Scratch Video a mutant hybrid of scratch DJ music and guerrilla TV



In 1965, the Sony Corporation released the first consumer video camera, named the porta-pak. The porta-pak was inexpensive, portable, and non-broadcast quality. (London 285) It was technically less sophisticated than professional equipment, and self-contained: it could tape, playback, and users could edit by physically cutting and pasting. Attaching the porta-pak to their TV sets, they could even record broadcast television.

The porta-pak was more than a camera, it was being constructed as an empowering counter-hegemonic tool: video was no longer just the domain of TV stations, which used video tape starting in 1957 (ending the era of live TV). The porta-pak made video into a tool for independent producers -- you could shoot your own programming, or direct the flow of live television onto video tape.

Initially, everyone who owned a porta-pak was considered a video artist (Boyle 203). Eventually there would be a split, and the group more concerned with the aesthetic possibilities of the new medium carried on making video art. The porta-pak was exciting and didn't have any established boundaries. Video became a new tool for artists.

Nam June Paik was one of the first people to acquire a porta-pak, allegedly buying one from the first shipment Sony sent to the United States. Before the release of the porta-pak, he was making television sculptures which would distort incoming television signals so he could play them like a musical instrument. Paik wanted to turn watching television into a more interactive practice.

"As Paik saw it, before the rise of video as an art form, TV technology had been developed to make passive consumers of its audience. Paik wanted to humanize the technology by opening the role of producer to whoever had the need and/or desire to activate their relationship to television." (Ross 151-2)

Video artists tested how far video could be pushed, and were creating a visual language for the medium.

The other group of early porta-pak users were more interested in the personal, immediate, and portable qualities of the new technology; they created the genre of video documentary. The porta-pak could be set up easily and quickly, allowing for the recording of spectacular footage. Aesthetically, cinema verite style camera work was quickly accepted -- and became visual language for the representation of "reality", the point of view of the operator.

Porta-pak users were creating a new kind of television, questioning the networks, copyright, and traditional television news. In 1971, six years after Sony released the porta-pak, Michael Shamberg and the Raindance Corporation released a book which documents their approach to video technology, Guerrilla Television.

"With portable videotape technology, anything recorded on location is ready on location, instantly. Thus, people can control information about themselves, rather than surrender that power to outsiders. ABC, CBS, and NBC do not swim like fish among the people. They watch from the beach and thus just see the surface of the water." (Shamberg 7-8)

Guerrilla Television wanted to drag media coverage to the vantage point of average people. Shamberg recommends using the porta-pak to create a collage out of recorded images and sounds from broadcast television. In a section titled "tactics", he urges people to create their own juxtapositions and use familiar TV sounds and images to get their own ideas across. (Shamberg 40) Guerrilla Television's practices of taping and then remixing TV content are an early precursor to scratch video.

Copyright 2000© Hart Snider