Tom Ditto's Philharmonia (1974) consists of two aspects: electronic images and electronic music. The artwork is about eight minutes long and maintains a continuous style of psychedelic flower-like images that constantly change shape and pattern to the sounds of a very relaxing harmony of tones. It is important to know that we should only make sense out of this piece as we would with a composed piece of music. As Ditto explains, "the pictures are very much like musical harmony and, in fact, only make sense in the context of musical harmony".
With a little imagination, the patterns seem to resemble splashes of color (or paint) on a canvas. Each image seems to flow into the next image--it appears that they overlap one another so that it looks like there is never only one image on the screen. The designs are electronically produced with a variety of colors, giving the piece a colorful animated effect. Throughout the video, the designs tend to focus the viewer's eye in the middle of the screen. Every image has a beginning to an end, until it disappears or "dissolves" from its plane. An image first appears directly in the middle of the screen and then expands out in every direction. The motion is very similar to the way a single firework explodes equally in every direction, creating its own individual pattern. We can almost call these various electronic images "synthetic fireworks".
Like many other examples of film or video art, this typical question may often be asked: Was the picture created for the music or was the music created for the picture? It is easiest to just say that for Philharmonia, the picture and music were created for each other. Technically, according to Tom Ditto, the sounds actually produced the pictures. After his presentation in Danbury, I asked him if any instrument, like a guitar, can be played for a desired sound, allowing a design to be produced using that sound. He said that only constant tones can be used for the technique to work. Constant tones, meaning that the tone cannot bend or change in any manner. An electronic musical source, like a keyboard, is a good example of an instrument that can play these types of tones. The first thing that came to mind was the sound of an electric guitar to produce unique image with that sound, but he said that a guitar's tone (produced from the "loose" strings) often changes.
--Dave King, 1999
Thomas DeWitt used many new techniques during the time that he made
his films. The film Philharmonia was made using a synthesizer and
sounds and images. It synchronizes the movement of the images to the
music. What is made is a film that is entertaining and beautiful. Watching
the images that appear when different music is played is interesting and is
a new experience. DeWitt used this new idea in other films that he created.
The effect that is produced by using this synthesizer is one that cannot be
created using anything else. The effect is unique and different from other
techniques and films that we have seen. DeWitt worked with a number of
people on this film and all of their work made the film what it is.
--Erica Ferry, 2000
I have to agree. Philharmonia is an interesting and beautiful film to watch.
It is interesting how DeWitt can change sound into shapes and colors.
However I think it to long and drawn out. In my opinion it can only hold the
viewer's complete attention for no longer than ten minutes.
--Alessandra Raffa, 2000
I liked philharmonia but at the same time I got lost in it. some of the
synthesized sounds are pretty but some of them are very harsh to
listen to and give you a bit of a headache after a while. the images
moving along with the sound is really nice to watch and listen to at the
same time but i found myself drifting off. it wasn't able to hold my
attention for a long period of time to fully be able to appreciate the fact
of Dewitt-Ditto's method of timing and such that went into the work of
--Gelsey Wallner, 2001
I absolutely agree with Gelsey. I found it interesting to see all the hard
work that Dewitt-Ditto put into Philharmonia but I got lost in the film. It
didn't keep my attention. It really is amazing how someone could find
art in a synthesizer though. I don't think I would have ever thought to
do something so creative.
--Alyssa Miklinevich, 2001
I appreciated the political commentary early on in the film.......
I would have preferred to see "philharmonia" as a separate piece,
rather than directly following Dewitt's other film and interview. It was
impressive considering the technique that was used to make the film. I
enjoyed the coordinating synthesized sound and image. Considering
when the film was made, the film is even more impressive in that it was
innovative for it's time.
--Donna Albano, 2001
Tom DeWitt Ditto Work