I spend most of my performance time with electronic musicians, and suppose most CDMo readers would be in a similar situation. I don’t think it’s necessarily that live electronica requires a VJ to be visually stimulating (Ponyloaf prove this gig after gig), but those whose music making time is centred around synths, samplers and laptops seem to be more aware of the firepower that a fully armed and operational visualist can provide.
So I was surprised to get a call last week from local Alt/Folk/Rock hero and Australian Idol 2006 finalist Bobby Flynn (If you’re not from Australia and haven’t encountered Bobby, Youtube and Wikipedia can get you up to speed). Apparently Bobby is putting together an Australian tour, is at least partially aware of the power of a fully armed and operational visualist, and had heard that I was such a creature. So after conversation, dinner, beers, and a couple of hours with my python wrapped around his girlfriend’s arm, it was decided that I should join his merry little band. Oh, and there’s a gig in three days at QPAC. Ready? Did I mention that I didn’t have a reliable gig machine as I managed to spill beer on my Thinkpad at Elements:6? No? Well I guess I’d better sort that out before Saturday then.
So I put together a Small Form Factor PC based around the Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard and a Lian Li PC-V300B case (writeup coming), organized mounting of a projector and improvised screen (QPAC can’t provide us with any screens at all? Stage managah, please!), managed to squeeze in time for rendering some new materials and a practice with the band and still arrived at the venue on time, with all my gear, and having had over 4 hours sleep the night before!
It turns out that VJing for a folk rock crooner is quite a different experience to the DJs and electronic acts I usually work with.
“Club” VJ gigs generally involve me playing with an act whose music I’ve never heard before, frenetically pounding away at midi controllers to the point of exhaustion, for 8+ hour sets, after having spent hours up ladders getting dusty and sweaty while installing projectors and screens, for what amounts to no money, playing to people who are often too wasted to understand what’s going on or what they’re seeing, and who probably won’t remember it in the morning.
“It’s a labor of love” is what I’m trying to say. Although it may not come out that way when squashed into a paragraph/sentence of negative connotations, I love these kind of electronic music gigs. Nothing makes you a better performer than being dumped in front of 500+ people and having to improvise. Playing with computers is supposed to be a low impact, sedentary exercise. I’ve never found that to be the case while VJing at club gigs.
The rock visualist seems to be a different creature. Sitting in the video control booth, high above the theatre, I found time to ponder the art of what was transpiring. Rather than my usual position as fiery visual locus of the event, my role was complimentary. I had to focus not only on the shape of the songs, but the movements and energy of those on stage, so as not to overwhelm their presence. Clips which I consider staples for electronic gigs didn’t even make it into my decks, let alone the screen. Rather than the strong, busy material I usually pound out like an apoplectic Chris Cunningham, I built a palette of subtly moving textures in muted tones, relying on the lighting chicka to bring colour to the scene. That’s not to say that I wasn’t busy or that the show was boring to play. When there’s people dancing everywhere and you’re hammering away with flashy stuff all over the place it’s nigh on impossible to make a “mistake” which is noticeable to the audience, unless you bring in the wrong act’s title clips or tragically miss a breakdown. When the entire audience is transfixed by what’s happening on stage, dropping the wrong loop or accidentally hitting Random is a little more noticable…
The post-show consensus was overwhelmingly positive, although I feel that I’ll need more suitable material and practice in this context before I’ll be perfectly happy with my performance. Planning for a mid-year Australian tour underway, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty of chances to get it right.