Bell Labs recently marked the 50th anniversary of the pioneering collaboration between artists and technologists known collectively as Experiments in Arts and Technology (E.A.T.). Despite being much heralded at their inception and spawning many chapters worldwide, E.A.T. has been a little dormant for the past decades, because in many ways the ideas were so ‘avant garde’ that they were well ahead of their time. But as art and technology have become deeply intertwined, with the rise of smartphones and their canonical apps, cloud based creative software platforms, sophisticated digital image capture devices, and immersive, large scale digital displays or head-mounted VR goggles, art and technology are becoming truly coupled, or perhaps even symbiotic.
Bell Labs has a long and distinguished history in the creation and production of the digital arts. In video, Bell Labs broadcast the first long distance TV signal in 1927, transmitted the first satellite video signal across the Atlantic, invented the charge-coupled-devices (CCD – digital image sensor) in 1969, and pioneered high definition TV, making seminal contributions to the standard that came to define compressed video (MPEG) and audio (MP3).In sound, Bell Labs invented High Fidelity stereo recording and reproduction in the early 1930s, having also participated in early sound-motion picture productions such as “The Jazz Singer”. We created the first computer-generated singing voice in 1961 and then pioneered the early fields of computer generated graphics, art, and movies. Bell Labs also originated the basic signal processing algorithms and hardware that are ubiquitous in music, video and other areas today.
The E.A.T collective brought together Bell Labs engineers and New York City visual artists, choreographers and composers for 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering, a series of new art-performance works that changed music, theater and the media arts forever. These performances included rarely-seen demonstrations of video projection, wireless sound transmission, and Doppler sonar. Artists included John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Öyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, and Robert Whitman, with many notable engineers involved including Bela Julesz, Billy Klüver, Max Mathews, John Pierce, Manfred Schroeder, and Fred Waldhauer. Recordings of the 9 Evenings performances have been curated by the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology.
Through ongoing E.A.T. collaborations from the 1960s through the 1980s, the traditional boundaries between the arts and sciences became fuzzy and led to greater understanding of how art and technology were increasingly coming together.
And we continue to explore new dimensions of the senses, examining movement and motion, emotion and sensory measurements, in order to try to discern intent or needs or even desires! We are also working on methods to help people think more efficiently using a combination of machine learning and new graph-based mathematics to augment human intelligence and perception.