VJing Styles

About 10 years ago I used to VJ for a few club nights set up by my friends. It was at a time when VJing itself was a bit of a novelty. The tools available were very basic (I only really had the ability to play and reverse video clips), there was no YouTube to pull clips from, laptops were only really capable of doing quite basic generated visuals. VJing at the time was seen as an extension of the lighting crew in a club; great for atmosphere, but not the main event. Fast forward to today and everything has changed.

Tools available to VJs now allow for projection mapping, advanced triggering and complex effect stacks. The internet is now full of any clip imaginable, you just need to search for it. Mobiles are so advanced now that a phone of today is nearly 5 times more powerful then a top end laptop of 10 years ago (I completely made up that statistic by the way, but you get what I mean).

I've recently been inspired to experiment with visual work again. I don't have any plans at all, it's merely some experimentation with the technology that's out there and seeing what's capable.
The first thing I want to work out is the type of visuals I want to make.

Looking at the VJing scene now, advancements in the tech have pushed things in a grander direction. The setups have become increasingly sophisticated to the point where live acts are now audiovisual performance pieces as opposed to just gigs. One very well known example of the medium being pushed to its limits is the excellent work done for Amon Tobin back in 2012.

The amount of work that goes into a production like that is staggering and probably had a production crew of hundreds of people. It is an amazing achievement, however for something so tightly choreographed like that, one has to question the amount of "live" performance that Amon Tobin himself is doing. Part of me does feel that the spontaneous and organic nature of live performance is lost when creating such intricate visuals that are so tightly choreographed with the audio.

Again, this is not to suggest that the direction that those visuals went in with the Amon Tobin example are a bad thing.

The interesting thing about video as a medium in general is that the tools to create and distribute video are now available to almost everyone. Some people have pushed the medium to a high fidelity direction (like above), whilst others have taken advantage of the ease at being able to create interesting visual compositions with very little effort. It is the reason that sites like YouTube have flourished with home made content that otherwise would not have had a chance getting commissioned through the old media channels.

I suppose the polar opposite of the Amon Tobin style of visuals can be seen in this set from The Gaslamp Killer filmed by the excellent Boiler Room.

Notice here the visuals are, from a technical set up, extremely basic. This is just a playlist of video files (early computer graphics demonstration videos by the look of it) being projected on a white brick wall. There's no beat matching to the music, no looping, there isn't even a smooth projection surface.

Yet, despite this, the visuals enhance the atmosphere created by the set itself. The visuals are not centre stage, they are just moving wallpaper. But they allow the audience to "zone out" of the set itself and focus briefly on the video when something catches their attention, and then have their attention flow back to the performance of the DJ. One single audience member will probably not observe all of the videos being played, but over the course of the night, they might catch the attention of different people at different points. It's the act of curating a selection of thematically strong videos that add character to the music itself.

The interesting thing about the set up above is that it can be done for virtually nothing. Get yourself a cheap projector like this for about £40, grab a USB stick with some videos you've ripped off YouTube and you've basically got the same set up. I remember when I was VJing and had to lug around loads of gear. Now, you can fit it all into one small backpack.

I think that's the aspect that interests me the most. The idea that the technology has become so cheap, accessible and compact that you can literally set up anywhere.

My aim over the next few weeks is to have a play around with some ideas and set ups. Again, I don't plan for anything to come from this, it's purely a bit of fun. My next task is finding the hardware I'm going to work with. Hopefully I'll have something to share soon.