Music Video

1 “The Picturesque of Sound”

In order to define the forerunners and beginnings of the music video precisely, and to trace its historical development from there, it is important to first recall the two main functions of the genre:

  1. Reproducing as accurately as possible a natural phenomenon—i.e., one occurring in everyday reality—and its simultaneous esthetic staging, whereby this reproduction should be repeatable at will and, in contrast to such forms as theater, opera, and the musical, should not require narration.
  2. Making available the mediatized presence of a musical performer in a way that is, like a stage production, primarily addressed to an audience and speaks to it. This aspect explains why videos often have the performer facing the camera.

The specific points of departure for its technical evolution to be mentioned here are, first, the Eidophusikon by the French-born English painter Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740–1812) and Thomas Alva Edison’s Kinetophone of 1891.

De Loutherbourg’s Eidophusikon, first presented in 1781 in London, was an audiovisual miniature theater. Scenes from nature were realistically reproduced on a small stage with the aid of painted and modeled elements that could move, thanks to a clever technology, to the accompaniment of noises and music. The Eidophusikon’s effort to reproduce nature as convincingly as possible (the name is derived from the Greek: eidos meaning form or image and phusikos meaning original or natural) were judged extremely successful by contemporaries. De Loutherbourg was praised not only as a genius who could create a copy of Nature, to be taken for Nature’s self but also as the inventor of a new audiovisual art: He introduced a new art—the picturesque of sound.[1]

This emphasis on close interweaving of image and sound characterizes each of the genres that can be seen as a transitional medium between the Eidophusikon and Edison’s Kinetophone. In 1836 the writer August Lewald described a form of presentation in which the strikingly similar, moving portrait of a recently deceased mezzo-soprano was projected while a singer in a hidden location accompanied it.[2]