea that video was the next thing... Later when I came back to New York [after completing the synthesiser] and there was no more Howard Wise Gallery, I was surprised and a bit guilty."

Upon Siegel's completion of the synthesizer lit 1970, Wise and he differed on the question of how the device should be marketed. Wise wanted to license a manufacturer to build it. Siegel did not agree:

In retrospect, it was an unfortunate misunderstanding. I was a purist and didn't want television commercials to be made with the synthesizer. Howard though commercial work would be okay. Looking back now, it would have been better, because at least the synthesizer would have been produced.

- Marita Sturken, May 1984, Afterimage, Vol. 11, No. 10

- notes -

22. All quotes from Eric Siegel are from an interview with the author, September 1983. See also "Notes Toward a History of Image-Processed Video", by Lucinda Furlong, Afterimage, Vol.11, Nos. 1 &2 (Summer 1983), p.35.
31. Siegel added “in color” to the title of the tape because color videotapes were unusual at the time.


We still haven't located Al Phillips to whom Eric Siegel entrusted his only video synthesizer. In a comparison to electronic audio instruments, there is no comparable historical or intellectual protocol to even consider the video instruments as cultural artifacts. While Paik's first synthesizer is still in the basement of MIT, the first Buchla box has just been purchased from Mills College by a French institution.

It is a real pleasure to lift up a piece of scrap, to dust it off, return its name, restore it, insure it for thousands of dollars and publish it in an Austrian art catalogue!

- Woody Vasulka, Eigenwelt der Apparatewelt, Curatorial Statement, 1992.

[ index | 1968 ]