So, although I intended to get an early night, I couldn’t get to sleep until 2 am then woke up again at 4 until finally passing out at about 7. I’m not used to insomnia and pulling myself out of bed at 11am was a struggle. I don’t normally get jet lag going back in time, but somehow the day has been more of a haze than Sunday. More migas and coffee on my morning amble took me to bannau’s coffee shop . So hip it hurt, but a good friendly hurt with old sofas and chipped crockery. Almost everyone was sat at their laptops or iPads, everyone. The complimentary power supplies hanging from the roof do encourage it though. My cappuccino was a bit disappointing but the pizza slice was darn good.
Again I walked to downtown with camera in hand soaking up the east side atmosphere and ended up in the empire club, a re-appropriated auto garage and went to a VJ meetup in the main dance floor. A handful of local beamers we’re taking about their techniques and I met Topher Sipes, a local media artist, born in Bedford, raised in Texas. He’s projecting for scrillex on Thursday night in the garage – so if I can’t get tickets to lady gaga playing in the BBQ next door (unlikely) I’ll try my hand there instead.
I met up with a friend from town who I met at a wedding in Italy last year (it’s a small world) for some margarita and tequila before he and his wife and friend had to get the ‘last’ train (at 6.30!) back up to the northern suburbs . Bleary eyed and a little legless I wandered the streets looking for my RSVP’d parties. I couldn’t get into he Wes Anderson talk and screening of Budapest hotel ( no surprise there) and I missed the party at the Jones centre contemporary gallery. Tired and disillusioned I west eastward where I’ve found the onion party in the Mohawk club. Chet faker on the decks and cymbals are out back. I thought I saw Donald Glover in the audience (it wasn’t) but it’d be fab to see him play this week. I’ve been told he’s doing an afternoon party on Wednesday, so I’ll try my luck if I remember. Now it’s bed time for reals.
After being woken by a bird (I presume) that sounded like a Guinea pig, and not being able to figure out how to use the coffee machine I headed out to explore the ‘hood. I picked up a coffee and a migas taco and walked west toward downtown via the Blanton museum of art. Housing a permanent exhibition of art from the Americas, the contemporary galleries displayed a refreshing Latin (and female) perspective on the rise of American abstract expressionism. The temporary exhibition was a retrospective of Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt’s drawing experiments and how their relationship spurred each other on to challenge themselves. The musum’s main Atrium houses a commisioned permenant installation by Teresita Fernández made up of thousands of tiles of incandescent turquoise, giving the space an almost Mediterranean or Arabian feel.
A postcard later, I pushed on downtown to see if I could so some sxsw. The chaos of sixth street pushed me into the halcyon coffee shop for a recharging snack of Nutella crepe and an iced coffee before wandering about the ‘interactive’ trade show in the convention centre hall. I thankfully managed to pick up some free t shirts ( I didn’t bring enough) and some temporary NASA tattoos.
As the sum went down, I went to the river to watch the bats fly in and out from under the congress bridge. They squeak a lot.
South by South West is one of those events that has been on my ‘one day’ wishlist for a few years now, but the excuse to fly over to Texas for a week of music, crowds, tacos and sun has always eluded me. that is until this year.
Flights are booked and a house share set up, I’m winging my way to Austin on the 9th or March for the Music week (and the end of the interactive). I’m lucky enough to be tagging along with Gulp who are one of the showcase bands, so I’ll be taking my projector along and hopefully doing some projection for their set.
Now Texas may seem a bit of a long way to travel for the sake of a handful of half hour gigs (you’d be right), but it’s said that SXSW offers up innumerable opportunities to see, meet and share a drink with a who’s who of the interactive, Music and Film worlds. I’m personally seeing the journey as an excuse to immerse myself in the alternative ‘fringe’ SXSW – aside from filling myself with free tacos and saturating my ears with music on tap, I’ll be drawing daily (every band I see), photographing and writing for the Burning Red blog.
They Ride Horses Don’t They?
As for my music itinerary, I’m probably going to worry about that when on the plane or in the fray of Sixth street, and once I’ve had time to fill up my SXSW app schedule. I have a vision of throngs of people all trying to get in to the bands that are ‘so hot right now’ so if that does turn out to be the case I’ll likely go with the flow on that one.
I’ll be living like a Texan for the week, and should I need a break from the bands, here’s my list of top things I’d like to try and see and do while ‘keeping it weird‘.
I’ve heard Austin is the home of Tex-Mex, but I’m getting the impression that it’s a foodies paradise no matter the flavour. I’m on a mission to find the best burger, pancakes, milkshake, tacos that I stumble across. Oh yes, and a pharmacy.
I will be staying in a shared house allegedly a 45 minute walk to the downtown area where many of the gigs will be in the evening. I’m used to cycling my way around Cardiff, and considering Austin is a bike friendly city (for America) I’d like to try and get hold of a bike while there. Although many bike shops rent, it’d work out pricey and the bikes on offer all seem a nit too good. I’m going to make my way to the bike farm when I arrive and see if I can pick up an oldie for under $100. (fingers crossed)
Seeing is Believing
When I feel the need to give my ears a rest, I’ll likely fancy bombarding my eyeballs and brain with some art. I’ll cetainly be after some contemporary work, but the Blanton is a museum I see cropping up so I’ll start there, and see where that leads me.
The wrong side of the river seems to be where it’s at. The South congress looks to be a long stretch of galleries, shops, cafes and curiosities. I can’t promise that I will be able to resist picking up a pair of boots while there though.
So, only two weeks to go and I’m equally excited and vervous, but I’ll be updating this and the Burning Red blog as often as I can, not to mention my instagram and tumblr sketchbook
Towards the end of the summer, I was asked if I’d be interested in working on a project with composer Tom Raybould and Sinfonia Cymru to produce a series of performances aimed at encouraging a new audience to experience classical music, and exploring what a ‘classical’ music concert can be.
We set about putting together the first show in September with a feeling of much trepidation. It wasn’t fully clear from the outset how we would achieve the goal of a ‘new’ classical experience and for that reason, we possibly ended up trying to throw everything at it in order to see what would stick. We knew the raw ingredients: electronic music, Classical music, String instruments, video projections and some sort of ‘interactivity’.
We had a shortlist of musical pieces to work with, and I set about filing some macro footage of ‘nature’ themes – taking on the elements as a starting point of concept, which I planned to use a starting point for live visuals – each piece corresponding to an element. Tom Set about creating rather foreboding, bass heavy interstitial electronic soundscapes to be played in between classical pieces along with a reworking of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings – you’ll know it if you hear it. A favorite of ‘remixes’ made famous by the likes of William Orbit, it is a piece most people recognize, so it was felt to be an easy win.
That first evening didn’t quite set alight the world of music, but it was clear what didn’t work and which elements the audience reacted to. It was possibly a case of not enough ‘collaboration’ between all parties, and too many ideas in the mix. It was clear if the following performance in November was to succeed, something needed to change. So we changed pretty much everything.
Tom Set about actively remixing a trimmed down selection of classical pieces, with a more contemporary flavour, turning them into electronica driven beats. These were then scored for the string musicians into new arrangements. Rough Collie were brought in with a brief to create seven animations spanning each section to follow a geometric path. visually, we were imagining simple beginnings – a dot or lines to become more lines and develop form, gradually becoming more complex and beautiful. The first show had us projecting down onto the musicans and also onto two standard large screens. This time, eight ‘shards’ – tall, thin screens purpose built for a previous project were put in the mix. One screen per string musican and two left over for the electronic. The video needed to feel a part of the music and ‘react’ to the musicians, so we used contact microphones on the instruments to produce a midi signal, which then corresponded to a video file which I could affect with the ambient sound. John Collingswood agreed to apply some Isadora magic by creating generative graphics connected to Tom’s midi signals, this would help demonstrate a slightly different feel of imagery between the electronic and the orchestral, whilst definitely coming from a shared common ground. Tying it all together would be Katy’s lighting skills (as well as her superhuman project management skills).
The Second UnButtoned took place on the 13th November and getting the shards in place, successfully projection mapping onto them as well as getting the piezo mics to convincingly work in-situ felt it all coming into place. This would be the show we had been wanting to create from the beginning. The fact that the response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive and that the team working on it had big smiles across their faces on the last note was even better.
There are bits to refine, add and change, but in essence the December show will follow the same format. If all goes well, there is talk of possibly touring the show next year. Fingers crossed.
Unofficially the busiest time of the year. In the space if a month, Cardiff plays host to the Cardiff design festival, the welsh music prize, made in Roath, Swn festival, Cardiff contemporary, some of these in the same weeks!
Usually on the week of Swn, like clockwork I’m guaranteed to have a cold, luckily this year I mostly got it out of the way last weekend, and just as the phenylepheriine was wearing off, Thursday evening welcomed the start of Swn with the Welsh Music Prize Awards. I arrived at the kuku club just about on time cycling through a sunny Llandaff fields from a student design presentation at Cardiff Met. After sweatily wandering into a dark sober club straight from work seemed to leave everyone a bit spaced out, so after a complimentary bourbon and lemonade, Jon Rostron and Huw Stephens welcomed everyone and Adam Walton warmed us up for the nominees. As a clip and introduction to each artist was played, the tightly packed crowd of journalists, bands, friends, promoters and fans nodded along and cheered each other on. Georgie Ruth deservedly got the honour this year, and was genuinely surprised and excited. Wolfing down a ‘mini food’ trio of canapés, I hot footed I over to the angel hotel – somewhere I hadn’t been since a fetish themed rave in the late nineties. It’s good to see such forgotten venues with magical carpets being home to festival events. Eventually I managed to line check the projector and balance it on the edge of the stage (the only place to put it) in between HMS Morris and Chlöe Howl. Walking round the corner to clwb Ifor bach I set up my projector and laptop just in time for a fantastic set by gulp. Their disco space pop filled the packed room with Guto Pryce’s psychedelic synth bass and Lindsey Levan’s soaring vocals. I always enjoying beaming with bands in clwb as I usually get to fill the stage upstairs with moving light, hopefully helping to produce a far more immersive experience than simply using screens. As the gig finished, I ran with asthma inducing speed around the corner to plug in, borrow Owain’s Ventolin and projected above the stage for a solid Trwbador gig in the Swn venue with the best carpet.
Friday, I had other commitments in the evening, but during the day, I popped into town to have a brief look at the Cardiff Open exhibition in the Castle arcade. Happening about every 6 months, it’s an exhibition made up of artists from around Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, while the types of artists are varied, it does focus on the more ‘tangible’ side of art – paintings, sculpture, printmaking, photography and ceramics. The standard of the work does seem to be pretty high, and this year, I particularly enjoyed the huge lino print by John Abell with it’s beautifully primal depictions of medieval-wild welsh coal mining valley tales. Natasha Mayo’s blackboard painted clay sculpture of a hairless child holding a duckling standing in front of a large blackboard also caught my eye.
I went next door to chance at having my psycho analysis drawn by Casey Raymond, but probably fortuitously, he was fully booked.
Saturday saw the Made in Roath festival kick off with full steam. In its fifth year, made in Roath is a truly community led affair. Celebrating creativity in all its forms, the weekend plays host to workshops, music events, live art, exhibitions, street theatre and the hugely popular open houses, where people hold art exhibitions in their homes. In the afternoon I went over to check out ‘Inverness groove’ where there annual Roath bake off was held in spice of life, a dodgy postcard and tea room wa, cf≈ ≈s run by the SHO gallery, and artist Richard Huw Morgan DJ’d on the street with drunken miss orderly. The duo only played records from the record shops bargain crates. Rhm or ‘Mr ohm’ focused on only playing 60’s 7-inches with messages or notes scrawled on the sleeves, whilst Zia torta matched her outfit with a music diet of 80’s rock pop and early rave.
Saturday evening I was back in clwb to visualise for fist of the first man, for what may be their last going for a while (as guitarist allun Gaffy has gone to focus on other projects). With the lights off, I attempted to pummel the audiences eyes with audio reactive geometric white shapes while Mark Foley’s deep bass melted the walls to zwolf’s compositions.
After packing up my equipment, I stopped for a quick dance to the extremely loud and deep bass of clipping. While I couldn’t get on board the MC’s lyrics, his delivery got the crowd excited and the bone rattling sub’s got us wobbling. I caught a chunk of the Wytches enthusiastic teenage pagan rock before catching the debut full band gig by Cardiff legend Foley’s sh…apes project. Simian-esque psychedelic phrases with the best use of a brass instrument in pop music I’ve ever heard (filtered and distorted into another worldly antagonistic wall of human sound).
Sunday, although I didn’t catch any more bands, going back to town via a house on my road that was housing an art exhibition (with a unicorn sign outside), I visited Paul Granjon and his ‘Thingy Robots’ at the ArcadeCardiff exhibition space in the Queens arcade. taking residencey with his automonmous electronic friends opposite a temporary electronic salvage ‘Dynamo Wreckshop’ – a space where discarded electronic goods are dismantledand reconfigured into new configurations. the room is sprawling with the innards of old scanners, printers, VCR’s and computer parts, there’s certainly a lot of dissection going on, and I was assured that plenty of new hybrid experiments are being created daily.
Weekends like this are what makes living in Cardiff such a delight. It’s small size means you can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and you still won’t get to see everything. The city feels buzzing and creativity feels like it’s seeping out of the cracks in the pavement.
The fun still isn’t over either. There’s the Darkened Room screening of ET at g39 to look forward to followed by the now annual Roath nocturnal walk finishing up at Milgi for a Made in Roath closing party Thursday evening.
I’m often approached at gigs when doing visuals by people with questions. These range from asking what software I’m using and where I find video footage, to “Is that you doing the pictures?” Or “Are you doing the sound?”
I have been mixing video live at clubs and gigs for long enough, that I know what works for me, and I thought I might answer some of those questions here, so this is a rundown of my personal approach to ‘VJing’…
Video Killed the Radio Star
By it’s definition, Video Jockeying requires moving image of some sort. The early club visuals of the 1960’s were a mix of Liquid light shows, as pioneered by the likes of The Joshua Light Show, Mike Leonard and The Brotherhood of Light using overhead projectors with coloured oils, alhocol and inks along aside film and slide projectors, as made famous by Andy Warhol’s Exploding Platic Inevitable and the Velvet Underground. These days, while a more hands-on ‘multimedia’ approach can still be found, most visuals are digital.
When I began VJing, I cut my teeth with a ‘scratch’ VJ style. Originating in the 1980’s when hip hop, sample culture and the VCR were on the fringe of club nights, the scratch VJ produced an often cynical visual commentary on culture, society with juxtaposition and contrasting imagery taken from film, archival footage and TV. My first taste of this was watching the U2 Zoo TV tour in the early 1990’s and it strongly influenced my style when starting out.
You can find Archive footage that is the archetypal look from various sources. Online, have a rummage through the Internet Archive a treasure trove of public domain film, information broadcasts and advertisements from the 1930’s onwards. The BBC motion gallery is another exhaustive archive as you’d expect. Most of the footage is Roalty free for a fee, but there’s some amazing things in there. I would tend to be cautious when pilfering places such as the archive.org though, as I can guarantee all other VJ’s that have come before you have also started here 😉
There is loads of stock video online, and many companies offer freebies – The Vimeo stock footage groups are worth looking at, and with a little browser-plugin know how, you can essentially download anything you want from YouTube. However, please be responsible and respect copyright and intellectual property where applicable, after all if you do play out at public events, you need to be confident you’re not breaking any laws.
Most of the footage I use these days with bands is video I’ve shot myself, either on Super-8 or my favourite toy digital camera I love called a ‘Digital Harinezumi’, which I picked up in Japan. Many VJ’s use motion graphic software like After Effects, or create stop motion animation and films using whatever is to hand. Have some fun and experiment until you find your look.
While there’s a part of me that wants to manipulate my images with nothing more than an Overhead Projector and Carousel slide projector, a laptop is far more practical. Most modern laptops with at least 2GB of ram and a multiple core processor should be capable of serving you well. Ideally, you’ll want something with a dedicated graphics card, rather than ‘integrated graphics on a chip’ and of course, if you can squeeze in more RAM, max it out! (you can never have enough RAM). Operating Systems are a personal decision, but some of the software you want to run might be platform dependent. (Module8 is osX only, and until a few years ago Resolume was Windows for instance). Personally I use a Macbook Pro that although is pushing 4 and half years, has never let me down. They are robust, and dependable machines, but you do pay a premium for that. Also, don’t forget you can always run more than one Operating System on an Apple computer if you need to. If you’re on a budget though – a decent modern laptop of any flavour should be a good workhorse.
Midi controllers are another thing you’ll want to think about – they allow you to control your visuals using physical knobs, keys and faders, basically allowing you to be more hands on and using the software as an instrument. you don’t want to be fiddling turning a virtual knob with your mouse in a nightclub trust me. Which controller to get? Anything that can produce a midi signal is game, and there are some beautiful dedicated controllers out there, but ebay is a good place to have a sniff about. Have a think if you’d prefer to twiddle knobs or slide faders, maybe a matrix monome style pad like the Novation Launchpad is up your street, or you could even use an iPad or Android tablet. In the past I’ve used basic midi keyboards, a Behringer BCR2000, and an Akai MPD24, but these days for it’s portability and simplicity I mainly use a Korg NanoKontrol 2.
Get with the Program
I’ll assume you have a laptop handy to run your visuals from , or at the least a computer of some sort that you can bundle into a taxi. Now you’ll need software to let you play your video clips in demand, and be able to mix them in realtime. There’s a fair few applications out there, such as VDMX, Module8, Resolume and Arkaos . The more adventurous and programmer minded visualiser might want to have a look at VVVV, Isadora or possibly Processing for a truly ‘generative’ approach. however these last few really come into their own in an installation setting rather than improvising along to a club night.
Personally, I started off using an early version of Arkaos. It’s very much a ‘clip trigger’ software, and talks nicely to midi keyboards, so it’s perfect to get a tactile feel for ‘playing video’ in real time. These days I use Resolume, along with a Korg NanoKontrol, as I’m no longer churning out banks of clips one after another over a 3 hour club set, When working with bands, my set is more focused and based around fixed pieces with the bands I work with, and Resolume gives me more fine control over what’s going on, but at the same time is a relatively simple program to use ‘out of the box’ as opposed to something more bespoke and object oriented like Isadora.
Most offer a free trial so you can get the feel of what each program can do before buying, and some of the more professional modular tools like VVVV are open source for non commercial use.
Beam me up
For many many years, I was fortunate to play at venues that had a projector set up and ready to roll, so much so that I pretty much took it for granted that I’d ever need to purchase my own. That was until I turned up to a venue who’s projector was broken, and I was up a creek with no paddle. Fortunately I made a call and borrowed one that evening but you can’t always rely on that kind of luck. Since purchasing my own ‘Beamer’ (as they’re called on the continent) I can rock up anywhere with my rucksack holding a projector, laptop, cables and midi controller and be ready to plug in and play self sufficiently.
Projectors are no longer the prohibitively expensive investment they once were, and for around £300 you can bag yourself something half decent, but you do get what you pay for. You may not be ready for all situations though, as depending on your ‘throw’ you may not be able to get a large enough image in small spaces, or you may have too much for a bright image in larger ones. If you know the space you’re most likely to be playing in, a throw calculator will help you make a more informaed decision. Make sure you get the brightest (measured in Lumens) model you can afford, generally 2000lm and up. Ideally, you’ll want to have HDMI input as well as VGA and video phono to cover as many bases as possible. while projectors are very forgiving with video resolution (some of my clips are only 640×480), it’s recommended to get the highest resolution projector you can. After all, you’ll probably want to use it to watch HD movies or play Mario Kart on your living room walls on your night’s off right?
What have you forgotten?
There’s nothing more galling or embarrassing than getting to your gig, unpacking your kit and realising you’ve packed the wrong sized USB lead, or left your Display Port to VGA connector plugged into your TV at home. So, a last minute check before you leave the house for your VGA, Kettle, USB / and or midi, Laptop power and any other connectors or convertors you might need before heading out is essential.
So this is a brief round up of things to think about when thinking about ‘Video Jockeying’. it’s an exciting thing to do, and if you can latch onto music that you love while doing it, all the better. There’s no wrong or right way to go about it, but do make sure you get out and see what other people have done and are doing with their visuals: from generative, 3D camera visualisation, interesting lighting set ups, video mixing to overhead projectors, it’s all up for grabs, so use your imagination and give it a go.
I’m writing this on a train traveling backwards from Wrexham where I’ve spent the last thirty hours seeing a couple of gigs, providing projections for a couple of bands and catching up with people all due to focus Wales, a new annual international music gathering across the city. No doubt spurred on by other city festivals like sonar, SXSW and Cardiff’s swn , focus Wales provides a showcase for up and coming new music and ideas with a cymgraeg focus but international awareness.
I arrived at the Glyndwr university’s Catrin Finch centre midday after an 8.30am bundle into a mini bus, (seated going backwards) with the band gulp who I was doing said video projection for that evening. Guto from the band was taking part in a discussion panel with a mix of members from the music ‘industry’ looking at issues facing new musicians- in this instance, what are currently the most effective ways to promote music.
With late capitalism having something of an identity crisis at the moment, its a mine field out there when it comes to ways of launching a new musical venture, and yes there were some great tips on using the usual social networks but between the old hand label heads, new indie labels, online digital distribution enthusiasts and even musicians there felt an underlying optimism that it is still possible to make a bit of money and get noticed. It might not be as clear cut as it once was, but the playing field is fairly wide open and producing a professional DIY project has never been easier. Punk’s not dead after all, it’s just reads the guardian. A Limited Vinyl release seems to be an effective way to target the writers of influential blogs, and subsequently more established media outlets, with digital a no-brainer.
Gulp wasn’t due to play until a quarter to midnight, so after a sound check and a polystyrene tray of complimentary curry we had a few hours to kill. Heading back to the guitarists’ house for copious cups of tea and chocolate biscuits, I walked back into town at sundown to catch a few bands. Moja were my stand out show – a girl (drums) and boy (bass) duo. They made an almighty fast and furious racket with contagious enthusiasm and rising sun politeness.
Meeting up with old friends at the main venue in time to regrettably only catch the end of violas and hear some lovely tight licks from the Rosevile band then set up my projector in a makeshift guerilla balancing act on a bass bin. Gulp played a stonking and loud set of their unmistakable psychedisco synth rock pop. The bass was belly rumbling and vocals soaring (I’m not biased or nothing), the crowd were numerous and in such good spirits too, making it all the more special.
Man without country started delightfully heavy and melodic, but my host was keen to get home and chew the fat over pizza, and who was I to argue with that?
7 hours after going to sleep on my sofa, I was back in the car on the way to town to see Trwbador play to an eager lunchtime crowd (big up the breakfast massive!) and beam some videos and graphics onto the ceiling behind and above them – which in retrospect I should’ve tried the night before, but hey. Such an early set was always going to be challenging, but Owain and Angharad picked up the baton with aplomb and dropped their trippy electrofolk effortlessly for the bleary eyed audience. A chocolate brownie and coffee later I roamed the old market-steel-coal metropolis – taking in the towering Gothic cathedral, hidden alley ways, and rather downtrodden shopping areas before getting on this train going backwards to Cardiff.