©Werner Hammerstingl, 1998


Strictly speaking, if you're reading a book and listening to the radio or music from the stereo you're having, in the most pedantic interpretation of the term, a "Multi-media" experience.

Bruce Sterling, cyberpunk novelist and journalist, observed that 'there were 8,784 books on the topic of multimedia 'even though no one has successfully defined the term' (Sterling: Dead Media, 21C #1, 1996, pp 58-60).

There is no doubt, multimedia is difficult to define.

What is multimedia? Is it function buttons obscuring a distracting picture? Is it shovelware stamped onto a CD-ROM? Or is it just an assortment of technologies and techniques---some that are thrilling and powerful, and others that are worse than useless?

Multimedia is an almost generic term. The multimedia in its most basic meaning just describes the composition of more then one medium;  a medium being a carrier of information.  Accordingly, any composition of different media ought to be considered multimedia---a rather vague definition to work with, especially so once we look at computer science's notion of multimedia: What shall we consider a single medium? Furthermore: What are multimedia applications? Click here and find out..What kind of support do we require from an operating system for running our multimedia applications on it?

Well, that's what we shall try and discuss in this lecture.

Once the essential link between multimedia and the CD-Rom is questioned and severed (as it can be from the viewpoint of developments in web-based multimedia, or authoring software, or textual theory such as hypertext) the area becomes extremely complex.

But we still look for definitions. So, lets start defining:

Definitions: As an initial starting point, let's define multimedia in quite a general and vague way as 'multiple media': the combination of image, text, sound, video, animation and so on in the one abstract space. As a further starting point, let's assume that multimedia and computing are related, even intertwined in some way.

This intertwining is confirmed in our very first definitions of multi-media. A common definition of Multi-media describes the experience of "filmic and sound content" via a computer" . Click here for more details.
The "mixed media" definition which talks about computer controlled systems for working with different forms. Now these are quite cautious starting points. But already they risk locking us into directions that take us where we might not want to go, or narrow the area of multi-media too much.

Multi-media before the common use of computing: Depending how you look at it, multimedia has a long history prior to the advent of personal computing.

Example : In the '70s and '80s. it was quite common in performance art to find "multi-media" used to describe installations made up of films, videos, slides, music and actors.The work of New York performance artist Laurie Anderson comes to mind here, or the Canadian Michele Lemieux. Stelarc and Orlan too could be said to be multi-media artists in their performances.

It is increasingly the case that this kind of performance work is referred to as 'Mixed Media'. A legacy of this experimentation is that today you still find definitions of multimedia that refuse to exclude this work.

The "Mixed Media" definition is a "Hybrid definition" because it does not rely on the use of computing. A British artist "scanner" who came to Australia in 1996 mixes scanned cellphone conversations with a handheld frequency scanner and mixed the conversations discovered randomly in DJ fashion with techno recordings.


In the good old days multi-media was something you did in the art room with paint, bits of "found objects" and so on. Today many commentators see it as the new art form to replace traditional media.

Most of us today, when pressed, would probably come up with a definition of multi-media that encompassed a combination of media including text, still or moving images, such as computer graphics, slides, film, video or print illustrations and sound including voice narration, music and generated or sampled sound effects. Within this definition would fall such mainstream media as books and television. However to many, multi-media interactives quite simply implies computers. At the simplest level of inter-activity a user touches something (a screen, a mouse etc) and something happens. What they touch can vary wildly as can the method of inter-activity.

Once the users become more discering about content and less dazzled by the medium, we'll be on our way to make the new members of multimedia mediums important contributors to our social and cultural experience.

Links to resources:

This link will take you to sites that offer extensive, and sometimes very academic information about multimedia.

Multi-media on the WWW: I have given examples of websites here where you will find a range of multi-media experiences. Some of these sites require that you have the "Shockwave" plug-in on your browser.

  • V2onW3 Institute for the unstable media.
  • Autodesk - Multimedia Efficiently designed, the large images don't get in the way of performance.
  • B.U.A. Advertising & Design Minimal and beautiful both interface and content.
  • swim~ Ambient Label with a very minimal look and great CGI pushes
  • ada web Artist environment
  • WORDNew York street zine displaying a fine interface, great content,and cool cgi-pushes.
  • FSOnLine Future Sound of London are not only brilliant experimental recording artist, they are also masters of illusion.
  • The Place An evolving repository of artwork.
  • MkzdK.OrgOnce the only decent interface on the web.Still a great look.
  • hyperFuzzy A collaberation of artists in a very obscure environment.
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