International Workshop Virtual Historic Cities

The CHAIA – Centro de História da Arte e Investigação Artística da Universidade de Évora | Art History and Artistic Research Centre of the University of Évora is organizing the International Workshop Virtual Historic Cities: reinventing urban research on the next month, at Lisbon.

workshop programme

Book – Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality

Multimedia is emerging as the defining medium of the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web, CD-ROMs, virtual reality arcade games, and interactive installations only hint at the forms of multimedia to come. Yet the concept of integrated, interactive media has its own long history, an evolution that spans more than 150 years. [1]

Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual realityThe concept of multimedia changed through time and will probably change in the future. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, editors of the book “Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality”, define five characteristics of the new media that makes them different from any other media:

- Integration, “the combining of artistic forms and technology into a hybrid form of expression”;

- Interactivity, “the ability of the user to manipulate and affect her experience of media directly, and to communicate with others through media”;

- Hypermedia, “the linking of separate media elements to one another to create a trail of personal association”;

- Immersion, “the experience of entering into the simulation or suggestion of a three-dimensional environment”;

- Narrativity, “aesthetic and formal strategies that derive from the above concepts, which result in nonlinear story forms and media presentations”.

The book is divided in five chapters, titled with the above characteristics, and in each chapter we can read some of the most important essays related with each characteristic.

In the first chapter about integration, there is an essay from 1849, by Richard Wagner, the German composer, about his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total artwork. In 1916, Marinetti et al., wrote about “The Futurist Cinema”, declaring cinema as the supreme art “because it embraced all other art forms through the use of (then) new media technology”. [2] In 1924, Moholy-Nagy reinterpreted the Wagner’s concept by calling it “Theater of Totality”:

It is time to produce a kind of stage activity which will no longer permit the masses to be silent spectators, which will not only excite them inwardly but will let them take hold and participate – actually allow them to fuse with the action on the stage at the peak of cathartic ecstasy. [3]

In interactivity chapter, we can read essays from John Cage about the participation of the public in a performance, being a perfect example of this his piece 4′33”, and authors like Wiener, Engelbart on “Augmenting Human Intellect”, Krueger [video] or Alan Kay.

Hypermedia opens with the known “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, where he describes the Memex and invents the notion of what we know now as hyperlink. In this chapter, we can find other articles like the one from Ted Nelson, who coined the words hypertext and hypermedia and Tim Berners-Lee, who invented World Wide Web.

The chapter about immersion has essays from Morton Heilig, considered as the father of virtual reality, and his vision of “The Cinema of the Future”, as an experience of a virtual world, and the description of “The Ultimate Display” by Ivan Sutherland:

In 1966, Sutherland took a crucial step toward the implementation of his vision by inventing the head-mounted display – a helmet-shaped apparatus designed to immerse the viewer in a visually simulated 3-D environment. [4]

Scott Fisher, that worked in Aspen Movie Map Project, from MIT, in 1970s, William Gibson, that coined the term cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer, the creators of CAVE and Char Davies, author of Osmose, an immersive, interactive multimedia work, are other authors from which we can read some essays.

Narrativity starts with 1964′s “The Future of Novel”, by William Burroughs which “express the essential narrative strategies of computer-based multimedia storytelling long before their time.” [5]
The chapter continues with essays by Allan Kaprow, who coined the term Happenings in 1950s, Roy Ascott, Pavel Curtis, about MUDs, Pierre Lévy and Janet Murray, author of “Hamlet on Holodeck”.

“Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality” sums up works from artists and engineers that worked with multimedia concept, which are crucial to understand the “relentlessly changing nature” of multimedia. [6]

The book has a website that can be found here.


[1] Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, eds. 2002. Multimedia : from Wagner to virtual reality. [Expanded ed.]. [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], Overture, xv.

[2] Ibidem, Overture, xxi.

[3] László Moholy-Nagy, “Theatre, Circus, Variety,” in Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, ed. Randall Packer e
Ken Jordan [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], 25.

[4] Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, eds. 2002. Multimedia : from Wagner to virtual reality. [Expanded ed.]. [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], 253.

[5] Ibidem, 304.

[6] Ibidem, Overture, xxxvi.