photography • field recordings • world music • subconscious
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Visual Audio

Don’t much like the word multimedia.

Moving images with sound are films, no matter how short or long.

The combing of sounds and still images is not multi.

At the most it’s dual-media.

Multimedia is far more grander.

Becoming disenchanted with the term multimedia, it felt intriguing to sort an answer: How did the word multimedia come about?

Back 1966, a musician/artist by the name of Bobb Goldstein merged the words multi and media to promote his opening of “LightWorks at L’Oursin” in Long Island, NY.

Goldstein had something going which was truly multi-media — highlighting or coating music by surrounding the viewer with synchronized lighting effects, photographs, films, screens which moved and with mirror balls that gave the illusion the room was spinning.

A year later began what might be considered the grander start of what is truly multimedia —  Liquid Light Shows. Appearing in the mid 60′s to early 70′s, these events were nothing less than multimedia.

The pioneer in multimedia communication was Joshua White. Working with musicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers, proper designers, he created The Joshua Light Show.

Take a look at this astounding photograph from 1966:

The Joshua Light Show team at Fillmore East, late 1960′s
Photograph by Amalie R. Rothschild

Now that’s multimedia!

And in a 1967 NYT’s’ review, the lead of the story begins: A new method of communication is developing in our society – the technique of multimedia.

What’s brilliant is White’s influence is still present today, here in this performance from 2008:

Also interesting is Joshua is still creating. Here is a link explaining his latest projects and the revival of analogue multimedia presentations. There’s also a Kickstarter project to help fund a new Joshua Light Show titled, Liquid Loops II.

Arriving to the origins of the word multimedia, the combination of audio with visuals (stills or even film) just doesn’t feel multi enough.

So what should we call the combination of sounds with stills, where the audio recordings play an equal or possible greater importance with the visuals?

I prefer Visual Audio. Far more enthralling. A truer essence where sounds create images in the mind.

Below are two short visual audio pieces, the first a field recording while stuck in some of the most maddening traffic on earth (I love India…even the traffic), and the latter recorded during the height of riots, mayhem and bloodshed in Indonesia in 1999.




Stuck in traffic driving through Kolkata, one of my favorite cities.

[wpaudio url=" Street Traffic.mp3" text="Kolkata Traffic" dl="0"]
(iPhone and iPad)


Many people died over this weekend of riots in Jakarta. The sounds visuals from Egypt
in March 2011 reminded of that weekend 12 years ago in Indonesia.

[wpaudio url=" Reformasi-bombs.mp3" text="Reformasi" dl="0"]
(iPhone and iPad)


1 Edwin { 05.13.11 at 22:48 }

Hey John, what you wrote echoes my sentiments. A few months ago I showed a “multimedia” piece I did about the Maoists of Nepal. At the end of the show I said it was trash, cos I didn’t think it added more to photojournalism, which in essence is about the power of still imagery. Totally agree that when the audio takes precedence over the stills, its quite a step back for the progress of photojournalism. I could feel the chaos in your Kolkata picture without hearing the sound, and the tenseness of the standoff without the audio. Good one. – Edwin

2 John Stanmeyer { 05.14.11 at 10:18 }

Hello Edwin,

Indeed sounds over visuals isn’t necessarily always needed.

More so, the sounds presented with images must be equally interesting, adding to the visual rather then detracting from it.

Bad audio can ruin any project.

In the beginning of this “multi” media slideshow era I fell victim to creating elaborate presentations of still and audio, though most often, music, not field recordings from the events. After numerous presentations, the end result felt hallow. A few years ago I reverted back to showing photographs and verbally giving the narrative. Much more meaningful for both the viewers and myself then just telling Peter Gabriel jam while I sat in the wings doing little or nothing.

Still, I do feel the combination of a photographs (or even a series of images) can have an expanded presents if the images are also presented with the ambient sounds of the event, allowing the viewer to take on other sensory perceptions. But it must work.

Also agree with you that the Jakarta standoff as well as Kolkata street scene can be felt without audio, however being an aficionado of field recordings, there are many times — like while editing a story — that I appreciate hearing the sounds from those moments, in turn allowing to tap into elements which happened around me that I wasn’t fully conscious at the time.

This blog is about sharing these sounds we often times are somewhat aware of while looking through the narrow frame of a camera, allowing us to experience adder perceptions beyond the camera frame.

Hope all is well.


3 Becoming Binaural — John Stanmeyer { 02.22.12 at 10:59 }

[...] that were then used in slideshows for what became termed as multimedia, though I prefer the term Visual Audio. To do so meant not only carrying your camera, a camera bag and an audio recorder, there was the [...]

4 Becoming Binaural - The Photo Society { 02.22.12 at 13:48 }

[...] [...]

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