Q R Ghazala’s Tape Canvas


Qubais Reed Ghazala, father of circuit bending, has posted a flickr set on the OddMusic list showing many details of his Tape Canvas device, conceived independently from the Nam June Paik’s Random Access created in early 60s. The instrument functions by having segments of tape stretched out on a board next to each other, played by a tape head extracted from the tape player. The movement can be across those segments in all directions at various speeds: fast, slow, or sideways is sure to produce interesting sound combinations. The possibilities do not stop with tape, floppy disks and VHS tapes can also be attempted with this setup. No sounds or videos that I can tell, but if someone knows more info please comment.

Update: Ghazala’s responce to Paik’s comparison.

ghazala@anti-theory.com

\nWow! That\’s a cool Paik link. But I don\’t think it\’s really a "very
\nsimilar" device, even if sharing the same "engine" …stationary tape
\nand moving head. Look deeper…
\n
\nPaik and I are after very different things here, as persons familiar
\nwith Paik\’s concepts of the era will understand. And I\’m sure all
\nthinking persons presume that the history of tape recording involved
\nlab tests where all kinds of head/tape experiments were performed
\nbefore either Paik, or you or I, got our chances, no? Maybe artists
\nshould be happy lab techs don\’t have agents! More on this in a moment.
\n
\nMy idea (admittedly less academic) came from thinking about what\’s
\nhappening here (though I\’d never seen such a thing before, just a nerdy
\nkid in high school). I imagined the head moving and a strip of tape
\nstaying still, ala Paik, as just another reversal-of-theory thing. But
\nthe artistic limits of this were obvious, and it seemed, to me, a first
\nstep toward a larger idea.
\n
\nPaik\’s piece, while thought provoking, is yet rigid and
\nhighly-prescribed (as compared to much of his other work, and that\’s
\ncoming from someone who\’s browsed Paik\’s private art warehouses and
\nholds a real respect for the man). But it was appropriate for the times
\nand right-on for the piece: Paik\’s idea was not to create a musical
\ninstrument, per se, but rather a viewer-participation (very hip then)
\nconcept piece – tape manipulation was an academic focus at the time,
\nreflected in the diagrammatic arrangement of Paik\’s installation. In
\nthat light it was very cool, and certainly successful. More successful
\nthan my tape canvas, in this regard. But as I say, we were after
\ndifferent things, and at different times in history.
\n
\nThe tape canvas (an entire surface of magnetic media) was the
\nfinalization of my perusal of this idea (including the variants
\ndiscussed), but with end result more as experimental musical instrument “,1] ); //–> Wow! That's a cool Paik link. But I don't think it's really a "very
similar" device, even if sharing the same "engine" ...stationary tape
and moving head. Look deeper...

Paik and I are after very different things here, as persons familiar
with Paik's concepts of the era will understand. And I'm sure all
thinking persons presume that the history of tape recording involved
lab tests where all kinds of head/tape experiments were performed
before either Paik, or you or I, got our chances, no? Maybe artists
should be happy lab techs don't have agents! More on this in a moment.

My idea (admittedly less academic) came from thinking about what's
happening here (though I'd never seen such a thing before, just a nerdy
kid in high school). I imagined the head moving and a strip of tape
staying still, ala Paik, as just another reversal-of-theory thing. But
the artistic limits of this were obvious, and it seemed, to me, a first
step toward a larger idea.

Paik's piece, while thought provoking, is yet rigid and
highly-prescribed (as compared to much of his other work, and that's
coming from someone who's browsed Paik's private art warehouses and
holds a real respect for the man). But it was appropriate for the times
and right-on for the piece: Paik's idea was not to create a musical
instrument, per se, but rather a viewer-participation (very hip then)
concept piece - tape manipulation was an academic focus at the time,
reflected in the diagrammatic arrangement of Paik's installation. In
that light it was very cool, and certainly successful. More successful
than my tape canvas, in this regard. But as I say, we were after
different things, and at different times in history.

The tape canvas (an entire surface of magnetic media) was the
finalization of my perusal of this idea (including the variants
discussed), but with end result more as experimental musical instrument
and less as concept piece.

I wanted to allow a fluid approach to the reversal of the tape/head
motion situation, but in a way that allowed expression in the classic
sense of interaction with an instrument, and without the hassles of
"keeping on track." A wide magnetic canvas allows all kinds of
approaches to head path and composition impossible in the Paik
installation (isolated strips are impractical for seamless sound
production).

But... first? Like with circuit-bending, I just assumed when I began to
explore the tape idea that I couldn't have been the first to examine
such a simple concept... it's just too obvious (I call this principle
"the threshold of invention" and discuss it in my book).

How important is this? Being "first" at something? If two people think
the same thought, in the dark and years apart, and each develop the
same idea, is the latter the lesser? What if the latter was working in
a darker environment with greater hurdles? Perhaps that late arrival is
more the genius?

I know we like to drive stakes here, but I've always thought
application to be more important than inception. If something is first,
sure, let history note it. But, even as recognized by patenting
principles, use of the wheel may be more important than its origin.

Nam June Paik himself mocks this concept of judging art by time...

"Art is just fraud. You just have to do something nobody else has done
before."

Our society, in an effort to validate things, often reaches toward the
simplest handholds. Don't worry too much about it. I think Paik would
agree: just keep inventing.

reed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.