The Paik-Abe visual synthesizer, was an instrument that reconfigured existing parts from other televisual consoles as a seven-channel mixer and colorizer. The Paik-Abe synthesizer allowed the user to create images with several layers of visual information, to abstract those images along the vertical and horizontal axes, and to add bursting, psychedelic color patterns to existing images or empty space.
Born in Korea in 1932, Paik studied art history and music at the University of Tokyo in Japan. He continued his studies in Munich and Cologne, as well as at the Conservatory of Music in Freiberg. It was during this time that he met John Cage and worked with electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. In a letter to Cage written in 1959, Paik mentions an idea for using video as a means of producing art. He also met New York gallery owner George Maciunas, one of the orchestrators of the Fluxus art movement. Paik participated in numerous Fluxus "happenings" throughout Europe, often playing and/or destroying instruments such as pianos and violins. His first solo show, in which he displayed a series of modified and altered television sets, came in 1963 at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, West Germany. After moving to New York in 1964, he embarked on a series of multimedia pieces and performances with classical and avant-garde cellist Charlotte Moorman. So by the time he was invited in 1969 by WGBH Boston to participate in the first television broadcast of video-based art, a program called The Medium Is the Medium, Paik was already an established member of the international art-world vanguard. In other words, Paik had already developed many of his ideas about art and television at the time of his earliest broadcast work. Influenced by avant-garde practices of music and Fluxus ideas of chance, performance, and interaction, Paik's approach to television production was that of a fiercely intelligent and rapaciously curious outsider.
At WGBH he and engineer David Atwood collaborated on an eighty-minute experiment using a colorizer, multiple cameras, and magnets, 9/23/69: Experiment with David Atwood (1969). The piece was made on the day of its title and included real-time images from live television broadcasts, prerecorded segments, and footage shot in the studio. Some of the work from Experiment with David Atwood was incorporated into techniques that were further refined and elaborated for Paik's four-hour Video Commune (Beatles Beginning to End) the following year. If some of Paik's goals can be found in his stated interest in using video to extend the possibilities of painting in TV, it is also possible to trace his methods from his knowledge of, and experimentation with, classical and electronic music.
From the outset, Paik positioned his video art as an evolutionary step in the
history of image making, one suited to the modern era, wherein artists would
utilize new tools to create new kinds of imagery. In an announcement for his
Electronic Video Recorder at the Cafe au Go Go in New York in October 1965,
Paik wrote a manifesto, playing the role of Martin Luther for the electronic
age: "As collage technique replaced oil paint, the cathode ray tube will
replace the canvas"..."Someday artists will work with capacitors, resistors,
and semiconductors as they work today with brushes, violins and junk." What
is interesting here is that video is seen not as a development of the moving
image, be it cinema or television, but of painting. That unlike cinema or
television, video's status as an art medium would be obvious and
incontrovertible from the outset, expressed and elevated via indeterminism and variability, characteristics of contemporary classical music that he saw as "underdeveloped parameters in the optical arts."