straight up
Douglas Engelbart lecturing at the
Stanford Research Institute (SRI)

About the Teachers' Guide

This Teachers' Guide provides a model for integrating the Web site and the book, a tool for teaching college level students the history, theory and practice of multimedia. The on-line syllabus below is organized thematically around key concepts that are introduced in Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality. It incorporates essays by artists and scientists from the book, while taking advantage of the Web site's extensive media resources with links to photo and video documentation.

The following syllabus is from the course taught by Randall Packer at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore.


Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Course Description

Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality is an overview of the pioneering artists and scientists who have brought about the dissolution of boundaries that have traditionally existed between the artistic and technological disciplines. The course surveys the work and ideas of artists who have explored new interactive and interdisciplinary forms, as well as engineers and mathematicians who have developed information technologies and influential scientific and philosophical ideologies that have influenced the arts. Seminal artistic movements and genres will be explored, such as: the Futurists, Bauhaus, kinetic sculpture, Happenings, video art, electronic theater, etc. It is a study of the invention of information technologies and new human-machine paradigms that have come to define the medium of the personal computer, including: cybernetics, augmented intelligence, hypertext, human-computer symbiosis, graphical user interface, etc.

This broad historical analysis helps illuminate an understanding of the emerging digital arts and its aesthetics, strategies, trends, and socio-cultural aspirations. Central to this analysis is an understanding of key concepts for the interpretation of evolving multimedia forms: including integration, interactivity, hypermedia, immersion, and narrativity. The course reveal hows these primary elements of contemporary media have roots in electronic and performance art prior to the digital era.

Week 1 Overture

Review of course objectives, readings, assignments, projects, and grading.

Introduction to Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality through an overview of the interactive timeline, that covers 17,000 years of historical precedence and pioneering work and ideologies by artists and scientists, from the Caves of Lascaux to the present.

Assigned Reading

• Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, "Overture," Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality

Weeks 2 - 3 Integration

Definition: Integration - The blurring of traditional boundaries between disciplines – such as the arts and science – or between discrete media.

A discussion of key 19th and 20th Century developments in the integration of the arts and technology, beginning with the work of composer Richard Wagner and his idealized notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk (Total Artwork), followed by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy, who began working with electronic and kinetic forms in the 1920s, and Bell Labs engineer Billy Klüver, who was a central figure in the New York art world during the 1960s with the formation of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology).

Assigned Reading

• Richard Wagner, "The Artwork of the Future," 1848
• László Moholy-Nagy, "Theater, Circus, Variety," The Theater of the Bauhaus, 1929
• Billy Klüver, "Northeastern Power Failure" 1966

Weeks 4 - 5 Interactivity

Definition: Interactivity - Reciprocal exchange between the viewer and the artwork, the ability to manipulate media and objects intuitively and with immediacy.

This topic explores the evolution of the technical, aesthetic, and cognitive concepts behind human-computer interactions, and their influence on the art, design and application of interactive media. Beginning with the fundamentals of cybernetics as conceived by engineer Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s, we will discuss subsequent scientific breakthroughs in human-computer interaction including Douglas Engelbart's oNLine System and invention of the mouse. We will then explore parallel cybernetic and interactive tendencies emerging in the arts during the 1960s through the writings and work of John Cage and Roy Ascott.

Assigned Reading

• Norbert Wiener, "Cybernetics in History," Human Use of Human Beings : Cybernetics in Society, 1954
• Douglas Engelbart, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework," 1962
• John Cage, "Diary: Audience 1966," A Year From Monday, 1966
• Roy Ascott, "Behavioral Art and the Cybernetic Vision," 1967

Weeks 6 - 7 Hypermedia

Definition: Hypermedia - The non-sequential linking of information, events, and discrete media.

A discussion of the evolution of hypermedia and the non-linear association of information resulting in the collapse of traditional spatial and temporal boundaries. We will begin with Vannevar Bush's seminal investigation into the concept of the hyperlink through his design of the Memex in 1945, the prototypical multimedia workstation. This will be followed by Ted Nelson's coining of the term hypertext in the early 1960s, in which non-linear associative thinking was applied to human-computer interaction, concluding with Alan Kay's creation of the graphical user interface and the first hypermedia system for a personal computer at Xerox PARC in the 1970s.

Assigned Reading

• Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly, 1945
• Ted Nelson, Computer Lib / Dream Machines" 1974
• Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, "Personal Dynamic Media," 1977

Weeks 8 - 9 Immersion

Definition: Immersion - The experience of entering a multi-sensory representation of three-dimensional space.

An exploration of the evolution of virtual reality and 3D virtual space: multimedia as an immersive experience that engages all the senses. We will overview the research of artists and scientists dating back to the 1950s, including Morton Heilig, Ivan Sutherland, Myron Krueger, and Scott Fisher, who have pioneered the tools and aesthetics of virtual reality, stereoscopic imaging, and telepresence, leading to the creation of digital, immersive environments.

Assigned Reading

• Morton Heilig, "The Cinema of the Future," 1955
• Ivan Sutherland, "The Ultimate Display" 1966
• Scott Fisher, "Virtual Environments," 1989

Weeks 10 - 11 Narrativity

Definition: Narrativity - Interactive, branching forms that lend the user control over the narrative, diminishing the traditional primacy of the author's voice.

This final investigation focuses on the reshaping of narrative with new nonlinear, interactive, and electronic forms of media and communication. We will discuss the pioneering interactive media art of Lynn Hershman, text-based virtual realities (MUDs) as discussed by Pavel Curtis, and video artist Bill Viola's critique of emerging new possibilities for artistic creation in the context of interactive, immersive, and hypermediated forms. This analysis includes a survey of the installations of Bill Viola from his 25th year retrospective exhibition.

Assigned Reading

• Bill Viola, "Will There be Condominium's In Dataspace?," 1983
• Lynn Hershman, "The Fantasy Beyond Control," Art and Technology, 1990
• Pavel Curtis, "MUdding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities," 1992

Weeks 12 - 13 The Future is Under Construction

Definition: Future of multimedia - A telematic society collectively producing an expanded intelligence and knowledge through new forms of art and social engagement through digital technologies.

"Human intelligence? Its space is dispersion. Its time, the eclipse. Its knowledge, the fragment. Collective intelligence realizes its reintegration... Through the intermediary of virtual worlds, we can not only exchange information but think together, share our memories and our plans to produce a cooperative brain." – Pierre Lévy, from Collective Intelligence

This final session brings together a selection of scientific, artistic, and cultural theorists whose writings have influenced our perception and understanding of new media, its socio-cultural impact, its technical possibilities, its artistic implications. Roy Ascott, Marcos Novak, and Pierre Lévy agree that through the pervasive assimilation of networked media, there will be new potential for aesthetic, scientific and social transformation.

Assigned Reading

• Roy Ascott, "Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace," 1990
• Marcos Novak, "Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace," 1991
• Pierre Lévy, "The Art and Architecture of Cyberspace", Collective Intelligence, 1995

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