Percussa micro super signal processor

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?