‘During the ’60s and ’70s, Aldo Tambellini — who is gaining some recognition after having fallen into obscurity — explored ways of inventing images through video-circuitry manipulation and camera-less film. The centerpiece of a recent survey of his work was a room of sound-and-projection installations based on Tambellini’s original “Black Film Series” (1965-69), which screened as part of the Museum of Modern Art’s concurrent “To Save and Project: The 11th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation.”
‘Born in 1930 in Syracuse, N.Y., as a child Tambellini moved with his family to Lucca, Italy, where he witnessed the deaths of neighbors during World War II bombardments. These experiences, along with memories of the oppressions of the Fascist regime, affected his work and cultural mission. Returning to the U.S., Tambellini lived in New York City from 1959 to 1976, where he organized “Group Center,” an underground art, poetry and activist collective cofounded in 1962 with the artists Don Snyder, Ben Morea and Elsa Tambellini (his wife at the time). In keeping with his avant-garde mission, Tambellini showed his works primarily in the public sphere, at such venues as churches and theaters, and in the New York City streets. (Today, he resides in Massachusetts.)
‘In the early ’60s, Tambellini began experimenting with 35mm slides, painting on and scratching them, and manipulating the emulsion. Flashing from a Kodak Carousel, the projections consisted of abstract white forms—circles, spirals, etc.—on a black field. In 1965, he began painting directly on film leaders, inaugurating his “Black Film Series.” Fascinated by evolving technologies in the Space Age, Tambellini showed his films in conjunction with poetry readings, dance and live jazz music, and referred to the events as “Electromedia” performances, in which he investigated notions of blackness, outer space and the void.
‘Most striking are the works based on the “Black” series, in which Tambellini adapted and updated that earlier material. The rapid-fire three-screen Black Space Triptych (1965/2013), in which text and images emerge from and dive back into black infinity, and the split-screen Black Spiral (1969/2013), whose spinning white spirals create a hypnotic 3-D effect. Using hand-painted glass slides (“Lumagrams”) converted to Blu-ray, and adding animated text, the artist created two additional projections. Both titled Lumagrams, one (on the wall) consisted of circular abstract images that conjured at once the moon’s surface and mutated human organs; another (on the floor) included circular forms accompanied by verses from Tambellini’s own poems (e.g., “the sky is not the limit in its profound blackness is the beginning of new visions”). These stimulating visuals—installed together in one room, to dizzying effect—were accompanied by a new audio track drawn primarily from the NASA website. It began with a countdown and continued with the roar of a spacecraft launch.
‘In a 1965 performance Tambellini recited a text: “Black is space black is sound black is color black is darkness black is anger black is void.” In his works “black” is wielded as anti-material—an intriguing darkness that captures our human fascination with the unknown. Together, the sound and flickering lights heighten the senses and reveal those aspects of human life that Tambellini considered to be necessary for meaningful existence: sensitivity, awareness and direct experience.’ — Naomi Lev
Also Tambellini Website
Aldo Tambellini @ James Cohan Gallery
Aldo Tambellini @ Light Cone
Our creative involvement with television must begin now
An Interview with Aldo Tambellini: Black Zero, Avant-Garde Jazz, and the Cosmic Void
Video: Aldo Tambellini: Vision & Television
Aldo Tambellini Art Foundation
Guide to the Ben Morea and Aldo Tambellini Papers
A Video Installation Immerses You in 1970s Brooklyn
Spooky and Luscious
(R)evolution in Art & Physics: The All-Round Genius of Aldo Tambellini
ALDO TAMBELLINI We Are the Primitives of a New Era
Aldo Tambellini: The Life of an Avant-Garde Artist in the Village
REVIEW: THE BLACK FILMS OF ALDO TAMBELLINI
INTERVIEW BY ALDO TAMBELLINI
Ishmael Reed Interviews Aldo Tambellini
Social Signals: Ina Blom on Aldo Tambellini
Stewart Home on Aldo Tambellini
Aldo Tambellini, Black Zero Exhibition
Aldo Tambellini interview at the Performa ’09 Hub
Aldo Tambellini: “The Circle in the Square”
Cathodic works 1966-1976
‘This double DVD release presents for the first time a selection of the cathodic experimental works from the seminal Italo-american artist Aldo Tambellini, a selection of classic documents of one of the first pioneers of video art and audiovisual experimentation from New York east side scene of the 60s and 70s. Unreleased, non edited and non manipulated works available for the first time. Curated by Pia Bolognesi e Giulio Bursi.’ — soundohm
– Black Video 1 (1966, ½”, b&w, sound, 31′)
– Black video 2 (1966, ½”, b&w, sound, 28′)
– Black Spiral (1969, 16mm reversal, b&w, static sound, 6′)
– Black Video 1 projections (1966, ½”, b&w, sound, 18′)
– Interview at the Black Gate Theatre (1967, ½”, b&w, sound, 2′)
– Minus One (1969, 2″ on ½”, b&w, sound, 21′)
– 6673 (1973, ½”, color, sound, 32′)
– Clone (1976, ½”, b&w, sound, 40′)
Amelia Ishmael: I would like to start by asking you, could you tell me about the origins of Black Zero?
Aldo Tambellini: I can’t tell you about Black Zero unless I tell you the beginning, which was called Black. […] When I came to New York I ended up working with black without thinking why. There was something about the area I was in, in the Lower East Side. Somehow, spontaneously, my work began to be a circular in form, and black. […] I was doing sculpture, and then I was also doing painting, which was black.
I was friends with the black poets [Ishmael Reed and Norman Pritchard], and I said, “I want you to read poetry.” […] I was making slides [lumagrams], large slides to project, and they were all hand painted and black. I said, “Maybe when you do the poetry, I’ll do some projection and we’ll make a performance.” That’s how it started. And it was called Black. […] Black also had a dancer, Carla Black. […] And the performance went very well and somebody saw it […] and said “I’d like you to do this again Aldo, in a small theater in the Lower East Side,” which was called the Bridge. So I did that. And every time I did Black I changed it. It became like a work in progress. And this went on for a long time, and each time it changed. One time it was called Black 2 and I had a big article in the Herald Tribune from New York, and the article was called “Rebellion in Art Form, Tambellini Black 2.” I’d always have an avant-garde jazz musician, never played melody at all, just very far-out improvisations.
And I continued to do this thing until it became Black Zero.
AI: And then later you would perform it at the experimental venue for performance, installation, and film you opened. Could you tell me about Gate Theater?
AT: My companion Elsa and I were living together, and we opened up a theater in the lower east side in the middle of the 60s, called the Gate Theater, […] and everyday we did a program that was an hour and a half of experimental film. […] The theater seated about 200 people and it was always filled. The program including some of my films. We only charged a dollar and a half. And then on the weekend we had a group called Theater Ridiculous. They were mostly people […] from [Warhol’s] Factory […]. We were very open in the thinking we were doing. Do you know who Stan Brakhage is, the filmmaker? We used to show a lot of Brakhage. We never showed Warhol, no. And then we had Jack Smith. Jack Smith was also part of the Theater Ridiculous, he used to be there live every weekend. […] There’s a whole history of that time, you know.
And then upstairs there was a larger room, it must have been something for dance, for rehearsal or something, it was like a platform and painted black. There were no lights, but there were a lot of outlets in the wall. Do you know the artist Otto Piene, from Germany? He became a good friend of mine. There’s some similar connection, between him and I. He had a group called Zero in Germany and later became the director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, and that’s the reason why I ended up in Cambridge. He asked me to become a Fellow, and I was a Fellow for eight years working at the place there, which was more like engineers and artists working together. He and I opened up the Black Gate upstairs and we had very experimental kind of work. […] Not everyday, only every so often. […].
[…] Do you know who Nam June Paik is? […] He was a good friend of mine. He did some at the Black Gate, but no video. And Charlotte Moorman, you know, they used to work together.
AI: Could you tell me about your background in sound, and how you incorporate sound in your films, particularly in the Black Films?
AT: Well… when I was at Syracuse University in the 1950s, […] I took a course from a musician, a woman who was from Vienna, and she was a student of Schoenberg, one of the modern musicians. […] She used to play the records and then talk about them. […] She played Stravinsky, and she played Alban Berg, and she played Varese. Varese was a French composer and the piece that she played was called “Ionisation,” and that piece, which is a very modern piece, has a siren in it—like the rarrrr-rarrrr-rarrrrrr!—which was kind of unusual for me. I began to realize later on that he was obviously influenced by the Futurists because it’s a concrete sound—it’s not played by an instrument. So he mixed that with sounds played by instrument.
My first videotape was actually shining light directly on the camera. And if you do that, direct light will make black spots on the camera. From there on everything you do that comes out is going to have black spots in the visual. So I did that. […] I found out there was a place by the airport in New York, it was called Video Flight […] They were making film into video, for the airplane. So I went there, and while they were making a copy of my first video I saw a different kind of pattern, an electronic pattern coming out, which was the electronic machine “understanding.” The machine understood this electronic pattern and it was making it to regular copy. And I said, “Would it be okay if I came back and I took some of those electronic images.” They said that was fine. So I went there and there were copies of these electronic images and I began to improvise sound with my voice, like ohohohoooooo—ahwwwwaaaaoaaa. Totally improvised as I was watching. That became the soundtrack!
Then I made another video tape and someone made me a [an instrument] and they were moderating the sound as I was doing it, in other words— switching the needle there, so that the sound would be modulated. It was all an experiment. I don’t consider myself a musician. […] It came naturally.
And I also had a lot of friends who were musicians. Mostly jazz though, avant-garde jazz. And then I knew people who did the electronic also.
AI: It seems like in the 60s a lot of artists who were collaborating and incorporating musicians in their work were largely gravitating towards Rock music. I was curious, what drew you to jazz?
AT: When I was in New York in the 60s there used to be a radio station […] in Manhattan, they used to play jazz a certain time of the week. And the disc jockey used to explain the history of jazz, he used to explain about the musicians, and gave a lot of educational ideas. So I learned a lot, but I was also interested because to me, it was the real American music. It was not European music and it came from black people originally, from the slavery time, and then began to change. […] But I never was interested in Rock n’ Roll or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. No, no. They’re nice, they’re pleasant, but I consider […] jazz a creative form that came […] not because [the musicians] went to college to study music and all that, but it was a natural kind of development and became more and more complex until the 60s when they had free jazz, which became the most avant-garde popular jazz. […] I don’t know how to explain it, but somehow the Rock music never got me excited. I listened to it, I heard it, but I’m definitely with the jazz and maybe electronic music. Rock n’ Roll to me was always a performance kind of art more than a musician kind of an art […]
AI: But …
AT: I want to read something here, one second. […] This is a quotation from Aleksei Leonov, he was a Russian cosmonaut, he was the first human being to walk in space. […] He said:
Before me blackness, an inky black sky studded with stars that glowed, but did not twinkle; they seemed immobilized. Nor did the sun look the same seen from earth, it had no aureole or corona; it resembled a huge incandescent disk that seemed embedded in the velvet black sky of outer space. Space itself appears as a bottomless pit. It will never be possible to see the cosmos the same way on earth.
And all of the astronauts after him have talked about the void, how black the space is, this sense of black never seen before in their whole life. And that kind of black, while I was already doing black for a long time, I was very excited […]
10 of Aldo Tambellini’s 12 films
BLACK IS (1965)
‘This experimental film was made entirely without the use of a camera. “Working directly on 16mm … I scratched, perforated, drew,used acid and other substances on the surface of the leader. … The movement of the projector (30 frames per second) created the animated rhythm of the film. To get down to the essentials: light and motion.’ — Aldo Tambellini
the entire film
BLACK TRIP #1 (1965)
‘This film is pure abstraction after the manner of a Jackson Pollock. Through the uses of kinescope, video, multimedia, and direct painting on film, an impression is gained of the frantic action of protoplasm under a microscope where an imaginative viewer may see the genesis of it all.’ — Grove Press Film Catalog
the entire film
BLACK TRIP 2 (1967)
‘An internal probing of the violence and mystery of the American psyche seen through the eye of a black man and the Russian revolution.’ — A.T.
the entire film
BLACK PLUS X (1966)
‘Tambellini here focuses on contemporary life in a black community. The extra, the “X” of Black Plus X, is a filmic device by which a black person is instantaneously turned white by the mere projection of the negative image. The time is summer, and the place is an oceanside amusement park where black children are playing in the surf and enjoying the rides, quite oblivious to Tambellini’s tongue-in-cheek “solution” to the race problem.’ — Grove Press Film Catalog
the entire film
‘This film, like an action painting by Franz Kline, is a rising crescendo of abstract images. Rapid cuts of white forms on a black background supplemented by an equally abstract soundtrack give the impression of a bombardment in celestial space or on a battlefield where cannons fire on an unseen enemy in the night.’ — Grove Press Film Catalog
the entire film
MOONDIAL (1966, 2012)
‘Having been an admirer of the dancer Beverly Schmidt and later becoming a friend, Aldo Tambellini asked her if she wanted to collaborate in an “Electromedia” (intermedia) Performance. She had been a principal in the Alwin Nikolais Dance Company at the Henry Street Settlement House in Manhattan. Aldo had seen her performing several times and also seen her in some films by Ed Emshwiller which were screened at The Gate Theater. The program was going to include improvisational dance, sound and projected hand painted film and slides (lumagrams). Aldo designed a very simple costume for the dancer made out of clear transparent plastic. Silver discs from pizza pie covers were pinned all over the plastic costume so that they would shine and shimmer under the light as the dancer moved. Her headpiece was designed to move as a mobile. Aldo created an original set of hand painted slides (lumagrams) to be projected. Two full trays of slides, 160 of them, were to be projected from two carousel projectors. These slides all had a black circle which was split down the middle leaving a band of light in the center. The dancer was to use the black space and the light area to improvise movement in and out of the light. She also used a big loop to create the image of a circle within a circle. Elsa and Aldo Tambellini worked the hand-held projectors with the slides in a circular motion projecting on the screen and the dancer. A film from the “Black Film Series” was also projected through a 16mm projector in order to add a faster kinetic movement. Drummer, Lawrence Cook, was included to improvise the sound and participate in the performance. Calo Scott with his amplified cello replaced Cook in subsequent performances. The performance was one of intensive improvisation. This performance was first given in 1965 at The Dom, in ST Mark’s Place, NYC. Aldo Tambellini was invited by Rudi Stern and Jackie Cassen part of their “TRIPS” Program.’ — ATW
BLACK TV (1968)
‘BLACK TV is Aldo Tambellini’s best-known film, part of a large intermedia project about American television. It is an artist’s sensory perception of the violence of the world we live in, projected through a television tube. Tambellini presents it subliminally in rapid-fire abstractions in which such horrors as Robert Kennedy’s assassination, murder, infanticide, prize fights, police brutality at Chicago, and the war in Vietnam are out-of-focus impressions of faces and events. Black TV is about the future, the contemporary American, the media, the injustice, the witnessing of events, and the expansion of the senses. The act of communication and the experience is the essential.’ As Tambellini’s remarks indicate, Black TV is about perception in the intermedia network. It generates a pervasive atmosphere of the process-level perception by which most of us experience the contemporary environment. Since it involves the use of multiple monitors and various levels of video distortion, there is a sense of the massive simultaneity inherent in the nature of electronic media communication. Black TV is one of the first aesthetic statements on the subject of the intermedia network as nature, possibly the only such statement in film form.’ — Gene Youngblood
the entire film
BLACK GATE COLOGNE (1968)
”Black Gate Cologne’ is often cited as the first television programme made by artists. It was a live event involving films, light objects and the participation of the studio audience. A comparable event took place in New York in 1967, the inter-media piece ‘Black Gate Theater’, which was now expanded by the possibilities of the new ‘Electronic Studio’ of WDR television, whose electronic video mixing facilities could now be creatively deployed for the first time. The close co-operation between artists and TV crew created a synthesis of live atmosphere, Light Art, experimental film and electronic image aesthetics. Two consecutive 45-minute broadcasts with different audiences were recorded in the studio, and then in part copied one on top of the other to intensify the transmitted product. Since the length of the broadcast was criticized ‘despite, or indeed perhaps because of, its confusing wealth of material’, WDR finally cut it to 23 minutes.’ — Median Kunst
ATLANTIC BROOKLYN 1971 (1971 – 1972)
‘Fearing he might go blind after a virus injured his eyes, artist and poet Aldo Tambellini videotaped what was happening on the street from his apartment on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues for 11 hours in 1971 and 1972. “Atlantic in Brooklyn (1971-1972)” was last exhibited as a film in 1974.’ — Brownstoner
‘UNH-Manchester professor Anthony Tenczar’s collaborative work with media artist/poet Aldo Tambellini, as Best Experimental Film in 2006. The cinematography award winner received a film grant. The film also won the Best Experimental Film Award at the New England Film and Video Festival in October 2005 and was recently screened at the 44th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Tenczar worked with Tambellini, a pioneering experimental film artist of the 1960s, to enable the 75-year-old to return to media after a nearly two-decade hiatus. “Listen” is based on Tambellini’s social and political poetry and confronts today’s world situation through spoken word, written text and manipulated mass media imagery. Tenczar worked as co-director, editor and videographer on the project.’ — no-art
‘As a survivor of WWII in Italy, when at the age of 13 ½, my neighborhood was bombed by the B-23 on the Day of the Epiphany, 44. Twenty-one of my neighbors were killed and many wounded. LISTEN to the collateral damage of war! The killing fields, the young soldiers wasted lives. Why War? Asks a child.’ — Aldo Tambellini
the entire film
p.s. Hey. Based on comments here and some private messages I have received, the technical problems that some people seem to be having with the blog — no comments, disappearing comments, an inability to access the current blog post when checking via phone, etc. — have reached another fevered pitch. As I’ve explained, I have contacted the blog’s hosting sites GoDaddy and WordPress on numerous occasions to report these issues and ask for a fix. They have investigated and found nothing on the blog’s end that could be causing these problems, but they have tried some corrections and little fixes, which obviously have not worked. Unless someone out there knows someone who is a wiz at diagnosing and/or fixing problems like the blog is suffering and can direct said expert to me, all I can do is approach the hosting sites and try again. I will do that today. Until the problems are solved, if they ever are, I recommend that you bookmark this link — https://www.facebook.com/Dennis-Coopers-Blog-214073142012494/ — and try entering the blog daily through the DC’s Facebook page if you can and want to. Sorry, and thanks. ** Kyler, Hi. Thanks. As I say just above this, I will try to fix the problem today in the only way I seem to have available, but, based on past attempts and failures, I don’t have much hope. ** Steve Erickson, Probably best or most interesting to see the slave texts as creative nonfiction or autofiction. I’ll try Curry, maybe ‘Percs’ first. Thanks. Hope you get rejected, jury duty-wise. I always just state straight off that I’m an anarchist and get shown the door within seconds. I saw … a part of ‘Eastern Boys’, I can’t remember where or why I would have only seen a chunk. That opening sounds great. I don’t think that’s the chunk I saw. Okay, I’ll test the Orbital singles, gracias. ** Jamie, Hey, hey. I think they’re always either tragicomedies or tragedies with clever overtones or disturbing quips for me maybe. I’m okay apart from dealing with the apparent blog problems and facing another probably failed attempt to fix them. But, yeah. I found a conducive model for a film treatment that seems right for our film. Most treatments are like dumbed down novelisations of scripts, but the one I found is more fragmentary and simple and kind of pops, and it’s apparently legit, so I’m off trying to fit our thing into its thing. Oh, I see, only Kate’s going. I hope she likes it. It’s what it is. There’s some possibility — I’m not sure how possible yet — that we might show PGL in London next month. Should know by the weekend. Oh, no, that mysterious and extremely obnoxious malady might be stalking you again? Oh, no, man, I really hope the threat was some kind of phantom. My Tuesday was starting to write the treatment, finessing things about the Lincoln Center event, falling down a youtube rabbit hole organised around Sam Mehren (Test Icicles, Outer Limitz) who sadly killed himself a couple of days ago, emails. I hope your Tuesday finds you upright, towering, clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack, and smiling like a Cheshire cat. Logical illogic-based love, Dennis. ** Sypha, I mostly remember her hair. I don’t think I saw Mr. Sivan pre-dye. I predict Misa will stepping outside for an hour-long smoke within 30 seconds of the lowering of Consumer Electronics’ boom. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Jesus. Wait, so he’s actually in big trouble for those silly tweets? No, really? Can’t be. Things around him can’t be that moronic, can they? ** Bill, They were. The days. Yeah, you know that kind of spooky warmth that isn’t deadly in and of itself feels very weirdly hungry? That’s where we are here today. The heatwave’s preamble. I hope your mental mush consolidates asap ‘cos those sketches are calling me. ** Corey Heiferman, Maybe I should make a post that is a long list of things that you guys would be asked to rate from 0 to 10. Interesting therapy technique there. It reminds me a little of the Scientology ‘IQ test’ thing they give to people whom they want to manipulate emotionally into being Dianetics drones. I got suckered into taking one of those tests as a teen and literally had to fight my way out of their building. But less sinister. Huh. Thanks, bud. ** JM, Oh, I’ll only be totally honored if you want to sample my stuff unattributed at that open mic. Do let me know what happens, though. Fun, thanks for wanting to do that, man. I hope your day makes you count. Not hard. ** Okay. I hereby direct your attention to Aldo Tambellini and his fascinating blackness, should you be so kind as to direct your attention at him. See you tomorrow.