It’s been a while since I’ve banged on about my experiments in cheap, fast music video production, but that doesn’t mean I’ve slowed down.

Recently I got a group of my favorite things together: A projector, a $4 Ikea rear projection screen, my Vixid mixer, Korg Entrancer, video camera, some home made pizzas, and Canadian Whiskey.

What followed was a couple of hours of partying, playing with shadows and video feedback, a bit of editing, and a subsequent music video release, for Edward Guglielmino‘s Settle Down With Me:

Edward Guglielmino – Settle Down With Me from Jaymis on Vimeo.

I’ve been waiting for a while to combine the Vixid’s powerful feedback capabilities with rear-projection. The plan for this clip was to do a simple, cheap, fun experiment to help launch the single, and create something which could be revisited with more detail down the track if we decided to give it more budget.

The setup was reasonably simple:

  • Projection screen made of Ikea Saxan curtain, taped tight across a double-width doorway between rooms.
  • HD Camera shooting the screen (“analogue” video feedback), fed to the mixer.
  • Kaoss Pad Entrancer with Time Delay effect used on the top feedback loop, to control strobing.
  • Two additional Vixid feedback loops used for colour inversion (zebra-stripe) and layer rotate effects, and to enhance colour.
  • Projector behind the screen.

The shoot really was about experimentation. The band came over, we made a batch of pizzas, had some drinks, and then spent the night playing around with different shooting methods and effects. In front of and behind the screen, with and without lighting, solo and in groups.

As often happens with these experimental projects, I only¬†really found the effect I was happy with towards the end of the shoot. By the time Matt the guitarist had arrived, I’d decided that the cleanest results were coming when the talent was behind the screen, and I’d tweaked the Vixid setup to perfection. This provided some really beautiful, colourful, organic looking effects. I would have happily made the clip a single-shot of the guitarist, but apparently the plebs want more excitement and variation.

They’ve got their cheap thrills now though, so I can reveal my Directors Cut here on CDMo:

Edward Guglielmino – Settle Down With Me (Director’s Cut) from Jaymis on Vimeo.

I’m immensely pleased with how this ended up. It took a remarkable amount of on-set tweaking to get the projector and camera alignment correct, and the feedback and effects loops just right, but when it came together, the final product required minimal post-production – just a crop and a levels punch to get bright colours and pure black and white.

The VJX16-4 mixer really is the glue which made this whole thing possible. That’s not to say that the technical capabilities for this kind of thing only exist in the Vixid box. Several other mixers, and most software visualists are using could create similar, or more complex, effects. It’s the tactile immediacy which makes it so powerful. There’s no fiddling around, you just plug things together in the appropriate order, and start creating.

I think this is the point people are missing when they argue (on CDMu comments last week) about whether hardware gear is “better” than software. They can achieve precisely the same things, if they’re programmed to, and a “software” system is infinitely more flexible, because you can run other programs and join them all together. What people actually love about hardware – placebos aside – is the limitations.

The in-built barriers of a hardware device, and the comparatively narrow set of parameters in which it’s designed to work, force you to play inside a little walled garden of creativity. There’s less scope to waste time configuring, installing other software, trying new combinations of controllers and tools, building new automation techniques, checking your email… A hardware device doesn’t do any of that. You’re forced to focus on two things: What am I capable of doing, and what do I want to make with those capabilities.

In a world where our creative capabilities are effectively infinite, (and getting more infinite every day,) it’s liberating to spend some time in a place where there’s less choice. This is why music producers love their MPCs, and why house tracks still get produced on drum machines with a dozen hardwired samples. Too much choice can be paralyzing.

This is also why, after owning it for over a year, I still haven’t been able to give you a Vixid review. I must have sat down to write it every two months since I got the thing, and every time I do so, I get distracted by discovering more techniques which let me do awesome stuff.

So, while I’m espousing the benefits of limited hardware boxes, let me give you the executive review, in case my opinion wasn’t already clear: Of all the boxes I’ve ever worked with, the Vixid is the least-limited, the most flexible and configurable. Yet it still gives you enough of a walled-creativity-garden that you’re not paralyzed by choice. It’s an inspiring tool to own, and to work with.

If you’ve got the need for a limited hardware mixing box, and the budget with which to acquire one, there really is no other choice. If you don’t, then you can put together something cheaper, and much more flexible, using the computer you may have lying around your home.

Just don’t let it paralyze you.