Kaye Miller
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Click to read the manuscript of what 
was to have been Radical Software #6

--  Kaye Miller, Behavioral Sciences Bldg. U of I, 996-5284; working with students and graduate students in his political science classes on community projects such as programs with several Chicago street "gangs" like the Young Patriots and Young Lords; currently working on tapes of documentation -examination-feedback with Indians in Vancouver; I don't know how many porta-paks in his control, but there's also access to the schools equipment generally, including z -to 1 inch editing; putting out an issue of Radical Software which will examine standards for tapes. (from http://www.vasulka.org/archive/LyndaTWO/DumpPlacevol2.rtf)


Hyde Parker - Dec.- Jan. 1973  

Kaye Miller, Instructor in Political Science at Circle, approaches video more analytically than anyone else I've met. Perhaps that's because his field concerns itself more with messages than with the media in which they're presented.

In the mid-60's, Kaye experimented with film as a graduate student at Berkeley. In 1968, at Circle, he and sociologist Gerry Swatez developed a project that indulged their interests both in film and in research - a film study of the '68 Democratic Convention. Proposing to "preserve the concrete," they received funding and a considerable amount of technical assistance from Circle. Taking two years to complete, the film won prizes at the Venice and Chicago Film Festivals and the Edinburgh Festival.

With their first film as a sales point, Kaye and Gerry began seeking funding for new film research. None was available. But, having completed construction on several buildings in 1970, the University did have funds for equipping the buildings. While film stock was an "expendable supply" and processing an expense, tape equipment and reusable tape could be coded as equipment. That budgeting peculiarity turned them into tapemakers.

Showing their Convention film at meetings of various professional associations, they had become intrigued by that kind of convention and puzzled by its appeal. So they taped the 1971 Convention of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. In the process of shooting 150 hours of tape for a one-hour product, they learned a great deal about tape.

During the 1971-1972 academic year, Kaye began experimenting with the "consciousness raising" potential of tape with five community organizations (particularly the Young Patriots Health Clinic in Uptown). He taught these organizations to look at the reality of their communities with tape. At the end of the academic year, with this work incomplete, the state budget was cut and his funding collapsed. In drafting the budget, no contingency plans had been considered for projects in progress.

Kaye is now devising projects with his most recent tape collaborator, Roberta Kass, a former political and union organizer. They want to discover "how one can use a medium that represents surfaces to get at the insides of things. We want to develop," says Kaye, "modes of making film and tape that speak adequately for the world they represent. The problem is to make them speak for both the surface and the inside." Their most provocative idea, which is now just an idea, is a project that will "get inside" the world of children. They're searching for the best ways of using the language of tape. Their concern for more effective use of the medium has led Kaye and Roberta to edit this month's issue of Radical Software, a national magazine devoted to alternative video technology. In it, they've initiated the arduous process of developing a language of criticism appropriate to tape by reviewing past issues of the magazine itself and tapes by major tapemakers.

The idea of a critical issue provoked strong negative reactions. Several influential tapemakers refused to submit their efforts, saying that tapes aren't meant to be criticized or that criticism is authoritarian.

But Kaye and Roberta believe criteria for evaluating tape are necessary. As a tapemaker, Kaye says "you need to make and you need to criticize. It's through the critical process that you begin to discover the possibilities of the medium, its characteristics, and what can and cannot be done."

Roberta supports this thesis in her introductory article, and sounds a warning: "To keep silent about serious things will allow the conventional and corrupt forces of public opinion, the state, and business to swoop up the meanings and definitions. . . The new experiences we have had are much too precious to subject to the twisted meanings of the old culture which wildly attempts to absorb anything which even vaguely threatens change."

Kaye Miller and Roberta Kass (at right)  wpe7.gif (166771 bytes)


Dear Ed,

It was great talking with you last Saturday and, as promised, I'll give you some of the background of the text we prepared for Radical Software, in 1973.

                 *                                    *

I began teaching political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle in 1967.  That year, a colleague and I got backing from the University do a documentary film study of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, scheduled for 1968.  It took two years to complete, and the University wound up with an investment of close to $50,000.  Clearly, if we were to continue using visual media for research, some cheaper way would have to be found.  1969-70 was the transition period between the older CV video system, and the new AV standard in half-inch videotape recording, exemplified by the Sony Portapak, and we were encouraged  to explore this new avenue.  Around that time, Roberta and I began working together.

By the end of the summer of 1972, Roberta and I had accumulated a fair amount of experience with half-inch videotape technology, and I had taught some courses in the uses of visual media.  In 1971, we did the largest-scale video project undertaken up to that time.  It involved taping the 1971 meeting of the American Political Science Association. It was not a recording of the proceedings so much as an attempt to get at the social organization of the convention and at the way in which some salient issues were handled.  In part, too, we wanted to test one of the central hypotheses of the portapak culture-- namely that people and groups seeing themselves might actually have their consciousness altered by the experience.  To this end, we amassed about 15 portable units, some stationary ones, a mammoth video projector, about 150 hours of tape, crews of students who had been training three months for this particular project, and a few professional film people.  We also developed some very clear protocols of procedure, in order to avoid a circus;  the convention was not a media event, and we did not want to create the pretense of one.  In addition to method, of course, we produced edited tapes, one of which was used for several years in a Women's Study programme.

Other projects in 1972 included  (1) a series of tapes on poverty under subcontract to the School of Social Welfare at the University of Chicago; (2) the use of half-inch video to assist a colleague of mine, who was also a Chicago alderman (councillor), to tape town hall meetings in an attempt to open up the political process in Chicago;  (3),  the recording of brain surgery on a monkey, as part of a process of ensuring that ethical standards were adhered to in the treatment of laboratory animals.  (4) In the summer of 1972, we worked with a fledgling community video action group in North Vancouver, British Columbia, that was trying to apply locally some of the ideas that had been worked out by the Challenge for Change programme of the National Film Board of Canada.  In these settings, we were sometimes concerned only with the process, but in others the finished tape artifact was central.  For example, the poverty tapes eventually made their way to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Radical Software was very useful, up to a point.  It featured lots of neat technical stuff-- very important to everyone because the technology needed so much tweaking and there were so many different ways to solve problems.  Many of us didn't know a vidicon tube from a vacuum tube, had no idea of what deep-cycling involved in a battery, and-- the biggest bugaboo-- had the greatest difficulty editing tape.  (Roberta and I once spent an entire day editing from one AV-3650 to another, losing our edits because of break-up, finally winding up exactly where we had started-- that is, at the beginning.)

Theoretically, too, Radical Software offered a new paradigm:  here was an inexpensive, accessible technology that promised to de-mystify itself, to democratize and decentralise the production of content, and to offer the transformative experience of self-awareness to people and groups in about as unmediated a manner as possible.

In this function, it was a technology that could make itself nearly invisible.  Subjects tended to forget our presence after awhile, with our relatively small equipment and without the need for excessive light levels.  And, if they were anxious or really curious, they were invited to pick up the camera themselves and join the process. If someone accidentally dropped an AVC-3400, the loss was tiny compared to breaking an Arriflex, so everyone could relax.

It is important to remember, as well, that instant playback for visual media was then an astonishing concept.  People initially found it difficult to believe that moving pictures could be seen a few seconds after they were shot.

Finally, readily-available portapaks could record and document and-- drawing on lessons some of us had learned first-hand in the political events of 1968-- they could "witness."  Portapaks worked almost like a reporter's notebook, but with the verity of lip-synchronized picture/sound recording.  [Since 1970, of course, inexpensive, portable, low-light level equipment has transformed our awareness of so many things, from warfare to welfare to policing, and on and on.  We take the easy rendering of reality for granted now;  but at that time, the idea was challenging and unbelievably exciting.]

We went into these applications enthusiastically.  However, with our own academic backgrounds and responsibilities, we believed that Radical Software was offering hypotheses, rather than certainties.  A lot of it sounded good, but had to be tested.  We ourselves did a lot, and found that some of the assertions held and some didn't.  We met many others, as well-- including people working with video as art-- who were enthusiastic, involved, and experienced, but also expressed a healthy skepticism.

Tossing this problem around, Roberta and I thought that it would be great if Radical Software, in a period when half-inch video was maturing, could start to engage in some examination of its own premises.  To this end, in September of 1972, I called Michael Shamberg, whom I had met and spoken with at some length, and proposed that we edit one issue of Radical Software, taking a critical approach.  Mike was quite positive about the idea and agreed to it immediately.  My department would provide editorial expenses, Roberta and I would recruit people to write articles, which would include critical reviews of tapes, and we would provide copy to RS in New York.

We worked at it during academic 1972-73, managing to find people who had done very interesting work with half-inch, but had not become part of the Radical Software "establishment."  We had everything in hand by May, and then spent part of the summer editing and getting the copy prepared.

By that time, however, Shamberg had left New York and gone to California to work in film.  He assured us that Ira Schneider, who was taking over the editorship, understood our agreement and concurred in it.  When we sent the text to Ira, there was a long silence in our contact.  Finally, I called him in New York and he said:  "You didn't really expect us to publish this, did you?"  I was taken aback, and reminded him of the verbal agreement with Shamberg.  His response was simply:  "Mike isn't here anymore, and we're not interested in criticizing ourselves."  Then he hung up.  Ira's response was a surprise.  One of the hallmarks of "guerrilla television" had been openness, and the eagerness to look at things as they are rather than through the filters of high technology, capital, and rigid social structure.

There were  couple of more calls, which ended with shouting at both
ends.  Very unpleasant all in all, but they did eventually send back the

And so, there you have the story of this apocryphal text.  In the end, the most rewarding aspect of working on it was the contact with the people who contributed articles, and the opportunity all of us had to examine critically the impact this new technology was having.  Of course more, and often larger, projects ensued-- things of the magnitude of Top Value TV's coverage of the 1972 Republican Convention-- and the technology raced ahead of all our expectations so that today what seemed so advanced in 1970 is positively cranky and archaic, and we encounter incredibly sophisticated video installations and applications nearly everywhere we turn.

Re-reading the text of this issue after 32 years has been a remarkable experience.  The old expression, "The more things change, the more they stay the same" seems so appropriate here. Now, in 2005, we have the Internet, with the utter ubiquity of images and instantaneity of distribution-- things, in 1973, we could only imagine might happen "one day."

Ira Schneider may have been justified in censuring us for daring to criticize a movement brimming with self-confidence;  it was a bring-down.  The
fact is, though, that half-inch video never really had the muscle and the distribution capabilities to do what it claimed it could. Computers and the Internet have leap-frogged over all of that and, once again, we are caught up in the rush of what seems to be an inexorable future.  Now, as then, movements in their expansionary phase have little tolerance for critical analysis, which is regarded somehow as negative thinking.  There are not inherent problems, rather there are "challenges" and "issues," implying that everything can be solved with a positive attitude and ingenuity.  Perhaps this time it is true;  after all, the Internet has enabled an undreamed-of diffusion of these new modes of production.

Will there be a critical phase, or are we at the "end of history?"  Stay tuned, as they used to say in Radio;  or, "Pictures at eleven" (oops! pictures right now).  Can the software get any more

Best regards,    Kaye

Kaye Miller - 2005             Roberta Miller 2005


Click to read the manuscript of what 
was to have been Radical Software #6

If the label on it is correct-- and I believe it to be so-- I shot it in
November of 1971, in New York, in an apartment on Central Park West.

Several of us from the University of Illinois were in New York for a
symposium titled "Challenge for Change Comes to NYU."  Challenge for
Change was a programme of the National Film Board of Canada and was
responsible for some of the most imaginative, progressive efforts to
promote social change using film and videotape that had been done up
until that time.  One of the key people in media at NYU was a woman
named Jackie Park, who had worked for the National Film Board before she
came to New York.  The apartment in question belonged to her and her
husband, Ben.  The key guest for, I think, brunch on this particular day
was a childhood friend of Jackie's, and a professor with whom both
Roberta and I had studied-- Roberta at the University of Pennsylvania,
and I at Berkeley.  He was Erving Goffman, one of the great sociologists
of the period.  He was interested in research applications for visual
media, and also eager to see his old friend, with whom he had been out
of touch for perhaps 35 years.

I haven't seen the tape for many years, and cannot remember what all
occurs on it, but I would love to see it again, if you're able to render
it to either DVD or VHS.  I can only hope that it has not suffered
magnetic degradation over time.

(This is very low bandwidth - press the forward arrow to start)

c- 2005


wpe2B.gif (17760 bytes) wpe39.gif (54596 bytes)
The stills of Michael Shamberg can be around at the 23 minute mark aprox.

See some of Kaye & Roberta Miller's Wood Creations at:

(click to go there!)



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