The Whole Is the Sum of Its Parts

The Whole Is the Sum of Its Parts
Bill Viola

from: Will there Be Condominiums in Data Space
Original Publication: Video 80(5):36-41. 1982. This text from Bill Viola, Reasons
for Knocking at an Empty House, 121-135. Ed. Robert Violette. Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1995. (This version from the New Media Reader).

A friend of mine is an ethnomusicologist who spent several
years studying the gamelan music of Central Java. He was trained
in Western music in the States, and spent many years working on
his own compositions and performing with other musicians.
One of the most frustrating things about his studies in Java, he
told me, was trying to work on specific parts of songs with the
gamelan musicians. Once they were at a rehearsal, and after
running through a piece, he asked them to play only a section
from the middle so that he could make sure he got all the notes
right. This proved to be an impossible request. After a lot of
hemming and hawing, excuses, and several false starts, he
realized that the group just could not do it. They insisted on
playing the entire piece over again, from beginning to end. In
Java, the music was learned by rote, from many years of
observation and imitation, not from written notation. The idea
of taking a small part out of context, or playing just a few bars,
simply did not exist. The music was learned and conceived as a
whole in the minds of the musicians.

Giulio Paolini, the contemporary Italian artist, made a little-known but farreaching
videotape in the mid-seventies. It was his first and only tape.
Working at an experimental video studio in Florence in the cradle of Western
art, he, like many other European artists who visited the art/tapes/22 studio,
had his first encounter with video. Instead of simply re-translating into video
what he had already been doing before, as most other artists had done,
Paolini intuitively recognized the great power underlying the recording media.
He took the slides of all his work, most of the pieces he had ever made, and
recorded them one at a time on each frame of video. Playing back this tape,
the viewer sees 15 years of Paolini’s art, his life’s work, go by in less than a
minute. Poof! It’s gone.

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