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Profile: Frederick Abrams
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Author:dhomas trenn
Published by:NewTekniques magazine (US)
Date:August 1998

Update: April 11, 2002: Frederick Abrams' Interactive Underground Data-Travelling Website is online at:

Frederick Abrams is originally from Los Angeles, California and studied in an experimental program at the University of California at Berkeley. He began as a stained glass artist and worked as the editor for an international magazine on contemporary glass art, and later as the awarded art director of a rock music magazine. He is a multi-awarded, multimedia artist who presently resides in the city of Wroclaw (say Vrots-wahv), Poland.

His continued experimentation and further development of his work in glass, as a contemporary iconographic light artform, eventually transformed into computer aided art and bridged the senses of sight and sound.

In 1986, his first applications of this immerging creative style met with the public as a sound and light installation entitled The Underground Cathedral. This life-committed project has evolved, over more than a decade, to include live and electronic performance of original music composition as well as computer art and animation, documentary video, photography, and sound recordings collected during his travels.

In addition to having done several temporary installations and exhibitions in the United States and Poland, three of his graphic works are among the permanent collection of the Lodz Art Museum (Lodz: say Woodge) in Poland.

As interesting as the work Frederick has created, is his story of the struggle to solve technical problems and survive economic obstacles that lay in the path of realizing his vision, and the largest project of his life.

Frederick Abrams
Plus: An Amiga
Routes of Civilization Frederick had been searching for some method of further strengthening the visual impact of his work. The transition from the ancient craft of stained glass to computer aided art proved a natural one. This began with the transformation of a large stained glass map, he had made of Paris metro routes, into a series of graphic replicas using a computer aided design (CAD) system. At this time, he was beginning to recognize the immense possibilities available to individual artists through the use of desktop computing,

Frederick had been previously introduced to the Amiga by an animator at the top television animation studio in Barcelona, Spain. So, in 1992, when he heard of the release of the OpalVision card he was convinced that the Amiga could fulfill his plans, which at that point were strictly for a visual slideshow presentation.

The purchase of a computer was originally intended for a post-Olympic multimedia performance in Barcelona. But, while awaiting the shipment of a new A3000 from the United States, the Spanish economy crashed. Because of this, many programs associated with the Olympics were cancelled and major architectural projects were halted.

With his project plans unexpectedly and suddenly terminated, it was the use of his A3000 as a creative tool which would enable Frederick to continue independently and to pursue a new path into dimensions previously unseen.

However, having had no previous training, he knew almost nothing about computer technology. In addition, Commodore Spain had just closed and reliable technical support became difficult to find locally.

Plus: Digital Audio
In 1993, Frederick travelled to London, stopping off in Paris where he learned of the possibilities of composing and producing his own CD quality music. It was there that he purchased Bars & Pipes Professional and a Sunrize AD516 sound card with Studio 16 software.

In London, he met with David Pleasance, then President of Commodore UK, who was very interested in the work Frederick was doing. He was offered the assistance of Commodore's head of Technical Support in developing the performance. However, the first signs of Commodore's imminent collapse were evident and this was never to be.

In the midst of constant economic misfortune, from Commodore Amiga to Spain, Frederick returned to Barcelona and in total isolation spent the next year creating what was to become the soundtrack for his ongoing project.

Plus: Digital Video
Upon completion, Frederick made his way back to the United States for the first time in over two and a half years. This trip exposed him to digital video editing, which would later further the evolution of his project into previously unimagined territories. Both the NewTek Flyer and MacroSystem's V-Lab Motion (VLM) had just been released despite Commodore's demise. The VLM was PAL capable and Frederick liked the creative possibilities of MovieShop and the lower, affordable price. So, he purchased the V-Lab Motion card and a new Hitachi H57E Hi8 camcorder.

This presented another obstacle, however, since the V-Lab Motion did not directly support sound using the AD516. When enquiring about this, U.S. technical support put Frederick in contact with a person in Arizona who had worked out a method using ARexx to integrate MovieShop with Studio 16. Now, ready to further the evolution of his work, he returned to Barcelona.

BarsStudioMovie Frederick was successful getting the AD516 working with the VLM, as he had been instructed; and with a little creative intuition, he devised a method for integration with Bars & Pipes, as well. Soon, he had managed to get all three programs (MovieShop, Studio 16 and Bars & Pipes) running on the same public screen and fully synchronized. But, because of the intense system requirements of these programs and limitations of the Zorro hardware, playback was sometimes problematic and would require occasional tweaking within each program to obtain smooth results.

Solving this problem showed Frederick that the Amiga remained a vital creative force, despite the ever diminishing support of developers and manufacturers. But, that problem was just one in a series of technical nightmares. Fortunately, for Frederick, it was then that internet access became widely available in Spain and on-line technical support became a very important part of his success. Through his own experimentation, and coupled with advice from people he met on the internet, he was able to solve other difficulties along the way.

With everything set, he spent the next year and a half learning and experimenting with digital video editing and developing his first two videos: About To Depart and Paquito. Upon completion in 1996, these videos were circulated to various European festivals and within four months had won six separate awards including categories of documentary, soundtrack and originality.

Equals: The Underground Cathedral
The Underground Cathedral With the success of his work, Frederick was invited to present a live performance for the WRO International Media Art Biennale in Wroclaw, Poland the following year. Excited to participate in this rare multimedia festival, Frederick relocated to Wroclaw and completed an additional eight video documentaries.

Despite the crash of Spain's economy, Commodore's collapse, the challenges of working in a re-developing country emerging from the darkness of the Iron Curtain, and through seemingly never ending technical difficulties, Frederick premiered The Underground Cathedral - Work in Progress in May of 1997.

The now much evolved multimedia performance was backed by a large video projection screen and a soundtrack of audio recordings from underground metro systems; and fronted by Frederick and nine other live musicians. This one hour live performance was recorded, mixed with original video excerpts and combined with an interview for broadcast on television. The performance was later repeated as the opener for a festival held at the Center for Contemporary Art (Ujazdowski Castle) in Warsaw.

dhomas: "What does The Underground Cathedral set out to accomplish and why is it important?"

Frederick: "For me, as the physical, technical and artistic aspects of the project itself, the purpose and intent of The Underground Cathedral has undergone its own transformation through the passage of time. When I first thought of the title, what was in mind was the idea of designing and executing a monumental representation of a subway map in stained glass if for no other reason than as a statement of perseverance. Nearly three years were devoted to that single artwork and now nearly two decades have transpired since its inception while through dramatic evolutions and transformations from an ancient craft to high technology I have remained wedded to the same essential concept. Thus, the meaning for me personally has come to the point of recognizing a sense of purpose, of never giving up on a vision, a dream, a larger than life ambition... just as cathedrals and metro systems are projects which require human lifetimes to complete, if ever."

The Future
It is an extension of the project itself, being a study of travel, that the next step in Frederick's vision is to evolve The Underground Cathedral into a touring performance.

Presently, the project exclusively documents his travels throughout Western and Eastern Europe and the United States. Frederick plans to further the project by exploring other parts of the world where metro systems exist.

As important as the work itself is the proliferation of his vision through other metaphor and form - So, watch here for an announcement about Frederick's upcoming Interactive Underground Data-Travelling Website which will further his work. He has also just completed further development of his existing performance video into a musical documentary containing still photography, animation, special effects and sound samples, replacing the live musicians with MIDI instrumentation. This 65 minute film, and separate chapters from it, are now being distributed to various festivals throughout the world.

Project related music, videos, artwork, photography, etc. is expected to available for purchase in the near future. In the mean time, enjoy a small glimpse into The Underground Cathedral  with these sample images and sound clips.

2: Antenna Man 02_AntennaMan.aiff 831 K 19:29s
5: Greve 05_Greve.aiff 1190 K 27:64s
6: Mind The Gap 06_MindTheGap.aiff 934 K 21:68s
9: The Tunnel's End 09_TheTunnelsEnd.aiff 1249 K 29:01s
10: Samoobsluga 10_Samoobsluga.aiff 1375 K 31:93s

"It is my continuing goal to broaden the scope and perception of all creative forms beyond those narrowly defined as art, music, poetry and so forth, as well as bridging the gaps between ancient and primitive crafts and techniques with those of the present and future. I see this as an ongoing ever-evolving project, one likely to continue throughout my own lifetime."  -- Frederick Abrams.
Video/Film/Multimedia Awards and Festivals:

  • November 1999: "Video and Sound Installation" awarded First Prize, Audio-Art Festival, Warsaw, Poland
  • March 1999: "The Underground Cathedral" awarded Grand Prize, Videoformes '99 Festival, Clermont-Ferrand, France
  • December 1996: "About To Depart" and "Paquito" awarded Grand Prize, for Video and Music and Sound Illustration, National Competition of Video Lorca '96, Lorca, Spain
  • November 1996: "About To Depart" awarded Bronze Trophy, Fotogramma d'Oro di Castrocaro Termi, Forli, Italy
  • November 1996: "About To Depart" awarded Bronze Trophy for Music and Sound - Sound Illustration, F.A.U.S.T. (Forum des Arts de l'Universe Scientifique et Technologique), Toulouse, France
  • October 1996: "About To Depart" and "Paquito" awarded Most Original Videos, Festival de Cinema de Gerona, Gerona, Spain
  • October 1996: "About To Depart" Selected, 37th Brno Sixteen, Brno, Czech Republic
  • September 1996: "About To Depart" awarded First Prize for Documentaries, Video Festival di Canzo, Como, Italy
  • September 1996: "About To Depart" awarded First Prize, Concurso de Video el Carrascal, Madrid, Spain
  • September 1996: "About To Depart" Selected, Euro Video Festival Photokina '96, Cologne, Germany

Frederick's Hardware/Software includes:

Amiga Hardware: A3000 desktop with Warp Engine 040, SCSI-2, 48 MB of RAM, 15 GB of harddisk storage (8 GB used for motion video), Sunrize AD516 audio card, MacroSystem V-Lab Motion and OpalVision cards. For backup purposes he uses Sony DAT and Iomega JAZ drives. Three video monitors are used, often simultaneously, to display output from the Amiga, V-Lab Motion and OpalVision.

Amiga Software: Movie Shop, Studio 16, Bars & Pipes Pro, Copyist, Opal Paint, Art Department Pro, Art Effect, Scala and Lightwave.

Sound Hardware: The studio consists entirely of a Roland JV-80 multi-timbral synthesizer, Mackie 1202 twelve channel mixing console, a NAD amplifier and a set of professional monitor speakers. Field recordings are made with a Sony DAT Walkman.

Video Hardware: Hitachi H57E Hi8 (PAL) video camcorder and Olympus still camera.