Oh! That’s me. Pre-gig projector worship? https://t.co/9ghL8sF4xi— toby*spark (@tobyspark) June 5, 2016
invited up to manchester to give a talk at test card.
was invited to perform ‘rbn_esc’ at vjlondon’s first big gig: ‘av depot’. to the organiser, it’s a piece that stood out from times past as something deeply audio-visual, considered and executed as one. so it was nice for the invite to be motivated like that, and it was nice – if surreal, somehow – to go through the process of resurrecting the piece, seeing what my former self had been up to, some ten years later.
b-seite charge two: a performance. it’s good to do things away from the stresses of big theatres, to be able to experiment amongst your peers. and wonderfully, there was mesh, smoke machines and the very capable tim vis. there’s a one minute video on vimeo.
after the talk and panel discussions on live cinema itself and what role the LCF could or should play, an evening of performances. limited to a single screen, scott amoeba did a wonderfully restrained remix of the documentary kanzeon into a meditative contemplation on the ritual texts. very much my kind of thing.
the live cinema foundation finally hits the ground with ‘av assebmly’. an idea much talked about over the years between various london folk, chris found the kind of venue that could incubate work, and made a booking on spec. jump-cut a month later, and i’m presenting ‘about the live in live cinema’ to an on-topic audience as you can get.
to rome for live performers meeting, once an annual institution for me. a weekend in a nightclub is always a strange thing, but being in roma with friends old and new cuts through all. some of whom were old visual berlin types staking out interviews on the rooftops for their new scope sessions project. picture are valerie and david talking about node and vvvv. before that, the light surgeons and i happily bantered back and forth around live cinema past and present… the kind of conversation that just doesn’t happen in the london day-to-day.
from the big revision of the presentation to a write-up that took it in a quite different direction to now: a ground-up re-write. a scholarly work that builds an argument and from the theory offers provocations back to the practice. spoiler: smartphone screens. tl;dr: play your audience not your computers. put out there in a spirit of debate: all crit welcome!
warmed-up from the apple store gig, its down into a concrete bunker for two d-fuse sets at the redsonic festival. small, intimate and stuffed with 50 speakers in a surround sound dream, its quite the gig. matthias rocks out, his musique concrète scores now chasms of sound; latitude is the immersive drift that totally captured the audience, the trip of particle finally is (how else to describe it?) dancing in abstraction to the music, and mixes to a finale of new work by paul that in drawing the audience back into a breathing-like minimal simplicity had them in the palm of his hand. gasps and whoops: nice!
with mike sharpening his critical muscles doing an information environments mres, there’s not been much d-fuse action since los angeles earlier in the year. but here we are, in an apple store for latitude – not quite the theatrical staging, but oh my: the slightly surreal setting disappears upon using the new generation of laptops in anger for the first time. vdmx b8 + quad core i7 + latest radeon + ssd = finally, flawless performance for us. the ghost of perfectly smooth hardware playback has been hanging over my head since moving us to a software setup is banished in a blaze of compositing and audio-reactive tweak. happy days.
having just overhauled the ‘about the live in live cinema’ presentation for the IMAP seminar, i thought it should be quite straightforward to translate this into a 4,000 word essay – my penance for sitting in on a module from QMUL’s excellent drama department last semester. how wrong could i be, the structure to my argument turned out quite differently. all the better for it, however.
Three silhouettes, bodies poised above glowing buttons; a piercing light scanning light beams across the void of the image. ‘Rhythms + Visions: Expanded + Live’ says the text. Flipping the flyer over, the venue as School of Cinematic Arts, University of South California lends an air of authority, and finally in the body text a definition: ‘a live-cinema event’.
I was there — in fact, I am one of the silhouettes on the flyer — and the ‘live-cinema event’ shall frame the following discourse on liveness, media-based performance, and how the role of performance in a true live cinema needs to be rethought.
Walking into the School of Cinematic Arts, there was no being led into the dark of a cinema theatre, rather this would be an exploration through the outdoor spaces of the complex. Moving image works were aligned onto the architecture, and scrims echoed projections in space. Finally, a stage area. The first act starting: Scott Pagano accompanied by four musicians. For the unconventional setting thus far, this is a setup all will recognise: there is what could be termed a cinema-grade screen with performers in front, and rows of seating laid out beyond.
The musicians are playing, seemingly consumed by their instruments and keeping in check with each other. Pagano is standing, the only one twisted around to face to the screen rather than audience. In his hands, an iPad upon which — and with — he is furiously gesturing. On the screen an abstract composition unfolding, organic forms built out with photographic elements, a triumph of aesthetic. The music is instrumental and amplified, without naming a genre it’s accessible to the Los Angeles audience: guitars, keyboards, percussion. The audience seem receptive; there is a pleasing fidelity and sheen to the work.
But what here is live? But what here is cinema? These are the questions in my mind as I watch, and to which we will return.
Next a performance from the collective of which I am part, but not a piece with my direct involvement; I am still in the audience. Endless Cities by D-Fuse. It is a film in the Ruttman and Vertov tradition, a montage of urban scenes from around the world, and is accompanied by a live score: musique concrète performed from laptop with percussion accompaniment. Again it seems accessible, and in the photographic detail there is much to latch onto and be absorbed by.
It’s Live Cinema in the sense that I first heard the term: a musical accompaniment to a silent film. A montage from the kino-eye, it’s easier here to answer ‘what here is cinema’ than the Pegano piece. But I still wonder, what is really live here, and why bother?
The final performance is in many ways my creation, and so here I cannot report from the audience, but can offer my view as a performer. Which is one of immense frustration. Starting out, I am in a good position: we have an expanded staging that breaks the imagery out of the single frame, a developed aesthetic that abstracts footage in sync to the music, and the impressive shot bank of Endless Cities to pull from. It’s less the dérive and more the impressionism of a late night taxi ride. And we’ve performed it really well before. But that is precisely what is killing me by the end of this particular performance. We have performed it better before, so wouldn’t a recording of that performance have served us better? It’s a recognition that performance in this context translates entirely to the audio-visual output, for our actual performance is opaque to the audience, operating somewhere between obscure symbols on an obscured screen and twitching trackpad fingers. At which point, rather than taking the best performance so far to play back, I ask myself why not just create a master version in the studio and be done with it?
This is the terrain from which I argue. My motivation is not to categorise art or debate concepts, but to get to the heart of what a true live cinema could be.
a day in a coffee shop making a major revision to the about the live in live cinema talk, and then back to USC to give it as a IMAP seminar. the host was holly willis – former editor of the amazing res magazine amongst other things – and somebody who not only is published on digital cinema and live cinema, but whose definition of live cinema is often embraced: “real-time mixing of images and sound for an audience, where the sounds and images no longer exist in a fixed and finished form but evolve as they occur, and the artist’s role becomes performative…” Holly Willis (Afterimage July/Aug 2009, Vol 37, No 1, p. 11). my talk is not about definitions however, its about exploiting the liveness, and what that could mean.
straight from the rhythms and visions workshop to “levi’s film workshop” for a performance of latitude. the place is a bit like santa’s grotto for visualists, all sorts of equipment there to be borrowed and used. its also in the same building as moca’s street art exhibition, an embarassment of riches with some standout shephard fairey pieces (yes, its his constructivism cliché, but the textural qualities of the physical pieces was amazing).
endless cities over, the scrim is dropped and its time for particle. the last performance of particle – cynetart – had the sense of finally getting to a definitive, rounded piece. this, then, with the new season upon us should have been the start of particle phase two, starting with much upped audio-visual linkage and a higher-res two-up 16:9 format. the world has a way of conspiring sometimes, and instead for me it was one step forward and three back as the challenges of the format re-working and no time outside this trip ate any creative or rehearsal time just to get a functioning show. which isn’t to say that it still wasn’t quite an experience for the audience. as the photo shows, it was not the average film school evening!
and onto me
live audio-visual projects are hard to take a measure of. its something that only exists in the moment, but in that moment you, as the performer, are as far removed from a position to judge the work as possible: you’re not in the audience experiencing the whole effect, but on-stage in the middle of those screens locked in a specific mindset… if you’re lucky you get to look up from the laptop screen to the monitors, which themselves are no real representation of the final projected whole.
to berlin for laika, an event investigating audio-visual culture. helene, its creator, wrote to me saying
many memories of preparing live cinema talks and performances for berlin vj events with fALk, so always good to be surprised with new things including a bold stab at a live cinema interface that might just have the engineering oomph behind it to make it real.
may wouldn’t be the same without the annual pilgrimage to the excellent mapping festival. fourth time running now, having played as part of narrative lab performances and workshops, then journalism, and last year doing a workshopped kinetxt performance. this time, its as part of d-fuse, performing particle.
aaah, a proper theatre. well resourced, good tech crew, and a lovely auditorium for the audience.
in barcelona on a solo d-fuse mission: particle to audio by asférico, refactored down to a dualhead screen setup. good gig: refactoring prep worked out, no nasty surprises throughout, performance felt smooth.
CDM, the blog about VJing and beyond that seems to have the best signal to noise ratio, has just picked up the live cinema documentary i’ve been deep in the production of since returning, and has said some very nice things:
my phd has this first year not doing phd stuff. which isn’t all bad: i have to make an “experimental documentary about a contemporary arts practice” to hone my media production skills. i think the brief was “make sure they know how to use a camera”, props to the film department at queen mary for challenging us with something a bit more interesting.
the title should really be ‘live at sea’ by the looks of this clip. not to mention the setup looked a bit like the bow of a ship.
reservations about file apart, its damn nice seeing yourself in print. their catalogue is truly something to behold.
with the standard in the bank, it was onto the experiemental performance, the world premiere of ‘particle’.
abertura was the first time i really got to throw myself into a ‘particle-esque’ performance, using the d-fuse content with the live setup i’d created. as a warm-up for são paulo, it was a great one: the music and visuals really came together to give an intense show in the relatively small space of abertura’s hall, it really gave me a confidence boost.
that was the positive, here’s the negative. well, it was an outdoor performance, and it rained. which sucks, and its a shame that because of rain cover the audience couldn’t crowd around us performing it, seeing the creative hub and being able to join in with our text clients and general heckling to do this idea or that. but that is life.
after three days of prep, the performance. to quote the internet:
a nice performance i think: not that i could see the screen or a proper monitor, but everything largely worked as it should, and its not like i haven’t done this before. even on that, though, still many vj types who hadn’t seen it, even on home turf.
i started writing an essay about this gig - the light surgeons performed “true fictions” and d-fuse presented “surface”, both huge and important works shown to a sell-out audience on the biggest screen in europe - but the window of opportunity to get it coherent let alone finished has passed for now, so here is a placeholder to say at least to say it happened.
the creative hub. props to all involved: you can see the energy.
with imageradio’s opening speeches over, we see crowds come through
6pm: kinetxt is go. and the other innovation: its recording itself, so it can spend the rest of its time at the imageradio exhibition iterating through the opening night’s perfomance.
this is during the ‘straight’ performance of latitude, essentially an edit. as i hoped, there was call for an encore and i had vdmx ready for a much more layered, graphical remix. its so gratifying when an improvisation like that goes really well, especially when the time you’d planned to rehearse and shape it was taken with dealing with after effects consistently crashing half way through the updated led renders.
thanks to multiplicidade for the photo.
ok so actually this is just being put up in the hour before the gig, but that didn’t stop 900 people coming to the gig. lets just repeat that: 900 people attended a live cinema gig. on a tuesday. rio and multiplicidade rock.
i came to fully test all sorts of interactive patches, but the old classic had to be tried blatted up around the dome.
photo: todd thille; http://avit.info/gallery2/v/lpm08/
bizarre midi crash apart, this was the most stressfull gig in a quite a while. talk about in front of your peers, on a great many screens.
local live cinema authority falk gaertner gives a rare work-in-progress performance of his magnum opus kalkin revelation.
kinetxt in action: no storytelling at this point, but the audience starting to feed the event into the installation. i’m looking forward to seeing what our photographer for the two evenings comes up with.
i feel the screening programme made by paul and lara is a really important review of works to have come out of the “vj” scene, or rather the collision of vj practice with ideas beyond wallpaper. i’m also proud to be part of that, with rbn_esc and a hand in the story collector, but more so that such a programme has been assembled for posterity. bravo!
been dragged into facebook to get a peek at the photos, digital politics aside, it’s certainly good when you see the festival director write “this was such an amazing event!”. huzzah!
up in newcastle to start work proper on the kinetxt project, a collaboration with novak commissioned for the ‘av festival’ as part of the after dark programme. they had a town full of script writers with nothing to do in the evening, novak wanted to combine the interactive possibilities of tools such as quartz composer with vj production and performance techniques. we put those together and proposed an installation space where those in the space can leave their mark and become part of an ongoing conversation: with an audience of authors, we are really hopeful about embracing text entry and display to create a kind of storytelling space.
haunting a/v set from solu, even the waitresses were commenting. twenty minutes into the finnish night, it quietly captivates you and really communicates a feeling you couldn’t literally describe. a must-see.
for the nlab remix of people on sunday i made a generative titler, though it didn’t quite work out how i expected as the final patch didn’t want to load in the vj app despite some earlier testing. so vjing for me was largely reduced to changing the section number directly in the qc patch with its output running fullscreen, seen on the preview above. was cool though, seeing the titles drawing together from the bag of words i made from watching the clips: just like you don’t exactly know which way the vjing of the clips is going to go, you don’t know exactly what the titles are going to imply in it…
five screens, two narrative lab navigators, and the night starts early at the contemporary arts centre. story collector is a beautiful set, david last and mr projectile crisp over the pa, the mix working well, tag team keeping the story and aesthetic tracked.
back to geneva for the mapping festival. a narrative lab performance a night for the first four days, opening with the premiere of autometa by paul mumford aka visualnaut. suffice to say, been avidly waiting to see this emerge from its year+ of production, and it didn’t disappoint. totally captivated for its hour run, like watching a film… but not a film. awesome.
thanks to artificial eyes for bringing me to istanbul to perform rbn_esc. 4 layers of image floating behind me, layers of scrim hung all around. that and ae’s own thrill software hooked up to a moving-mirror video projector setup (think gobo) made it all a den for the senses. cool to be able to soundcheck for hours too, headphones just aren’t quite the same as a club PA…
first chance to speak with falk of the live cinema blog since his summer superproduction followed by autumn of declaring the tools just not ready. so the piece wasn’t performed, but we did hear a run through of his thesis. how i would love to take that to hollywood to see the culture clash. followed that with a quick talk on my piece rbn_esc, and some of the ideas and processes behind it. and then the first performance with new toys, ableton and vdmx running on the same machine…
the narrative lab nights at roxy bar and screen are going well, in the time since the first one we’ve had some excellent feedback and with this one we knew we were in safe hands with name - they’ve been hosting lumen vj/bar nights in newcastle for years now. shame their beautiful narrative piece (meditation?) ‘privy’ is kinda too subtle for a packed bar, but worth it to see it again. watch this space for the next, hopefully coming early in the new year.
its still a bit sharp, but there were beautiful things at 2020 and there was horror. the horror bit was coursing through my veins when after i finally stood up, walked to my equipment, took a breath and proverbially hit ‘play’… the screen, the image, well, it wasn’t right.
4.30 am on the day of 2020, and rbn_esc__av is at v1.0.
probably performed one of my best sets ever at avit paris, representing narrative lab. sometimes things are just right, and you find yourself in a beautiful bubble. not only did the ‘story collector’ set really capture the audience - props to paul for the vision and david last for the audio mix i used - but it seems a lot of vjs watching it stayed for the presentation and have been inspired by the ideas we’re developing.