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VJ article from New York Times

Discussion in 'Inspiration' started by LarryLightshow, Sep 19, 2002.

  1. LarryLightshow

    LarryLightshow digital dude

    ( article from NYTimes.com )

    Making Images Dance to a Rock Beat

    September 19, 2002

    SAN FRANCISCO -- AT Ruby Skye, an 1890 theater transformed
    into one of the city's most fashionable music clubs, the
    artistry is not limited to the turntable and the dance
    floor. A 24-foot-wide screen provides a canvas for the
    video jockey, a visual artist with the hardware and
    software tools to manipulate complex 3-D animations on the
    fly - and to the music's beat.

    Visual projections that pulse in time with the music are
    nothing new at clubs or concerts, where they have provided
    a sort of moving wallpaper since bands like Jefferson
    Airplane ruled this city. But as hardware like high-end
    laptops and digital video cameras has grown more powerful
    and more affordable, video jockeys have become a crucial
    part of the show.

    Where they previously relied on videocassette recorders,
    V.J.'s can now store clips on gigantic hard drives or hard
    disk recorders. The dot-com downturn has even worked to
    their advantage: video projectors that once served up
    PowerPoint presentations can be bought secondhand for
    musical duty. V.J.'s can also choose from a growing array
    of software that allows them to mix videos on the spot and
    even change their speed, colors or transitions between

    On a recent night at Ruby Skye, Ryan Tandy (VJ Liquid.7)
    was high above the dancing masses in an enclosed balcony,
    mixing videos while the featured performer, DJ Sasha, and
    others were spinning music. Like many V.J.'s, Mr. Tandy,
    25, combines technical adeptness with design talent. He
    runs a graphic design studio called Liquid Mercury
    (www.liquidmercury.com) and started doing serious V.J. work
    a year and a half ago when club promoters told him they
    wanted to see his flyer and Web designs in motion.

    "I remember when the V.J. and even the D.J. were in a
    corner, and nobody knew who they were," he said. "But now
    things have changed and people come to see a performance
    and care about the music and video artists. It's more of a
    spectacle, and you're there to show off your cool stuff."

    Mr. Tandy spends hours before shows shooting original video
    of high-contrast urban landscapes and nature settings and
    practicing the various artistic effects that will make the
    visuals pop out for the audience. At the Ruby Skye show, he
    juggled an array of video loops loaded on his laptop,
    processing them through a software program and then
    splashing the result on the huge screen with a video

    The canvases of the V.J.'s can be far larger than the walls
    of a club. On its North American tour this year, the
    Canadian group Rush is performing with a video jockey,
    James Ellis, who is contributing custom animations in
    venues as large as Madison Square Garden.

    Mr. Ellis says the content is a fine balance between
    improvisation and tight adherence to song structure. A team
    from a software company called Derivative spent two months
    creating special video loops and animations for 11 of the
    songs Rush performs on tour. The imagery includes original
    cartoon characters that bounce and stretch to the music and
    a time-lapse montage of still photos of the group's
    drummer, Neal Peart, on a motorcycle trip. Mr. Ellis then
    manipulates the video and animations in real time, creating
    an experience that falls somewhere "between the tight
    choreography of a film or musical, and the spontaneity of
    an improvisational jazz musician," he says.

    Geddy Lee, the lead singer and bassist of Rush, says the
    band almost skipped video on the latest tour. "It's been
    very overused by pop acts," he said. "With the video
    culture of the last 20 years, there's too much explaining
    away of music." But the software can be used "in an
    interactive way, pulsing to the music, which was exactly
    what I had in mind," he added. "Bands all have the same
    instrumentation, but they all sound different. With video,
    you have to look at it the same way - it's how you employ

    While many of the digital tools are new, the marriage of
    visual effects and rock music is, of course, almost as old
    as rock itself. Many V.J.'s trace their roots back to the
    late 1960's, when psychedelic light shows accompanied live
    music at halls like the Fillmore West in San Francisco or
    the Fillmore East in New York.

    "The Newport Jazz Festival in '69 was a totally
    mind-blowing experience for me, with the Joshua Light Show
    projected behind the music of Sun Ra," said Greg
    Hermanovic, a longtime V.J. who created 3-D special-effects
    software called Houdini that has been used in dozens of
    feature films. Recently, he started Derivative Software and
    created Touch, a version of Houdini that lets visual
    artists manipulate 3-D animation as it is shown.

    The lineage of technology for visuals includes "liquid
    projections" (colored oils on overhead projectors) as well
    as slide and film projectors in the 1960's and 70's; the
    Fairlight CVI (computer video instrument) in the 80's; and
    the high-powered Silicon Graphics workstations of the early
    90's. As the technology has matured and become more
    accessible, the art of the video jockey has gone global.
    The rise of rave culture and electronic music has produced
    fertile ground for V.J.'s in Britain, and Japanese V.J.'s
    are promoted on billboards and regarded as artists on a par
    with disc jockeys.

    A British musical duo called Coldcut has been working for
    more than a decade with audio and video sampling, that is,
    appropriating and remixing bits of other people's material.
    They eventually released their own software, VJamm, which
    helps V.J.'s mix videos on their computers to the beat of
    the music, also known as video jamming.

    Matt Black, the more visually oriented half of Coldcut, was
    influenced by a pioneering V.J. crew called Emergency
    Broadcast Network, which toured with U2 on the ZooTV tour
    in 1992. Mr. Black helped invent a device called the
    Dextractor, a second stylus arm on the turntable that
    converts the movement of the record into special effects in
    whatever video is being projected. The duo recently helped
    create remixes of the audio and video versions of Herbie
    Hancock's classic tune "Rockit."

    That some of the technology has become more affordable
    eases the way. "The dot-com bust actually flooded the
    market with cheap video projectors used at failed start-up
    companies," said Grant Davis of the San Francisco
    video-jockey collective known as Dimension 7.

    Like many other V.J.'s in the Bay Area, Mr. Davis took his
    video equipment out to Burning Man, the weeklong summer
    arts festival in the Nevada desert, where monstrous lasers
    and video projections have provided the background to
    countless raves. Mr. Davis, 34, is known for using unusual
    projection surfaces, like rows of bicycle rims or a
    rotating cube of screens. He is planning an audiovisual
    tour next year called Lumens, which will showcase the work
    of video jockeys from around the country.

    The task of creating original video art, while greatly
    enhanced by the latest technology, can still be
    labor-intensive. Bec Stupak, one of the three V.J.'s in the
    Brooklyn-based Honeygun Labs, says her group has put in
    countless hours building a multipurpose video library for
    shows, including stylized dancers and animations of
    skateboarders. For the bigger shows, she says, they might
    spend several weeks preparing relevant video.

    "We can now play for over 12 hours without repeating any of
    our footage," she said. "We've also been able to create
    more of our own material, using less and less found

    The strategy has paid off: Honeygun Labs is now represented
    by Grey Multimedia, a talent agency that represents
    performers like Run-DMC and DJ Spooky.

    But most V.J.'s in the United States continue to hold down
    day jobs, and many use their live performances as a way to
    promote their design or video-editing work. They toil
    mainly in the shadow of D.J.'s or other musical artists and
    rarely make enough money to pay for expensive equipment.
    But that situation could change in the near future, as
    video artists like Honeygun Labs look for top billing and
    video technology becomes cheaper.

    Michael O'Rourke, who helped found the Dimension 7
    collective, sees an uptick in interest for video jockeying
    at the monthly salons that group holds at its warehouse
    space in downtown San Francisco. "Right now, we're at the
    place where D.J.'ing was 15 years ago," he said. "We're
    seeing the early stages of an explosion."

    Ms. Stupak of Honeygun Labs concurs that V.J.'s are about
    to experience a worldwide boom. "The exciting part is that
    I think it's just a beginning," she said. "Video is
    becoming a larger part of the world - you can see it in
    supermarkets, meeting rooms, stores, and even built into
    the sides of buildings." Video art, she said, "no longer is
    something reserved for theaters and galleries."

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