MULTIMEDIA by Randall Packer


From Wagner to Virtual Reality
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A comprehensive and ambitious anthology chronicling the history of “the multimedia revolution.”

With this collection, multimedia experts Packer and Jordan present a sampling of seminal articles by the artists, writers, scientists, musicians, and architects who engineered the 20th century’s communication revolution. Each of these authors, from composer Richard Wagner to multimedia artist Nam June Paik, Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the mouse, windows, and e-mail), and beat writer William Burroughs, envisioned modes of artistic expression that penetrated “the fourth wall” dividing art from audience. Each imagined new modes of synthesis or communication that would enable people actively to engage with art, literature, music, and vast stores of information in their everyday lives. Most of these visionaries believed that technology was the key to their efforts—that computers could transform the passive appreciation of art into an active, participatory discourse. Many of these works are very technical, and most require a basic understanding of contemporary debates in art and science. The editors have done readers the invaluable service of providing pithy, astute, contextual summaries of each essay so that readers can pick and choose from among them. In fact, picking and choosing is an appropriate way to read this collection, since Ted Nelson (who coined the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia” in 1963), William Gibson (to whom we owe the term “cyberspace”), and many others believed that nonlinear reading and writing are ideal (because these forms better mirror the nonlinear workings of the human mind). Gems include Vannevar Bush’s 1945 Atlantic Monthly essay that led to the development of the “hyperlink,” Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 proposal for a decentralized information network that was the foundation for the development of the World Wide Web, media artist Lynn Hershman’s description of her groundbreaking multimedia projects, and Marcos Novak’s piece about virtual architecture in cyberspace.

An unusual exploration of a quiet revolution that changed the world.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-04979-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2001


by William Gibson