The following article was published in the Spring 2002 edition of the Women in Film & Television NSW Newsletter. Cindi Drennan wrote this article for WIFT because she felt that many media makers would be interested to see how audiovisual production technology may be (mis)used in various ways for entertainment, art and enlightenment.
Video Combustion: Intentional (Mis)use of AV Technology
written by Cindi Drennan, August 2002
for women working in in the Film & Television Industries in NSW.
Technological changes of the last decade have decreased the cost, and increased the opportunities for video makers; for those exploring video production and presentation as a form of creative expression the interactive media offer the potential of new ideas, forms audiences.
However, the postage stamp sized viewing experience offered by streaming media over the web, does not offer the kind of interaction or immersion that we dream is possible. And the oft quoted "point and click" requirement of interactive product really misses the point – interactivity is about interesting and engaging the mind of a person, stimulating them to think, question and respond. The language of interactivity continues to evolve.
However limited the tools may be, they have still taught us a great deal about ways that audiovisual media can be used for interaction. Some of the influences on the work of screen based artists are:
- The electronic connectivity (both instantaneous and asynchronous) between people from different places or walks of life has helped us learn about human interaction as a form of interactivity beyond the mere point and click. This also leads us to be interested in moving beyond a passive viewing experience to an involving one.
- The development of affordable non-linear editing tools increases the opportunity for people to create their own audiovisual production, increases the literacy and appreciation of non-linear media, and adds to a public pool of creative independently produced material. This pool of material is sampled and resampled and becomes a bit like a global collective unconscious stored in electronic format.
- Plus, literally hundreds of new applications are being developed every year by computer aficionados, contributing to a pool of eclectic, inspired, often unreliable yet flexible software tools for manipulating sound and moving image. This leads us toward new ways of creating and presenting images in ways which are interactive, live, and non-linear.
The effects of this change can be seen in the relatively recent artform known as visual jamming (or VJing for short). Visual Jamming is a form of live performance in which animation, movies and sounds are selected from a bank of audiovisual content, and presented in a live performance using a variety of techniques to trigger and structure the presentation. The most common technique is to trigger image sequences in time with music, as a form of externalised synaethesia. (Colours and shapes that are imagined in the mind of the VJ are externalised and projected to a screen, where they are revealed to the audience).
Because VJing is a relatively new artform we are still defining the language to describe what it is and how it works. There is more to it than what appears on the screen. The presentation of the images is triggered by a live performance by the VJ, who may also project a "stage presence" during the performance, making their interaction with the screen, the audience and other performers an important part of the entertainment. Also important to consider is the fact that video projection is a form of light. Lighting itself is an important aspect of our visual perception, and colour, shape, pattern and rhythm within the projected illumination all play an important role in the performance. Unlike a linear film experience, the VJ also uses a form of improvisational structuring of the presentation that may be affected by the audience or events within the performance environment. All these aspects are important in live VJ performance; VJing as a screen based artform is a fascinating fusion of film making techniques, new media, and theatre (live performance).
Emerging VJs in Australia over the last decade have had a challenge as technology within the environment caught up with the potential of software. Even as little ago as 2000 decent video projectors were $15,000 or more to buy – about $750 per night to hire. The performers themselves were often being paid less than $300 to set up the equipment, perform live for several hours or more, and then bump out their own equipment at the end of the show. (Compared to a DJ who may be paid $500 for their one hour set, but doesn’t have to set up the PA). However projectors have become cheaper to own, and the legitimisation of the artform has meant better conditions for performers. There are still many issues to be addressed – in particular public liability and OHS issues. These issues, and a shared passion for the practice of VJing, were the foundation for the meeting of about 20 video performers from around Australia at the Electrofringe Festival in 2000, and this led to the formation of an Australian network of VJs, known as vidi-yo.
Vidi-yo has about two dozen active members and many more who are involved on a project by project basis. Australia wide the group is connected by an online discussion forum, website and - probably the greatest uniting factor - a shared passion for utilizing Video technology in interesting, interactive, and engaging ways.
Some of the groups projects have included:
- Bringing together a pool of video equipment to create large video processing banks (called a laboratory) for creating, processing, special effecting of video material, which may be presented in a live performance or recorded as an archive. The laboratory often consists of outdated and obsolete technology that creates unusual signals or has very different interfaces to current technology.
- Repurposing broadcast technology for different uses – for example using routing technology for switching the work of many performers working together.
- Modification of older video technology to create or process signals in ways that were not intended by their manufacturer.
- Deliberately misusing video technology to effect media in unusual ways, adding randomness and noise to the processing capabilities.
- Fighting the convention of 4:3 (and 16:9) by creating screen installations using fabric or structures that not only provide a canvas for the moving image, but also transform spaces (which contribute to engaging the audience and stimulating social interaction).
- Holding workshops and forums, both face to face and online, to brainstorm, develop projects, train and support artists interested in the technology and culture of visual jamming.
Arguably the most outstanding example by vidi-yo exploring the possibilities of live video performance is the Video Combustion project, which involves about 50 performers (VJs, AVJs, audio, dance and actors) working together live in a massive audiovisual laboratory, combining and interweaving their work in a live audiovisual jam. This form of perfromance is a kind of techno-fetishest cabaret with all elements being audiovisual jazz instruments that weave together an improvisational and interactive experience.
Video Combustion is the brainchild of tesseract research laboratories, and involves the vidi-yo network as collaborators, designers, performers and crew. It is a live performance in which every possible aspect of live audiovisual jamming is taken as far as possible, including the combination of dance with projection (using skin as a projection canvas), unusual triggering interfaces to trigger sound and image, experimentation with live camera, surveillance, live digitisation and editing, and creative processing of image and sound in ways that grab the audience (who are also drawn in as participants into the performance).
Imagine being within a space where stories, ideas and music unfold all around you, as multiple projection screens present a kaleidescopic collage. Dancers interact with the projection and camera teams shoot it out. VJs and music makers use the space as a canvas to paint a multimediated adventure, that you participate in, affect and engage with. This is Video Combustion - an original work that is being developed to tour Australia to involve Visual Jammers in every state, and eventually will tour internationally.
If you are interested in finding out
more about the deliberate misuse of
vidi-yo network, you will
find the urls below
www.vidi-yo.com – the australian video performers network
www.videocombustion.org – video combustion
www.trl.com.au – tesseract research laboratories
About the author:
Cindi Drennan is a member of the duo tesseract research laboratories, the live video performance outfit who design audiovisual environments and events, as well as performing live public performances of non-linear multimedia (which she calls "mixdowns"). Her role in these activities is as an information/experience architect, and performer/director.
For about the last six years Cindi Drennan has been working in the blurred edges between video production, live video performance, interface design and online community development. Although she has worked in Film & TV, she felt that the possibilities within the emerging areas of web, software development, and interface design were of greater interest to her, and to an increasingly tech-savvy public who desire other forms of entertainment than passive viewing.
©2002 Cindi Drennan