Thursday, February 14, 2008

Broadcast Art


These images are from my first live TV broadcast of video art, called 'IT' , in Melbourne 1991. I'd been doing video art for a number of years before, usually multi screen arrays and only in art galleries etc.

Many of these images and lots more behind the scenes footage can be seen in the Global Shuffle 1 feature documentary.

Melbourne had a hardcore experimental electronic arts community in the oldskool era, who were pioneers of media art. We would broadcast these events live on free-to-air television across Melbourne, for years.

Visiting DJ's from London, such as Adrian Age, would take video tape copies of our broadcasts back with them to play in underground clubs and raves throughout the UK and Europe, often within weeks of their first broadcast in Melbourne. Pic below Adrian Age in 1992 in the TVU warehouse.

Screening videos of cult movies etc was not uncommon at oldskool raves. But doing a live mix with hoards of computers and video effects units, and mixing them live to a DJ set in time with the music, let alone broadcasting them live on TV, was unheard of in the international rave scene, apart from Melbourne. - We're not just good dancers :)

Generally we'd dedicate an entire room of the warehouse to live VJing and media art such as these pics below in the TVU warehouse - that's me with the shaman mask on.

We used a combination of analog and digital equipment. 'Digital' in vision terms, had only just begun. AMIGA was the computer we favored for image and animation production, because of it's superior graphics chips. A fully pumped AMIGA was just 2 meg - yep, count them, 2 :) We'd daisy chain a dozen or so of them together, then feed them through the Fairlight - more about that process below.

>>>>> 0 <<<<<


The door opened, ‘Hi I’m Elvis’ he said, I’m sure you are, I thought. ‘ And this is Captain Rom’ Elvis continued. Of course it is. Who else would it be?

I entered with my box of video tapes and sat before a TV screen. The phone rang. Elvis asked me to take the call, he was busy repatching equipment in the rack. ‘What do I win?’ asked the caller. ‘Er, well hello to you too’ I said looking puzzled at Elvis who pointed to text crawling along the bottom of the TV screen.

  • Crawling is a technical term by the way. It’s when text moves in a line horizontally across a screen. Scroll/roll, the more familiar term, is when text lines move vertically on a screen, like credits of a movie, the usual phrase being 'Roll the credits'.

‘IT said to ring’ said the caller getting a little agitated. IT?... Oh the TV! The crawling text said, ‘If you can see this ring ....(Phone Number).....’ . ‘So what do I win’ he pushed again. Suddenly I spotted a clipboard in front of the TV. Ahhh, a questionnaire. ‘We just want to know what the reception’s like where you are…’ I said in my best telephone voice. It was after all, midnight on a Friday and I was settling in for an all nighter. ‘ I don’t win anything?’ grumbled the caller. ‘ But IT said to ring!!!’

'Where are you?' I asked ‘ Glen Waverley he said. Elvis had come over and saw me writing the suburb. Are you sure it’s Glen Waverley, he said to me. We’re not broadcasting out that way, he shouldn’t be able to get anything. But he was and he wanted a prize.

But a prize was the least of Elvis’s problems at that moment. It turned out Captain Rom, a rather large cyber-hippy with long grey hair and beard, wearing an overstated tie-dyed top and (un) matching tie-dyed baggy pants with a Peace symbol necklace which bounced off his belly when he walked, had ‘repatched’ some of the equipment. A very serious no-no for anything with wires, unless you have a note from God, and then the answer is still NO.

The whole TV studio had collapsed (another technical term - similar to ‘crashed’ with computers).

  • When using analog equipment, as we were this night in Dec 1991, everything has to be synced (synchronised) so you don’t get that rolling (Technical term) bar or line going up and down on your TV. We had digital stuff too, but analog was the main system. Everything has to not only link together, but phase together, very new age, and repatching immediately upsets this yin yang balance with the touchy little electrons and positrons as they buzz around the equipment. We’re talking primal energy forces here, truly the voice of the universe.

So Captain Rom decided he could do better. Well he was now sitting on cushions in the main studio in a lotus position ‘waiting’ for us to get our ‘shit together’ so he could begin 7 hrs of cyber meditation, where, along with random synthesiser sequences he would chant and at times, recite the recipe for LSD, live to air.

I was to be on camera and vision mixer for the session, then do a solo 4hr live to air ‘mix and mutate’ session from 7 am till 11am, with my little box of tricks and some of my music. However, I had planned to use the ‘Fairlight’ (A God of hi tech toys - still) extensively, but it was now broken, ‘Can’t even get color bars up’ said Captain Rom. (Color Bars are like a test pattern)

  • Captain Rom claimed to of invented the primary sound design chip for the Roland JX-3P synthesiser and sold it to Roland, but refused to take money from them, only shares and a box full of electronic bit’s and pieces. I dunno, could be true. The JX-3P was a good synth in its day. Some (still) great fat string and brass sounds. I had two which I used on the road, they took a lot of punishment (Another technical term for rough handling by roadies). One roadie dropped mine one day, out of the roadcase, from his shoulder and from off the back of the truck. That’s about 3 metres. Apart from a dented corner, it fixed an annoying hum we couldn’t track down and sounded great for years after.

  • I've just recently heard from Neale Morison who worked for Fairlight in the 1980's and he knew Captain Rom. Here's what he told me... I just happened to meet someone who remembered Captain ROM from the Fairlight days of the 1980s, so I googled the Captain and your It page appeared. It sounds like the gentleman I knew. I seem to recall he made some elaborate pitch to the co-founders of Fairlight, Kim Ryrie and Peter Vogel, and they gave him the opportunity to work on what he had in mind. Captain ROM was by no means the weirdest person I met at Fairlight, nor even the most fancifully named. There was a guy called Mars Laser and another called Kia Silverbrook. Kia, after surviving his plan to become a fruitarian, became a star innovator with Canon and later with his own IP company. I don't know what happened to Mars. He may have just Gone Home...

  • Neale has some great behind the scenes stories on the making of the Fairlight, Melbourne Shuffle Oldskool will be featuring the technology used in the oldskool days in "Melbourne Shuffle the Beginnings 2" coming soon. In the mean time check out Neale's page.

The whole TV studio and system was working fine before Capt Rom ‘improved’ it, and ‘it’ had taken all day to set up for this weekend long marathon of electronic music and senseless flashing color. Let alone the months of hustling by RMIT Uni staff and students to get a test broadcast licence in the first place. But all that was done now.

It was just after midnight and we had begun our 48hr cyberthon. Various electronic musicians, video artists, DJ’s and moral supporters, would come through those doors for the rest of the weekend, and experience the smell of split ‘bong water’ (‘Bong’-Dope water pipe) and cheap incense in the small TV studio, hidden somewhere in the RMIT Swanston St buildings in Melbourne. The phone rang, an odd voice began with 'fucking well done guys, it looks great’ It was Steve, he was with friends ‘out there’ in the night who planned to watch and party for the entire 48hr broadcast.

  • Steve Middleton and ‘Til, were the main technology and skills providers for the broadcast, better known as ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger’

After a bit of nob twiddling and ‘How is it now ?’ comments over the phone, Elvis sighed in relief. ‘Well that’s as good as it’s going to get. I’ll be asleep on the couch out in the corridor’. Wake me only if there’s a fire, A big fire!’ He’d been going all day.

Suddenly I was alone.
Just me, the cyber hippy and IT!!

7 hrs and no sleep later, I did my first live TV broadcast.


>>>>> O <<<<<

Dedicated to the Memory of Capt Rom - Media Artist, technician and creative urban legend who passed away 1993.

Here's to you ol' buddy, you'll long be remembered with a welcomed smile.

>>>>> O <<<<<


  1. FYI - Captain Rom committed suicide around 1994 in the disused Gunning (NSW) RSL club which he owned and lived in at the time. He went out in a big way, videoed the event with a cascading bank of Umatics giving several days of continuous recording, the place was infested with rats and by the time he was found the rats had eaten quite a lot of him (as he intended), all of which was captured on video, I kid you not.

  2. my god... Condolence to family and friends of Capt Rom.

    I remember hearing vague rumors years back then but wasn't sure. Thanks for the info.

    I can believe the umatics. We all had a fierce passion for video then, myself included.

    I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of Capt Rom, you won't be forgotten old buddy.

  3. Anyone who met the Captain would find him hard to forget, with his Tolkenistic appearance and strange little laugh. He spent his last days buying pallet loads of old X government computer and video equipment at auctions in Canberra (which is how I came to know him) which he planed to use for some big project of his. At the time of his death he had most of the old club piled waist high with old computer and video equipment (an enormous amount). As I recall he killed himself over a squabble with some guy in Canberra who he was err.. involved with and who had also been bankrolling said big project.

  4. hehe I can relate to the computers :) I've got stacks in my studio now, thrown out by business colleges in the area, dozens of them. I use the parts for my robot components, bearings, axles etc on drives.

    That sounds like the community TV studio he was setting up for c31. I remember he borrowed our transmitter for a test broadcast, it came back in bits, he'd 'modified' it :) We literally opened the panel and all this stuff fell out - only a $25,000 Italian built TV transmitter :)))

    He was wanting to set up a bunch of video production suites obviously in the club.

    That was about the last I heard of him

  5. The Captain had enough old computer/video junk (including enough old PDP-10 stuff to recreate the main set of Time Tunnel) in the club to easily fill a semitrailer to the top, caused a waste disposal headache for the Gunning council at the time as I recall.
    Now that I think about it the big project WAS a TV station that he was planning to build in the old club.
    He had a number of Fairlight's laying around in various states of assembly, with boards hanging off them here and there, he was far from being the tidiest technician in the world as you found out with your transmitter.
    As I recall his first name was Ron and he had an unusual surname which now escapes me, said guy in Canberra had an unusual name too, perhaps Enumeio?
    After giving it more thought I think it was probably sometime in 1993 that he died, he killed himself by taking poison, arsenic (rat sack) I think, which perhaps fitted the overall theme of the video.

  6. The reason he had so much computer/video junk was that the auction place that he brought it from only sold it by the pallet full (usualy for a song), he often only wanted one item from a pallet lot but they wouldn't allow unwanted stuff to be left behind so he ended up stuck with a lot of junk that he couldn't work out how to get rid of.

  7. We could of done well with the tech junk in Melb :) Around that time, we were doing a lot of tech assemblages and installations, even tech jewellery etc, capacitor ear rings, circuit board badges etc. There was a warehouse that sold it for parts to techs and to artists, $10 for as much as you could carry in a cardboard box sort of thing.

    I forgot about his little laugh too, it was an odd one, suited him of course :)

  8. I remember Captain ROM: he introduced me to DMT.
    Pleased that you've honored him with this blog and a little weird'd by the tale of his demise.
    Your story of him 'fixing' your broadcast setup reminded me of receiving his 'help' at the Facility where I worked. LOL.

    Thanks for opening my eyes Captain.

    Damn shame you're not around: you flashed across my mind just now so I googled you. Alas, too late.

  9. He told me his real name was Thrlama Nurio (spelling?), "Rom" was short for Thlrama and "Captain" was because he (at some stage) had his pilot's license.

    When I knew him he was obsessed with cane toads. He called the RSL Club "Toadworks Studios" and was using it to create audio-visual art based on the Mandelbrot sets (fractals), which he thought looked like toads.

    He was a de-facto Hare Krishna. After his death the local temple had him cremated and took his ashes to be dispersed in the Ganges river in India.

    I hadn't seen him for maybe 6 months before his death. I was under the impression he had lost the RSL club in Gunning by then and was living (and took his life) in a government bedsit on Northbourne Avenue in Canberra, but I could be wrong as this conflicts with other posts here.

  10. I was living in a squat in Braddon, Canberra, with a bunch of other teenagers when ROM bought the RSL club in Gunning. Apparently the storeroom of the RSL club was still full of alcohol when he bought it, and he brought round a couple of uteloads of (decade old) beer, etc. He kept the spirits for himself. I recall he had some trouble with local youths breaking into the place and stealing/vandalising his gear. He called his fractal-based visuals "toadscapes", and was forever going on about them, even at the most innapropriate times. That is disturbing news about his death. I remember when he commited suicide, but I had not heard that about the rats and video, etc.

  11. This is very strange i have never heard about video art this really unique and looking very beautiful.

  12. Interesting posts and nice to see people around that remember Rom. I am surprised that no-one has mentioned his love of chess though. I should correct a few misconceptions here about his death. He did die in his government flat in Braddon (ACT) from an overdose in 1994. I do not believe it was suicide and the detectives that turned up at my door with some of Rom's possessions to assist with identification did not indicate suicide either. He had left all his gear at Toadworks Studios (the Ex Services Club, not RSL) in Gunning due to ongoing disagreements with the people that bought the place and his health deteriorated and depression got worse over time.
    My girlfriend at the time(Tess) and I organised his cremation at Mitchell which was attended by a few friends and members of the Krishna community in Canberra. Adi Purusha Das offered to take Rom's ashes on his next trip to India and spread them on the Ganges. I will always be grateful for that.
    I remember going to a party some time after his death with some of his native American friends in Mawson (Rom was Hopi) and we threw some of his favourite things into a bonfire to send to him in the afterlife. Sadly I have lost contact with those people over the years.
    Rom was one of the most eccentric friends I have ever had. He is missed but not forgotten.

  13. Hello everyone.
    I barely remember Captain Rom, he lived in my garage with my parents when I was 5 years old. We lived in Fraser at the time this was 1991. My dad is a very friendly guy and he told me he met Rom at the Braddon markets or some such, selling VHS tapes of those fractal images he was into. Unbeknownst to my mum he offered up our garage for him to stay, my dad probably saw it as an opportunity to teach Rom about the Baha'i faith. Rom lived with us for about a year or six months maybe? Its hard to remember, I was really young. I have shadowy memories of his horde of computers, his wizard like appearance and American accent and I remember him showing me some of his videos. My mum didn't really want me or my brother spending time with him, she's a pretty conservative lady. I think he was also friends with my grandma (dad's mum) who was really into new age healing etc and formerly owned a gem stone shop in Hackett (she's dead now too).
    Once I got a bit older I searched for Rom online but never really found anything. I thought he'd be exactly the kind of person to embrace the internet and media sharing possibilities but he was gone long before it really took off. He just seemed like such a character, even though he was such a fleeting character in my childhood, I just wasn't exposed to people like that, he was very memorable. I did a deep search recently and unearthed this. Gosh, I was shocked! Although I didn't know him, he was one of those people I thought about and speculated about all throughout my childhood, what a conclusion...! The details about the rats were especially morbid. I don't really know what to say except I really wanted to share my tenuous connection here.
    Does anyone still have any of his tapes or videos?

  14. Is this thread still alive? I have an old 1985 cassette of the Captain's, made at Toad Temple in New Zealand, called 'Full Moon Toadsongs', about 30 years ahead of its time. Given the amount of interest in electronic music these days, it deserves an airing.