Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"VT Is Not TV": The Raindance Reunion in the Digital Age

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"VT Is Not TV": The Raindance Reunion in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

A REUNION OF THE RAINDANCE CORPORATION, the early 1970s video collective and think tank, occurred at Loyola University Chicago's Information Commons on 30 November 2010. A majority of the founding members-Ira Schneider, Frank Gillette, Paul Ryan, Michael Shamberg, and Beryl Korot-attended the event. Davidson Gigliotti, a founding member of the VideoFreex and an early video historian, served as moderator, and John Giancola, a funder for Raindance who worked with the New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA), also participated. The reunion brought together Raindance members with Chicago-area academics, students, and artists to discuss the history and ideas of this video collective within the context of the digital revolution and online media distribution sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Twitter. "I wish I'd thought of it [YouTube]," said video activist and Hollywood producer Michael Shamberg.

The reunion was significant at this point in time because of the digital explosion that has occurred with media and the extent to which Raindance anticipated the growth of an information- based society and the need to critique it. Paul Ryan, who studied with Marshall McLuhan at Fordham, wrote in the first issue of Radical Software, "VT is not TV. If anything it's TV flipped into itself" (12). Raindance members used the portapak to transform closed-circuit video practices into independent documentary videos, forums for community dialogue, and the new field that they helped to create-video art.

The concepts of research and development were firmly embedded in the Raindance Corporation's name, as well as in the group's creative strategies to produce critical media work. Frank Gillette, who worked with Ryan in a McLuhan seminar, suggested the idea of a think tank around the newly accessible medium. Gillette chose the title to parody the Rand Corporation, a well-known government-sponsored "R and D" firm that soon became notorious through Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon papers in 1971. Gillette incorporated Raindance in 1969 with Ira Schneider and Michael Shamberg's help. Ryan, Beryl Korot, and other members were soon attached.

After brainstorming ideas in a New York City loft apartment on 22nd Street, "Raindancers" would leave their offices to record interviews with hippies in the East Village or troubled teens in Brooklyn-subjects who were often encouraged to turn the cameras and microphones back onto the camera operators (Boyle 6-12). In addition to these early "vox pop" experiments, Schneider, Ryan, and Shamberg created a series of Media Primers (1970-71), compilation tapes that would frame sociologists commenting on the facial expression of a news anchor, Abbie Hoffman waiting for his verdict in Chicago, or a composite image of the FCC commissioner holding up a handwritten "information" sign. Group members would carry their portapaks into classrooms at Antioch College and lecture halls in New York to explore significant ideas about communication-from Gregory Bateson to Buckminster Fuller. Raindancers transcribed these lectures as well as screened and distributed them to other groups. Video experiments happened concurrently with discussions and assessments of the day's recordings, a strategy that emerged as a result of Raindance's creative, investigative process. Direct interaction with recorded subjects, the use of special effects, and the free distribution of content are identifiable strategies in these first independent video recordings from 1968 to 1970. "Feedback loops" provided opportunities for more research.

Because public interest in the subject of video was so widespread after the release of the portapak, Raindance created and published the first journal committed solely to the new medium of video, technology, and art-Radical Software (1970-74). The journal distributed the insights of this political and philosophical group, as well as other thinkers, writers, and artists connected to video, such as Nam June Paik and Gene Youngblood. …

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