AV technology is progressing rapidly. We now have two DJ/VJ mixers to choose from (Pioneer SVM-1000, Numark AVM02), most VJ apps will now play audio on video clips, and many DJ programs are incorporating video playback in their current or upcoming feature sets. Obviously these moves are following a trend: DVJ is totally hot right now. Our interweb tubes are being filled with youtubes, video mashups and remixes are constant viral video hits… The time for AV to go mainstream is now, and we’re going to see the next generation of performance innovators rise, buoyed up by these new, accessible, and immensely capable tools.

I spent last night a guest of VJ Morph at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre, for the last show of the Smirnoff Secret Sessions Australian tour.

Morph, being interviewed

Headlining the show: DJ Yoda with a DVJ set. Yoda is obviously a talented DJ, but as a visualist I was entirely underwhelmed by his performance. The source material was uninventive – mostly popular movies and music videos – with low resolution and compression artifacts telling us that much of the content was ripped from youtube. Technical nitpicking aside, the set wasn’t assembled with much regard for editing, visual storytelling, coherence, or even visual interest. There were occasional inventive tricks, nice material selection, and some proficient scratching and sample triggering, but the bulk of the visual set was comprised of clips playing through towards their full length, generally in their original unedited form, and often completely at odds with the accompanying audio. Old black and white movies would be scratched in for their vocal samples, and then continue to play as the audio segued into some unrelated track. Aside from a sprinkling of original content, the videos were solidly uninspiring, and probably overfamiliar to most internet-age, youtube slurping punters.

Despite the hype, the Pioneer SVM-1000 didn’t help matters, its video effects looked cheesy on first appearance, and positively hackneyed by the fourth time the page-spin and tile-shuffle were dropped in. There were some crowd-pleasing pop culture moments – scratching audio and video definitely has the ability to wow an audience – but anyone with a more than rudimentary knowledge of video would have been hard pressed to find “next level” visual performance here, and by the end of the 90 minute set even the crowd was losing focus between the humorous video interludes and old-favorite tracks.

So how can we go about fostering real innovation in AV, “popular”, music performance. The short term solution is obvious: Have a visualist to take care of the video.

Becoming a great DJ or musician takes a huge amount of dedication, education and practice, and the route to the pinnacle of visualism is similarly Herculean. Likewise, preparing an audio or video set takes a long time. I’m not saying that a single person couldn’t put together a compelling AV set solo, but if you expand the act to include both visualist and musician, I think the capabilities of the performance will increase exponentially.

Something which has supported the rise of DJ and remix culture is the release of acapellas and instrumentals, and more recently bands (most famously Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, amongst countless others both big and small) have been letting fans have the component musical parts, or “stems” of their tracks to remix as well.

I’d like to see this practice spill over to video also, and I’m sure it won’t take long for canny artists to come along for the ride. Releasing an acapella of your track? Accompany it with the unedited rushes of the vocalist, or keyed green screen source videos. Instrumental or audio stems for a remix competition? How about some background mattes, 3D models, or simply make the video available as individual clips so it doesn’t need to be first cut up before being remixed.

I’m certain that as more artists move to embrace remix culture and understand that “download” doesn’t equal “steal” this will become more commonplace, but in the meantime, CDMo readers are the ones who can get this rolling. Visualists are music video producers, post-production experts, animators, 3D modellers, and all round video geeks. You’re collaborating with artists and bands, and working with record labels. Get inside their heads, help them relax their old-media viewpoints and their grasping claws from the future of culture. It’s going to happen eventually, why not now?

Update: As I was writing this, Peter posted about Radiohead releasing (under a CC license) the 3D modelling data for their new video “House of Cards”. Wow. That revolution came quickly. What’s next?

  • Stig

    Some valid points but the point of Yoda is that, as hip hop DJ/VJ, his performance is a reflection of contemporary culture which is, at its essence, standard definition, YouTube, and interspersed with pop moments.

    All good though and interesting reading your thoughts.

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis

    @Stig: I wasn't criticising the material, as much as the performance of it. Yoda's DJ skills are obviously great – good track selection, range of styles, mixing technique, and scratching etc. are all top notch. His performances and audio releases/mix CDs are a testament to this.

    The actual video performance didn't live up to this level though. There were moments of brilliance – both technical and artistic – but the bulk of the set was – from the perspective of someone who makes video their life's work – unimpressive.

    For the moment this doesn't matter to crowds, it's enough of a novelty to have someone cutting up video samples on stage, but Yoda – and DVJs everywhere – are going to have to gain visual literacy fast to stay on top of this form.

    From a technical perspective: Sure youtube is "popular" video, but it's also complete trash, quality-wise. If a DJ built the bulk of their set from tracks they'd recorded from a badly-tuned radio, they wouldn't get very far. Using something like this occasionally is perfectly valid. Building the bulk of your set from it; bit of a cop out.

  • Stig

    All good points well made. And I think some opportunities were lost in his performance but in his defense he is still focused 70% on the chopping of the audio, 25% on the cut up visuals and only 5% on the actual image quality (and he does have to contend with completely different screen sizes and projectors etc at every gig).

    On completely separate topic, during some spare time at the Brissy leg of the gig we went to GOMA and the media gallery had some great short film/art video pieces under the title 'Modern Ruin' – awesome stuff.

  • Stig
  • http://serialconsign.com Greg J. Smith

    Jaymis. You are so on the money re: DJ's / musicians needing visual literacy. If not now, then soon! That is why I am so enamored with raster-noton as a comprehensive creative outlet.

    Great commentary on a whole. Maybe I missed the boat on where "stem" came from.. I know it was the terminology associated with Radiohead's remix competition "kit of parts".. but what is the origin of that term (in a shiny happy creative commons remix culture context)??

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis

    "Stem" isn't a specifically "shiny happy CC" term – it's attached to production and remix culture generally: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_(music)

    I'm sure that plenty of musicians are going to start educating themselves about video more – I was a saxophone player before I started focussing on visuals – but really I think the best solution is for music and visual artists to collaborate together, so everyone can focus as hard as possible on getting seriously good at their art. Specialize, rather than diversify :)

  • http://YoDrew.com Drew Blood

    Interesting read –

    I feel that even with the “crappy” youtube quality, Internet video is the future of Vj’ing, both for concept ideas and content. With the availability of WIFI you no longer have to pre-load videos into your system before hitting a show. With Internet video, you can download on the fly to sculpt a custom VJ set to the needs of the party or performance your working. Youtube is a collective consciousness of the world. With everything pop culture nuggets, music videos from every genre down to personal footage from millions of people. The ‘Tube is a powerful pallet to create from, and it only gets vaster by the day.

    When trying to build a YouTube DJ rig I tried to contact as many established VJ’s as I could. Time and time again my questions about A/V hardware were met with “Leave the Audio mixing to a DJ”. I was pretty let down by the short sightedness of many who couldn’t see past a VJ’s ability to make much more than eye candy to back up a DJ.

    There are more than a few impressive A/V dj’s out there, I think that as time goes on, we are going to see more and more killer acts coming out. Now that Youtube and other Internet video sites are switching over to HD uploads, ‘Net video is obviously going to become a tool that people are going to open their eyes to.

    If anyone is interested in my YouTube mixing rig and process check out YoDrew.com

    For examples check out YouTube.com/Drewbl00d

    Thanks CDM!

  • http://YoDrew.com Drew Blood

    Oh yea – and YouTube allows you to "Sample" other VJ's in your set. Talk about a twist. Using other vj's mixes in your own mix. NEXT LEVEL.

    Just saying.

    db

    YoDrew.com

  • http://www.everyoneishappy.com Kyle McLean

    Some good points Jaymis. I felt a bit the same after seeing Yoda. I thought Stig's commont on "70% effort on the chopping of the audio, 25% on the cut up visuals" was fair too. I have to think also that from a punter's point of view, this might also reflect the impact and resulting 'care factor' over the two mediums. It's easy to lose sight of this as a VJ. Not to take away at all from the wonderful potential of a really well integrated AV act.

  • http://www.everyoneishappy.com Kyle McLean

    Oh hey Drew, youtube's not so much my cup of tea, but you might like to check out VVVV. We got it working with youtube the other day, not sure what sort of set up you are using now, but this gives you an option for software FX on streaming web content.

  • http://YoDrew.com Drew Blood

    Kyle – I try to keep my rig hardware based, but that sounds interesting. Got any links to info about this software?

  • http://torley.com Torley Lives

    I appreciate observations like this; thanks for sharing, Jaymis.

    In a related interview with techno legend Richie Hawtin, he expressed interest in having a standard audio file format which could be opened in various software packages and allow more flexibility for remixing. Audio and video formats have so many tangles and I still find it surprising the limited MIDI protocol hasn't been superceded or seen leaps or bounds recently — part of that undoubtedly has to do with its existing adoption base, which works both for and against it.

    More VJ software that's intuitive for newcomers would be a big plus too; like what Garage Band and ACID (to name two) have opened up for learning the sonic arts.

  • http://elevated.tv ryan pohanic

    I agree with jaymis that collectives are much better positioned to maximize A/V performance than solo artists. As the next generation comes up completely immersed in AV convergence this may change but for now the obvious move seems to leverage each others' expertise in rockin' shows.

  • http://debsinha.com deb

    +1 on the raster noton shout out. consistently amazing, aurally AND visually. never a dull moment. these guys, to my mind, are doing it right. here in toronto there are not too many people doing both at once (actually i can't think of any but i am not as plugged in as i should be) in that context. r-n are my heroes.

    i spoke to signal (alva noto, byetone, and frank bretschneider) when they were here and they use a wide range of software and hardware to perform their works. i think its possible to use pretty simple gear if your entire performance (audio and video) is well crafted and thought through, while still leaving room for improvisation and being in the moment.

    (for those of you that don't know their work, they create and generate all their own visuals, mostly motion graphics and minimal shapes).
    i would highly recommend getting hip to their work if you are at all interested in doing audio and video. it's possible, but i would have to agree that probably 99% of the time there should be 2 people. although i've seen some pretty baaaaaaaaaad 2 person A/V performances, from groups that were supposed to be good…..

  • flunkyminion

    Only just come across this article but if I'd seen it in July I'd say the same thing as I'm going to now.
    Addictive TV absolutely own this art form.
    If you don't know, check them out from the links on this very page.