Illuminated Music

Cover and Poster from Illuminated Music Video Album (1984)

Illuminated Music 2, which is presented on a classic CRT analog video monitor in the “Visual Music: 1905-2005” exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Smithsonian Institute’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 2005, was originally recorded from a live performance on a large screen video projection given by video artist Stephen Beck and electronic sound composer Warner Jepson in 1973. The piece was also presented in the recent “Son & Lumiéres” exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou Museum in Paris, from September to December, 2004.

This particular performance was one of a series of Illuminated Music performances given around the United States in 1972-1973. The composition (with variations) had been performed at several venues on large screen, color video projectors such as the Eidophor and the GE Light Valve, on screens up to 20 feet wide.

The first large screen live video performance was given on Saturday, December 2, 1972, at the National Academy of Sciences Auditorium in Washington, DC, for the National Endowment for the Arts Council on the Arts, and was reviewed in the New York Times on Tuesday, December 5, 1972.

Other performances were given at the Carpenter Center for Visual Studies at Harvard University, Cooper Union in New York City, at the Electric Concert series in the Bob Hope Memorial Theater at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and the University of California, Berkeley, Art Museum.

The composition itself was considered a form of “visual jazz” by Beck, in that the basic visual structure of the work remained in place from performance to performance, yet subject to the visual themes and variations changing in each interpretation. Two of the Illuminated Music performances by Beck and Jepson were broadcast nationally on the PBS network as part of the “Videospace Electronic Notebooks” series produced by the National Center for Experiments in Television.

"Illuminated Music" first emerged as both a neologism and a live performance on KQED TV in San Francisco on May 19, 1972, when Beck preformed live, on the air with his Beck Direct Video Synthesizer to the jazz music "Like It Is" by the master of jazz, Brother Yusef Lateef. Beck was then a video artist in residence with the National Center for Experiments in Television, which produced this event.

The performance took place in real time on a weekly TV program called SCAN, hosted by journalist Joe Russin. The show followed the nightly "Newsroom" program on KQED at 7:30 PM on a Friday evening. The artist was able to control 50,000 watts of effective radiated TV transmission power through his fingertips and hands using the Beck Direct Video Synthesizer. No television or video camera images were involved, to the chagrin of the NABET technical union, which nevertheless let the show go on.

This was the only known live television ever broadcast from a Direct Video Synthesizer, (or any other video synthesizer) and during the broadcast, the station's telephone switchboard "lit up like a Christmas Tree," according to KQED.

A precursor to what later became known as music video, "Illuminated Music" interpreted the music in personal, nonobjective, cinematic visual forms. The work was inspired by Beck's artistic heroes, such as German experimental film pioneer Oscar Fishinger, kinetic light artist Thomas Wilfred and his Lumias, and experimental filmmakers John and James Whitney. Another influence was Jordan Belson, with whom Beck collaborated and co-created an electronic videofilm entitled "CYCLES" in 1974. Beck's had envisioned an all-night television channel with music and images similar to what he had created for "Illuminated Music."

Later, in 1984, when home VCRs started to become widespread, Electron Visual Creations published a collection of Beck's classic video compositions as a home video album in VHS tape format. The album title “Illuminated Music” was chosen from the title track.

The cover of the album is shown here, along with still-frame moments from the different video compositions, which had been composed and recorded onto videotape directly from the Beck Direct Video Synthesizer.

The Video Album contained these original video compositions:

"Illuminated Music 1" with music “Like It Is” performed by Yusef Lateef (1972)

"Video Weavings #3" with music by The Joynt Effort (1974)

"Anima" Video Dance with dancer Katie McGuire and music by Jordan Belson (1973)

"Union" electronic video film with music by Stephen Beck (1975)

"Voodoo Chile" music video with recorded music by Jimi Hendrix (1982)

(This music video of Jimi Hendrix was commissioned by the Douglas Brothers, who at that time owned certain concert performances by Jimi Hendrix.)

Each of these compositions has its own story, to be told later.

Although now out of print, the video sold 10,000 copies in one year to the emerging home video world. One of the last VHS copies of the original edition was presented to my friends Dick and Pam Kramlich when they invited me to dinner at the Pacific Heights home in San Francisco several years ago.

Future plans are considering republishing this work in DVD format. For inquiries, contact the Artist.