Electronic Linguistics

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I wrote this piece originally at the request of editors Thomas Bartscherer and Roderick Coover for inclusion in the book
Switching Codes: Thinking Through New Technology in the Humanities and the Arts (University of Chicago Press: 2010),
and subsequently included it in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings (Ediciones Poligrafa: 2009),
where it serves as Introduction to Part One: Time Channels and Language Acts, a study of GH’s single-channel work.
The title is a coinage here discussed seriously for the first time as a principle of language art.

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Electronic Linguistics

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George Quasha

in dialogue with Gary Hill

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My art has steadily moved from a perceptual priority of imaging toward a more conceptual method for developing idea constructs. Remaining throughout my work has been the necessity to dialogue with the technology. The earlier image works, primarily concerned with color and image density, were engaged in the invention of new and more complex images within compositional and rhythmic structures. The current work involves image-text syntax, a kind of electronic linguistic, utilizing the dialogue to manipulate a conceptual space that locates mental points of intersection, where text forms and feeds-back into the imaging of those intersects.

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Gary Hill, “Processual Video,” Museum of Modern Art (1980)[1]

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This is an essay about things that may not quite exist. The interest in thinking about them is due to their also not not existing, indeed their apparent persistence and persistent appearance. The line here between these two conditions, existence and non-existence in electronic timespace, is scarcely a line at all. Rather it’s a limen, a threshold to a zone of liminality that is also a high intensity site of discovery. That makes it less like a binary system’s demarcation on/off or here/there than a condition of access to—what to call it?—a certain state of being? Of experience? We can think of these terms as provisional and in brackets: A [state] that shows up in specific contexts. These contexts themselves are ontologically indeterminate and only “exist” by virtue of the distinction “art.” What is not provisional in the same sense, but a distinction that has persisted for thirty years, is the fact that we—Gary Hill and I—have all along referred to this state/experience as language. Obviously “language” is a distinction of notorious complexity and inevitable controversy, and we do not mean for it to resolve difficulties in art definition (does it ever?); rather, we use it first of all to indicate an art phenomenon that, without it, loses dimension and in fact may be misapprehended, if not trivialized. And we view it as the right name for the phenomenon that we are bringing into view.

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Speaking of particular works that he had made over the previous few years, Gary Hill said, in the 1980 statement above, that they involved “a kind of electronic linguistic.” He did not say that this notion applied to his entire oeuvre or constituted his main focus in making art, but he has said and continues to say that it has played a critically important role in the composition of certain works, both then and now. My approach is to take him at his word and go where that leads.

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The point of foregrounding liminality here is twofold. First, it gives us refuge from the presumption of science in our discussion of the distinction language/linguistics. Things that cannot be said to have positive existence cannot be fruitfully discussed on narrow positivistic premises; the “science” of linguistics, while not of course irrelevant, does not provide a standard or a necessary perspective. A liminalist perspective, as we think of it, issues first from the domain in which the appearance originates: art. That is, art itself, not critical theory or art history. Accordingly, the second point, which is prior to the first, is the fact that language—indeed electronic linguistic(s)—emerged as a dynamic within a specific modality of electronic art and its inherent cybernetic features. Such an “inside” term must have a very different status from one invented on the “outside,” for example a term with a clear consensus. The term is therefore liminal to the very discourse that asserts it outside art process—and that means here! In a sense, the term is an instance, at another level, of its own principle as declarative act: it is a limen (not a line and not a point) at which a critical phenomenon, key to the work of a certain artist, or arguably a species of art, comes into appearance. Language in this sense arises in a state of between.

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Speaking here, therefore, without allegiance to a system or consensus (academic, artistic, or otherwise) is for us an essential part of the inquiry into the possible meaning of our thematic matrix: language—understood through the terminological lens electronic linguistics—and its partner in discovering its further nature, liminality. Our approach, which is hardly methodological, is to see by way of the works themselves how the distinction language helps to understand an actual practice of (often non-verbal) art.

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To put this in a larger context, Gary Hill, who primarily works with video and media installation, is sometimes considered also as an artist of language.[2] This has meant for the most part that he uses written and spoken text in video, but, as important as that can be, it is not what is meant here; rather, I am saying that, irrespective of whether a particular piece uses text, in particular instances his work inquires into the nature of language as intrinsic to electronic/digital technology as art medium.

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He began as a metal sculptor, and eventually, due in part to the rich tonalities of sounds that happened to emerge from taut wire components, he gravitated toward electronic tools that allowed immediate playback and dialogue with the created sounds, as well as other electronic options that showed up in the (local Woodstock) circumstances—video and the phenomenon of feedback. Somewhere here begins the practice that he characterizes as: “Remaining throughout my work has been the necessity to dialogue with the technology.” (That was said nearly three decades ago but basically it hasn’t changed.) Going to a root sense of his word dialogue as the “speaking between,” we find the feedback/playback phenomenon giving rise to a sense of engagement of self and other, where the “other” may be a machine.

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What follows is a partial journey through the works where the notion of language first showed up, so that we can track how it developed and consider the implications.

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See the video:

Electronic Linguistic (1977)

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Electronic Linguistic

[3]

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In retrospect this 1977 work was a turning point in Gary Hill’s orientation toward language, although that fact would hardly have been obvious to even a viewer familiar with his work. In contrast to the title, there is no apparent sense of language in the work. What one finds is something that might be more readily associated with music, especially electronic music; indeed, abstract (non-figurative) visual events—alternatively, image matter—appear as manifestations of electronically generated sounds. The basic visual occurrence could be described this way: small pulsating pixel structures grow into ever more intense full-screen monadic pulsations. The accompanying high-frequency sounds descend in tone when a bright still image fills the screen, only to return to the high tones heard at the onset once the small pixel structures become semicircular. Such a particular performative event bears the quality of a specific instrumentation, much as a given music performance is married to a certain instrument, even a very specific instrument played by one individual at a given time and place.

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The special tools in the case of Electronic Linguistic were some Dave Jones prototype modules combined with Serge audio modules.[4] This array of digital/analog hybrid instruments produces a very particular visual and auditory vocabulary, reflected in the final piece and its own variety of image-sound events. These events have a certain “between the cracks” feel as opposed to a “visual music,” or perhaps each use has an idiolect with its own accent. An artist working in this electronic milieu over time becomes sensitive to subtle variations in these abstract yet highly configurative events.

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A difficulty here is that unless one has experience with a specific electronic instrument, it is difficult to imagine the exact terms of generating art events, especially those we are thinking of as language. It may be hard to sense the linguistic pressure, somewhat as if one hears certain vocal events in an unfamiliar (say, a tribal) context and cannot be sure whether one is hearing “language” or “music.”[5] The practitioner of the art becomes an initiate into specific technological “mysteries,” which is to say that one feels the frictive engagement thresholds between meaningful and not.

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There are a number of sound/image events––audio frequencies corresponding to electronically generated images––that suggested to Gary Hill a kind of language, yet in Electronic Linguistic they do not reach beyond a preverbal level. The fact that to him they came across as language indirectly opens the possibility of a full verbal realization of some kind, but it’s not clear to what extent this notion entered his mind at the time. In retrospect he speaks of it as

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an impulse situation (I probably made it in a day) arising out of the sense that the material I was working with—hybrid digital-analog signals in a feedback environment—was throwing back to me something very primal, almost ritualistic. The same control voltages that I used to manipulate the video were being used to control simultaneously generated electronic sound. However, I wasn’t really interested in a sound/image object. The attraction was rather the sudden emergence of other sounds that seemed close to human voices, crowds of people, screams, perhaps even unidentified animals. It was as though entities of some kind were harnessing an unexplored aspect of this electronic signal, and I was tuning in. There seemed to be a curious connection between these “voices” and something behind the image. [6]

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The piece is an on-screen performance that seems to speak and manifest an immediate presence of active mind––and yet not so much an authorial mind as a willing participant mind. It feels alive in its own right. It seems to be something like a self-(re)generating mindscape arising within electronic timespace.[7]

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Certain sounds “seemed close to human voices,” although most of the soundscape did not, and in fact, listening now, the artist doesn’t much care for the sounds that seem too musical (close to the vocabulary of electronic music). It’s the atypical, suddenly emerging sounds that seemed to cry out from behind the work that cut through to his sense of a previously unheard language and took him across a line to the distinction linguistic. It charged the territory as a site of speaking, and years later this would continue to resonate in titles like Site Recite (a prologue) (1989) and Site Cite (1993). It was the sound that reframed the image matter, and the spontaneous conception of language that reframed both.

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Why language? Abstractions generated through synthesized video and audio, of which there are potentially an infinite number, take on a self-limiting and self-organizing quality of “identity” manifestation; that is, they come to seem somehow entitative, even though the boundaries of a given emergent entity are relatively fluid. There comes a point where the emergent entity assumes a sort of responsive intelligence with which one feels oneself in dialogue, even to the degree that it appears to embody a condition of request, as if it wants to be a certain way. It is at this point that one feels oneself to be in a state of language.

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In the works that followed the “non-verbal” Electronic Linguistic, such as Processual Video (1980), Videograms (1980-81), and Happenstance (part one of many parts) (1982-83), there comes another stage of realizing the dialogue with technology as a language site where machines talk back—call it the unanticipated lingo of spontaneous electronica. Now the relationship of verbal language/spoken text to electronic visual events becomes richer and more complex.

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Processual Video

[8]

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Image matter worked from special tools can have extraordinary visual power, but just as Gary Hill noted in the case of Electronic Linguistic that he “wasn’t really interested in a sound/image object,” his focus was not on image power as such. (And this is despite the fact that his early work in video synthesis, like his camera work, shows a clear gift for imagist composition.) The image as core focus in art is seductive, and for Gary Hill the incursion of language opens a path of conscious process. Some of the most powerful image-making instruments in electronic art turn out to open internally to that incursion, which paradoxically shows a way out of the primacy of image, often thought to be central to digital culture. For Gary Hill, certainly, undercutting the cultural dominance of the image as a species of cognitive passivity has been of foundational importance.

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Processual Video is hardly an image-centered work; rather, it strikes one as conceptual, even minimalist. A screen-width solitary white line revolves clockwise around an invisible axis in the center of the monitor, its movement synchronized to a text read by the artist in a slow, rather stylized monotone voice. The visual field and the emerging text seem at once independent of each other and related only obliquely. One can’t be sure if the visual field is reflecting the text or somehow recreating it; or perhaps the visual event is an effort to align with a text that increasingly gets carried away. Figuration and abstraction seem two sides of the same configurative event.[9]

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See the video:

Processual Video (1980)

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The mechanically rotating line is, nevertheless, a pure geometric abstraction, which could be framed by any number of implicit or explicit narratives: e.g., it’s a clock or some other spatializing time marker, etc. The spoken text pulls the visual experience toward connection with story elements that come up moment by moment. This has the effect of nearly narrativizing any given instant of the rotating line’s position—but not quite getting there. This liminal state of connection causes a liminalizing feedback onto any given moment of language, further ambiguating it by appearing to literalize figures of speech as if they referred to movements of a geometric line. This reflexive axiality[10]—a referential freewheeling between visual and verbal figures—seems to physicalize both. It does this by foregrounding the material aspect of the visual field—an object created by patterning light—as well as the verbal entry into that field—words of indefinite reference suddenly appearing to indicate immediate physical relationship to geometric shape. Then the connection evaporates as quickly as it appeared—also in a rather physical way, like receding waves—or seems perhaps prestidigitated—now you see it, now you don’t. Sudden visionary emergents quite invisibly reside in the material electronic field/screen.

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The “insubstantial” text turns the event as much as does the “physical” white line. It begins with what seems like a quite normal description of a relation to place—personal history, landscape, habits:

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He knew the ocean well. He grew up there and observed the waves; the water always returning, informing the shoreline, feeding the waves back into themselves.

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Pretty straightforward, but there is an immediate “perspective by incongruity” (to borrow Kenneth Burke’s term) in the cold geometric appearance of the rotating white line against the black background. This narrative incongruity is steadily enhanced by the extreme regularity of the electronic event, especially as the narrativity is further axialized by layering of incongruous meanings and referential splintering in the text. Indirectly the words seem almost to be tracked by the thickening and thinning line as it turns clockwise on its axis, where the line like the water is “always returning,” defining the screen much as waves are “informing the shoreline.” It’s also the first indication that this is a reflexive site of feedback, “feeding the waves back into themselves,” which is also one way of describing the way images are formed by feedback on the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor.[11]

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The continuing description of ordinary events (skiing, the cold weather, the bright sun) migrates into double level meanings that also point to the gradation of screen events:

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The outline separating the pristine blue sky and distant peaks never seemed to stabilize. His perception reflected what he conceptualized to be true, that there was really no line at all.

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Here not only the language is axialized, but so is the status of the “line,” the core visual idea: that is, the “outline”/horizon is not a line but a limen of the distinctions sky/peaks. (Outline/horizon in landscape is a threshold of appearance itself.) So, the visible white line is a phenomenon of light thickening at the apogee and thinning and breaking up (the very threshold of disappearance) at the horizontal (horizon) position.

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Appearance and disappearance, then, are not neatly binary, but axial—somehow interdependent, con-fusing, “consubstantial,”[12]—in the way that the (electronic) line comprises the light by which it appears and upon arriving at the horizon (of appearance) disappears. Perception is created (outlined, framed) by conception. And our perception of the appearance that embodies the conception is now itself further created by shifting perception, reframed here by the enhanced conception in the recited text. Frames of reference overlap. This is a self-axializing situation that conceptualizes all perception and perceptualizes all conception. Certainly it’s based on “truth” phenomena of fundamental perceptions, such as the insubstantial horizon line that orients our daily life as if outline existed, but it’s also a reality created by this specific electronic situation/event and the language we hear unfolding.

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To backtrack a bit to the artist’s mode of composing and conceptual frame of reference: he first created the rotating video “line” in a preceding minute-and-a-half silent piece called Resolution (1979).[13] Beginning with the line in vertical position (in contrast to the later horizontal beginning), it does a full 360 degree rotation, thickening and thinning as we have described, which at the most horizontal begins to break up “between the (scan) lines” of the video signal. Gary Hill recollects:

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The idea was to focus on the moment that the line passed through the horizontal position—coming to and going from, literally, a space between the lines. Given that the video signal consists of 525 lines per frame, the line (white on black) passes through a kind of liminal moment in which it is “deciding” which line will be scanning it and thus ambivalently creates an intermittent line, a momentary unruly dotted line, as it passes through the horizontal position. This was telling me in some way that there was a kind of hidden space that might be an ingress for language. This was the opposite of what I might naturally think about an electronic signal and language. In other words, the electronic signal always seemed like a sub-particle in relation to language, which by comparison is rather bulky and time-consuming to think, speak, receive, and comprehend. So the only way to get between the lines and deal with this liminality seemed to be some kind of textuality.

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So, the work, by seeming to scan (roughly resembling the familiar radar scanner), is at one level performing the scanner, and the “line” is scanning itself as part of the processing. It is equilibrating in the middle. It axializes. And this generates the idea of processual video. “Processual” draws both on the technology and on the view of open process in composition.[14] And the conceptual focus—what constitutes the self-scanning event on the screen—quickly enters into a perspective by reflection, which then generates a self-aware poetics.

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Thus the next phase in this compositional frame is indicated by the artist’s having given the “same” work a new name reflecting a further level of the language process: Processual Video. He now composed by “performing” the piece at the level of text-based language; that is, he made a text in dialogue with the rotating line, then later recited the text in sync with video, first as actual performance and then as single-channel video.[15] He recalls:

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I “generated” a text reflecting nuances that the line itself was “generating” as it negotiated the limits of the architectonics of the signal generating it! (A line is not a line is not a line.) Immersed in the real time of being with the line and writing the lines, I found myself in the viewer’s shoes as well. To reflect this I embedded repeating phased phrases, slightly reconfigured with each cycle, concerning the viewer’s position, the line’s position, and time’s position in the event, an event that had the quality of enfolding my language into the line. (The approach to embedding was probably influenced by the phase music of Terry Riley which I listened to a lot.)

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“Line” is now a site of many turning meanings that reflect in, on, and from the unfolding/enfolding text, and radiate through the whole text, axializing not just the notion of line but practically anything that is said—and this is processual text with its electronic linguistic.

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The recited text continues:

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The forecast was the same for time to come. He thought to himself and not for a moment too long. He imagined he was there observing distance; the space always returning, informing time, feeding memory back into itself. He stood in the sediment of the text banking on and off its reverberances, sentencing himself to a temporal disparity.

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“Sentencing himself”—syntacticizing self-reflection in the electronic incongruities of the emerging linguistic—he is experiencing his reality as a radical surrender to this created time (his “sentence”), “informing time” by way of the feedback process that is both the electronic event itself and either a reflection of neurological process or a generative incursion into that process—or both! One implication is that the discovery of an electronic linguistic is a singular event of reflexive speaking that marries mind and machine beyond any notion of reference as such. There is no stable signifier or signified. There is an unexplained asymmetrical mirroring that, as it were, moves syntax into the zone of synapse. There is a further sense that neither mind nor machine will ever be the same, at least for the artist, whatever “same” would be in a world of time-based singularities.

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When we enter the language event in this and subsequent work by this artist we realize that we are in the world of poetics, and the openness, complexity and subtlety of his language puts him in a category of his own. His connection with the work of poets during the period of this work has been often noted, and his language ontology—to use the concept that awkwardly straddles information technology and ontological philosophy—is rooted in poetics, an ontology accommodating what the poet Robert Duncan called “open universe.” It’s this path of sensitivity to language that serves the transition from the preverbal experience of language in Electronic Linguistic to the branching levels of intricate reference, meaning, and syntax in the subsequent pieces. Processual Video continues its curious narrative:

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The voice of presentation was awkward for him, as were slide rules and what they represented to equilibrium and certain geometric art, respectively ascending their horizontal and vertical cultures. From here he could survey the slopes, the graph and the patterns of a predictable randomness. He was at or nearing the apex of deliverance. Answering was acutely secondary, nevertheless close to begging the question. The discourse was what to expect by the time he got there. The outline separating the blue chroma and white data never seemed to stabilize. His conception reflected what he perceived to be true, that the line was an iconic abrasion enabling him to follow the negative going edge of the clock. He lost track of where he was; a dancer forgetting to throw his head ahead of himself before pirouetting. He recovered his concentration from a panoramic smear drawing a slightly different perspective: A passenger in a chair, suspended, waiting at a constant rate, moving the platform towards the landing, in all probability to loop again…. He suggested the last horizons would lead to states of blanking increasing with time.

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The forward moving narrative increasingly crosscuts to a three-dimensional plane, “moving the platform towards the landing,” where words become liminal to “geometric art”: e.g., “slide rules” awkwardly connect to the “voice of presentation” narrating visual objects as words and words as material objects, where the slide rule tool glosses the angle of the white line. It also shows us that, in the poetics of electronic emergence, rules slide with “predictable randomness.” Syntax becomes a journey over a trans-bounding Klein-Bottle-like surface: “The discourse was what to expect by the time he got there.” The fourth dimension is always bending nearby; word-objects reappear (“outline,” “horizons”) in newly phased incarnations: “the line was an iconic abrasion….” While he “lost track of where he was,” we—viewer, audience, reader—are kept tracking “a slightly different perspective” (phasing as rephrasing): “A passenger in a chair, suspended, waiting at a constant rate… in all probability to loop again….” That’s us—and our “states of blanking” or what might be called spacing in to this particular electronic linguistic.

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This ontology of open discourse speaks poetics, as it were, in that its main work is to track itself through what it finds itself saying.[16] Instead of flowing from a concept, the event of language itself generates a conceptual flow. It’s an adventure in reflection as self-discovery in an asymmetrical mirror, the me I’ve always never seen by the time I get there.

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So what is it that happens in the experience of engaging language at the level of electronic space? One thing is clear: language follows an unknown path and does things unlikely to happen elsewhere. Yet exactly the same may be said about the apparent self-generation of image matter in electronic composition. With the advent of video synthesis and a vast array of electronic image making devices, both hardware and software, a core problematic of art in some sense reverses. Where the artist traditionally has sought ways, often laboriously, to achieve new effects in support of a vision, now a digitally engaged artist may be more concerned to limit image proliferation which is technically infinite—and fast!

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How to get traction on shifting ground, be grounded at high velocity, get in meaningful sync with the developing image as it moves through undreamt of formations at electronic speed? The body is for many artists a perhaps unconscious but powerful factor in how art achieves a state of meaningful formation. The physical act of inscription or actual movement of vocal cords in the poet’s vocalizing during composition can mediate body and language meaningfully. The mind tunes in, gets toned. And so it seems that the intervention of language into the experience of electronic media has a special function: to ride the vehicle at human speed. By physicalizing the word in its attention to image matter in formation, the wild serpentine power of image-flow in its torsional emergence falls under the attraction of vocalizing text. Reflexive attraction in the intensifying dialogue causes image and language matter to share each other’s nature in co-traction.

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The artist’s engagement with technology can bring forward a magnified instance of the raw configurative force of language, called out by sheer unlimited formativity; yet it retains its nature as language, however that may be further characterized, with its seemingly unknowable intuitive resources. The text, as in the case of Processual Video, can become quite wild in its own right, yet (perhaps due here to the tamed force of the minimalist image matter) retain a certain precarious balance with the flow of the whole.[17] (“His processual continuum with the object forced this to the true state…. His mind rested within a suspension system of equal probable beauty.”)

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In Videograms and Happenstance (part one of many parts) the dynamic between image matter and text is somewhat reversed. This may or may not have to do with the primary instrument used for their creation––the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor.[18] Their image world is quite different from what previously was happening in Gary Hill’s work, the product now of a unique instrument, which, like the Dave Jones prototype mentioned above, is associated in broad historical terms with video synthesis. This tool from the 1970s is essentially an analog computer for video raster manipulation (that is, it controls the deviation signal that generates the scanning of the raster in a CRT [cathode ray tube]). The important point is that it permits electronic forms to be modulated on-screen in real time. The special quality of the generated images and the way they could be worked with on the screen in real time (subsequently videotaped by pointing the camera at the monitor) opened exciting compositional possibilities for Gary Hill, and the works he produced––especially Videograms and Happenstance (part one of many parts)—are often listed, along with works by Steina and Woody Vasulka, as the preeminent creations on the Rutt/Etra Scan Processor. They showed an impressive range of possibilities for this kind of processual imaging, and beyond that they opened a quite new path for art itself.

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Videograms

[19]

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Digital technology has seemed to take one deeply into mental space that leaves the body behind, which may be a factor behind so little resistance to jargon-like terminologies and one-to-one referentiality dominating the language of technology. Artistic engagement with the same technology paradoxically can function quite differently, perhaps due to the effect of feedback on neurological and trans-neurological (field) processing. (Certainly this possibility was a motivating view of early experimental video, which Gary Hill shared.) A rather surfer-like entry into electronic space triggers awareness of the energetics of languaging, grasping the connection between electronic wave phenomena and physical waves—in the ocean as in the body as in the mind—linking the process-thinking/languaging of electronics and the body-mind.[20]

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The texts of Videograms unfold slowly and deliberately as if embodying the physical force of the often strangely beautiful image configurations, even as these seem to be converting themselves into words, as if neither image nor text is prior to the other. Clearly they’re related, even interdependent, rather like beings alive in parallel dimensions. As prose poems they obliquely narrate their own genesis by standing at the threshold of virtual incarnation:

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83

Thought travels at one speed. Like oxygen released underwater, surfacing to mingle with its kind. Any change in this universal velocity is noticed and without delay seized. It no longer fades, merges or continues as it has. Mouth. Leg. Stomach. Hand. Testicle. Something will dispose of it producing physicality. Physicality.

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It seems each named thing nearly sees or images its other half-self or half realizes its centaur-like nature—strange and alluring fruit of sheer possibility—“surfacing to mingle with its kind,” like attracting almost unrecognizable like. Intimations of a further nature. And a stream of keys to its electronic linguistic, the primal urge of a singularity to say itself, that being heard for what it is shows intrinsic completeness, sudden flare/vanishing figuration. Spoken as it goes:

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50

The conversationalist pressed for the facts. Catastrophe was inevitable. A primal sound hermetically sealed in its skull was masked by choreographies at play between brain and tongue. The linguist experienced a separation of present tense and lost all motor skills, lapsing into nonsense. The sound rushing from its mouth duplicated that of a stream nearing a large body of water.

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It’s all about an unexampled speaking at the limen between the human and the techno-energetic, which for perhaps unknowable reasons brings the artist near to a primal truth he senses he shares. Here he recollects how it was:

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With Videograms I had consciously decided to work with narrative, or at least prose, and abstract electronic video signals: to get inside the time of these transmogrifying signals and generate stories, syntax, verbiage, things, object-hood via the control, manipulation and sequencing of events using the blank raster and the supporting signals of a scan processor (Rutt/Etra). For the most part I wrote the language events first, yet, almost without exception, I shifted them around to reflect where I was with the image, which was considerably more difficult to control than the syntax of a phrase or sentence. The scan processor is very controllable but at the same time it produces an enormous amount of variation on the expected output. There, too, is a lot of play whereby one releases control and receives “moments” from the machine due to confluences of simultaneous signals in just such and such a way. What is that way? Who knows. Sometimes you just take what comes because it works right then and there, and if you pause too long you find yourself out of the loop. How can the image and language at times seem/feel as if they could not have been generated separately and in another instance one thinks they are in a quagmire of nonsensical relationships? I don’t know that either.

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See the video:

Videograms (1980-81)

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Happenstance (part one of many parts)

[21]

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Vanishing points. Things.  Things are going to happen.  Happenstance. … The words are coming, listen to them.  Nothing surrounds them.  They are open, they speak of nothing but themselves with perfect reason.  I am talking, I am talking them out into the open.  They sit like deer in a field, if I approach them too quickly they fade into the quick of things.  Silence is always there – there is silence when I stop to take a breath, when I see breathtaking things.

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Happenstance (part one of many parts), spoken text

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Not knowing as a value?—how curious, nothing in mind? Electronic space is a zero point compositional opening, and just as in the case of what is now called “zero point physics,” the vacuum—contrary to physics since Newton—is theorized to be a source of infinite energy. Likewise the great paradox of electronic compositional space is that its essential emptiness—the “states of blanking increasing with time” (Processual Video), the “blank raster” of the Rutt/Etra—is non-separate from infinite emergence, appearance, variability—unlimited configuration. The work Happenstance is something like a non-narrative drama of unfolding configuration, and narrating its own event as it goes. In what could almost be a genre unto itself within art that works midway between figurative and abstract—let’s call it configurative artHappenstance is, in one sense, the culmination in 1982-83 of a process beginning in 1977 with Electronic Linguistic and, in a quite different sense, the beginning of a new possibility in art conception; that is, it’s “part one of many parts” whether or not the stated series actually continued or might yet resume. As an event in liminalist poetics, it straddles figuration and abstraction as well as image materialization and textual objectification. And it theorizes itself inside the compositional process as it manifests its own constitutive principle.

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See the video:

Happenstance (part one of many parts) * (1982-83)

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Carrying forward Videograms’ brief abstract image events––little happenings rather than things––Happenstance also extends their quality of poetic integrity. This has to do with the way that discrete image events seem to speak for themselves without ever fully settling into representation or illustrative connection with the texts. Processual glyphs rather than emblems or symbols, they hold back from ordinary signification, yet cut through to language in unexampled ways. I see them as unfolding hyperglyphs, pointing to multiple locations of meaning both all at once and developmentally, yet without exclusive attachment to any particular site of reference. If we consider the image event itself as embodying a unique syntax, we could say, with some neologistic help, that the grammatical mood is the performative indicative––a mood of responsive indication of an object that is only virtually there, or there in the sense that its performance (as it were, its saying) is presently underway in a real-time now.[22] And to see “it” at all is to engage coperformatively what is changing within the viewing itself. This sort of seeing involves a spontaneous emergence affecting the very meaning of object. And it equally affects our sense of language that is coperformative with these “liminal objects.”[23]

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In Gary Hill’s accounts, cited all along here, of his discovery and compositional practice of electronic linguistics, he is sympathetically reentering a state of attention operative three decades earlier, yet his excitement about the question of the nature of this special sense of language persists. I think this is due to its being incomplete in the sense of remaining an open possibility still active in his work. His descriptions are precise yet inconclusive, where not knowing how it actually manifested extends a creative unknowing intrinsic to the process. And as he responds further, at my request, to account for at least the first generative gestures of Happenstance (certainly his most highly realized work in this modality, and one that seems to call him back to a certain projected unfinished business expressed in “part one of many parts”), his very description takes on properties of the “original” language process itself, its singular thinking as if still inside the initiating creative process: [24]

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Following Processual Video, Black/White/Text and Videograms, I was getting to the point of wanting to break this “intermedia” (electronic linguistic) down further and further, which I ended up complicating further by throwing sound (other than my voice) into the equation. Quite literally I began at “square one” and proceeded. It was difficult to get started, to begin with something (anything) that could immediately establish a particular, thus setting a direction (and eliminating all the other possibilities). So square one was an electronically generated square, and I called it “this” (as “voice over”) since it was first and must be “this” rather than “that,” as “that” is further away than “this.” And if the first is a square and a “this,” then “that” shall be a circle, and so I proceeded like “this” and like “that”—and then what’s next?—and 1 + 1 is three(-)sided anyway—a triangle; and so if a square is “this” and a circle “that,” well then, a triangle had to be some other thing, and so: “the other thing.” And so the logos goes… There I was with “this,” “that,” and “the other thing,” entangled in a scribble of connecting wires….

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Things.” Things were beginning “to happen.” The three elemental forms of geometry delineated by proximity and difference called for sound—I wanted to sound out the forms. If the square was first, the beginning, the cornerstone, so to speak—the box that I’m either thinking in or out of—then what is its sound (the voice of the thing itself)? It’s gotta be the gut, some deep thud, the base—the bass, subsonic and unmovable. And if I go with that, then the circle as “that” over there—over there being at a distance from my base, my belly point; something that I have a distance from and can point to as symbol of symbol, in fact the quintessential generic symbol par excellence like the sun, then might it be a cymbal—a crashing cymbal of sorts? I mean I suppose it could be a glockenspiel—one strike upon the “play of bells,” and at some point it could be any singular sound, so I go with the play of words— the cymbolic. And then there is this “other thing,” a triangle, and what its sound could be in relation to the base/bass thud and symbol/cymbal, and so maybe to play with the somewhat onomatopoeic word itself, “thhiiinnnggggg” sounding like an electric string, a twang, an otherworldly kind of sound when following the others. The linkages become stretched like the reverberating string itself bearing something akin to linguistic transducers.

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We leave him here—“in the middle of the journey of”—thinking back as if it’s all still beginning—at the origin. And, so to speak, it is. The artist returning to the state of electronic linguistics is facing forward into a work of which it can be said: the original is yet to come.

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The Principle of Electronic Linguistics in Principle Art

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“Processual” might be considered a space between the perceptual and conceptual. The processual space serves neither as a composite nor as a balancing of these two modes; it relies on the continual transition or synapse between them.

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Gary Hill, “Processual Video,” Museum of Modern Art (1980)

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Gary Hill’s conceptualist stance, or the part of his stance that seems conceptual, notably in the period of the works discussed here, is quite strong, yet its conceptualism emerges primarily in terms of what he has called “the necessity to dialogue with the technology.” Here the concept itself is an artifact of a technology/situation-specific inquiry within the space of work: that is, a concept of the work emerges in terms of the operative technological principle—what makes the thing tick, so to speak, plus how can I get it to show me the other thing?—the yet-to-be-known event-thing just now emerging in the process of the work. This sense of principle[25] as something like the law of its occasion is prior to concept and preempts any kind of authority in a self-governing work. I think of this as principle art, distinct from conceptual (or concept) art (or for that matter minimalist art[26]). This is art where, in its process, concept and method surrender to, or derive from, an operative principle, because the work is performative of its principle. Accordingly the process is continuously emergent, open, and everywhere tending to return to its own zero point.[27] Electronic linguistics is a particular instance of this species of art and in any given case bears the marks of its specific technology and whatever comprises its situation. Just as the original is always still to come, its reality is coemergent with its discovery. Gary Hill is the discoverer and his work is the discovery site of a principle that in principle has no owner.

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It would be an unnecessary limitation of view to not expect other instances (past or present) to show up.[28] Are there consistent features that would aid in locating other instances of electronic linguistics in the sense used here? In an effort to vividly call attention to an elusive dynamic we have focused on certain factors: the sheer speed of configuration within image matter emerging in electronic free space; the free flow of self-generating/self-limiting languaging that conceptualizes its own emergence without referential fixation; the oscillation between contraries at specific thresholds—the limen or “space between the perceptual and conceptual” where work “relies on the continual transition or synapse between them”; body/physicality/materiality as grounding factors in the reflexive modulation of electronic imaging and languaging; the released energetics of image-language configuration; the surrender to axial ordering where the work has no fixed center but only an instantly apparent present grip within a continuously moving/evolving center. And yet the most important factor always remains unsaid: how it is that what emerges in electronic space takes on life and speaks for itself.

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That speaking is radically other to languaging by convention and the pressures of consensus. The trend of language use in information technology toward narrowing reference is at the furthest pole from the implicit view in electronic linguistics as conceived here. Language itself, in this view, aspires to be the threshold where the tension of opposition is retained. Language in this register does not expend energy so much as attract it and carry it toward a further, indeed singular, expression. This view suggests that the art/excitatory aim of language is not so much communication as it is communion—a meeting place of energies. And that “place” is hyperlocal, subject to spontaneous emergence and non-linear/radial dynamics. Electronic linguistics may be said to track life emergence in Klein Bottle space, where boundaries/limits/horizons are perspectival events. Its ally is a certain Hermes Factor, named after the trickster daemon: the unpredictable contrary force that feeds back from “language reality” to disrupt artificial or narrowly constructed language (as opposed to “natural language”) whenever it is “applied” to actual life situations. It stands as a placeholder for the unaccountable appearance that language is alive and has a mind of its own, or that there is a chaotic factor in language behavior that could as well be called the “trickster function.” Its work is to preserve singularity. In simple terms, it can’t stand being pinned down.

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NOTES

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[1] Artist’s statement as program notes for a performance in the Video Viewpoints series at New York’s MoMA in February, 1980.

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[2] Charles Stein and I, in active dialogue with Gary Hill, have for years written about his work from a perspective of poetics in pieces now collected with new essays in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa. 2008).

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[3] 3:45 minutes, single-channel video, b/w, sound.

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[4] In the 1970s Gary Hill worked with various image-manipulating devices generally referred to as “video synthesizers”. A brief history and technical description of the video synthesizer can be found in Wikipedia, which begins with: “A video synthesizer is able to generate a variety of visual material without camera input through the use of internal video pattern generators…. It can also accept and ‘clean up and enhance’ or ‘distort’ live television camera imagery. The synthesizer creates a wide range of imagery through purely electronic manipulations. This imagery is visible within the output video signal when this signal is displayed. The output video signal can be viewed on a wide range of conventional video equipment, such as TV monitors, theater video projectors, computer displays, etc.” For more information on Dave Jones and his influential creations, see www.djdesign.com/history.html. Dave Jones’ technical collaboration with Gary Hill over several decades is of great importance in the latter’s work. Specifically the tools referred to here are: Dave Jones prototype real time analog to digital to analog converter, 64 x 64 frame buffer, digital matrix bit switcher, and audio synthesizer modules designed by Serge Tcherepnin.

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[5] An ethnopoetics issue has been the early anthropological tendency to view untranslatable verbal units as nonsense syllables rather than, in more recent studies, as richly meaningful in context; see Jerome Rothenberg, ed., Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia & Oceania (Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1968) and George Quasha and Jerome Rothenberg, eds., America a Prophecy: A New Reading of American poetry from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present (New York: Random House, 1973). A similar problem arises in the interpretation of animal cries and songs, particularly whales and dolphins, but also birds, where increasingly scientists are willing to understand specific sounds in context as having linguistic (sometimes complex) functions. See Jeremy Narby, Intelligence in Nature : An Inquiry into Knowledge (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005).

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[6] Unless otherwise attributed, all citations of Gary Hill’s views are from recent written or oral comments in our dialogue for this piece.

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[7] Fascination with the idea of self-generating life connected to creative process reaches for biological, neurological, and systems metaphor, probably because the idea carries a charge rather like art itself. Some biological scientists concerned with intelligence in nature now consider the almost canonical scientific avoidance of anthropomorphism to have been counterproductive, limiting the investigative frame and, especially, motivation. The art-sympathetic “like attracts like” principle, or the rather Goethean notion that like perceives like, may also drive the sense of language as self-generating system. Consider the attractive notion of autocatalysis, which biologist Stuart Kaufman theorizes as life-originating and which, along with self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics, many now relate to other domains (cybernetics, cultural evolution, cognition, economics, business, systems analysis of the Web, etc.). Perhaps the nature of such theory is that it embodies its principle and generates itself , implicitly asking to be followed according to a law of attraction! Gary Hill’s interest in electronic linguistics as related to technology and the processual has a related focus. This interest can also be viewed variously in relation to traditions of mysterious or artificial life, from Pygmalion and Golem to Frankenstein, the “ghost in the machine,” artificial intelligence, and synthetic life.

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[8] 11:30 min., single-channel video, b/w, sound.

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[9] A distant precedent for these works in diverging text/image might be Blake’s Illuminations to the Prophetic Books, such as Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) or Jerusalem (1804), where even the visual figures that seem at first to “illustrate” the poem turn out in fact to comprise a separate stream of transforming and self-interfering narrative, a sort of parallel life that reflects obliquely, often ironically, upon the apparent narrative. For Blake each moment, each page, each book is a singularity, obscured by repetition, illustration, and representation, which is why after The Songs of Innocence & Experience (1789-94) he refused to allow poems to be printed on a printing press; everything had to be done by hand, and each edition unique. Thus he broke with the tradition of illustration and the classical notion of image/text equivalence expressed in Horace’s “authoritative” ut pictura poesis.

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[10] I use “axial,” “axialize,” and “axiality” to refer to a principle of variability due to some kind of “free” or “open” movement around a non-apparent center or axis, applicable to many frames of distinction, including biological morphology, physical movement, language ambiguation, artistic process, and so on. It is discussed at length in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit. and my own Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2006).

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[11] This feedback image-process applies more to another quasi-geometrical single-channel work of this period, Black/White/Text (1980; 7:00 min., b/w, stereo). There an approximate rectangle proliferates internally in precise rhythmic relation to an optimally equivalent language process (a chant-like embedding of longer phrases within the space of the sounded word), reaching an extreme state of vibrant, indeed psychedelic, transformation. Appearance itself is in question when a rectangular geometric form moves toward the condition of sound and, through sheer intensification according to its conceptual procedure, ceases to be identifiable as rectangle. The text of this piece was used again in the installation Glass Onion (1981), which involves a spatially and temporally complex electronic linguistic. For a further textual embodiment (or structural “equivalent”) of Glass Onion, see: Talking Rectangles: Notes on the Feedback Horizon, George Quasha (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1980); reprinted in Gary Hill, edited by Robert C. Morgan (Baltimore: A PAJ Book, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 109; and An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit.

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[12] Montaigne’s famous and still controversial statement is tempting here: “I have not made my book anymore than my book has made me, consubstantial with its author.”

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[13] On technical matters, Gary Hill recalls: “I used the same circuit to produce both Resolution and Processual Video. I drew a graphite line on a piece of paper and put it on a turntable that I could maneuver manually. I placed a camera directly overhead, and the signal from this camera was then passed through a comparator or outline/border generator, turning the image to a digital signal in black and white. Due to the peculiarities of the circuit it produced additional attributes beyond generating borders whereby the ‘outline’ would grow/expand as the line approached verticality. So, even though the concept began with a line and its approaching disappearance at the horizontal position, there now was a sort of subtext involving expansion at the vertical position and subsequent contraction. This added a whole other complexity to the text in Processual Video.”

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[14] At the time he lived in Barrytown, New York, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Gary Hill’s early interest in process and the processual was influenced by a poetics usage of the time, which stood antithetically to overvaluation of the “perfected” or “closed” art object or poetic form. This emphasis was strongest among poets (present author included), who were aligned with various lineages of practice associated with Black Mountain College of the late 1940s/early 1950s and represented by poets Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley, composer/writer John Cage, artist Robert Rauschenberg, architect/poet Buckminster Fuller, etc. This sense of the word “processual” itself was introduced to us (including Charles Stein and Franz Kamin) by Robert Kelly (his usage apparently from the 1960s) and characterized a realized poetic practice especially related to Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” (circa 1950); see Charles Olson, Collected Prose, ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander, intro. Robert Creeley (University of California Press: Berkeley, 1997), 239ff.

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[15] In an early interview Gary Hill speaks of the generation of Processual Video as performance piece: “Actually, I did a performance out of Processual Video for the Video Viewpoints series at the Museum of Modern Art. In fact, the piece was written as my lecture for the series…. There was a large monitor facing the audience, and the text was scored on paper. I watched a small monitor so I knew approximately where the bar was in relation to what I was reading. In different readings, there would be slight variations, but it all remained pretty close to the score. In that tape, there are references to me, references to the audience sitting in chairs….” Lucinda Furlong, “A Manner of Speaking,” Afterimage (March 1983); reprinted in Gary Hill, edited by Robert C. Morgan (Baltimore: A PAJ Book, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 195.

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[16] Among the poets Gary Hill met in Barrytown was Robert Duncan, whose poetics emerged inside his work at every level and who wrote in a poem: “I ask the unyielding Sentence that shows Itself forth in language as I make it,/Speak! For I name myself your master, who come to serve./Writing is first a search in obedience.” “The Structure of Rime I,” The Opening of the Field (New York: New Directions, 1973), 12. Gary Hill has said: “My working methodology is not one of theorizing and then applying that to making art. In each work I find myself committed to a process that of course may involve material where… philosophical issues may seem to be relevant. But I’m committed to the idea that the art event takes place within the process. One has to be open to that event and be able to kind of wander in it and feel it open up; to see it through until some kind of release feels inevitable.”

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[17] The 1,183 word text perhaps carries out implications of “Being a surfer…” invoked near the beginning of Processual Video as a release into electronic space surfs the language waves: “…The speaker threw his head ahead of himself before prewetting his tongue. The outline separating the mouth and words was prerecorded. He needed a signal to retrigger the trace. The control of immediacy was movement. His arms outstretched and dialed a space resetting the methodology. Direction was open-ended. Transmission lines could carry his message anywhere provided it began with the rise time of the form. His position was refractive. Scale was not a part of the trajectory. The pulse width of interim was widening and time was sinking through the window containing the vacuum. His distance was referenced by the frame. He was at arms length with it. The outline separating the left and/or right and right and/or left sides of the brain never seemed to stabilize. … He imagined measuring the abstract. His eye floated in a green illuminated substance between the lines (the pendulum always returning, performing entropy, feeding stasis back to the object revolving in his head). He wasn’t accustomed to metrodemonic devices as they wrought a certain slant on linear statements such as: when binary operations and the art of origami are considered the two equal sides of an isosceles triangle with the third being a satellite of sorts, a contextual shift begins to cycle causing the polarization of all axes within a proximity determined by a violet code. He was one to one with himself. The space was wired with discrete tensions adding to the torque when nearing the perpendiculars. Old pilings once the support of a platform had been outmoded and replaced by a bridge. His mind rested within a suspension system of equal probable beauty. He watched the last length of cable trying to “get” its tensile strength as the double line broke allowing him to pass. The rearview mirror was slightly ajar. He adjusted it. Within limits, he enjoyed long distance driving and traveling light.” For the full text of this and other video works mentioned, see: Gary Hill: Selected Works and Catalogue Raisonné (Köln: Dumont/Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002).

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[18] This scan processor (often also called, more broadly, a video synthesizer) was co-invented by Steve Rutt and Bill Etra (prototype, 1972). See www.audiovisualizers.com for examples of what this particular instrument can do. Note that from 1978 Gary Hill had used the Rutt/Etra already in making three other pieces interesting in relation to the emergence of language: Elements (1978), the first piece in which he speaks and incorporates actual words; Picture Story (1979); and Equal Time (1979). For reasons of space they are not presented here, but see our full treatment of the latter in “Chapter One: Equal Time and the strangeness of sameness,” An Art of Limina: Gary Hill (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa. 2008).

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[19] 13:25 min., single-channel video, b/w, sound. Videograms (1980-81) consists of nineteen short vignette-like works combining image configurations with texts spoken by the artist (varying from eleven to a hundred words). The texts are concise, suggestive, rather quirky, and indeed singular in ways that give them the feel of unconventional prose poems. The series is numbered non-consecutively between 0 and 99 and with no apparent significant design in the order of succession (6, 27, 33, 83, 24, 41, 70, 39, 0, 7, 18, 82, 12, 99, 2, 9, 64, 50, 3). See our extended treatment of this work in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit.

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[20] Gary Hill’s passion for surfing has shown up pervasively in his work, an instance of which is mentioned in the note above. The persistence of the metaphor “surfing the Web” suggests nearly archetypal force to the root notion.

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[21] 6:30 min., single-channel video, b/w, stereo sound. Happenstance (as we will call it) is a short and intense non-narrative work, rich in image matter that takes place more or less simultaneously in multiple sensory and cognitive dimensions. These include geometric forms (square, circle, triangle, point, line), both spoken and written text, configurative imaging, and rather abstract sounds (electronic sounds sometimes suggestive of musical instruments). As in Videograms, black-and-white electronic, intuitively generated, steadily changing configurations suggest mostly identifiable, yet quite ambiguous, forms. These are keyed to briskly spoken and written statements, running in counterpoint, often straining attention.

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[22] We note a connection with Maurice Blanchot, whose writing (published by Station Hill Press in Barrytown and Rhinebeck, New York, at the time Gary Hill lived and worked there) profoundly affected the artist, beginning around the time of the later works discussed here. Particularly relevant to electronic linguistics is the radical narrativity of Blanchot’s distinction “récit” (tale, story, telling, recital), as against roman (novel), in “The Song of the Sirens: Encountering the Imaginary”: “…If we regard the récit as the true telling of an exceptional event which has taken place and which someone is trying to report, then we have not even come close to sensing the true nature of the récit. The récit is not the narration of an event, but that event itself, the approach to that event, the place where that event is made to happen—an event which is yet to come and through whose power of attraction the tale can hope to come into being, too. …the secret law of the récit… is a movement towards a point, a point which is not only unknown, obscure, foreign, but such that apart from this movement it does not seem to have any real prior existence, and yet it is so imperious that the récit derives its power of attraction only from this point, so that it cannot ‘begin’ before reaching it—and yet only the récit and the unpredictable movement of the récit create the space where the point becomes real, powerful, and alluring.” Translation by Lydia Davis in The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays, ed., with an Afterword, by P. Adams Sitney (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1981), 109; reprinted in The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction and Literary Essays, ed. George Quasha; transl. Paul Auster, Lydia Davis, and Robert Lamberton; Foreword by Christopher Fynsk; Afterword by George Quasha & Charles Stein (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1999)., 447. Note we have restored Blanchot’s word “récit” for “tale” to emphasize special usage.

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[23] This term originates with Gary Hill’s later computer animation work, called Liminal Objects, beginning in 1995, which creates another level of electronic linguistics that is beyond our scope here. There the term also raises the question of “object” from two sides: (1) that the object as content––the thing/event unfolding on the video screen––is only liminally what it seems to be (e.g., hands moving together, yet passing through each other); and (2) that the art work itself is at the edge of the distinction “object,” a limen or threshold-object-event with no intrinsic stability, but remains the site of continuous possible distinctions. What is interesting here is how the later approach to “object” fits these early works, Videograms and Happenstance. The term “liminal objects” was created by George Quasha and proposed as title in 1995. See “Chapter Seven: HanD HearD/ Liminal Objects” in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit.

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[24] Since it’s well beyond our scope to treat this rich, intricate, and quite magical work here, we can only recommend experiencing it in light of this discussion. We discuss this work at length in “Chapter Three: Happenstance” and elsewhere in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit.

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[25] “Principle” is difficult to define but provisionally I say: the basic or essential element determining the evident functioning of particular natural phenomena, mechanical processes, or art emergence.\~~~

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[26] Processual Video, and especially its predecessor Resolution, is “perceptually” a minimalist work; however, the language is performative of a principle that liberates it from that conceptual orientation, as we have seen.

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[27] Zero point would be in principle the energetic source-point of the work, the point where, for one thing, it does nothing to interfere with the performance of its principle. This “efficiency principle” is often part of conceptual art (no extras). But one difference is that a conceptual work is often the unique realization of the concept and therefore exhausts the concept. Unlike a concept, a principle is never defined by the work, of which there can be an unlimited number; there is no definitive instance. Thus any given electronic linguistic is in theory inexhaustible: e.g., the video “line” in Processual Video is conceptually “complete” but the language has no principle of completion and in formal terms stops arbitrarily (or organically); therefore Processual Video’s principle involves an oscillation between concept and process. I discuss principle art (and the principle complex “axiality/liminality/configuration”) at length in Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance, op. cit. and in An Art of Limina: Gary Hill, op. cit.

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[28] It is beyond both the scope and the mode of inquiry here to suggest instances of electronic linguistics (or principle art) outside of Gary Hill’s work. In “applying” this notion to an artist’s work one should take care not to turn a principle into an art historical concept, thus violating the principle of principle art. That said, we hope to inspire further inquiry as a way of discovering the rather mysterious workings of singular electronic linguistics in certain artists.

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