Descriptions (1978, 1979, 1995)

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The Development of a Video Art Facility by Electronic Body Arts, Inc.
This document recounts the history of the Pantomation video studio designed, built and maintained by Electronic Body Arts Inc (EBA) of Albany, N.Y.

EBA was chartered as a not-for-profit cultural and educational institution in 1973. Its founders came from the fields of dance, theater, music and electronic arts. The inclusion of the word "electronic" in the organizations came has been a source of both pride and anguish for its members. Founders George Kindler and Phil Edelstein insisted on the name, because such arts as lighting, audio synthesis and video are integral to the EBA repertoire. EBA proved to be strong in these areas, and the name is appropriate for the group. On the other hand, conservative sponsors of arts organizations have expressed reservations about the word "electronic" and it has cost EBA endorsements and financial support. Periodically the organization debated changing its name, but EBA's designation became synonymous with its aspirations during the development of its computer based video studio, the Pantograph.

EBA has always held a special interest in video. The dance company has appeared locally on broadcast and cable television. Maude Baum and George Kindler studied video for dance at the University at Albany under a grant from its Research Foundation. Tom DeWitt, Vibeke Sorensen and Phil Edelstein are accomplished video artists. Media Director, George Kindler, is a design engineer who has built sophisticated electronics for art applications.

The Pantograph was conceived by Phil Edelstein and Tom DeWitt it, in 1975. Tom was a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts studying electronics, and Phil was working as an electronics specialist for the SUNYA Music Department. Their first experiment was a score reader for composers. A television camera scanned a hand drawn graph, and the information was read into a minicomputer where it was stored as a short list of numbers containing the coordinates of the graph. During the year, Tom and Phil had residencies at the WNET TV Laboratory in New York City. Both brought EBA dancers and artists into the WNET Studio 46, Tom emphasizing mime and Phil exploring modern dance. Their experiences pointed to the need for video equipment which could track body movement automatically to correlate camera recorded and synthesized spaces. Phil's residency resulted in his involvement with the TV Laboratory's computer project, an abortive effort to control a large video switcher with a PDP 8 computer. By the conclusion of his residency, Phil was very familiar with the computer and its difficulties.

In 1975 Tom DeWitt proposed to the New York State Council on the Arts Video Bureau that some of the Council funding granted to Albany area PBS station WMHT be devoted to developing a video synthesis studio. As a result $10,000 of $25,000 granted to WHMT that year was earmarked for purchase of an EAB VideoLab and a Rutt/Etra synthesizer. DeWitt then prepared a proposal, based on his NEA funded research, to construct a unique synthesizer. NYSCA granted a supplementary $10,000 to WHMT to meet the cost of hardware for this project. When WHMT failed to find funding to pay for the labor of construction, the Council grant was redefined, so that, $6000 of the supplementary grant was allowed for labor and the aim of the project was to design and build a computer controlled tracking chroma key system, dubbed the Electronic Pantograph. EBA was contracted by WHMT to realize the project by September 1, 1977.

Construction of the Pantomation system began in November 1976. The idle computer from WNET was brought to Albany where Phil Edelstein repaired some of its broken parts. An experimental interface was designed and constructed by Edelstein, Kindler and Richard Lainhart. The computer was returned to New York City in December and first demonstrated at Studio 46 of WNET on New Year's Eve. When the demonstration was evaluated a success, the Arts Council, which owned the computer, reassigned it to WMHT. For the following eight months EBA personnel tested, evaluated, redesigned and reconstructed the system. A prototype was used to control lighting for EBA's production, "Horn", in April under direction from George Kindler. A version of the system was used to create scenes for Tom DeWitt's film, "Outta Space" in June. In August Roger Meyers, a composer and computer programmer joined the project to replace Phil Edelstein who had been hired away by Digital Equipment Corporation. On September 14 th the Pantograph was demonstrated in public for the first time at a concert at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center. Included on the program were a Pantomated dance by EBA dancer, Heather Harris, and a musical performance by bassist, Bill Corzett.

In July 1977 WMHT had informed NYSCA that it would abandon its Arts Council funded programs. As a result, the video equipment upon which the Pantomation studio depended was reassigned to other locations in the state. The specialized synthesis equipment, the EPA constructed equipment and some broken equipment were reassigned by NYSCA to EBA's administration. A proposal from EBA to the Council to take WHMT's role was disallowed as EBA is not a PBS station. EBA found itself without the basic video equipment needed to operated the Pantomation studio, and the project was stalled for eight months. Fortunately, among the audience at the September 14 concert was an influential student at Rensselaer Polytechncial Institute who recognized the level of accomplishment EBA had attained. He brought other students together, and they opened a control room at WQPI to house both the Pantograph and their fledgling television production installation.

In April 1978, Tom DeWitt was granted $12,000 from the Guggenheim Foundation to continue development of the Pantograph and $6000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to demonstrate the Pantograph to other artists. Tom contracted EBA to assist in the fullfilment of the NEA grant and donated $1000 from the Guggenheim to help meet other expenses. For the past year the Media company of EBA has worked almost daily on developing the video studio. They have hosted noted artists in video, film, music and mime. The facility has been publicized in the local press and television. This month the first commissioned tape produced at the facility was completed for exhibition on April 28. EBA is in the process of seeking additional funding from private foundations, and has an invitation to exhibit its work on the Rockefeller Empire State Plaza Concourse should such work be funded.

Tom DeWitt 4/25/79

Electronic Body Arts, Inc Programs
A New Video Tool
Electronic movement measurement was designed to facilitate choreographers, dancers, mimes, composers and musicians using video, electronic synthesis and computer control systems. The artist accesses sophisticated audio-video equipment (Hearn Videolab, RuttEtra display, Serge modular music synthesizer) with body movement recorded by video cameras. You don't need to speak Fortran or Cobol to run this system, although it is based on a computer. The artist uses up to eight colored bands attached to the body or objects in motion. The computer interprets these colors for their position in three dimensional space and uses them to control the synthesizer. Now you can literally draw pictures in the air, automatically notate body movement or control sounds without physically touching anything. The Electronic Pantograph is a precision instrument engineered to allow artists intuitive control of complex media tools.

Electronic Body Arts, Inc. (EBA) invites artists to visit its unique studio during 1978 at radio station WRPI. To acquaint artists with Pantomation and explore its uses, workshops of one to five days duration will be conducted in the disciplines of dance, mime, music and video art. Each workshop will be led by an artist in the associated discipline who has already worked in Pantomation. The equipment will be exercised in a rehearsed performance, the process explained in detail, and the visiting artists may participate or have their questions answered. The goal of the workshops is to initiate larger scale video productions. After the workshop, EBA will entertain any proposals to use the Pantomation system which are premised on non commercial funding. There will be no charge for artists taking the workshop other than to replace tape stock retained by the visiting artist. More information, including a demonstration videotape, can be obtained by contacting EBA.

EBA at The Chapter House
Albany, New York

This program receives support from NYSCA and NEA.

Tom DeWitt Associations with Renssalear Polytechnic Institute, SUNY Albany, Dutchess County Community College, Hillary Harris
I first met Hillary (Harris) when I was apprenticing under Stan Vanderbeek in 1965. Stan had a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and used it to rent Hillary's high-end Oxberry animation stand for a series of illusion-based "flims" such as See Saw Seems. The Oxberry had an automated feature that made the primary visual effect of endless cross dissolves relatively simple, especially when compared with Stan's own animation stand that had a flea market-purchased 35mm DeVry (spelling ?) with 25' loads and no variable shutter. It was like going from a soap box racer to a Cadillac... (Hillary) moved to Woodstock a few years ago and built himself a dream home... Inside the studio section of the structure are a collection of mechanical and electronic gadgets... Hillary is famous for his motion picture time lapse technology. His famous time lapse sequences are made with motion control cameras. He also engineered some film editing gear using Hall effect magnetic heads. These can read tape position even when the tape is not moving. Very clever. These machines are largely in retirement. Right now Hillary edits with a NewTek Flyer... He was over here about six weeks ago using my facility to generate some imagery for a project on visualizing New Age philosophy. ..Hillary has my assistance on his latest obsessions. These include a vector to raster converter and some analog 3-D rotational modules.

...Hillary (is interested in building) a vector to raster converter. They are going the frame buffer route. The idea is to covert xy analog waveforms to digital values using ADC's and save them at addresses in the buffer equal to those values. I had another idea which Hillary isn't going to pursue called Content Addressable Memory. In these devices the data is read in at sequential addresses but read out using the data itself as an address. I used this kind of architecture in the IBM 7350 to develop my version of a particle system. The technique has become very popular for synthesizing fire, smoke, clouds, water and even hair. The architecture is also central in the design of the Aspex PIPE, a cottage industry super computer which I used on a sequence in Feed the Fire. Aspex calls the technique Two-Valued Functions. The concept is quite efficient for vector to raster conversion, but there is a penalty. All contiguous lines are converted to discrete points. This means that to make solid vectors, the sampling rate must be increased. The resulting trade-off is with the length of the stored vector....

Part of my association with Hillary stems from SUNY.... In 1977 the University Wide Committee on the Arts met to disburse Rockefeller funds for video projects. Hillary was issued a grant to make a film with a Purchase-based dancer... He never did use Pantomation but after I left SUNY for RPI, he visited in 1980 as part of our artist-in-residence program. That interaction led to a liaison based on mutual interests which continues today.

As for SUNY itself, I find myself at Dutchess Community College quite often. They are well equipped for conventional video production...

Group Name: 
Electronic Body Arts
Group Dates: 
1973 - present
Group Location: 
Albany, New York