Archive for the ‘vj’ Tag
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)
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”.
Saturday Night – Sambatralia @ The Egg (£10 with flyer)
Beach, palm trees, a voyage through the video vaults of Latin America…? In the words of Diplo, Lesss gooooo!
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.
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:
So whatever you do – DON’T tell anyone about this event.
It would obviously be a disaster if people knew about it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
In order, they are:
- The Love of Phlebas
- A Visionary’s Visionary Vision
- An Ancient Process
Thanks to Kaara for her design work on Phlebas. All three visual scores were outputted through an Edirol V4 mixer, performed with motion dive .tokyo, and pre-produced in Adobe Premier and Adobe After Effects.
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.
Up next: #4 You know the type?
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: