The Vortex Concerts

In 1957 the composer Henry Jacobs convinced the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco to let him use their newly renovated four-track surround-sound system for a series of concerts. Jacobs commissioned new pieces of electronic music from international composers and asked Jordan Belson to prepare visual imagery that could be projected on the dome during each number.

Having access to the planetarium “starscape” projectors, as well as conventional film and slide projectors, opened for Belson the possibility of rivaling Thomas Wilfred’s light projections, which had impressed him years earlier in New York. Belson used filmed footage of his own, as well as that of his friends Hy Hirsh and James Whitney and his wife at the time, Jane Conger. Belson linked Whitney’s film Yantra to a composition by the Dutchman Henk Badings called “Cain and Abel,” and the match worked so well that Whitney had it printed on the film for distribution. Whitney also animated a short visual accompaniment to Pierre Henry’s “High Voltage.” Belson himself filmed long scroll paintings through a kaleidoscope to produce dazzling flows of richly textured imagery, some of which he issued separately as the film Raga. Conger’s cut-out mandalas also formed the basis for a film for Henry Jacobs’ music Logos.

These Vortex Concerts proved so successful that they continued for three years and traveled to the Brussels World Fair in 1958.

[Moritz, William. "History of Experimental Animation." Website. Absolut Panushka, curated by Christine Panushka. (Jan-Apr 1997)]

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