Archive for the ‘VJing’ Tag

Where Have You Been?

This blog isn’t dead. It’s just got a limp.

I’ve been struck down by a glut of work, a flat move and the inveterate ‘no internet’ problem (which may or may not be resolved soon – I can’t tell if Virgin Media are serious or jus’ playin’).

A more important question: where are you going?

Here are some ideas if you’re in London this weekend.

Friday Night – Hayward Gallery (FREE)

According to @LDN, the Hayward Gallery‘s current exhibition – Walking In My Mind – is free tonight at the Southbank Centre (normally £10).

Walking In My Mind at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre: Exclusive on YouTube.

If you’ve been anywhere near the Southbank lately you won’t have missed a plethora of polka dots – courtesy of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

She’s one of the exhibitors offering a glimpse into the inner workings of her imagination through “immersive, large-scale installation art”.

Walking In My Mind at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre: Tour and Interviews on YouTube.

Saturday Night – Sambatralia @ The Egg (£10 with flyer)

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I’ll be at The Egg on Saturday night – VJing all night with the Jungle Drums Sambatralia crew and Movimientos.

Beach, palm trees, a voyage through the video vaults of Latin America…? In the words of Diplo, Lesss gooooo!

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Sunday Afternoon – Dominoes 09, East London (FREE)

The highlight of the CREATE09 arts festival is happening across East London on Sunday – all the way from Mile End to Greenwich.

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Turn up at 3.30pm if you want to see the start of Dominoes 2009.

Thousands of breezeblocks tumbling across town…

Geek aside: the Dominoes 2009 website has a couple of teaser videos – the images above are screengrabs. But the organisers seem to have made a point of not letting you embed or share the clips, as the file names showed:

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So whatever you do – DON’T tell anyone about this event.

It would obviously be a disaster if people knew about it.

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The Art of Marclay

Can I tempt you with unwanted sound and the ragtag bits that are left behind?

Christian Marclay mini documentary by gmooney on YouTube.

I’ve not seen or heard anything quite like Christian Marclay.

Before hip-hop started cutting-and-scratching-scratching-and-cutting, he was using the turntable as an instrument.

Gestures, by Christian Marclay by louis on Vimeo.

When the 90s broke out, he took on pop and sex with the Body Mixes series.

(Anyone still concerned that Dye Holloway Murray stole Sleeveface might want to take a long hard look at the image of Jacko below.)

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Footstompin’ , by Christian Marclay by brennheit bakst on Flickr.

“I was just using what was there and reacting to culture and my environment. If you watch MTV it’s all about sex. It’s how they can keep people watching. You can’t be a successful pop star without being overtly sexual on screen.”

I don’t know how he’d feel about the Caramel Bunny. But they’ve both still got it.

AV performance? Multiscreen sound and image remixes?

As predictably as Dwain Chambers gets no redemption, Marclay did the business:

Video Quartet, by Christian Marclay by louis on Vimeo.

I’d love to know what this man’s got planned. You’ll get short odds that advertising will steal and sanitize it.

Sometime around 2019.

(Thanks to Zamir for the hot tip.)

External links:

Christian Marclay profile by White Cube.

Interview with the Journal of Contemporary Art.

mp3 interview/ performance at Some Assembly Required.

How to VJ #8

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Design Fail: Melli Bank in Iran via DTYBYWL.

Make your interactions simple and intuitive. Or else the whole process will be painful. And confusing. And you might need an ice-bath afterwards.

this_dance_short by brandyalexander on Vimeo.

When I played alongside The Brandy Alexander Project recently (they’re excellent, btw), they noticed my button-bashing gets pretty frenetic.

Now there’s nothing odd about that to me. Because that’s how I’ve played for a while. I’ve practiced enough that the interactions don’t feel overwraught.

Interactive Propaganda Generator #1 by Matti Niinimäki on Vimeo.

But shouldn’t things be simpler?

When you VJ, you are essentially playing one or more instruments. You should not be aware of the instruments. You should so in tune that you don’t notice them between your fingertips and the output projection.

The more you can reduce the strain of interaction, the better the results can be.

I love this interaction by Matti Niinimäki because it strips away the interface.

Mickey Mann by Matti Niinimäki on Vimeo.

The Mickey Mann style of VJing reminded me of stories I heard a while back. MIDI performance using a Wii-mote. Now how can you not love that?

Any way you can remove complexity from your interactions can boost your performance. It can get you deeper into the flow and closer to what you’re communicating.

Previous How to VJ:

#7 No laptops: 8-bit VJing

#6 Pixel-per-pixel: a history

#5 Making layers: an example

Hi-Scores on MySpace

Boomkat, Phonica and RA ranked Los Angeles as one of the albums of the year.

And whatever you make of Flying Lotus’s music, his MySpace is a web design gem.

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Love how he’s taken details from the Los Angeles sleeve art (see spreads here) to create his own computer game.

I’ve been lurking on MySpace more than usual of late and it hit me as a true stand-out on first glimpse.

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To create a striking icon is one thing. To make it interactive for your fans is a different level. To take it into live performance is a full-on branding assault.

Reminded me of the smart work Zamir and Antoine did for Buraka Som Sistema. They designed the Black Diamond icon then transformed it into a VJing centrepiece:

But what do bands have to do with branding, and vice-versa?

There’s a nice post from Renny Gleeson on ouroborous about brands and fandom. The quote he’s picked from Rob Walker talks of the Facebook/ YouTube era as “fandom without stigma”:

It takes all the things that fans have been doing throughout the 20th century and makes them public, mainstream, commercial…”

So musicians and artists – those with vocal fans before the 2.0 revolution – will up their ante if they want to stay top of the hi-scorers chart.

The gaming will be fierce this year.

Seeing Somewhat Smarter

I love my eyes, but I’m learning to love them better.

You could argue that there are higher demands placed on our visual literacy today than at any other point in history. So as the sun sets on 2008, how smart do you see?

1. Colour IQ

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When I took the x-rite colour IQ test a few months ago I scored a 7. Although I’m no designer I can see that’s not award-winning. But it’s a start, eh?

Take the test yourself to see how your eyes stack up.

2. Colour Matching

flickr-by-colour

This year Idée Labs developed Multicolr searches for Flickr and Alamy.

The screengrab above is from a search I did a few days ago. I’m working on a Brazilian NYE set for the Jungle Drums party and wanted some content ideas to fit the palette. It’s a great test for your matching instincts.

Try a Multicolr Flickr search.

3. Musical Visual IQ

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So far so static. But I mix live visuals, and I need to know my eyes got rhythm.

The phrase Associative Visual Musical Intelligence was a new one to me before I found this test on Current. AMVI is a condition of synaesthesia. Call a doctor!

Or just take the test. (I did a bit better on this one. Phew.)

4. Research

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This is a scan from David A. Beronä’s Wordless Books – a magnificent xmas present from Audrey Q.

I’m getting deeper into old graphic forms. Looking at woodcut novels, where individual panels were as small as 3.5 x 2.5 inches, truly sharpens the focus (sorry to mix the metric but 1/2 looked whack).

Throw the laptop to one side and think pre-digital. And get this book while you’re at it – another present that keeps giving.

5. Pencil and paper

guiness2

I got big lucky with presents this year. My brother bought me The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry (scan above).

I know it’s something Creative Directors say so much it can prick. But it’s true. Start with a sharp pencil and paper.

Pete Barry’s book of scamps is such a pleasure. Reminded me what it’s all about. Great visual ideas express themselves in the simplest of ways.

You can call me stupid, but I’m off to do some drawing.

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.

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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 #6

Some VJs are machines. Literally machines. Programmes that generate visuals to synchronize with an audio input.

I picked out this film by Low North to show you what I’m talking about (link for more info). Watch to see pixel-per-pixel mapping of an audio track:

I reckon it’s a stunning piece of work. But you may feel differently. We’re desensitized to audiovisual synchronization by the everyday viewing of cartoons, music videos, even 3D fractal screensavers with their precise, ambient motion.

What’s so impressive about this kind of animation, and what are its precedents?

Low North pay homage to Lillian Schwartz. Here’s one of her seminal films – Pixillation (1970):

It’s not quite pixel-per-pixel, is it? But nearly 30 years ago, Pixillation was one of the first digital films to be shown as a work of art.

It was the result of groundbreaking work by Lillian Schwartz as a consultant and researcher in visual and colour perception at Bell Laboratories.

As she says in The Computer Artists’ Handbook:

“A computer can have (be!) an unlimited supply of brushes, colors, textures, shadings, and rules of perspective and three-dimensional geometry. It can be used to design a work of art or to control a kinetic sculpture.”

But Ken Knowlton, her Bell Labs colleague and author of the BEF LIX (Bell Flix) animation programme, spoke of a troubling dichotomy. Whereas artists – human animators – were “intuitive… sensitive and vulnerable”, programmers were “constricted… cold and inscrutable”.

Look just a few years further back to John Whitney. Is that dichotomy so clear?

Like Lillian Schwartz, John Whitney has immense stature in the history of the digital arts. He’s sometimes credited (see the Wiki) as one of the fathers of computer animation. And his vision was simple:

“Above all, I want to demonstrate that electronic music and electronic colour-in-action combine to make an inseparable whole that is much greater than the parts.”

In the 1980s, Whitney was responsible for the invention of an AV “synthesizer for the future”, the Whitney-Reed RDTD. But earlier in his career he worked with Saul Bass on title sequence for Vertigo (1958).

Imagine Whitney’s vision pre-electronic. Pre-computers. When you watch the minutely synchopated animation of Fantasia (1940), for example, you don’t imagine a computer in sight. You might, however, when you watch Oskar Fischinger’s work – because it has that level of detail and timing:

As the date will tell you, this animation involved no computer. Fischinger worked for Disney as an animator on Fantasia. He’d used charcoal-on-paper for his early works. He’d played with coloured liquids and a “Wax Slicing Machine” in between, and invented the Lumigraph (a colour organ) in 1950.

Some of the most visionary animators and filmmakers of the pre-digital era laboured with incredible precision to synchronize visuals with music. There’s a separate strand of film history – one that competed against narrative cinema, the talkie, but appeared to have lost.

You’ll see origins of this battle in the early 1920s, with films by the Dadaists and particularly Hans Richter.

If you want to VJ, in my opinion, you should be aiming for “an inseparable whole that is greater than its parts”. The results can be as revolutionary as you make them.

It doesn’t matter what you use to create. But when you produce audiovisual synchronization, regardless of programmes, software or dialectics, you’re pumping new blood into a rich, historic vein of cinema.

Make it human. Make it how you feel. Because an audience will feel it with you.

Feel like some more? Check out the Center for Visual Music.

Surprise! It’s A Live Feed

For the second deadly bout of London Poetry Systems we up-stepped the video trickery.

To create a mirror on the night, we concealed a camera on stage.

On cue – we pulled the trigger on the audience, and Yo Zushi, our sound man, became the live feed’s accidental star.

See what you make of Henry Stead performing ‘Copy Cat’…

If you like this, or any of the other LPS videos posted on this blog, why not join our Vimeo group?

How to VJ #5

To recap: you should be (1) gathering and making material; (2) figuring how it moves; (3) getting it in time – understanding how it works in the fourth dimension.

Now to performance specifics – and the third dimension. All good VJing has a strong and nuanced understanding of layers.

If you’ve got decent Photoshop skills then you’ve got one up on me. And you’ll certainly understand layered composition.

What VJing can do is manipulate different layers in different time (according to the software and mixer you use). I’ll give you a very simple example with screengrabs from Henry Stead’s poem ‘Earth, Too Soon’.

1. Cut Out

When you’ve got a cut-out detail, i.e. the background is cut out as a block colour, you’ve got more versatility. This detail is from a painting by Elisa Muliere.

The detail was kept static as a video clip. But the same applies to moving footage. Think green screen.

2. Background layers

In this case, we had the background from the original painting. I could fade that background in manually on the night, in time, by making this my second clip. Just mixed from channel A to channel B.

So the background of the painting faded in from black, with the foreground figure staying present throughout – because it retained exactly the same position in the 640×480 frame.

3. Multiple layers

At the next stage, we introduced a new video layer but also preserved the background painting beneath it.

In After Effects, I composed the clip so video of worms in soil slotted in between the foreground figure and the background of the original painting.

By reducing the opacity of the worms video clip, you can still see the integrity of the original painting beneath. We mixed this in and out over the full painting (screengrab 2 above).

Mixing media is a lot easier if you do it in layers. Otherwise you chop around too hard and fast. Your fingers will get tired, and you’ll hurt your audience’s eyes.

Although it can work great in edited compositions, it won’t always suit live mixing.

4. Overlaying

At the end of this piece, I started to overlay a clip of snow. This came in on top of the painting, so the black sky darkened everything underneath it as we faded to a close.

This was a standard cross-fade. The same as 100s of edits you’ll see every day on TV. Nothing in the pre-editing, just executed live with a V4 mixer. The snow came over the painting, creating depth.

Some rules

1. Live layering is easier with at least some cut-outs. You can develop more complex textures when you reduce the content of the frame.

2. Not everything has to be moving. You can keep some bits still. Different elements can move at different speeds – think about how the music’s composed and what’s suitable to match it.

3. You can layer many things at once, but only with control. Otherwise it’s a mess. You’re creating orchestration, so you should aim to reflect that in the live mixing.

4. Even when you mix into a new section, there’s no necessity for a hard cut. Bashing between clips can work for a tough, alternating beat. Using a BPM sync, it can be smart way to keep time.

But with layers you can get into the melody. That’s where you’ll pull off the most impressive performances.

Previously: #4 You know the type.

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.