Art & Technology
- Digital Art - John Whitney


It was the 1970ies that truly defined successful digital synthesis of sounds and visuals in John Whitney's work. He had long abandoned the analog machine in favor of digital, and by 1975 would no longer be coloring his films in post production with the optical printer. The final film to see the use of this process is what is considered by many to be his best. Arabesque, completed in 1975, was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and IBM sponsorship (1965 - 69) starting at the UCLA Health Sciences Computing Center. It was the climax to a creative period where such films as the Matrix series were completed. For some Arabesque is considered "the seminal computer film" Set to the music of Manoochelher Sadeghi, the film ran 7 minutes. It is an example of the artist using the computer to produce synaesthetic works. But even before artists used computers, synaesthesia was a big thing amongst artists and musicians. Particularily Russian avantgarde artists found synaesthetic forms to be the ultimate form of art. Synaesthesia seems to have had its greatest days at the turn at the century and during the first two decades of the 20th century but it continued to fascinate artists untill nowadays.


John Whitney: Arabesque. 1975

Fig.: John Whitney: Arabesque. 1975

Arabesque, completed in 1975, was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and IBM sponsorship (1965 - 69) starting at the UCLA Health Sciences Computing Center. It was the climax to a creative period where such films as the Matrix series were completed. For some Arabesque is considered "the seminal computer film" Set to the music of Manoochelher Sadeghi, the film ran 7 minutes. It is an example of the artist perfecting his art. The whirling, exotic flow of the music is in perfect synthesis with the quasi- psychedelic blooming of colored forms. John Whitney had balanced science with aesthetics, and defined the computer as a legitimate medium for art.
Films like Catalog and Arabesque used sequences that were like "words" which were later combined together in the optical printer into compositions. The technique is somewhat similar to the composer (Schoenberg) working with a musical "tone row."
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Watch the Quicktime Video with an excerpt of "Arabesque". (Filesize 5.6 MBytes, download may take a while.)