Archive for the ‘How to VJ’ Tag

How to VJ #7

Had a whole barrel of fun playing with The Correspondents at Braindrop on Friday. Certainly a snap to the synapses after VJing for poetry the week before.

Along the way I met Clément, aka Pikilipita, and witnessed 8-bit VJing for the first time.


Photo credit: Ne1co

I’ve talked before about the fact that you don’t need a laptop to VJ.

Pikilipita is polemical about a ‘No Laptop’ policy. He’s a developer and designer, and over a year ago developed a VJ app for the Game Boy Advance.

On Friday, as we switched over between sets, he seemed pretty light on equipment. Just a PS2 and PS2 controller. He stood behind the Braindrop DJs and played his visuals like a console game using the PS24VJ software he finished developing earlier in 2008.

I was impressed by Pikilipita’s minimal set and the ease of his interactions. I’m even more impressed that you can get his apps through a “shareware” business model that only asks for voluntary donation.

On the subject of 8-bit/ ‘No Laptop’ – there’s Gijs Gieskes, aka strobovj. Take a look at the video below:

strobovj makes his animations with Gameboy camera then plays them through his stroboscope – a truly old school device (via). The animations can be synched to the clock of Game Boy musical app LSDJ.

There’s a heap of hacking, tinkering and repurposing going on. And the long and short of it is this – you don’t need a laptop to VJ.

Although it helps to be a developer.

Previous How to VJ:

#6 Pixel-per-pixel: a history

#5 Making layers: an example

#4 Types of VJ: an overview

How to VJ #4

I took a hiatus from this series to tighten it up. Then I noticed something crucial was missing – I’d never made any attempt to provide a map, any co-ordinates, for what I’m talking about.

So here it is: a short breakdown of key types of VJing, as it stands.

1. The AV Geek

Obviously most VJs are AV geeks. But when you track back to the early works by people like Coldcut and Hexstatic, you see where it all came from.

The AV geek likes to sample. Loves to sample, in fact. Because they’re hooked on video. The more directly, and literally, the video can relate to the sound – the better.

The results have a strong element of pastiche and pop-post-modern. Two of the best contemporaries in this mould are Eclectic Method and Addictive TV.

The laziest AV geeks loop samples from Fear and Loathing and the Kubrick archive with zero editing and little live manipulation. Watch you don’t fall into that trap.

2. The Mo-Graphic Designer

No less important in the history and development of VJing. On a bad day, this is the kind of performer you’d describe as a Screensaver VJ because their style is more closely aligned with computer than film.

At the one extreme, you’ll see the High Concept Electrician – tinkerers so deep in the machine they can produce sets through the visualisation of feedback/ distortion/ channels from old analogue equipment.

At the other, you’ll see beautiful, bespoke 3-D motion graphic design and a high-level of MIDI synchronisation. Dispensing with film allows a much more accurate and minimalist representation of sound. See below.

3. The Animator

I haven’t seen this too often in clubs and it tends to be less live. The first example that came to mind was Mr Scruff. As he illustrates his albums with line drawings, it makes perfect sense to animate them for performance.

If anyone’s got a better or more developed example, please share. VJing could be a rich terrain for the old-fashioned animator but it tends not to be how it’s done. Perhaps the live editing is too challenging.

4. The Director

I’ve picked out Ben Strebel here because he’s a huge talent and a good friend.

This kind of VJ is a director first and foremost – VJing provides an opportunity to test out their original material in front of a large audience. It’s like live showreeling, to an extent.

Ben does a lot more than that, and his performances involve motion graphics and animation too. But his work in music video and short film directs and characterises what he does live on a night.

Here’s one of his latest music videos for the Stereo MCs.

5. The Light Artist

Artists like Simian Mobile Disco and many other big name headliners perform with LED shows. They strip back to light and light alone.

The very best in this field, however, work more along the lines of installation. They aren’t shackled by a single screen. Their projections are multiple and the results are breathtaking.

Massive Attack have moved into this area in the last few years, but my favourites remain The Light Surgeons for their constant boundary-pushing and absolute focus on creating 3D-lit moving habitats wrapped right around their audience.

It’ll be back to business with How to VJ #5. But if anyone wants to challenge these loose categories – add, amend or expand – go for it. Post a comment.

Previously: #3 Keep it in time; Up next: #5 Layers upon layers.

How to VJ #3

After How to VJ # 2, you’re now in the deep groove of pre-production.

Your footage is moving alright. But you’ve got to cut it correct in the edit, or you won’t be able to make it behave on the night.

You look ahead to that future in loops or lines.

Stop for a second. Listen to music you like – the kind of music you want to perform to. You have to understand that music.

Parts of it will be looping in regular and complete patterns. Parts of it won’t feel complete. They’ll be coming in at intervals and fading out, unfinished. They’ll be stabbing in, hard, jagged, irregular.

Your footage should use both if you want your live performance to be subtle and impressive. You’ll rely on loops to create layers and depth. You’ll need lines to give it surprise and character through manual control.

I’ll end this with Zan Lyons. I was lucky enough to work alongside him for London Poetry Systems this week. His layers, loops and lines reverberated through sound and image together and they explain this core thought much better than I can in words. Truly stunning.

Just watch closely what he’s doing, and turn your speakers up…

Bonus thought: Still not sure what’s meant by loops and lines? Look at the next Flash landing page you hit online. Is the load animation linear (like a load bar with a defined end point) or looping (like a circle going round continually until the page loads up)?

Recommended reading: Gilles Deleuze – Cinema 2: The Time-Image.

Previously: #1 What can you do?; #2 How can it dance?

Up next: #4 You know the type?

How to VJ #2

After How to VJ #1, you’ve still not touched any VJ software.

You’re making, animating, filming, researching – one way or another, you’re finding your way to put together material.

But when it comes to a club night, you’ll have to perform. You’ll have to make it dance.

In preparation, you do one of three things:

1. Nothing. It’s already dancing

If you’ve filmed or sampled moving footage, it’s got its own in-built motion. A life of its own, baby. You gotta dance with it, so learn your steps. It’s leading the dance. Not you.

2. Order a few cocktails

If you’re animating, this is where you turn static into Thriller. Give it some attention, a couple of Long Island Ice Teas and it’ll shake to your moves.

For a strong all-night performance, though, you’ll need to move in the right circles. So keep thinking about loops.

3. Drop a killer beat

If your material’s still not toe-tapping, the show’s not over. As soon as you start editing, whether pre-production or live, you’re supplying a new beat. You can get a booty shimmer out of a photograph if pick the right cuts.

You shouldn’t think about equipment or software until you’ve figured how to make it dance the way you want. You want rhythm, you want style, you want personality.

It can get more meaningful in the right combinations. But I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock march in to finish. He’ll explain the Kuleshov effect better than I could:

Previously: #1 What can you do? Up next: #3 Keep it in time.

How to VJ #1

We bump into each other at the bar.

You: So you’re going to write some stuff about VJing?

Me: Yeah, it’s something I get asked about. Figure I should put some thoughts down. I taught myself through trial and error – it’s hard to find anyone who can give practical advice.

You: But what’s the point? Where do you start? Most people haven’t heard of VJing.

Me: I’m going to start with a question. 

You take photographs. You write notes and doodle.

You have eyes and those eyes see hundreds and thousands of things every day that arrest you.

Any mark you make, any visual record you take of the world around you, whatever your eyes process – could all be used in VJing.

Focus your mind on the frame. That’s your first blank space. What can you make or find to put in it?

Until you consider that, you shouldn’t start. The BBC recommends starting with a camera and a computer. Their advice is sound, but they’ve skipped a few beats.

Your material doesn’t need to be filmed, for one. You don’t need to use software, for two (more on this later).

You can use anything that’s visual. You could use words alone, if they’re written well. Play a Nina Simone record and tell a story about multiple orgasms in North Korea, if you like.

Just get the frame in your head and start filling it with your eyes.

Up next: #2 How can it dance?