Beck was inspired to create a new kind of color organ–“a personal visual instrument” that would take advantage of new technology to achieve new optical effects. If the connections between various handmade moving-image art and video art were not already readily apparent, Beck conceived a visual synthesizer “in the lineage of Thomas Wilfred’s Lumias [sic] and Oscar Fishinger’s [sic] abstract animations, with a dose of The Whitney Brothers mixed in, and a dash of Jordan Belson for good measure.”
In 1969, Beck was fortunate enough to be the recipient of a donated twenty-seven-inch color Zenith television. Beck immediately set to work modifying the red, green, and blue video circuits of the set. Inspired by Bob Moog’s audio synthesizers, which became a favored instrument of forward-thinking rock bands of the era, Beck also began building an analog video console. These pieces comprised the Beck Video Synthesizer #0, “capable of real-time, full-color video with motion, shading, textures, and forms, based on my invention of the voltage to position converter circuit for horizontal and vertical locations.” In addition, Beck could feed audio signals into his colorizer to create images in real time. An important difference between Beck’s visual synthesizer and other contemporaneous devices such as the Paik-Abe Synthesizer and the Rutt/Etra Video Synthesizer is that Beck’s apparatus was cameraless, requiring no video camera to compose and manipulate video imagery.
In 1971, Beck was an inaugural member of KQED’s television workshop in San Francisco. The station, along with Boston’s WGBH, received grants in 1967 from the Rockefeller Foundation to found experimental television workshops. KQED’s Brice Howard brought together musical composers, sculptors, poets, choreographers, and others to, in the words of electronic musician Warner Jepson, “see what video cameras and monitors could do.” The studio was called the National Center for Experiments in Television (NCET). The other members of the program included Willard Rosenquist, a design professor at Berkeley, the painter Bill Gwin, Don Hallock, who had worked as both a painter and television broadcaster, and Bill Roarty, a designer of television graphics. They were later joined by electronic musician Walter Jepson and fellow composer Richard Felciano.