The Sixties are especially significant in the kind of art-media-cultural developments we are cataloging here in this timeline. Essentially because during the 1960s, we began to develop most of the technologies that underpin our 21st century media-space. And it was the American Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) that really kick-started the building of the basic infrastructure that we inherited. ARPA’s enlightened, State-funded research programmes spanned computer-science, networking, human-computer interface design, computer-graphics, modelling and simulation at the same time that aerospace and telecoms engineers were building the communications satellite infrastructure glimpsed as early as 1945-46 by Arthur C. Clarke and the scientist/engineers at RAND Institute. In the 1960s the US Military completed several versions of the SAGE early-warning air-defense networks, and by the late Sixties, ARPA had initiated a inter-computer network in the USA that resulted in the Internet in the early 1970s. By 1968 an ARPA-funded researcher, Douglas Engelbart, using a mainframe computer linked to a dumb-terminal demonstrated how a networked personal computer might work in the 1980s… As early as 1961, the computer-pioneer Jay Wright Forrester had shown that complex systems – like factories and businesses could be modelled in a computer, and simulations created to improve management strategies. By 1971, Forrester’s Systems Dynamics approach was applied to creating World Dynamics a computer-model of the entire World and its resources. And apart from these media-technology innovations, the decade established Britain as a vibrant source of cultural content-invention – in popular music, fashion, fine arts, design, and life-style, and even more radical – the 1960s was the decade during which the counter-culture and avant garde became a dominant influence. The Beatles Sgt Pepper and Beach Boys Surfs Up, the 1969 Woodstock and Isle of Wight Festivals established this – and the new Hollywood adventures of Dennis Hopper, Arthur Penn, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Doug Trumbull and others proved it at the box office. Echoing the rapidity of technical developments (cataloged in Gene Youngblood’s book Expanded Cinema in 1970), and the burgeoning cultural changes of the 1960s, the arts were evolving into a kind of celebration of mixed-media as we experienced concrete poetry, happenings (algorithmic theatre), auto-destructive art, pop-art, performance art, rock music, and the rest of the counter-culture impact (drugs/long hair/burning bras etc) on mass culture.
Raymond Queneau + George Perec + Francois le Lyonaise: OULIPPO (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle – Workshop of Potential Literature – from 1960)
Right at the beginning of the Sixties, a group of avant garde writers, mathematicians and conceptual artists gather to explore the future of literature – and the ideas that will inform much of our cultural history. They form a workshop to explore Potential Literature – notions of chance, excision, linking, symmetry, algorithms and “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy.” In a decade that saw the coining of the word hypertext (Nelson 1965) and the programming of the first hypertext system (Van Dam 1968), and the flowering of Poesie Concret, OULIPPO’s adventurous exploration of literary form and composition lays the conceptual foundations.
This is quite fascinating – within a few years we have OULIPPO, we have Borges’ stories about ‘impossible books’ and maze-like libraries (seed ideas for Umberto Eco); we have concrete poetry – poems as multi-dimensional texts (see Ian Hamilton Finlay, Augusto de Campos, John Furnival, Ken Cox etc), and we have the emergence of hypertext, with all of the possibilities of interactive narratives, Ted Nelson’s Xanadu vision of a universe of interlinked texts… The visions, the ideas, the technologies – of an ocean of inter-textuality, a garden of forking paths, books too long to ever read, books with missing letters, poetry algorithms (see Stan Vanderbeek + Stan Knowlton: Poemfield 1964):, poems materialised in stone and concrete; poems as typographic images; poems recited to jazz and to rock music; kinetically-powered poetry machines; appropriated, remediated texts; computer-composed poems …What was going on?
JCR Licklider: Man-Computer Symbiosis 1960
It’s very appropriate to begin the 1960s with a far-seeing paper by a scientific visionary, whose work defined much of the underpinning engineering of our 21st century cyber-culture. Man Computer Symbiosis! The title itself grapples with a recurring zeitgeist theme of the 20th century, first given expression in the man-machine symbiosis of Raoul Hausmann’s iconic Spirit of Our Time in 1921. It was Licklider’s seminal paper that kick-started several major strands of research during his tenure at ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) – the government-funded agency that oversaw the invention of the future in the USA. It was ARPA that invented the Internet (1969-1972), the idea of the personal computer (Engelbart 1968), computer graphics, 3d CG-modelling and simulation (Sutherland 1963), and sowed the seeds of the graphical user interface (Engelbart 1968, Kay 1973). And it was Licklider’s vision – expressed in Man Computer Symbiosis (1960), the Intergalactic network idea (1962), Libraries of the Future (1965), The Computer as a Communications Device (1968), that drove this multi-million dollar investment in cyber-infrastructure.
Tom Lehrer: Masochism Tango c/w Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (45rpm single)1960
Tom Lehrer, Lord Buckley – Christopher Logue’s Red Bird EP – Howling Wolf’s Pye R&B label singles, Jules Feiffer’s sardonic cartoons, Saul Steinberg’s drawings, Albert Camus: L’Etranger, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans – these were the cult media to my generation hitting 15 years old in 1960. The cult-status had been awarded by the generation born a decade or so earlier – the generation who invented Rock’n’Roll, the Beats, Jazz Festivals, blouson noirs, existentialist literature – and eagerly grasped at clues to the alternative lives we wanted to explore – lives not conditioned by 9-5 conformity, consumerism, short hair, Burton suits, boring jobs. Here was the acidly satirical emetic for all that, cleverly orchestrated in Lehrer’s parched-dry crazy-edged humour – the Masochism Tango!
his spoken intro: “Another familiar type of lovesong is the passionate or fiery variety, usually in tango tempo, in which the singer exhorts his partner to haunt him and taunt him and, if at all possible, to consume him with a kiss of fire. this particular illustration of this genre is called the Masochism Tango.”
USAF + Lockheed + Gary Powers + CIA: U2 spy plane incident 1960
The cold war was peaking in the early 1960s, with a spate of doom-laden novels and films culminating in Harvey Wheeler and Eugene Burdick’s Fail Safe (1962), Kubrick and Southern’s Dr Strangelove (1963) and John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964) echoing recent real world events like the launch of Sputnik (1959) the Cuba Crisis (1962), the U2 spyplane incident (1960), the assassination of President Kennedy (1963) and the completion of the US SAGE and DEWline early warning system (DEWline 1957, SAGE 1963). The acquisition of information on the enemy by means of spying and surveillance became ever more important. This was confirmed when the Cuba Missile Crisis was precipitated by the photographic evidence of missile installations in Cuba taken from a U2 spy plane. This remarkable aircraft was able to fly above the range of anti-aircraft missiles – at altitudes of 60-80,000 feet, and take photographs of the resolution indicated in the image above.
Jean Tinguely + Billy Kluver: Homage to New York 1960
In 1999, I was lucky to see a retrospective exhibition of the work of Gustav Metzger at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford – and as the curator Astrid Bowron points out in the accompanying catalog: “Gustav Metzger is the creator of auto-destructive art and as such, the majority of his work is not merely hard to locate, it literally no longer exists.” And of course this is also true of the great auto-destructive pieces of work by Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix and Jean Tinguely – an early exponent of the art, closely following Metzger’s manifesto of 1959. Like Performance art (and great Audio-Visual and Interactive Art) – these pieces only survive in preparatory drawings, eye-witness accounts and archive photos, video or film documentation. Take a look at:
see also Astrid Bowron: Gustav Metzger (1999)
Burgess (Jess) Collins: Tricky Cad 1960
Although the seeds of Pop Art – ‘fine’-art based upon popular culture – had been sown earlier in the century (Janusz Brzeski 1930, Eduardo Paolozzi 1947, Richard Hamilton 1956), the flowering of pop art in America is really a Sixties phenomenon, and here in 1960 we have Jess Collins with his enormously entertaining appropriation, deconstruction and remediation of Chester Gould’s comic strip from the 1930s. Gould’s Dick Tracy reformulated and reconstructed as Tricky Cad, creates a world conceptually even more surreal than the original (Gould was brilliant at inventing hyper-weird villains – see below). I love Gould’s graphic style – the flat, two-dimensional world that he creates with his unbreakable rectangular grid of frames, and I love too the way that Collins recasts these graphic devices into a series of existential excerpts. This body of work easily stands alongside that of the other great narrative collagist of the 20th century – Max Ernst (Les Malheurs des Imortelles 1922, Une Semaine de Bonte 1934, etc).
Chester Gould – a compilation of Dick Tracy villains from mid-1940s to 1960s. The flat, 2d style created by Chester Gould lends itself to apparently limitless invention of surreal characters…
Raymond Queneau: Cent mille milliards de poèmes 1961
I remember showing some students a paper-model I had made of this impossible book – the poem that was physically impossible to read, and the impact that combinatorial numbers made, when you went through the sum, multiplying the number of pages by the number of lines, times the number of permutations in the order of reading – and indeed the significance of the large number (10 to power 14) – sinking in. In my own experience it was like seeing a Möbius strip for the first time, and realising that there was such a thing as a single-sided object – or reading bits of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland – in sum the experience you go through as you re-adjust your thinking and challenge seemingly permanent beliefs is very interesting. Being told of it, then seeing and playing with a paper model of it, constitutes a paradigm-shifting learning experience.
Jay Wright Forrester: Industrial Dynamics 1961
Forrester’s detailed analysis of how complex structures run, how they can be modelled in a computer and how their operations can be simulated and tested under a variety of scenarios – began with Industrial Dynamics and grew to become a sector of study – System Dynamics. By the end of the decade his work had expanded to model the entire world as a simulation – called World Dynamics – or the Limits to Growth model (Forrester 1971). It was Forrester’s paper on Urban Dynamics (1969) – how a city works and can be simulated – that inspired the games designer Will Wright to make his famous Sim-City (1989).
Above all others, Marvel Comics in their Sixties iterations, seemed to punctuate the extraordinary cultural developments in the West with entirely apposite and appropriate versions of old mythologies and their own brand of new myths. From Thor, Asgard and the Rainbow Bridge, to Galactus – the great super-villain – to the The Silver Surfer – that icon of the late Sixties – Stan Lee (working with a number of artists, but predominately with veteran Jack Kirby) repeatedly found the perfect combination of myth, fantasy and graphic style to generate a series of highly successful commercial products that transformed popular culture. Just as Disney in the 1930s and 1940s had remediated and re-interpreted stories from the vast canon of European folk-stories), so Marvel took over this mantel in the 1960s. Marvel were on the zeitgeist button.
For instance, my favourite reading in the late Sixties and early Seventies included Marvel comics alongside Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds Science Fiction, Theo Crosby’s Architectural Design (AD), New Scientist, OZ magazine, Rolling Stone, Peace News, Studio International and the International Times. But generally, the character development of Marvel – chiefly the work of Stan Lee, collaborating with artists like Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko (etc) – was brilliant – both in the sense or being very finely pitched to the developing tastes of Western youth, and in modern myth-making.
Yoko Ono: A Grapefruit in the World of Park (1961)
Yoko Ono has been centre-stage in the international avant garde since 1961. She broke new ground in performance art, in conceptual art, in intermedia presentation and performance, in event scores, in experimental films, in exhibitions. Her creative and passionate relationship with John Lennon brought her into international focus again from the late 1960s on. I saw her in the Chelsea Arts Club a few years ago, still very stylish and sexy, still cool, still making experimental work – along with her contemporaries Nam June Paik, George Brecht, and George Maciunas she goes into the counter-culture hall of fame.
see: Yoko Ono: Grapefruit (artist’s book) 1964 (republished by Simon and Shuster 2000)
Lenny Bruce: The Carnegie Hall Concert (1961) + What I was Arrested For 1964
Peter Cook: Private Eye 1961
Wow – the early Sixties was fun – Mary Quant launched her Ginger Group in 1963 – lower-priced clothes inspired originally by Chelsea beatniks and bohemians, sold from Bazaar her Kings Road and new Knightsbridge shops; we have the launch of Private Eye (1961); the brilliant Bond films (Dr No 1963), and Dr Who the same year – both with on-the-button zeitgeist titles sequences – graphics that made you sit up and pay attention. And the Beatles and the Stones – the cultural landscape was modulating – rumbling in an earth-quake that would change the world, not just Britain, in the next decade. Here in the early 1960s we began to establish the UK – London especially – as the cultural powerhouse of the whole world. And it was magazines like the Eye, and programmes like TW3 (That was the Week that Was) that kick-started this change. By the end of the Sixties (1967) the Beatles were Britian’s contribution to Our World – the first world-wide Television satellite link-up, singing All You Need is Love. But in the early 60’s it was the biting satirical wit of Frost, Levin, Bird, Martin and the others on TW3, and the ascerbic Private Eye that were the world-changers. (In 1969, I was tickled pink to find a quote of mine – about the IOW Dylan festival ‘being an instant electronic city’ – in the Eye’s Pseud’s Corner).
Herbert Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy 1962
I discovered Elizabeth Eisenstein’s encyclopedic book on the impact of Print (The Printing Press as an Agent of Change 1980) twenty years after I read McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy – but this was the book for this time, reminding us not only of the many physical cultural changes wrought by Print, but of the psychic re-orientation and wholly new methodology of thinking that it precipitated – as McLuhan explains in his Prologue, the reorientation from oral society to typographic society had profound effects, the idea of rote learning, the development of linear step by step logic, – creating the modern scientific revolution; and the leap into someone-else’s personal perspective fostering individuality, the system of visual (vanishing-point) perspective, the Renaissance as books spread knowledge throughout the West in the vernacular, outside the control of State or Church. The Gutenberg Galaxy itself provides the prologue for an understanding of how electronic media is impacting on all these aspects of our culture and our psyche. Read McLuhan’s final section: The Galaxy Reconfigured, then go on to read his Understanding Media (1963).
Fritz Rau + Horst Lippman: American Folk-Blues Festival Tours (in Europe and UK) 1962 – 1966.
It’s hard to relate just how thrilling – and how revelatory – these tours were. To see the guys (mostly guys) you had only heard on a sometimes scratchy LP or 45rpm single (the Pye R&B Label was great for the Blues) – to see Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lightnin Hopkins, Howling Wolf – to be there when they were there – to get a taste -however remote – of the juke-jive venues of the late 1940s – only a decade or so previously, but a world away in terms of culture – no race music here thank God – was not only a thrill, but a realised dream. Poring over blues and early jazz records in Collets or Dobells – surrounded by the mystery of early album sleeves, names you didn’t know – and what’s more didn’t know how to find out more about – 30 years before the WWW made this easy. And suddenly here were these legends in the flesh – the cool and the occasion of it!
Ned Sherrin + David Frost: That Was the Week That Was 1962-63
Live Television in the UK in the early 1960s – paired with innovative sci-fi like Doctor Who, and the essential immersive quality of embedded camera in shows like Ready Steady Go! and TW3, brought a fantastic verve to British broadcasting, celebrating and reflecting the enormous cultural energies bursting out of British culture in this period. And Ned Sherrin assembled a brilliant team to harness and focus these energies for a new, younger, university-educated audience already critical of the status quo, and horrified by the fiasco of Suez, the unquestioning buying-into nuclear power and the Bomb. and the lingering imperialism of Government policy – and all too anxious to support the kind of ascerbic, highly informed, satirical and witty commentary supplied by the likes of Frost, Levin and the rest of the TW3 crew.
Jorge Luis Borges: Labyrinths 1962
There were a number of cultish, must-read authors and books in this period of my life, and Borges was the tops – serious reads with serious mind-bending ideas and fantasies lurking within them. As a marker of this cult status take a look at any of the short stories in this collection – they all reveal virus-like, disquieting, ideas…
Google Books has this to say about Labyrinths:
“Enter Borges’ timeless worlds, where the ideal and the abstract challenge reality; where philosophical paradoxes and endless possibilities abound, and wisps of dream and magic are layered in eternal reoccurrence. To read Labyrinthsis to glide through time, space, mythology and philosophy, as Borges’ characters struggle towards devastating discovery. His essays and brief tantalizing parables explore the enigmas of time, identity and imagination. Playful and disturbing, scholarly and seductive, his is a haunting and utterly distinctive voice.”
William Goldbloom Bloch: The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel 2008
BTW – other cultish books of this period included J.K. Huysmans: A Rebours, books on Alastair Crowley, George Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky; the Ian Fleming Bond novels; the existentialists (Albert Camus especially); the Beats – especially for me Ginsberg’s Howl, Kerouac’s On the Road and The Subterraneans; and Colin McInnes: City of Spades, Absolute Beginners, Mr Love and Justice; Colin Wilson’s The Outsider; Joseph Heller’s Catch 22; Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn; Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths; William Burroughs‘ Nova Express, Junkie, Henry Miller: Nexus etc...it was a good period…
Joseph Campbell: The Masks of God 1962-1968
I discovered these volumes in East Ham public library, then housed in the Edwardian-gothic town hall building – apparently the building selected by Hitler for his head-quarters after the successful invasion of England in 1941 – and I devoured them all in a frenetic intellectual feast. Campbell wraps his lifetime as a mythographer into these 4 volumes, delving back to primordial times, veering East and West, and covering the last 300 years of recent history in what he called ‘Creative Mythology’ – an examination of archetypal mythic themes treated by modern authors – such as James Joyce: Ulysses and Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain. If you want a feast that reveals the contiguity and universality of mythic themes (from which Campbell derived The Heroes Journey (1948) then dig in.
John Frankenheimer: The Manchurian Candidate 1962
This was particularly good, but there were several notable cold-war movies in this period, movies that summed the bleak Mutually Assured Destruction tension of the NATO/USSR nuclear arms race. My other favourites include Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1963); Sidney Lumet’s Fail Safe (1964) Sidney Furie’s Ipcress File (1965), Martin Ritt’s The Spy who came in from the Cold (1965); John Sturges: Ice Station Zebra (1968), Norman Jewison: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966), Hitchcock: Torn Curtain (1966); Peter Watkins: The War Game (1965) and of course Terence Young’s snappy and stylish Dr No (1962).
The Beatles: Love Me Do 1962
The arrival of the Beatles in 1962 was different. Previously the teen-age record market had been controlled by old men – men who packaged and represented the artists they managed in order to fit them into a model of the recording/entertainment business that had emerged 50 years previously. ‘The manager/Record Company knew best’ was the mantra – never more obvious than in the way that Elvis Presley had been emasculated and culturally deodorised by Col Tom Parker. The Beatles were to shuck-off this modus-operandi gradually over the next half-decade, seizing creative control of their talent and effectively by the end of this decade doing exactly what they wanted. It was a mark of their exceptional individual and corporate characters and seemingly boundless talent that they survived the Brian Epstein be-suited period, and became themselves again, in the meantime changing the record business for a decade or so…
David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia 1962
Joshua Klein has this to say about Lawrence of Arabia: “One of the greatest epics of all time, Lawrence of Arabia epitomises all that motion pictures can be. Ambitious in every sense of the word, David Lean’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, loosely based on the life of the eccentric officer T.E. Lawrence and his campaign against the Turks in World War 1, makes most movies pale in comparison. and has served as an inspiration for countless film-makers, most notably technical masters like George Lucas and Steven Speilberg.” (Joshua Klein in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die 2002)
For me this vies closely with Doctor Zhivago (1965) as Lean’s best work – Freddie Young’s cinematography is absolutely top-notch in both films, as is Maurice Jarre’s composition, and Robert Bolt’s screenplay-writing. But its the cinemascope projection and instant immersion in this film that permeates my memory of seeing it in 1960 – the wonderful location-scouting, the cinematography, the beauty and faux-aristocratic eccentricity of Peter O’Toole (playing Lawrence), the vision of how a colonial army interfaces with Arab tribal politics and the personal honour of the singular men involved (Alec Guiness plays Prince Feisal, Jack Hawkins General Allenby) and the long panoramic shots of the wavering-light and shimmering illusions of the Negev desert!
Bell Labs: Telstar 1962
Joe Meek + The Tornados: Telstar 1962
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan LP 1962
British Art Colleges in the 1960s were important for fostering creativity in design, in art, in performance, in fashion, and many other aspects of our cultural lives. Roy Ascott and others were experimenting with the way Art Colleges work (Ascott: Ealing Ground Course 1962). For myself and many others, art colleges were also our social media – they were where we met our contemporaries, where we saw how others lived, worked and had fun. Attending Portsmouth Art College in 1963, I met several fellow travelers who became lifelong friends – and one of them (Pete Harris) loaned me some of the zeitgeist albums of the period – Carolyn Hester: Carolyn Hester, Joan Baez: Joan Baez, and another self-titled LP: Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan. In one generous step, Harris had brought me up to speed with the folk-revolution that had been emerging in the USA over the previous few years. He also loaned me two Blues albums: Folkways The Country Blues (1959) – a compilation of leading Mississippi Blues artists recorded in the 1930s and 1940s by Sam Charters, and an album of Leadbelly’s work recorded by John and Alan Lomax in the 1930s and 1940s These were all inspirational albums for me, but Dylan’s was the revolutionary one- a revolution in folk-singing that was fresh, angry, sardonic, saucy – Baby Let Me Follow You Down, Pretty Peggy-O, Man of Constant Sorrow, House of the Rising Sun – Dylan brought new interpretative life to these classics – classics which Dylan had picked up over long evenings listening to Carla and Suze Rotolo’s record collection that included Folkway’s Anthology of Folk Music, Blues albums, records by Ewan McColl, Woody Guthrie, and A.L Lloyd – ie the canon of British-American folk music at the time – the expected repertoire of a folk singer. Dylan re-interpreted, not to say personally appropriated these songs in the early Sixties.
Rachel Carson: Silent Spring 1962
There seem to me to be several key-moments in the Sixties awakening to the environmental problems we were (seemingly unknowingly) stacking up – the use of DDT and other insecticides, over population, depletion of resources, intensive farming, over-fishing, pollution, (etc etc). And this was the first in this important decade – the decade that ended with us leaving Earth for the first time, and experiencing that revelation that we were just one tiny blue planet of Life in a universe of blackness. The next key moment was the picture of the ‘whole Earth’ sent back by the NASA ATS-3 satellite in 1967. This impacted upon us – who Buckminster Fuller had described as ‘crew-members’ of ‘Spaceship Earth’ in all kinds of ways – inspired by this picture, Stewart Brand founded his Whole Earth Catalog (1968) – a mail-order catalogue of sustainability and alternative life-styles. Then the powerful activist world Environmental movements were established – Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth leading the way in the late 1960s -early 1970s. But it waskick-started by Rachel Carson.
Chris Marker: La Jetée 1962 Chris Marker: La Jetée 1962
Paolo Cavara + Gualtiero Jacopetti: Mondo Cane 1962
Steve Russell (et al): Space War 1962
Jack Smith: Flaming Creatures 1963
Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Rolling Stones, et al: British Blues 1963
- In 1961 the jazz and R&B club Klooks Kleek was founded at the Railway Hotel in West Hampstead – they started regular R&B evenings in 1963.
- In 1962 the first dedicated Blues magazine ‘Blues Unlimited’ was published – a mimeographed (duplicated) newsheet edited by Mike Leadbitter and Simon Napier.
- In 1962 Cyril Davies had formed Blues Incorporated with Alexis Korner, had created the Ealing Club – the first music venue to be totally identified with Rhythm and Blues in the UK (Mick Jagger sang there that year).
Jack Kirby + Stan Lee: X-Men (1963)
Jack Kirby + Stan Lee: Iron Man comic 1963 Iron Man films 2008-2015
Jack Kirby + Stan Lee: Iron Man comic 1963 Iron Man films 2008-2015. What a story – Jack Kirby, one of the veteran comic-artists (who drew Captain America back in 1941!), and Stan Lee – sci-fi writer and publishing entrepreneur who began working with Timely Publications as early as 1939, becoming boss when Marvel Comics was launched in 1961. Since around 2005, Marvel under the guidance of studio-chief Kevin Feige has been planning and evolving its ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ strategy, producing its first film Iron Man in 2008. The obvious synergies between a comic-content maker, used to making brilliant visual narratives in what are in essence story-boards, and the modern blockbuster movie with its own synergies of live-action, special effects and CGI were pointed-up at Marvel in various pitches made by Feige, and a deal for funding this strategy was made with Merrill Lynch – an investment that has proved highly profitable. I’ve been a fan of comics since I was a boy, and have followed Marvel’s fortunes as they effectively re-invented and innovated in 20th century mythmaking through the 1960s and beyond. The Iron Man series, with its man-machine trope and mega computer graphics, iterates an abiding concern of Modernism – going back to Rossums Universal Robots.. And more: Marvel have resolved a modus operandi for generating commercially, aesthetically and technically successful movies based upon their comic-strip stable of superheroes…
La Monte Young: An Anthology of Chance Operations 1963
Ivan Sutherland: Sketchpad (1963)
Important computer pioneers like Ted Nelson and Alan Kay write in awe of their first experience of Sutherland’s Sketchpad, while Alan Blackwell and Kerry Rodden of Cambridge University Computer Lab describe it thus:
“Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad is one of the most influential computer programs ever written by an individual, as recognized in his citation for the Turing award in 1988. The Sketchpad program itself had limited distribution — executable versions were limited to a customized machine at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory — so its influence has been via the ideas that it introduced rather than in its execution. Sutherland’s dissertation describing Sketchpad was a critical channel by which those ideas were propagated, along with a movie of the program in use, and a widely-cited conference publication.”
Blackwell and Rodden: Preface to Ivan Sutherland: Sketchpad (Electronic Edition 2003)
There is a video of Alan Kay describing Sketchpad at:
Elkan Allan (producer)+ Cathy McGowran (presenter): Ready Steady Go! 1963
If you lived on the Isle of Wight (as I did) in the early 1960s, you really, really needed information on what your contemporaries in London were up to – what clothes, what hair, what music, what dance, what books, what records, who was cool and who wasn’t – you needed this information in a way that our social media surfeited 21st century youngsters just won’t understand. As I said above – RSG! was our social media, and an important ingredient on that crazy path of learning, learning everything we could, reading as much as possible, searching for guidance, searching for records, for Art, for poetry, for intelligence! OK, RSG supplied social intelligence – and breaking new music – we needed that.
Jack Kirby + Stan Lee: Iron Man comic 1963 Iron Man films 2008-2015
These comics were very important to us in the 1960s – it wasn’t just the superb draftsmanship of Kirby, Steranko and the other artists – or the great storylines of Stan Lee’s editorial office, nor just the innate media characteristics of the comic itself – the glossy cover, the pulp thick newsprint, the quality of the internal printing, the slight mis-registers, the smell of the printed artefact, the heft of it – the small classified-style ads for x-ray specs, see-backro-scopes, and other magical stuff. It was all these things – plus the exciting reinvention and remediation of world mythology, and the invention of new narratives in what Joseph Campbell called ‘creative mythology’. OK I was in my early 20s, but I’d first seen American comics as the colour newspaper comic supplements brought back by my uncle from his National Service army tour in Korea circa 1952. These broadsheet-size supplements had been a revelation of another world – in rationed Britain, the colourful crime, fantasy and sci-fi adventure was a wonderful discovery. (Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy et cetera all stand out in my memory). I was lucky just to get a taste of the work of the golden-age comic artists – Milton Caniff, Chester Gould, Alex Raymond, Burne Hogarth etc) And a decade or so later the various Marvel comics, often bought second-hand in book-stores, fitted into the same pleasure-zone. So here I am in my 7th decade enjoying the cinematic remediations with the same glee – and the same critical appreciation of the fine story-telling, the invention of credible back-stories, the production values, the CGI animation and special effects, the ideas! the visualisations! and all the other qualities I was gripped by…
Sydney Newman + Verity Lambert (BBC): Dr Who 1963
Carolee Schneeman: EYE-BODY 1963
Carolee Schneeman: Meat Joy 1964
Maurice Binder: Titles for Dr No (1963)
As I mention above, if anyone caught the graphic-design zeitgeist better than the film-titles designers of this period, I haven’t come across them. But Maurice Binder on Dr No has to come close to the top. Bernard Lodge on Dr Who was also a key designer of this period (but that was in monochrome – for a 12″ Sony black and white – television), not the Panavision 70mm large colour cinema-screen of the Empire Leicester Square – like a concrete poem writ-large, with John Barry’s arrangement of Monty Norman’s Bond theme in sharp synchrony to the crisp graphics – the whole seamlessly integrated into the beginning of the movie…it was the business, and announced the Sixties as clear as Ready Steady Go!‘s 54321 titles of the same year…
Robert Rauschenberg: Untitled 1963
I was lucky enough to see Rauschenberg’s Dante’s Inferno at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1964 – my second year at art school – and it was a revelation. I’d seen repros of his work in art magazines (Studio International was the favorite ‘zine then), but looking at this extraordinary suite of thematically linked drawings-cum-rubbed-off montages – at the subtlety and delicacy of the densely figured images, was a spiritual experience. Rauschenberg – always a formal innovator as well as a brilliant imagist and painter – had evolved a technique of using spirit-based solvent (there was a product called Polyclens that worked) applied to the reverse side of a commercially printed image (from a magazine or newspaper) and then he simply rubbed the reverse side with a burin to create a mirror-image rub-off of the printed image on his drawing paper. This gives you some indication:
Rolling Stones: Come On 1963
Tony Richardson: Tom Jones 1963
George Maciunas: Fluxus Manifesto 1963
Stanley Kubrick + Ken Adam: Dr Strangelove 1963
Stan Brakhage: MothLight 1963
Stan Vanderbeek: Movie Dome (1963)
Federico Fellini: 81/2 1963
Abraham Zapruder: Kennedy Assassination 1963
I was in a cool coffee-bar called The Caribou – in Cross Street, Ryde, and had just got back from Portsmouth Art College – when I heard the hastily re-tuned radio replacing the Caribou juke-box. Jesus! Kennedy had been sold to us very successfully (it wasn’t til much later that we realized he had initiated the Vietnam War, about his sex life, and all the other stuff) – then we were immersed in the Camelot vision, so this was a visceral shock.
Gene Roddenberry: Star Trek first pilot 1964
I enjoyed the sometimes very familiar tropes and ideas given new life in the Star Trek series – some very good sci-fi was aired here, but it wasn’t until I read Roddenberry’s book on the genesis of the series (Roddenberry: The Making of Star Trek (1968) that I grasped its true import – nothing less than a sincere attempt to create a kind of utopian ideal for our potential future in space – Roddenberry’s vision of a mixed-race (mixed-species!) crew must have been a hard-sell to an American mainstream media outlet conditioned by a decade of McCarthyism, anti-semitism, racism, mistrust of the left etc..That he succeeded in making his idea work – and work so successfully over the next several decades – is remarkable.
Peter Weiss + Peter Brook: Marat/Sade – The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as performed by the inhabitants of the Asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade 1963-64.
Translated by Geoffrey Skelton and Adrian Mitchell, the book of the play was published in English in 1964. The back cover comments included: “The RSC’s work in establishing Antonin Artaud’s conception of ‘ the Theatre of Cruelty‘ found its climatic expression in this powerful and savage play, in which the discipline of verse heightens the emotional impact, and the combination of sheer entertainment, Sadian philosophy and the range of theatrical shock techniques leaves the audience limp but excited at the end of the evening. The published text allows the reader to see how skilfully the author has dramatised the paradox of de Sade, a black saint whose humanity must be set against there horrors of his imagination” (cover notes Peter Weiss: Marat/Sade 1964)
Malcolm X + Alex Haley: The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1964
Terry Riley: In C 1964
Ray and Charles Eames: IBM Egg + Information Machine at 1964 World’s Fair
Ray and Charles Eames: still from Information Machine multi-screen presentation in the IBM Egg pavilion at 1964 World’s Fair. This kind of dynamic, multi-screen audio-visual display, piloted by the Eames at the Moscow World’s Fair in 1959 was the kind of innovation to be expected from this adventurous design duo (Charles the architect/designer, Ray the film-maker/designer), and this medium (multi-screen audio-visuals) was to be more thoroughly explored by a range of film-makers and designers a few years later at the Montreal Expo67.
Arthur Koestler: The Act of Creation 1964
There is of course a third book on this subject that I found really useful – and whereas Margaret Boden’s insights came from her work in artificial intelligence and computer-science, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi comes from a psychological point of view in his: Creativity – Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1997). Mihaly applies his theory of Flow to the issues of creativity, invention and discovery. Flow is Mihaly’s descriptor for that delightful mental state we all enjoy when we are thoroughly immersed in an activity of our choosing – when we are on form, totally mentally, physically and emotionally immersed in a creative act. All three books – spanning some 30 years or more – are essential reading for those of us engaged in creative processes or trying to encourage creativity through teaching.
Michael Moorcock (ed) New Worlds Speculative Fiction (from 1964-1970)
In my teens – looking for good reading outside – or as well as – the standard literary canon, I had discovered the joys of science fiction, and read most of classics – Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire trilogy, Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan, (etc), so discovering the state-of-the-art scifi – that is sci-fi + avant garde adventurous writing – in the pages of New Worlds was just perfect.
My esteemed colleague Richard Oliver was a student at Ealing on Ascott’s Ground Course (which is recommendation enough for me), and Ascott’s innovative work in restructuring art-school education by injecting his notions of collaboration, mutual learning, feedback, and other ideas current in the wave of British cybernetic thinking at this time (the work of Pask, Stafford Beer, Grey Walter, Harold Cohen and others) – added another important range of ingredients to the evolving art-education model that resulted in a new degree – the Diploma in Art and Design – launched in 1963 – my first year at Art School.
Stanley Kubrick + Pablo Ferro: Trailer for Dr Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Herbert Marshall McLuhan: Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man 1964
“After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, where the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media. Whether the extension of consciousness, so long sought by advertisers for specific products, will be a ‘good thing’ is a question that admits of a wide solution. There is little possibility of answering questions about the extensions of man without considering all of them together. Any extension, whether of skin, hand or foot, extends the whole psychic and social complex.” Marshall McLuhan from the Introduction, Understanding Media 1964 p11)
Ron Herron (Archigram): Walking City 1964
Kenneth Anger: Scorpio Rising 1964
If Tom Wolfe (Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby 1965) and Hunter S. Thompson (Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, 1967) invented embedded or ‘gonzo’ journalism in 1965-66, Kenneth Anger was doing his best to create embedded documentary in the early 1960s. This is his homophiliac hymn to the motorcycle gangs that fascinated Thompson – a study in punk street cool, homoerotic posing, the body language of the social outsiders, occult magic practice, rebel icons… Scorpio Rising made the headlines at its first screening in Hollywood: “someone denounced it to the Hollywood vice squad and they raided the theater and took the print. And the case had to go to the California Supreme Court to be freed and then it became, like, a landmark case of redeeming social merit. That was the phrase that was used to justify that it wasn’t pornography. And, indeed, there’s nothing pornographic about it. Somebody had to break the ice and have that kind of case at that time to establish the freedom, because, before then, the police could seize anything they wanted to. What I was doing on the West Coast, Jack Smith was doing on the East Coast with Flaming Creatures. The two films happened at about the same time.” (Kenneth Anger)
Ronan O’Rahilly: Radio Caroline 1964
Augusto de Campos: Eye for Eye (1964)
Gene Roddenberry: Star Trek first pilot 1964
Ken Knowlton + Stan Vanderbeek: Poemfield (1964)
William Seward Burroughs: Nova Express 1964
Jonas Mekas/Living Theatre: The Brig 1964
Time Magazine/Artzibashieff: Cover of Time Magazine, January 1964
John Coltrane: A Love Supreme 1964
Marshall McLuhan + Quintin Fiore: The Medium is the Massage – An Inventory of Effects 1964
Dick Higgins: Intermedia 1965
Andy Warhol + Paul Morrisey: Chelsea Girls 1965
Storm de Hirsch: Peyote Queen 1965
John Stehura: Cybernetik 1965
Andy Warhol: Inner and Outer Space 1965
Barbara Rubin + Barry Miles (et al): International Poetry Incarnation, Albert Hall, (1965)
It’s hard to exaggerate the feeling we had in the mid-Sixties (though really gradually from the late 1950s) of the slow emergence and increasing coherence of a post-War counter culture (it was still called the ‘underground’ then). It was at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965 when the scale of this emergence became visible and tangible. Suddenly we knew we weren’t alone – here were the people like us! This zeitgeist event, organised by Barry Miles, funded by Barbara Rubin, and supported by a galaxy of important alternative voices in the ‘reincarnation’ of poetry – apart from Adrian Mitchell’s brilliant To Whom it May Concern (film above), it was Harry Fainlight shooting his poem, wrapped around an arrow, into the audience. And it was a beautiful American woman (was this Barbara Rubin herself?), whirling her wrist-strapped Bolex 16mm camera around her body as she stood in the whirling, swirling centre of the Hall, with Ginsberg intoning his shamanic rituals, with people giving visitors flowers on the august steps of the Albert Hall, under the approving gaze of Albert (from the Albert Memorial across Kensington Gore). Here we were! Something was happening! It was a revelation of the New! It was a huge relief, that we had an alternative. We loved it!
John Berger: The Success and Failure of Picasso 1965
Jean Luc Godard: Alphaville – A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution 1965
Yoko Ono: Cut Piece 1965
Ted Nelson: Hypertext 1965
A digital extension of the ideas embodied in Vannevar Bush: As We May Think (1946), Nelson’s ingenious breakthrough was to conceive of how dynamically and electronically linked text might be. He worked with Andries van Dam of Brown University to build a prototype hypertext editing system in 1967, and thus prepared the way for the global World Wide Web of Tim Berners Lee in the 1990s. This is the common basis for our textual and multimedia communications of the 21st century.
Gordon Moore: Moore’s Law 1965
Tom Wolfe: The Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby (1965)
Ed Feigenbaum: Dendral Expert System 1965
Frank Herbert: Dune 1965
It might be argued that Dune both catalysed and symbolised the wave of concern about the environment, about diminishing natural resources, about ‘ecology’ in general – that grew to become a core element in the counter-culture that emerged in the West from the mid 1950s on. His knowledge of ecology and his integration of this knowledge in his exciting fable of a galactic future in which interstellar space travel is the monopoly of an elite who rely on a drug only found on the planet Dune to give them the prescience and foresight to guide their space-ships through hyperspace – seemed to place ‘ecology’ in the centre of his story. The book’s theme – a war between competing factions to control this rare drug, seemed to be a metaphor for the growing environmental concerns of the baby-boomer generation. And this was several years before Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, before Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace…
Peter Watkins: The War Game 1965
Ivan Sutherland: Head-mounted Display 1965
US Government (Lyndon Johnson): ICBM ‘Survivable’ Defence System 1965
Jérôme Savary: Compagne Jérôme Savary/Grand Magic Circus 1965
Philippe Druillet: Lone Sloane (from 1966)
I discovered Druillet’s fabulous bande dessinee in the Shakespeare and Co Bookshop on a visit to Paris in 1969 with the writer Chris Robbins and my wife Jenny. I’d seen some American underground comics in the UK, but this was comic-strip art raised to the level of fine art – printed on coated art paper, published in hard-back, and containing Druillet’s personal mix of sci-fi, fantasy, counter-culture life-styles, hippie mores, op-art, pop-art, and Escher-like comic-strip framing. Druillet’s counter-culture hero, Lone Sloane, wanders through inter-galactic hyper-space like Godard’s Lemmy Caution (in Alphaville), Jean claude Forest’s Barbarella (1962-1964) and Guy Peelaert’s Jodelle (1966). The French attachment to the medium of the comic-strip was a revelation, yet seemed to fit with their invention of cinematography – the mysteries of the serial image explored in two coeval media…
Bob Cobbing + Stephen Dwoskin: London FilmMakers Coop 1966
During this period I was at Art College, where the London Film-makers Coop was just an inspirational rumour, with Malcolm Le Grice’s work shown at the Film Society. The following year I was at Hornsey Light/Sound Workshop, for a post-graduate year, exploring multi-screen narrative films. In 1968, the Light/Sound Workshop, run by Clive Latymer, and working with Peter Cook and Dennis Crompton of Archigram, exhibited a swathe of multi-screen films/installations at Oxford MOMA. Much later, in the late 1990s I was to catch up somewhat with LFC. In 1997, the London Film-makers Coop, moved together with London Video Arts to the Lux Centre in Hoxton Square in London’s Shoreditch. At this time I was working with Malcolm Garrett’s AMX Digital, and we were based in Curtain Road, just around the corner. Shoreditch and the local ‘Shoreditcherati’, became the latest creative hub, artists, designers and developers moving into the cheaper Victorian property just east of the City. So new bars and restaurants popped up, one of the most famous and possibly the coolest was Seng Watson’s Shoreditch Electricity Showroom – just round the corner from Lux (apparently Shoreditch was one of the earliest parts of London to have electricity and electric street lighting installed). Lux was created by the curatorial genius Gregor Muir (author of Lucky Kunst (2009) – a memoir of this period in Shoreditch – and since 2011 at the Tate Modern and the ICA). It was an exciting place to be. And a few years later starting a fellowship at London College of Communications, (part of University of the Arts, London) and Alan Sekers introduced me to Malcolm Le Grice, and we had a buzzy lunchtime together.
E.M. Forster: The Machine Stops (1909) + Philip Saville: The Machine Stops (1966)
I watched this programme on TV (in my dreams – on a Sony 7″ portable – the ‘in’ TV in those days) and was electrified – here was a vision of the future from Forster’s 1909 short story – the only sci-fi he wrote, brilliantly fit for our time – a vision of people living underground (the word had other connotations then) and connected together only by machines – viewing machines that connected everyone by screen-based (video-phone style) media. This was a prescient, dystopian vision of our 21st century modern world! But Forster was taking another slant from the H.G. Welles vision of the future (his 1895 novel The Time Machine), and Forster has the machine stop and doom the humans unable to reject or escape from their cosseted machine-reliant environment. The TV programme starred Michael Gothard and Yvonne Mitchell as the main protagonists, with direction by Peter Saville and scenographics by Norman James, and it immediately went into the mental list of important zeitgeist movies. In the 1960s the sci-fi genre began to transcend its pulp-fiction roots. Under Michael Moorcock’s guidance science fiction had become ‘speculative fiction’ and embraced a much wider range of narratives, literary forms and exciting experimentation, and some British authors were in the avant garde of this new wave – John Brunner, J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldis – and the influence of the expatriate American William Burroughs – and of course Moorcock himself. The best organ for this new thinking was New Worlds – a pulp magazine originating in 1946, but under the editorial lead of Moorcock, and with a new magazine-style format since 1964. New Worlds impacted strongly on the emerging counter-culture, and borrowed from techno-optimist visionaries like Richard Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan. It featured contemporary artists like Eduardo Paolozzi some great cartoonist-illustrators like the brilliant Mal Dean. The 1966 television remediation of The Machine Stops fitted exactly in this new wave of avant garde sci-fi. And it fitted perfectly with the ideas for the Galactic Network (the nascent Internet) formulated and published by Joseph Licklider in 1962 at DARPA. Fact and Fiction were galloping neck and neck into the future.
Frances Yates: The Art of Memory 1966
This became an important book for me when I discovered it in the 1980s. As part of the research for our Hypercard magazine High Bandwidth Panning (1987), the discovery of pre-Print memory techniques – memory theatres, memory palaces, rhyming mnemonics, diagrams of memory – all these methods of training and honing human memory provided a fund of metaphors for those of us interested in hypermedia, and what Vannevar Bush called ‘associative trails’ of information.
Milton Glaser: Push Pin Studios (from 1954)
Jeffrey Shaw: Emergence of Continuous Forms (1966)
Joseph Weizenbaum: Eliza – the first chat-bot 1966
Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde 1966
Barry Miles + Tom McGrath: International Times (IT) 1966
Guy Peelaert: The Adventures of Jodelle 1966
The fashions, the insouciance and newly won sexual freedom (burn your bras!) of the 1960s was captured in Peelaert’s elegant graphic style – here in the hot colours that were de rigour in the mid-1960s. Guy Peelaert honed his graphic-narrative skills on Jodelle, and produced his masterpiece Rock Dreams in 1974.
Ken Knowlton + Leon Harmon: Studies in Perception 1967
The art of computer graphics and computer-mediated art was just being explored in the 1960s, with key works by Ken Knowlton, Charles Csuri, Ivan Sutherland, Ted Nelson and others working the field, which embraced a wide range of application-areas of study, ranging from human-computer-interface design, videogames, simulation, systems dynamics, 3d modelling, animation, ergonomics design, engineering computer-aided design (etc). Within a couple of years, this developing area was mapped with important overview shows at MOMA and the ICA, and Jack Burnham’s Software exhibition at the Jewish Museum NYC (1968), and in 1970 the critic Gene Youngblood compiled a survey of new media art in his book Expanded Cinema, which included a section on computer-generated art, and included Knowlton’s work. Developments in computer hardware (especially the IBM 2250 Graphics Terminal, and the Lincoln Labs TX2 (for which Ivan Sutherland wrote his Sketchpad software), though these were mainframe computers – it was lucky artist-coder partnerships – like Knowlton and Vanderbeek – that began to edge computer graphics away from its origin in engineering computer-aided design (pioneered by Boeing Aircraft in USA and Renault Automobiles in France).
The Velvet Underground + Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico 1967
I was lucky enough to meet John Cale and Nico (at separate times) in the 1980s. Nico came to my wedding to Debbie Bury at Stephen Bartley’s Church Street Gallery. She was brought along by Ronnie Terrill, and carried the glamour and sophistication of her youth (she was in her sixties) – the superstar of the counter culture, with the kind of impeccable underground pedigree that culminated in her Velvet Underground days. Meeting in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club, Cale was the hyper-talented musician and consummate hipster still. Intrinsic with the content and style of the zeitgeist music and lyrics, Andy Warhol’s sleeve design was at one with the album – a plastic banana that invited you to peel it back to reveal the hidden image beneath – no less that a flesh-coloured banana (!). This has the ingenuity and flair of Warhol’s other graphic work – the early, stylish illustrated jazz sleeves – and the infamous Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers sleeve, and seems to eschew graphic-design fashion in the same way that Richard Hamilton designed the Beatles White Album. Nico had already appeared on a Bill Evans sleeve:
Nico featured on Bill Evans cool Moonbeams LP, 1962
Clifford Cocks + James Ellis + Malcolm Williamson: Public Key Cryptography (aka RSA Algorithm) from c1967
The Beatles: Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 1967
This double-album came out in that delightful period when you carried significant LPs about with you as a kind of badge of membership of the cognoscenti – just as having long hair on men, belled trousers, full-length Afghan sheepskins, skinny-rib t-shorts and paisley jackets..(etc), these things were part of the I.D. parade of unfolding Sixties culture. But for art students and designers the Sgt Pepper album had an even greater significance – the cover was designed by Peter Blake – one of the great British Pop-Art pioneers (along with Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton), and WHAT’S MORE it contained references to many of the cult heroes of recent times – and these included a leading icon of the Beat movement (William Seward Burroughs); Mystics (Alastair Crowley, Mahavatar Babaji, Sri Yuckteswar, Lahiri Mahasaya); an Electronic-Music composer (Karlheinz Stockhausen); several Film Stars (Mae West, W.C. Fields, Tom Mix, Huntz Hall, Tyrone Power, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire, Johnny Weissmuller, Marlene Deitrich), avant garde and music-hall comedians: (Lenny Bruce, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Issy Bonn, Tommy Handley), a footballer (Albert Stubbins); communist-theorist (Marx),; scientists (Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Dr Livingstone); writers (George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Stephen Crane, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Terry Southern, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allen Poe, Aldus Huxley; some cool artists (Richard Lindner, Wallace Berman, Richard Merkin, Simon Rodia, Stuart Sutcliffe, Larry Bell, Aubrey Beardsley) and some rockstars – Bob Dylan, Bobbie Breen, Dion (of the Belmonts) – and a few others!
Having a pictorial code of Beatles counter-culture heroes to discuss was like a cult book – not since Bob Dylan’s first album, not since the Tom Lehrer L.P.s, since Christopher Logue’s Red Bird, or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, or Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinde, since Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde double-album, had Long-Playing records been so cool.
Thanks Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, John, Paul, George and Ringo, and George Martin – and Michael Cooper who took the Edwardian uniform pictures. Inspirational!
Victor Moscoso: Zap Comics cover-spread 1968 + Blues Project poster 1967
Victor Moscoso: Chambers Brothers poster 1967 – Moscoso seamlessly integrates enlarged half-tone portrait into his psychedelic poster – those vibrating colour tones!
Arthur Penn: Bonnie and Clyde 1967
Donn Alan (D.A.) Pennebaker: Dont Look Back 1967
Well, this was drop-dead cool – Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues with its pithy, sardonic critique of ‘straight’ culture – opens Pennebaker’s embedded-journalistic documentary of Dylan’s 1966 UK tour. It was electric – “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine, I’m on the pavement, Thinking about the government” the staccato lyrics, the message was a brilliant mish-mash of counter-cultural tropes – reinforced by the casual appearance of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg sotto-voce in the background. Dylan’s dead-pan visualdelivery of his lyrics – held up as key phrases hand-drawn on A3 white cartridge – reinforces the introduction and establishes the film’s main theme – the interaction of this phenomenal poetic talent and the new counter culture acid-rock music with the British establishment and the straight press, and with British fellow-traveler’s – and with fans. It’s still a real treat – if you haven’t seen it go direct to Youtube.
Richard Brautigan: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace 1967
This is an intriguing poem for it’s time. For a start, we were in the middle of a mind-numbingly frightening Cold War in which the very technologies praised by Brautigan were generally considered by the young to be the avatars of the hated Military-Industrial Complex. The potential benefits of ‘personal’ computing were only just being glimpsed by a tiny few engineer-visionaries like Joseph Licklider, Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and Alan Kay. The ubiquitous computing/sensing environment imagined by Brautigan is still 40 years away – there was no web, no personal computer, no internet, no cellular – even the germinal ideas for these epoch-changing technologies were only shared by a tiny, tiny few. So for a 32-year old dreamy hippie novelist and poet – then really only known for his first novel A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964) to suddenly find himself in company with the leading-edge engineer-visionaries of DARPA (just at this period solving some of the issues relating to an internetwork linking computers at the main universities and research centres in the USA); and on the other subject of the poem (ecology-environment), even this was only just recently au courant – Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring only 5 years previously, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – even the Whole Earth Catalog – still in the future. So that’s what I mean about intriguing – this is a completely anachronistic glimpse of the kind of visions that were inspiring Jim Haynes (Arts Lab 1967), Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog (1968), and Richard Buckminster Fuller: Geoscope World Game (1962) – a utopian vision of man-machine harmony… The philosopher-critic Theodore Roszak was to examine these issues/tautologies in much greater depth over the next few years – in books like The Making of a Counter Culture 1969, and Where the Wasteland Ends (1971) , and over a decade later Stewart Brand would begin to publish The Whole Earth Software Catalog (1984), though he had, presciently, included some coverage of cybernetics and programming in the Whole Earth Catalog and its seasonal supplements (1968-69). Fred Turner’s historical analysis of this period and this topic: From Counterculture to Cyberculture (2006) is recommended. But this poem is the proof that Brautigan danced with the spirit of the age…
John Cage + Alison Knowles: Notations 1969
This fusion of ideas from conceptual art, systems aesthetics, graphic notation, algorithms, music and happenings. The artist/photographer Victor Burgin describes it thus (from Situational Aesthetics in Meyer: Conceptual Art 1972): “This is to say, aesthetic systems are designed, capable of generating objects, rather than individual objects themselves. Two consequences of this work process are: the specific nature of any object formed is largely contingent on the details of the situation for which it is designed; through attention to time, objects formed are intentionally located partly in real exterior space, and partly in psychological, interior space.”
It seems to me that this was a developing sector of extreme interest – it was the latest thinking about art (though harking back to Duchamp), it echoed the FLUXUS preoccupation with what Dick Higgins called the Intermedia Arts – the mixed media, scripted, performance cum ‘happenings’, it echoed the burgeoning arts of ‘Concrete Poetry’, the sound/light fusions of the UFO and Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the stretching of architecture and entertainment of Archigram and Cedric Price’s Phun City, the adventurous prose of New Worlds SF, the introduction of mixed media in the Pop Festival and the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream. It was NOW, and for me it indicated the iterative attempts to find a multi-sensory, multi-media, immersive metamedium akin to Wagner’s vision of the gesamptkunstwerk – the Total Art that was the aim of many modernists… It was hugely exciting. I was just wrapping up a post-graduate year at Hornsey College of Art, filled with visions of audio-visual fusions, and just starting to work with Chris Robbins on ‘Canned London‘ – a box set of multimedia contributions by artists like Christopher Logue and Alan Aldridge (never published alas)…
Martin Sharp: Blowing in the Mind (1967) + Vincent (1968)
The late Martin Sharp needs no endorsement from me – his work is celebrated now even by the ‘straight’ graphic design institutions who ignored him then – but I still want to write an appreciation. His iconic posters and covers for OZ magazine and his album sleeves for Cream (Disraeli Gears, and Wheel of Fire), made him world famous, as well as a focal point of the London underground scene. His artwork is created using a range of techniques – some newish in the 1960s – like flourescent paints and inks, cheap Xerox copies, Letraset and Letratone (rub-off Ben Day tints) – but Sharp’s essential talent was in his draughtsmanship and his drug-fueled imagination. Anyone who had taken acid on a tiny bit of blotting paper around this time could recognise and identify with Sharp’s brilliant mixed-media photo-montage. He was completely unafraid of appropriation and mixed photographs by his friend Robert Whitaker (The Beatles photographer), colour prints of art from the past, ideas from Escher, Muybridge, speech bubbles from comics, word-play and psychedelic colours to create piercingly appropriate image/mandallas of the then present.
In his wikipedia entry, Sharp in quoted on his Disraeli Gears sleeve:
“Some of the ingredients in the cover are made up from Victorian decorative engravings. It was done in black and white first and then painted with fluorescent colors. I tried to capture the warm joyful liveliness of Cream’s songs. I later went on to design the cover for “Wheels Of Fire” for Cream and also for Ginger Baker’s “Airforce”, a band called Mighty Baby…Jeannie Lewis’ “Free Fall Through Featherless Flight” and a few of my own releases of Tiny Tim, “Chameleon”, “Keeping My Troubles To Myself”, and “The World Non-Stop Singing Record.”
see also: Michael Organ: http://sixtiessharp.blogspot.co.uk/
Theodore (Ted) Nelson: Xanadu hypertext project (1967)
Ted Nelson (along with Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, Joseph Licklider etc) is one of the great visionaries of modern computing, and his work on a global hypertext system (Xanadu) punctuated his long career as an enfant terrible critic of much of mainstream computing, including Microsoft, Apple and Tim Berners Lee. Nelson’s double-book Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974) is his sketchbook of ideas and comments, plans and critiques – a dizzying collection of probes and analyses, ideas (hyper comics), covering all aspects of what computers ideally should be (in Douglas Engelbart’s term – computers should augment the human experience). Nelson’s informed criticism and continuous interjections have kept alive something of the original world-changing evangelism of computing and network pioneers (computer lib! – or the ecstasy of communication as Baudrillard called it). Considering that the ideas and topics in Computer Lib/Dream Machines predate the personal computer by a decade or more, and that Xanadu predates the WWW by 3 decades, Nelson’s opinions are a bit old testament now, but his central points are still valid criteria for software/hardware engineers and interface designers working right now.
The Beatles + BBC: All You Need is Love for Our World global TV broadcast 1967
This was for me (and for millions of others) a signature moment of the emerging late 1960s culture – a kind of public, global announcement that pop-music wasn’t anything to do with Tin-Pan Alley or the establishment Music Business any more. It was 5 or 6 minutes of a cultural-pop-history that carried the hippie Peace message writ large as All You Need is Love. And it definitely wasn’t a corny commercial Eurovision Song Contest song either – it was an anthem for us all, compounded of Lennon’s counter-culture opposition to War (specifically the East-West Cold War, the Vietnam War), George’s Hinduism, the band’s position at the heart of all that was cool (and successful) in British culture, Paul’s musical talent and leanings towards the avant garde, John and Ringo’s sardonic Liverpool dry humour.. And it was supported by the aristocracy of British counter culture – the Stones, Donovan, Marianne Faithful – and George Martin’s full orchestra.. It was several minutes of revelatory bliss. It shouted loud – the message of world peace and love; a several minute commercial of Britain’s ascendancy in style, cool, technology, art, – and being the hippest place to be in the whole world. We loved it.
And my generation were lucky enough to have a reprise of this fabulous feeling (amplified by the massive charity donations (£100 million! raised for Ethopia) some 20 years or so later in Bob Geldof’s Live Aid concert (1986). So, at least twice in a lifetime, we were able to harness music creative talent, world-around communications and broadcasting media, and combine them into a message that as Barry Miles put it in 1967 (paraphrased from Plato): When the Mode of the Music Changes, the Walls of the City Shake. We hoped and believed…
John Boorman + Lee Marvin: Point Blank 1967
Raduz Cincera: Kino Automat at Expo67 1967
Joan Hills + Marc Boyle: Liquid Light Shows for UFO Club 1967
Alfred Yarbus: Eye Movements and Vision 1967
This was a significant breakthrough in the science of visual perception – the results of Yarbus’ extensive research and development of eyeball- or gaze-tracking technology that enabled him to discover how we actually see. At last we could dispense with the mechanistic metaphor (current since the 19th century) that the eye is like a camera. (The perceptual psychologist Ralph Haber has called this ‘one of the most potent though misguided metaphors in psychology’ (quoted in Morton Hunt: The Story of Psychology 2009.)
I have suggested elsewhere in Inspiratorium that Yarbus’ discoveries are a retrospective justification for the revolution of Cubism in the early 20th century. And since gaze-tracking has entered the digital age, and has become an essential tool for ergonomists and user-interface designers, we now have sophisticated, low-cost technologies for exploring the phenomenon of saccadic vision.
“All the records … show conclusively that the character of the eye movement is either completely independent of or only very slightly dependent on the material of the picture and how it was made, provided that it is flat or nearly flat.” The cyclical pattern in the examination of pictures “is dependent not only on what is shown on the picture, but also on the problem facing the observer and the information that he hopes to gain from the picture.”
The insights of Yarbus and other perceptual psychologists have become an important aspect of human-computer interface design, where gaze-direction-tracking has become an important control mechanism in technologies like VR, head-up displays, monoscopic head-mounted displays, games interfaces, cockpit-design (etc).
Alfred Yarbus: Eye Movements and Vision 1967
Mike Horsley (ed): Current Trends in Eye Tracking Research 2013.
Bruce Connor: Report 1967
Andre Bazin: What is Cinema? – (vols 1-4) from 1967
John Hoppy Hopkins + Joe Boyd: 14 Hour Technicolor Dream 1967
There were several key players in the London/UK counter culture at this time – and John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins – the photographer, founder of London Free School, co-founder of UFO – and Joe Boyd (folk-rock impresario and manager, organiser of several Blues tours) figure high. Jim Haynes – the Drury Lane Arts Lab organiser, Tom McGrath (International Times editor); Barry Miles… (International Poetry Incarnation; Indica Gallery, and International Times ), and Peter Jenner – record producer and first manager of Pink Floyd (and later the impresario of the Free Hyde Park concerts), Andrew Loog Oldham (early manager of the Rolling Stones, discoverer of Marianne Faithful, and author of the brilliant memoires Stoned, 2Stoned and Rolling Stoned). There were many other characters – artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, writers – including Mick Farren, Richard Neville, Martin Sharp, Felix Dennis, John Dunbar, Donovan, Marianne Faithful, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, (etc etc) – most of whom are documented in Barry Miles: Hippie (2003), London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945 (2010) and his many biographies of avant garde figures like Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Frank Zappa, David Bowie…
Jann Wenner: Rolling Stone magazine from 1967
Rolling Stone had a special place in the emergence of Rock journalism – and the ‘new journalism’ or gonzo journalism championed by Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe – it became for a decade or so an important contribution to the American counter-culture scene.
Don Levy: Herostratus 1967
Josef Svoboda: Diapolykran – The Creation of the World at Expo67 1967
Christopher Chapman: A Place to Stand at Expo67 1967
Chapman’s multi-dynamic-image compositional methodology is still vastly under-explored – especially since now we have all kinds of digital compositing tools (like After Effects) that make this approach to non-linear visual story-telling now relatively easy. Chapman’s production process for his Expo67 tour de force A Place to Stand must have been tortuous – an enormous amount of footage, offline edited and bagged into clips, multi-frame storyboard-timelines to explain how each clip fits sequentially and scales dynamically. Then this pre-post-production material sent off to Hollywood Labs to be optically printed from his negs – the mind boggles. The potential of his idea needs to be tested more thoroughly now that the task of producing multi-dynamic-image sequences is easier. Chapman remains a classic example of a film-maker fully aware of the potential of his medium. He is exploring this radical approach to film-making at least 30 years before the digital tools became available…
Douglas Engelbart: Augment Demo (‘Mother of all Demos’) 1968
This was the demonstration of work-in-progress at Engelbart’s ARPA-funded Augmentation Research Centre (at Stanford) that so impressed Alan Kay, the ultimate inventor and designer of the graphical user interface that still dominates our computer world in the 21st century. Engelbart was inventing the future in 1968 – illustrating with a mainframe computer how a personal computer of the 1980s might work, and what it would be able to do (how it would augment its future users). You get some idea by watching the video of his presentation:
Remember – there were no ‘personal computers’ in 1968. The technologies that Engelbart was demonstrating – the mouse, word-processing, multiple screen windows, electronic mail, video conferencing – would become staples of personal computer usage only some 30 years later!
Harold Cohen: Aaron – artificially intelligent painting machine 1968
Cohen began his art-programming career in 1968 – a period when the mini-mainframe computer was the ‘standard’ – machines like the mini-VAX, and the Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP-8 introduced in 1965 was the first ‘mini’. These machines had the processing power of an early PC. Cohen was working on a Control Data Corporation CDC 6600, in FORTRAN (formula-translation) a language invented a decade earlier in 1956, that is a multi-paradigm, procedural, object-oriented – not an ‘easy’ language to learn. And within a decade or so, Cohen has written AARON – his ‘companion in creativity’ – an artificially-intelligent machine that can make it’s own art. Note that the image above is NOT of a computer printing out a pre-formulated image (as you would print a digital photograph). AARON is creating the art it is printing as it is printing.
Udo Kasemets: Two Worlds of Music – macroworld and microworld – large and small – triangle – a manifesto on graphic music notation 1968
Artists of the avant garde, especially, but not exclusively, those connected to the FLUXUS art collective, were among the earliest in this period to become aware of the relevance of Wagner and the Gesamptkunstwerk (total work of art) to the multimedia /intermedia/ mixed media aspirations of many artists during this period while we were absorbing the lessons of Marshall McLuhan, The First International Poetry Incarnation, Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Hopkins’ and Boyd’s Underground Freak Out, the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream – and the Happenings of Kaprow and Hansen (and the indications of Total Art in Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity.
Frank Malina: Leonardo – the journal of arts, sciences and technology 1968
Pontus Hultén + MOMA: The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age 1968
Three major exhibitions celebrate the machine during this period: The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age, Jascia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity (1968) and Jack Burnham’s Software (1971) all cataloging the end of the mechanical age and the beginning of the computer (digital) age. As I mention (above) its the metal-bound catalogue of this show at MOMA that is a much-coveted trophy of the period. The Machine at the End of the Mechanical Age included pre-20th century work and also contemporary artists like the Swiss Jean Tinguely and the American Billy Kluver with his Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) colleagues – like Robert Rauschenberg, Ken Knowlton, and video-art pioneer Nam June Paik. The catalogue also includes recent ‘new media’ experiments and art installations like Ken Knowlton’s Studies in Perception (1968), and Lillian Schwartz and Per Bjorn’s Proxima Centuri (1968)…
Chuck Close: self-portraits 1968-1978
In his 2016 television series Renaissance Unchained, Waldemar Januszczak points to the work of the so called ‘Northern primitives’ – artists who worked in Northern Europe in the 13th – 14th centuries – and comments that the new realism attained by artists like Jan van Eyck and Vermeer had a new aesthetic of beauty that transcended that of the Italian artists. He hints that some of this is due to the adoption of oil paints (rather than the softer egg-tempera), and the invention and adoption of eye-glasses (spectacles) at this time, and points to the use of convex mirrors in paintings like the Arnolfini Portrait ( Jan van Eyck 1434) as visual aids to this kind of sharp, focused realism. David Hockney in his illustrated artist’s-inquiry into what he calls Secret Knowledge (Hockney 2001), points to the wide use of optical aids – like the convex mirror, and later the camera lucida – in painting as a factor in the development of highly realistic painting styles. Close and Goings and the photo-realists continue this tradition in the 20th century.
Nigel Kneale (writer) + Michael Elliot: The Year of the Sex Olympics 1968
As I mention above, this was a real revelation to someone doing a post-grad year at the Hornsey Light/Sound Workshop, and fascinated with the potential of audio-visual and motion-picture media. The dominant media in any era seem to pass largely undetected by critical observers – (as McLuhan said – its the artists who appear always to be ahead of their time – and it takes longer for a critical response). And here we have two artists – Nigel Kneale and Michael Elliot – creating a show that is a remarkably prescient vision of where we are now – some 40 or so years later. There wasn’t another TV show like this until Orson Welles exploration of the potential of VR in F for Fake (1972) and John McGrath explored television chromakeying techniques in his delightful Adventures of Frank (1980).
Nick Roeg + Donald Cammell: Performance 1968 (released 1970)
This was the period when the movie business changed – ‘when the hippies took over Hollywood’ (as Peter Biskind noted in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls 1998). In the space of 5 years or so (1967-1972): “Before anyone realised it, there was a movement – dubbed the ‘New Hollywood’ in the press – led by a new generation of directors.” The game-changing films included Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection – and Roeg+Cammell’s Performance, Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, (and many more conveniently listed by Biskind). Some of these films had a kind of documentary reality – a reportage on the counter culture, and Performance, Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy stand out in this respect – glimpses of the kind of scene celebrated at the UFO club, Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable music/light-shows, and the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream. As Joshua Klein has it in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (2004): “By the time the story plays out, nothing (and no one) we’ve seen is necessarily what we thought it was. Cammell’s script and Roeg’s camera keep everything off-kilter, not just through skewed drug logic, but also through overtly and intentionally confusing editing, punctuated with startling bursts of violence. Frequent drug-fueled hallucinations drive Performance towards its mind-bending conclusion, when art and identity intersect and the line between fantasy and reality finally blurs into oblivion.”
Jasia Reichardt: Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at ICA, London 1968
Pask is the prototypical new media artist for the 21st century. His talents embraced pure science and philosophy (Conversation Theory 1975); multimedia/synaesthesia machines (Musicolour 1953); idea-processing (Thought-Sticker 1976), large-scale interactive, cybernated installations (Colloquy of Mobiles 1968), and much, much more. Pask was one of the second-generation cyberneticists (with Stafford Beer, Heinz von Foerster, Jack Burnham, Ludwig von Bertalanffy etc), but was unique in that he produced artworks, machines and installations that embodied the very principles of feedback and cybernetics that were the subject of his theoretical investigations.
The hypertext and hypermedia pioneer Ted Nelson – one of the core architects of modern computing and hypermedia – has this to say of Gordon Pask:
“In a field of brilliant eccentrics, Pask has no difficulty standing out… Pask is one of the Artificial Intelligencers who is working on teaching by computer, about which more will be said; but the original core of his interest is perhaps the process of conceptualisation and abstraction. Pask has done a great deal on the mathematics of self-contemplating systems, that is, symbolic representations of what it means for a creature (or entity omega) to look at things, see that they are alike, and divine abstract conceptions of them…”
(Nelson: Dream Machines 1974)
Gordon Pask + Susan Curran: Microman – Computers and the Evolution of Consciousness 1982
Ted Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machines 1974
For a good historical summary and future-projection of cybernetics see:
Kevin Kelly: Out of Control – The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World 1994
Jack Burnham: Systems Esthetics 1968 + Software (exhibition 1970-71)
Wolf Vostell: Electronic De/Collage 1968
Stanley Kubrick: 2001 – A Space Odyssey 1968
Doug Trumbull: Star-Gate Sequence from Stanley Kubrick: 2001 – A Space Odyssey 1968
George Dunning + The Beatles: Yellow Submarine 1968
Stewart Brand: Whole Earth Catalog 1968-1973
As I suggested above, the Whole Earth Catalog was really my generation’s social media and world-wide web. That it came from a similar altruistic perspective to that which underpinned the Internet and the Web is explained in Fred Turner’s excellent From Counter culture to Cyber culture – Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (2006). The Catalog was the catalogue of ideas, of products, of books, of people – that brought us all together. It kick-started environmentalism as a counter-culture concern (Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were formed in the next few years), and as Fred Turner explains, it was the organ of techno-optimism – the first pages were devoted to Buckminster Fuller. It was one of the first of the underground publications that promised real world-change. And as Turner points out – it was commercially successful too – “Over the next three years, the Whole Earth Catalog and the Supplement grew exponentially, and so did their audience. Before they announced that they would cease publication with The Last Whole Earth Catalog of 1971, Stewart, Lois and a growing staff produced six different semiannual editions of the Catalog, of which some 2.5 million copies were ultimately sold.” (Turner pp81)
The Whole Earth Catalog was a brilliant world-changing invention. It’s purpose was described by Brand: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.”
The idea of the catalog stemmed from Brand’s experience with his Whole Earth Truck Store – Brand (then 29 years old) and Lois, his wife, had bought a truck, packed it with useful resources (books, tools, etc), and set off to tour the USA, setting up his stall in the truck at festivals, educational fairs, town centres – evangelising the potential of self (re)-education with the ideal of promoting an ecological and environmental awareness of our world. You could get lost in this large book/catalogue – a real mail-order catalogue (an alternative-lifestyle version of Sears Roebuck‘s famous catalogue) – it had loads of reviews, suggestions, critiques, excerpts, AND (in The Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1973), it had special fiction serialised episodes of Divine Right’s Trip: A Novel of the Counterculture by Gurney Norman. It was an absorbing, browsable, intellectually and viscerally exciting compendium of an alternative lifestyle. It did for us in the late 1960s what the World-Wide Web did for many in the mid 1990s – it became an important alternative guide to information – often information on things that then lay outside the canons of formal education. It was exciting, absorbing – it was a WWW on paper. And it was very important. The idea of the counter-culture (Theodore Roszak’s early 1970s neologism ) had coalesced beyond Altamont, beyond Haight-Ashbury, beyond Manson, into a blend of spiritual-techno-optimism that was inspiring. And it was Brand’s keynote innovation.
Ludwig von Bertalanffy: General System Theory 1968
Alan Kay: Dynabook concept + SmallTalk object-oriented programming language 1968-73
Alan Kay’s : The Early History of Smalltalk (1993) is a breath-takingly inspirational article chronicling his development of Smalltalk and the Dynabook personal computing concept. It is one of just a few fundamentally core documents in modern computing, and in the development of the globally networked, computer-mediated environment we now inhabit and enjoy. It follows a string of core breakthroughs, including Vannevar Bush: As We May Think (1945); Joseph Licklider: Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960); Licklider: Online Man-Computer Communication (1962); Ivan Sutherland: The Sketchpad (1963); Douglas Engelbart: oNLineSytem (NLS, 1968); Ted Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974), and Tim Berners Lee: World Wide Web Proposal (1989). Here’s the abstract:
“Most ideas come from previous ideas. The sixties, particularly in the ARPA community, gave rise to a host of notions about “human-computer symbiosis” through interactive time-shared computers, graphics screens and pointing devices. Advanced computer languages were invented to simulate complex systems such as oil refineries and semi-intelligent behavior. The soon-to-follow paradigm shift of modern personal computing, overlapping window interfaces, and object-oriented design came from seeing the work of the sixties as something more than a “better old thing.” This is, more than a better way: to do mainframe computing; for end-users to invoke functionality; to make data structures more abstract. Instead the promise of exponential growth in computing/$/volume demanded that the sixties be regarded as “almost a new thing” and to find out what the actual “new things” might be. For example, one would compute with a handheld “Dynabook” in a way that would not be possible on a shared mainframe; millions of potential users meant that the user interface would have to become a learning environment along the lines of Montessori and Bruner; and needs for large scope, reduction in complexity, and end-user literacy would require that data and control structures be done away with in favor of a more biological scheme of protected universal cells interacting only through messages that could mimic any desired behavior.
Early Smalltalk was the first complete realization of these new points of view as parented by its many predecessors in hardware, language and user interface design. It became the exemplar of the new computing, in part, because we were actually trying for a qualitative shift in belief structures—a new Kuhnian paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the printing press—and thus took highly extreme positions which almost forced these new styles to be invented.”
Alan Kay : Abstract from The Early History of Smalltalk (1993) downloaded from http://worrydream.com/EarlyHistoryOfSmalltalk/#p17
Richard Neville (ed) + Martin Sharp (art) + Felix Dennis (pub): OZ Magazine 1963-1969
It’s hard to over-estimate the impact of the so-called ‘underground’ press during the last few years of the Sixties. As I’ve pointed out, these newspapers, comics and magazines were a core component of the social media of the times – they were badges of membership or affiliation to the counter-culture just as much as the pop festivals like Woodstock and the Isle of Wight, or earlier in the decade the Aldermaston Marches and Beaulieu Jazz Festivals were. The low-cost production and publishing technologies, the launch of new counter-culture presses (like Dick Higgin’s Something Else Press and the Too Fucking Much Press), meant that radical ideas, images and news were rapidly disseminated outside of mainstream ‘broadcast’ culture. And bootleg (pirated) LP records and films were just beginning to appear (Bob Dylan: Great White Wonder was released in July 1969) – the counter culture was developing its own media channels…
Ronnie + Ray Foulk: Isle of Wight Festivals 1969-1970
Pop Festivals were a post-World War 2 phenomenon, begun in the 1950s with the Newport (Rhode Island) Jazz Festival (1954). In Britain this was reiterated by Lord Montague in the Beaulieu Jazz Festival – famous for its bohemianisms and mock-altercations between trad ravers, rockers and teds. So when the Foulks began to plan their own ‘South Coast Bank Holiday Pop Festivity’ these were the main models. Pop Festivals were as yet largely ‘monomedia’ events – obviously focusing upon music performance. What we tried to do at the 1969 Dylan festival was to introduce poetry, folk-music, art-events (Graham Stevens and his pneumatic art installations – the first inflatables as art pieces – and the foam happenings so seized upon by International mass media (The Paris Match did a major spread and full-colour cover of these mountains of semi-nude teenagers covered in soap-foam). Of course the Dylan festival (like other festivals to come) rapidly acquired its own character and its emergent art forms – Desolation Row (- an avenue of tents, teepees, camps, huts and other makeshift dwellings) was the main home-grown ‘installation’ that became a photogenic representation of Dylan’s famous song – and much shorter-lived, the foam-human be-in was as spontaneous and as fun as a party dance.
See: Ray Foulk: Stealing Dylan from Woodstock 2015
John Cage + Lejaren Hiller: HPSCHD 1969
John Cage was central to the American counter culture – from age 18 he had been experimenting with using mathematical formulae, procedural or algorithmic composition, chance (dice rolling) and other strategies for innovation that later became associated with the avant garde in America. At 16 he was introduced to the work of Marcel Duchamp – and Duchamp’s interest in these mechanisms of creativity must have chimed directly with Cage. Cage was also genetically/culturally an inventor (like his father) ; and Arnold Schoenberg – who taught Cage between 1933-1936 – recognised this. Invention also accounts for his interest in improvised and ‘prepared’ instruments. Cage’s interest in multimedia , immersive performance (like HPSCHD) emerged from his engagement with dance and dance-theatre. All these influences can be detected in HPSCHD, but especially interesting, given the period, are Cage’s interest in algorithmic methods. In the late 1960s, computer-generated art, poetry and music were being aired for the first time in exhibitions like Jasia Reichardt’s Cybernetic Serendipity’ (at the ICA, London 1968), and Jack Burnham’s ‘Software’ at the Jewish Museum in Brooklyn (1970-71).
Wikiwand has this to say about HPSCHD: “HPSCHD received its premiere performance before an audience of 6000 on May 16, 1969, at the Assembly Hall of Urbana Campus, University of Illinois. Conceived as a highly immersive multimedia experience, the performance featured David Tudor, Antoinette Vischer, William Brooks, Ronald Peters, Yūji Takahashi, Neely Bruce and Philip Corner playing harpsichords whose sounds were captured and amplified; 208 tapes with computer-generated sounds played through 52 monaural tape players; and an array of movie and slide projectors used to project 6400 slides and 40 movies onto rectangular screens and a 340-foot circular screen. Many of these images, selected by Ron Nameth and Calvin Sumsion, were borrowed from NASA (the premiere took place just a month prior to the first manned landing on the Moon). The performance, which lasted for about 5 hours, was not intended as a static, unidirectional event, but rather as a hypnotic environment where the audience was encouraged to “move in and out of the building, around the Hall, and through the performing area.” During the premiere an image of Beethoven wearing a University of Illinois jersey with Cage’s face on it was silkscreened onto paper tunics distributed to members of the audience (and onto audience members’ garments, including t-shirts, once the supply of tunics ran out). Three large silkscreened posters were created for the event, two of which featured images chosen by chance operations similar to those used in the composition of the music. Some copies were sold to support the event, each for a different price established using an I Ching chart.” (http://www.wikiwand.com/en/HPSCHD)
Alan Aldridge: Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969
Chris Robbins and I commissioned a poster from Aldridge for our Canned London project at this time (it was a sardine-style tin-box containing a multimedia snap-shot of what was happening culturally in the exciting and diverse London of the late 1960s). I loved the Beatles Illustrated Lyrics, and admired the way that Aldridge integrated clever ideas into his iconically-punchy images. But the book was really useful in that it catalogued a wide range of happening illustrators – alerting me to artists like Tony Meeuwisson, Victor Moscoso, Philippe Mora, Tadanori Yokoo, Peter Max, Rick Griffin; and including old favorites like Eduardo Paolozzi, David Hockney, Allen Jones, Ronald Searle, David Bailey and Ralph Steadman. However I must draw attention to the fabulous Victor Moscoso:
Victor Moscoso: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da from Aldridge: Beatles Illustrated Lyrics 1969.
see also Alan Aldridge: The Man With Kaliedoscope Eyes 2009
Andries van Dam + Ted Nelson: Hypertext Editing System (HES) 1969
The pioneering team at Brown University (Rhode Island, USA) demonstrate hypertext for the first time in 1969. It is a combination of the visionary ideas of Nelson and the computer-engineering of van Dam, and it points the way to a future still some 20 years away. In his 1999 book Weaving the Web, Tim Berners Lee, explains how he discovered Nelson’s book Literary Machines in 1988 – and though there is no direct link between the WWW and Nelson’s Xanadu idea, Lee still built hypertext into the WWW – the acronym http (hypertext transfer protocol) is part of the WWW format. So innovation comes in fits and starts, and is often paralleled by different inventors unbeknown to each other. It seems to me that WWW took off because it was given away free to the world by Berners Lee, while Nelson’s Xanadu didn’t succeed because it was based on a private enterprise model (Nelson imagined Xanadu information franchises in every town, a bit like the ubiquitous MacDonalds’ burger-joints.).
Whatever the results, Ted Nelson and Andries van Dam’s working prototype, in parallel with the work of Douglas Engelbart, demonstrated in the previous autumn, established the important idea (derived from Vannevar Bush in 1945), that electronically linked documentation or hypertext was the best way to navigate the exploding information spaces of the late 20th century.
see: Ted Nelson: Literary Machines 1980
Ted Nelson: Computer Lib/Dream Machines 1974
Tim Berners Lee: Weaving the Web 1999
Douglas Engelbart: Augment demo 1968
Alan Kay: Dynabook and Smalltalk 1968
Bill Atkinson: Hypercard 1987
Theodor Roszak: The Making of a Counter Culture (1969) + Where the Wasteland Ends (1972)
The insightful Roszak coins the term ‘counter culture’ and provides the spiritual, historical, sociological and cultural context for the extraordinary emergence of an alternative vision for society in the late 1960s. He looks to the Romantics in the early 19th century, to the prophetic work of William Blake: “If I had to summarise the purpose of this book (Where the Wasteland Ends) in a sentence, I might call it an effort to work out the political meaning of William Blake’s prophetic poems – especially Vala, Milton and Jerusalem…”
Before Roszak, we had talked of the ‘underground’, and thought of the hippie phenomenon as a protest against all the evils of a military Industrial complex (the term invented by Dwight Eisenhower to describe the unholy alliance of modern weapons and nuclear industries and the US military with its massive Cold War budgets), and the regional wars that were hot-spots in this Cold War (Korea and Vietnam being the most disastrous). In the late 1960s there was a dawning awareness of massive environmental problems to come, of the injustice of apartheid and racialism, of the subjugation of women, of the bland conformity of capitalist society, of the stranglehold of conformity epitomised by McCarthyism). Roszak sings the song of spiritual renewal (not just religious renewal, though this quest sparked the exploration of the occult, of Buddhism (especially Zen), Hinduism, Islamism (especially Sufism), of Shamanic cultures, of radical psycho-therapies), and he sings it well – exploring the territory between the techno-optimism that marked the period, and the drop-out, back-to-nature, anti-scientific ethos that permeated aspects of the new wave. Of course, he cleverly balances his arguments, pecking away at the vision of a balance of science informed by a grander vision of human cultural evolution informed by self-realisation and transcendence. We face the same issues still today, with the increasing threats and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, of artificial life and genetic modification – as Stewart Brand said in his important Whole Earth Catalog (1968) -‘We are as Gods and might as well get good at it’ – and to Roszak and many others this means that we must temper scientific ‘progress’ with a concern for the whole human being – the material and the spiritual potential and well-being of mankind. It’s a grand attempt that Roszak makes in these two books – they are both just as relevant right now, in the 21st Century.
In the notes to Where the Wasteland Ends, Roszak reveals his dark humour: “Page 69 – The quotations from Alvin Toffler are from his introduction to Kurt Bair and Nicholas Roscher, eds, Values and the Future, New York, Free Press 1969. The anthology is a good introduction to the Futures industry, complete with zany questionnaires and computer games. In his Future Shock, Toffler tries to suggest that he is opposed to technocratic politics. But that is a contradiction in terms. The precise, canonical definition of a technocrat is: anyone who thinks like Alvin Toffler.”
see also: Theodore Roszak: From Satori to Silicon Valley
Nick Roeg + Donald Cammell: Performance 1968 (released 1970)
Peter Cook + Archigram: Instant City 1969
I was lucky enough to work with Dennis Crompton and Peter Cook of Archigram at MOMA, Oxford in 1969, on an exhibition of audio-visual experiments by post-grads and staff working at the Hornsey College of Art Light Sound Workshop. Archigram were inspirational to my generation of students fascinated by the possibilities of what Dick Higgins later called intermedia. Archigram and Fluxus – and Architectural Design magazine, and Moorcock’s New Worlds – and Buckminster Fuller, and Eduardo Paolozzi – the writings of Reyner Banham, Marshall McLuhan, Jack Burnham, the precision of Bridget Riley – these were the kind of artists we liked. Archigram were fun too – and like Cedric Price’s Phun City, this was a welcome attribute in art in the late Sixties. The only image I have of our MOMA show is this one sent to me by Tony Rickaby (who along with John Bowstead, Gary Crossley and I also collaborated on this show, which was featured on BBC TV Horizon.
Tony Rickaby: slide from Light/Sound Workshop exhibition at MOMA Oxford, 1969
Review of Light/Sound Workshop exhibition at MOMA Oxford, 1969
Peter Cook: Archigram 1999
Simon Sadler: Archigram – Architecture Without Architecture 2005
Dennis Crompton: Concerning Archigram 1999
Ted Codd: Relational Database 1969
Neil Armstrong: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon 1969
This photograph, together with the early ‘whole Earth’ images of 1967, was transformative. Here we have possibly the ultimate expression in human terms of where we were at in scientific exploration, space and media technology, and what Tom Wolfe described as the Right Stuff of human aspiration, courage and ability. Here’s this snap-shot of the second man on the Moon, standing on a crumbly alien surface already showing the footprints of this ‘giant leap for Mankind’ – and it’s brilliantly composed (framed in the 2.25″ square space-proof Hasselblad viewfinder) – in sharp, atmosphere-free space, lit by direct sunlight. In a period marked by iconic images of man’s failures – starvation in Biafra, massacres at My Lai, the mass murders of Charles Manson – at last we had an iconic image of our success.
Tom Wolfe: The Right Stuff 1979
Ron Howard (dir): Apollo 13 1995
Dennis Hopper (director) + Peter Fonda (producer): Easy Rider 1969
David Hillman (art director): Nova magazine 1969-1975
Marvin Minsky + Seymour Papert: Perceptrons: an introduction to computational geometry 1969
Minsky and Papert were both scholarly stars and innovators in their respective fields – Papert in Math and Education, Minsky in Artificial Intelligence – at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology from the early 1960s. Papert had studied with Piaget, became a computer scientist, and developed the child-friendly programming language Logo, as well as working with Minsky on AI issues. Minsky was a cognitive scientist specialising in AI – as early as 1951 he had created the SNARC – the first randomly-wired neural network learning machine, and wrote his Society of Mind (1986) – his theory that intelligence would emerge from the association and interaction of sufficient number of non-intelligent parts or agents – in other words a society of mind. Perceptrons had a major impact in the 1970s, and became a foundational text in the developing field of artificial neural networks and machine-learning.
see Seymour Papert: Mindstorms – Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas 1980
Marvin Minsky: The Society of Mind 1986
Brian Aldiss: Supertoys Last All Summer Long 1969
Serious work on designing robotic systems that mimicked and evoked empathy with human beings began in the late 1990s at MIT – specifically with the work of Cynthea Brazeal and Rodney Brooks. The design of realistic synthetic skin and humaniform robots (or ‘cyborgs’) progressed throughout the two decades of the 21st century. Of course, we have not yet developed ‘self-conscious’ machines… And here Aldiss imagines a relationship between humans and cyborgs somewhat akin to the relationship between slave-owners and slaves in the 18th century. And he goes beyond this to consider the un-appealing ethics of creating life that is potentially endlessly self-repairing and that can therefor live forever – become immortal. Steven Speilberg takes on Kubrick’s last project and in 2001 – only a couple of years after Kubrick’s death – produces an homage that was a box office and mixed critical success , grossing over $236 million.
Gene Youngblood: Expanded Cinema 1970
In the light of 21st century media developments (you know what they are), Youngblood’s 1970 book reveals its lasting importance. It was a blast for us multimedia geeks at the time – the first proper art-critical-historical work that I had come across that recognised this most interesting fusion of art-technology-cinematic – digital media that I was just glimpsing through student work at Portsmouth and Hornsey. In 1967, I’d collaborated on a fringe degree show entitled Krystal Klear in Warp Drive, with Gary Crossley, John Czaky and Bob Blagdon – it was a multi-screen installation with 4-track stereo, timed carousel slide projections, 8mm film – a very loud sound-track mixed from the Ronette’s Walking in the Rain with sound effects of NASA Saturn 5 Rocket launches and other stuff – we aimed for a sensory bombardment that matched our enthusiasm for this new mix of media. I went on for a post-graduate year at the Light/Sound Workshop at Hornsey College of Art (1968-69) where we were experimenting with just the fusion of audio-visual media that Youngblood was investigating in Expanded Cinema.
Youngblood surveyed developments that created this territory, and impacted upon the range if motion-image arts and tools that were just newly appearing (or being freshly examined) – computer graphics and animation, multi-screen projections, analog and digital computing, performance art, computer-generated sound and poetry, music-art synaesthesia. This was a new language that talked the talk of the zeitgeist. We were hooked.