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"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical.  It is the sower of all true art and science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger is as good as dead."

Albert Einstein

In 1972 Phil Gietzen wrote in Video City:  (Adobe Acrobat file)

"[Don] Hallock and William [Bill] Roarty joined together at the National Center to create Untitled which is undoubtedly a work of great historical magnitude and intense personal experience. This time painting takes place in the multidimensional videosphere where there are as yet no charts for navigation or stars to steer by." 

Well, that's rather overblown perhaps.  We really didn't know what we were doing.  In any case, here's a bit of reflective documentation from the artists:

First Bill: (the following text is an excerpt from Bill Roarty's Master of Arts thesis, and is his description of the making of Untitled)

This work was begun and finished during an intensive weekend in May of 1972. "Passage" had been completed several weeks before and "Irving Bridge" by William Gwin had also recently been recorded. "Irving Bridge" also used naturally occurring visual phenomenon gatheed as porta-pak material and mixed in a compositional manner.

Don Hallock and I had agreed for some time to work together and share the compositional surface. We prepared for this event by discussing Various porta-pak sites and other visual phenomenon which recently occurred to us and seemed relevant to our work. We also shared our recently made tapes, I showed him "Passage" which incidentally was a pemiere showing as it was so newly made, as well as sound work I had completed in conjunction with "Passage" but had not used. Don showed his recent tapes and work involving the construction and use of a seies of mirror tubes shaped as three to ten sided geometric forms. These mirrored geometric tubes when introduced by camera into a video-feedback loop, produced astounding, very detailed and complex vaiations of the then conventionally known feed-back patterns. Don's work in this fashion, co-operatively mixed, formed the basis of the second section of what was to become our finished work.

We began the work by finally agreeing on a site I had recently found while without a camera. This site was at Point Lobos, to the right of the ruins of the Bathhouse, in a tunnel. Within this tunnel were vaious openings to the sea. One of these openings was shaped as a rough vertical oval. Because the tunnel was dark, the white of the waves, which was brilliant in contrast, engulfed this hole with suffusing waves of light, defining its shape. As an added bonus, this mysterious hole to the sea had a fascinating sound track. When a wave crashed, because of the reverberating nature of a tunnel, the sound boomed. What we recorded was not nearly what we heard, our equipment was far too unresponsive for that incredible boom. As the wave left it rolled over hundreds of thousands of similarly shaped rounded pebbles which were knocked together and about in gravelly unison,...a chorus again rever berating in the tunnel. Because this particular opening was some distance from the tide line, these wave events reached the opening at intervals which allowed plenty of time for the pebbly sound to "fade out" just as the picture would also "fade-out" to black. This created a series of defined, complete events which varied in occurrence and in other subtle ways.' The point of describing this particular site in some detail is to illustrate how I approached gathering porta-pak material and searched for those occurring forms in relation to my sense of composition at this time.

Most of Saturday morning involved testing for camera placement, lens selection, and microphone placement. After this we recorded a representative sampling of this phenomenon. As we left the tunnel and were prepaing to leave, as an afterthought, we placed the camera down on
the rocks very near the crashing edge of the high tide. Using a 10-1 Angienux Zoom lens had the effect of flattening the ocean which filled the foreground of the image. This resulted in a slowed sensuous alteration of the apparent rhythm and interval of the oncoming waves. Framed at the top of this image was a small island silhouetted against the sky. Again because of the lens effect this island appeared much farther away than it actually was (miles not yards). A distance of
surreal proportions emerged with a magical, mysterious and special character. The oncoming waves, because of our proximity literally crashed at our feet and the bottom frame of the image and lens. We became wet ourselves in the process and soon left.

Taking these images back to the studio, we reviewed them on larger monitors and very quickly recognized the magical dreamlike quality inherent in the altered rhythm and interval of the ocean in the island sequence. Initially we attempted to mix this single image using three cameras. This image, however, was insistently singular and we soon decided to use one camera. We framed this camera exactly as we had framed the original porta-pak image. By concentrating on this single image, we found a large number of image variations and the Mixer was patched to retain these variations for use in the final mix. Also developing at this point was a beginning notion as to the sequence of the variations. We also chose a specific and repeatable 14 minute section from the porta-pak image-bank we had collected.

I then introduced a sound piece while making"Passage". Although based on the rhythm and interval of the ocean, I had departed considerably from this base. Essentially this piece was a deeply
layered textural weave within which several threads of texture emerged, especially a deep booming dramatic line which in time became an insistent ragged crescendo. Inherent to this piece of sound was a high rate of coincidence with the visual image which heightened our sense of its appropriateness. Yet this aural textural base, when filtered allowed us to choose, selecting among its layers as we simultaneously developed the processed visual sequence. We thought of this as "painting in time".

After a time we stopped working with the island sequence and began working obliquely to develop patterns of random visual 'snow' (a sound synthesizer analogy would be white or random noise). By mixing this seeming chaos of form, we found several fascinating variations, particularly when altering focus. This resulted in large, very rapidly moving, ragged, but similarly shaped patterns of multicolored form which filled the monitors surface area. Using three cameras, we were able to layer several of these patterns. Although complex, their basic shapes and pulsing were so similar as to produce the illusion of one stable fabric or whole pattern. Additionally these shapes flashed so rapidly as to produce an after-image which enhanced the layering.

When the 'island' was slowly cross-dissolved into this 'keyed snow', a quite incredible moment occurred as the snow appeared to literally form the island just as the ocean gradually became visible, cascading to the foreground. I then introduced another sound piece I had made. This piece began as a simple, softly moving melodic line which later became gradually insistent, almost irritating, as the increasingly rasping droning notes were held.

As the snow was cross-dissolved out of the island image, we also cross-dissolved the sound of the crescendo of the first piece to the melodic of the second piece. This transformed the ocean (which had assumed or reflected the character of the crescendo) to reveal the dreamlike, sensual alteration of slowly moving rhythm and interval. As the sound began to become insistent, we developed or 'painted' a visual sequence which followed the sound and become equally cold and distant.

This very simple yet very dramatic act of cross-dissolving between essentially two sources (or images) developed into a very complex set of repeatable, sequentially ordered movements in direct relationship to the image being formed. During this process of painting in time, we maintained a crafted consistency in transition.

We sat at the Mixer side by side, as the patch/logic/weave was so complex as to require 4 hands to simultaneously perform the mix. The mixer was notated as each variable was marked. We constructed a script of these using a stop-watch. Our movements in this sense were scored, our response was directly to the occurring visual mix. It seemed a duet/performance/composition. This work was truly a shared canvas.

As we rehearsed this 12 minute sequence, we refined it, continually, as a potter turns a pot, smoothing and finishing this work while maintaining a consistency in the apparent drama of the unfolding process of this mix. After a number of false starts, we recorded this sequence as a "Master" with sound at about 2 in the early morning, Sunday. The just described process beginning with the porta-pak trip took 17 hours. This sequence formed the first 12 minute part of what is the 22 minute 3 part, video composition, "Untitled".

We then continued through the night into the next day fashioning the other 2 sections and completed the work. Only the first section of this piece is described in this thesis as it most directly relates to my work as a continuation of "Earth Poem". The full 22 minute version of "Untitled" is provided among the video sampling of my work for your enjoyment.

Bill Roarty, ©1977

Don: (this text is a retrospective interpretation of Untitled)

was the first piece made by Bill Roarty and myself.  It happened!  I say ‘happened’ because we were simply hanging around the studio together one afternoon and did not intend to make anything.  We were simply trotting out and sharing with each other various tapes, video devices and sound recordings we’d previously made.  But somehow a creative momentum took over and someone turned on a recording machine.  After almost absent-mindedly trying this and that, the momentum took over, and three distinct segments emerged.  Through some sheer act of unreasoned intuition we decided to splice them together into one.  Why?  We couldn’t really have said - we just liked them, felt that, assembled, they formed a ‘completeness,’ and simply needed to be put together into one work.

We didn’t know what it was we had done, and so we couldn’t think of a title for it.  We then showed the piece to most of the rest of the NCET staff, and though they couldn’t offer reasons either, they felt very enthusiastic about it.  They saw it as forming an important part of the NCET repertoire, but couldn’t explain why, and couldn’t suggest a title either, so the piece became known simply as Untitled and stayed “untitled.”  It has remained a virtual enigma since the 1970s.  (I have since learned that Bill Roarty did his master’s thesis on the making of Untitled.  I look forward to seeing his insights and his unique version of the story,)

But now, over thirty years later, I have finally derived some insights of my own about what we might have done.  The idea came to me as a meditative flash, and I feel reasonably sure that in our purely intuitive meandering we were relating, in our own terms, a genuinely existential parable in video.  I believe the encoded story relates, in metaphysical terms, the universal human life experience, and it unfolds thus:  Part one of Untitled begins before birth with the video color-bar test pattern, very possibly representing the primordial primary colors, all of which, in combination, comprise the pure white light from which we have all supposedly emerged.  (Black and white are included here as well, which might be thought of as representing the Yin and Yang polarities of existence.)

Part one continues, still pre-birth, with the gradual deterioration of pure light into chaos (in electronics terms, ‘white noise’).

Metaphysically, chaos is the field in which personal karma is thought to begin taking shape

The island, emerging from chaos, would roughly approximate conception and the passage of birth, wherein the soul enters into the material body.  And it is here that the groundwork is first laid for the illusion of individual separateness.  This misconception (of separateness, and the consequent alienation from authentic Self, nature and divinity) is further reinforced by societal training, and spawns the ego, which gives rise to all manner of self description (mostly self-serving and misleading) by which we proceed through life to try to construct an ‘identity.’

Though our philosophers, scientists and artists have repeatedly reminded us that ‘no man is, in fact, an  island,’ (the entire cosmos - including ourselves - being one infinitely vast phenomenon) our egos have us behaving as though the opposite were the truth.  As we go on in these pursuits we are drawn ever further into misery, greed, animosity, and other bizarre dissociations and discolorations of life.  And if the change brought about by illumination does not occur, life becomes darker and ever more foreboding.


Part two of Untitled tells concisely of the major span of life in which we may, at various times, yearn to know the ‘meaning behind it all.’  We puzzle on life’s complexities and baffling interaction of patterns. 

Here we are shown a video representation of that incredibly complex and ever evolving patterning (unfortunately less unimpressive in still imagery, but in motion reminiscent of that which makes up the phenomenal substrate of existence).  Here the ego fails us, though, because these phenomena are simply too complex to be comprehended or explained by the shallowness of the reasoning mind.  They must be accepted at far deeper levels - those we might call ‘mystic,’ or ‘intuitive.’


Part three - more concise yet - simply portrays the 'doorway out,' and light at the end of the tunnel we reportedly traverse at death.  In Untitled, the door at the far end is partly composed of white noise (chaos again).  Buddhism cautions that we may, in that passage, be distracted in the experience of chaos, thereby falling short of the pure light, and into the karmic trap of another incarnation.


If these ideas sound like the insane ramblings of a deluded mystic, read no farther.  Any particular meaning is sensible only to those who are ready to entertain its possibility.  And perhaps they are deranged thoughts....but for me they supply the only likely explanation of what the entrained intuitions of Bill Roarty and I coughed up way back in the 1970s.

While we're at it, let me hazard this guess:  Given that Bill and I lived and worked in San Francisco in the 1970s, and that we were both deeply concerned with issues of depth psychology and the spirit (I understand that Bill still ponders the mysteries of the cave paintings at Lascaux), it is conceivable that in the heat of creating, the collective unconscious broke the surface of our poor human minds and made itself felt.  Bill and I had many long talks in those days about the human condition, and its relevance to the 'cosmic.'  It is possible, then, that Untitled is really only a natural germination in a fertile corner of the garden of consciousness.

I have one more set of thoughts to add to those I’ve so far advanced.  Assuming my theorizing to be correct, I'm more than ever struck by the apparent subtle ingenuity and sophistication of the unconscious mind.  This is the kind of thing we see most often in dream studies.  Further, the synchronicity exhibited by Bill Roarty’s and my pre-conscious minds, in tandem, is to me, nothing short of astounding.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized we might have told a mythic story (in video terms) so universal that for almost 40 years it eluded our limited ability to recognize what we had done.

But, of course, this happens all the time.  It is actually rare that we humans fully comprehend what we are up to, what we have done, or even a tiny fraction of the full repercussions of our actions. (Freely selling weapons to 'allies,' for instance, is a good example.  We do so imagining one outcome, only to find that the long-range results are very different from what we had intended.)  We really might as well leave all of life ‘untitled,’ because what we think we are doing is only a minuscule fragment, a time-delimited snapshot, of the immensity of what we are really involved in.

All this speculation does not make Untitled a great work of art, but only a tale much truer than its ‘authors’ understood.  We may just have unintentionally encoded a picture of existence so fundamentally true that we couldn’t see its simple relevance through the complicated landscape of our ‘worldly’ minds.

This points up the nature of intuition - that of reaching the foundation truths of life through a temporary abandonment of the thinking, scheming mind.  The NCET studio was one of those places in the world in which that kind of thing is supposed to take place.  (And we didn’t even really realize that fully at the time.)  Interesting, isn’t it, that our most perceptive ‘findings’ often take place in our passages of greatest ‘lostness.’

Again, assuming I am correct, and had the opportunity to do it again, I would now start and end the piece differently:  I'd begin in a screen of pure white light, and dissolve slowly into the color bars, thence carrying through the original body of the work.  I would also end the piece by slowly zooming into the light at the hallway’s end, then dissolve back through 'noise' (chaos again), through the color bars, and return to where we began, in a screen of pure white.

The progress of the piece would, then, look like this:


Don Hallock - January, 2008


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