One of the video-art greats passed away recently – RIP Bill Etra, who leaves behind a huge legacy for his work at the intersections of art and technology. Below, Bill Etra demonstrates the functions of the Rutt/Etra Video Synthesizer. (1974)
“Bill Etra, an artist and inventor who, with a partner, created a video animation system in the early 1970s that helped make videotape a more protean and accessible medium for many avant-garde artists, died on Aug. 26 near his home in the Bronx. He was 69.
The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Rozalyn Rouse Etra. Mr. Etra had spinal stenosis for many years and was mostly bedridden when he died.
Mr. Etra and Steve Rutt created the Rutt/Etra video synthesizer, an analog device studded with knobs and dials that let a user mold video footage in real time and helped make video a more expressive art form. Among the artists who used it were Nam June Paik, regarded by many as the father of video art, and Woody and Steina Vasulka, who founded the Kitchen performance space in downtown Manhattan in 1971.”
“The dream was to create a compositional tool that would allow you to prepare visuals like a composer composes music,” Mr. Etra wrote. “I called it then and I call it now the ‘visual piano,’ because with the piano the composer can compose an entire symphony and be sure of what it will sound like. It was my belief then, and it is my belief now after 40 years of working towards this, that this will bring about a great change and great upwelling of creative work once it is accomplished.”
“Developed in 1972, the RUTT/ETRA Video Synthesizer was one of the first commercially available computerized video animation systems. It employed proprietary analog computer technology to perform real time three dimensional processing of the video image. In the first use of computer animation in a major Hollywood picture, Steve Rutt, working directly with Sidney Lumet, used the Rutt/Etra to create the animated graphic for the film’s “UBS” Television Network.”
Rutt-Etra-Izer is a WebGL emulation of the classic Rutt-Etra video synthesizer, by Felix Turner, which ‘replicates the Z-displacement, scanned-line look of the original, but does not attempt to replicate it’s full feature set’. The demo allows you to drag and drop your own images, manipulate them and save the output. Images are generated by scanning the pixels of the input image from top to bottom, with scan-line separated by the ‘Line Separation’ amount. For each line generated, the z-position of the vertices is dependent on the brightness of the pixels.
Am glad to finally upload that edit-medley – because creating a set of concert visuals for Hermitude was one of my favourite projects last year, seeing it from drawing-board and sketch paper, through to the stage screen. Hermitude had approached (having worked together on Dr.Seuss Meets Elefant Traks at Sydney’s Graphic Festival in 2012) – about developing video for their tour promoting Dark Night, Sweet Light – and wanted a visual set that suited their music, would work well within a hectic stage lighting environment, and was diverse but felt like a coherent, consistent show.
To suit Hermitude’s fun and festive sound and their dynamic live performances – I developed an overall visual style palette to enhance that, and mapped out a visual choreography for the show. And though I was excited about making some Hermitude clips of my own, it was also an exciting opportunity to collaborate with some talented animators, coders and cinematographers. It was fantastic to be able to work with these artists to craft the Hermitude set:
Neil Sanders – a Melbourne hand-drawn illustrator and animator extraordinaire, famous for his signature organic tumblr loops… Ori Toor – another hand-drawn abstraction loop specialist, beaming pixels to us from the Middle East. Colin E. White – moodily stylised New York animator. Brad Hammond – A Melbourne 3D Unity animation ninja + coder. (And shout-out to Kejiro Takahashi from Japan, for his ongoing publishing of Unity software addons… ) Stu Gibson – A Tasmanian surf + aerial cinematographer, who was very generous with his wild coastline footage (which I used to make the Bermuda Bay clip below)
It was also a pleasure to develop this visual set over time, because Luke ‘Dubs’ + Angus ‘El Gusto’ (aka Hermitude) are so down to earth and friendly, despite their relentless touring and acclaim, as are the whole Elefant Traks crew – especially their tireless manager (and collaborator) Urthboy and Luke Dearnley (Sub Bass Snarl), their wizardly tour manager (who designed a clever + efficient video rig featuring live cams – for routing and controlling their stage video feeds).
A lot of pixel-sweat across quite a few months, but …
.. so satisfying to see it all come together in the end.
I was lucky enough recently to catch a film-talk panel between director Joshua Oppenheimer and John Safran, at the Melbourne International Film festival. Having just seen the Look of Silence earlier that day, and already in awe of the brave and audacious film-making from the earlier companion film (The Act of Killing) – it was humbling and a privilege to hear about some of what went into the making of the film – and what some of its’ impacts have been since.
Given that Indonesia has not officially or publically discussed the mass killings that happened in 1965-66 (supposedly to get rid of a communist threat) – and that many of the perpetrators are entrenched in power today, it’s quite remarkable that these two films got made – prompted national discussions about them – and that the second film was given official recognition:
“On November 10, 2014, 2,000 people came to the official and public premiere of the film in Jakarta, and on December 10, 2014 – International Human Rights Day – there were 480 public screenings of the film across Indonesia. The screenings of the film in Indonesia has been sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia and the Jakarta Arts Council.” ( Via wikipedia)
Incredibly, after the first film – which featured the ‘surreal / defensive(?)’ boasting of one of the mass-killers – an Indonesian journalist saw the film, and persuaded their magazine to send out investigative journalists to document similar people in 60 different locations across Indonesia – and then published all of these in one go – alongside an in depth reaction to Oppenheimer’s film – which broke the silence, and allowed Indonesian media to move past the taboo of discussing these events.
Regardless of your awareness of this Indonesian mass killing, these are powerful films on many levels – well worth hunting down.
The film focuses on the perpetrators of the Indonesian killings of 1965–66 in the present day; ostensibly towards the communist community where almost a million people were killed.
Invited by Oppenheimer, Anwar recounts his experiences killing for the cameras, and makes scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite films: gangster,western, and musical.
The name “Anonymous” appears 49 times under 27 different crew positions in the credits. These crew members still fear revenge from the death-squad killers.
When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters who sold movie theatre tickets on the black market to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands. Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.
The Act of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built.
In The Act of Killing, Anwar and his friends agree to tell us the story of the killings. But their idea of being in a movie is not to provide testimony for a documentary: they want to star in the kind of films they most love from their days scalping tickets at the cinemas. We seize this opportunity to expose how a regime that was founded on crimes against humanity, yet has never been held accountable, would project itself into history.
And so we challenge Anwar and his friends to develop fiction scenes about their experience of the killings, adapted to their favorite film genres – gangster, western, musical. They write the scripts. They play themselves. And they play their victims.
“Through Oppenheimer’s footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers. The documentary focuses on the youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, who decides to break the suffocating spell of submission and terror by doing something unimaginable in a society where the murderers remain in power: he confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to accept responsibility for their actions. This unprecedented film initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.”
So Mexico morphed into MOFO… and now it’s late January 2015. Anyways. Here is some documentation for what happened in Hobart, the Mexican samples will have to wait a little longer.
I was in Hobart to do triple-Screen Video Projections at ‘ Faux Mo‘, which is the afterparty venue each night for the MOFO Festival, connected to the MONA gallery in Hobart, Tasmania. It tends to be eclectic – here’s the program.
Am super excited – it’ll be my first time in any of the Americas. From Nov 26 – Dec 22 I’ll be wandering through Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tijuana, as well as Cuernavaca, Metepec and a few other places in between.
Chancha Via Circuito – a favourite listen in recent years – has a new album out – Amansara (Wonderwheel Recordings). I first discovered his enchanting atmospheres and mixing on his wonderful ZZK Records mixtape (promoting his previous album Rio Arriba). His music seems to thrive best in mixtapes (see also Mixtape Cumbiero European Tour 2013 and a mixtape at Testpressing for new album ), reminding at times of early Future Sound of London and their wandering from soundscape to rhythm and back again. There’s a warmth to this music, and despite a slower tempo, there’s a momentum to it all as well. Recommendo!
Oh and a special shout-out too, for Paula Duro, who makes the enchanting artwork for Chancha (and featured in the backlayer of the collage above), as well as much of her own cool stuff. Check out her playful cosmic palette at flickr.
So I’ve been reading a lot lately. And swimming in words returns me to writing. Or at least – some words about books.
The infinite shelves at Goodreads are responsible for the bulk of the book orders above (want to swap recommendations?). I don’t know what took me so long to finally join Goodreads, I’d long been finding it tricky to get interesting book recommendations (particularly – good fiction – compared to say music or movies). Amazon has a decent catalogue, but I’ve found it unreliable for recommending new fiction of interest. And while I prefer the hand-curation of say – the Brainpickings bookshelf, the McSweeney’s Journal or DJ Rupture’s Mudd Up Book Club (includes a pretty great collection of sci-fi set in non-anglo cities), each of those are a pretty limited lense.
Anyways, I seem to have my reading for the next while sorted, which is also going to mean some more words here over time.
And if you’re not already aware of the second-hand booksellers below, this is where I found the bulk of the above:
Book Depository (my first choice – best range, generally cheapest overall to send to Australia)
BetterWorldBooks (good range – but seems deliberately deceptive in the way they offer ‘free postage ‘ – they show cheap prices after a search, but every single time, clicking on a book found in search, shows up as a much higher price, when you want to buy it.)
As real-time video software continues to evolve, we’re starting to see some really thoughtfully considered applications – such as Millumin, by Philippe Charaund, software dedicated to “create and perform audiovisual shows”. In part, Millumin is possible because of today’s easy re-routing of video between applications (thanks to software such as Syphon on mac and Spout on PC), which has enabled some developers to focus on specialty areas, and allowed others to provide ways of usefully integrating different parts of a video workflow.
Where does Millumin fit in?
While there are a lot of real-time video tools and specialities available, Millumin’s great strength is as over-arching software – and providing useful ways for co-ordinating and controlling other software ( eg triggering and manipulating clips inside VJ software, and recompositing, mapping and sequencing that video with Millumin, easily jumping between very complex compositions).
Millumin will especially be of interest to those seeking to sync media in tightly curated shows eg syncing video with important theatrical cues, conference cues, or a specific sequence of events in a music show. Aside from the time-based controls, it’s also a pretty effective piece of mapping software – which includes a built in capacity to edge blend between projectors.
In other words, Millumin provides good control over time (sequencing) and space ( compositing and mapping). It’s a unique recipe – while there are other apps that offer more advanced portions of what Millumin does – eg Vezer‘s sequencing and timeline options, or Madmapper‘s mapping controls – there’s nothing else that quite manages to do what Millumin does. QLab is probably it’s closest competitor, with the strengths and weaknesses of each meaning one or the other will suit your workflow better.
From their site guide: 1. Drag-and-drop ﬁles from Finder to the Dashboard, and click on the cells to play them 2. Use the Workspace toolbar to move, map, warp, mask … to rotate and scale the layers directly in the workspace. 3. Change blend mode, add effects, transitions and more from the Properties Panel 4. In the Library, manage your ﬁles, Syphon servers and inputs 5. Create a Composition, then organize your media in time with keyframes
– includes ability to play compositions within compositions ( like nested compositions in After Effects)
– Also like AE – includes adjustible keyframes – change opacity, position, scale or rotation change over time to specific values.
– cue points can be added.
– pause on cue points 6. Import this Composition into the Dashboard + switch between complex compositions easily. 7. The Magic Key is [SHIFT] : maintain it to multi-select and snap items
Control of time / sequencing: Millumin’s key-framable timelines will be warmly familiar to everyone who has used video editing software, and tends to find such functions missing within VJ software. Most VJ software will show a timeline / playhead for each clip – but much more rare is a capacity to place many clips along a timeline, and easily add cue points, and easy linear arrangements. Example nice touch? Drag and drop a clip onto a timeline, then drag the end of it to auto-loop as long as you need.
Room for improvement? There are lots of little user interface quirks that could be removed / better designed. Admittedly this is partly because Millumin reminds so much of video editing and compositing software – which brings a whole bunch of fine-tuned expectations – and sets an unfair benchmark – relatively new software made by one person could hardly be expected to match the resources and foundations of established editing and compositing software.
Control of space / compositing:
Video compositors will find it a pleasure to be able to create complex compositions, and nest and even animate these comps within other comps. In this respect Millumin is the closest thing to a real-time After Effects that exists. Sequencing and switching between various comps is trivial to implement…
.. and these ‘presets’ / ‘dashboard selections’ – can be triggered from other software using midi or OSC – eg the M1-m10 presets built into a VDMX control surface window below.
Millumin can also take in as many syphon inputs as can be thrown at it – which integrates it well with VDMX’s capacity to send out many. All of these can be composited differently in Millumin’s compositions, allowing for a huge amount of flexibility and convenience. (Snap below includes sequined ninja in oyster cave footage used at recent Dark Faux Mo festival in Hobart.)
Control of space / mapping:
Millumin features great controls for multiple outputs, and features multi-screen edge blending and feathering of masks:
Room for improvement? Being able to work better with multiple projectors that have different aspect ratios to each other.
As a standalone application, Millumin has a limited range of visual effects. On the other hand – deep syphon integration means easy piping in of video from other software, for sequencing or compositing, and quartz composer integration means being able to easily add customised QC elements, effects and compositions to any of that video piped in.
– Mac OSX 10.6 or later. (PC version in the pipeline)
– 599€ (VAT not included) = A license for Millumin on 2 different computers. for 2 computers . Educational and rental pricing available by negotiation.
Millumin is very thoughtfully crafted software, with a nicely expanding feature set. And while it’s missing refinement or lacking more detailed control in a few places, it continues to develop and evolve into a fantastic and versatile tool for live video, especially with multi-screen compositing.
– Lotech (NZ) for inspirational use of Millumin @ Splore – each VJ could send a signal into the machine running Millumin, which effectively let them play on a pre-mapped structure, and for ongoing feedback about Millumin over time.
– Jem the Misfit (NZ/Aus/Ger) – for highlighting how creatively Millumin could be used for compositing.
LOGLINE: The story of legendary cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s staggeringly ambitious but ultimately doomed film adaptation of the seminal science fiction novel DUNE.
SYNOPSIS: In 1974, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose films EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN launched and ultimately defined the midnight movie phenomenon, began work on his most ambitious project yet. Starring his own 12 year old son Brontis alongside Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali, featuring music by Pink Floyd and art by some of the most provocative talents of the era, including H.R. Giger and Jean ‘Mœbius’ Giraud, Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel DUNE was poised to change cinema forever.
“For me, Dune will be the coming of a god. I wanted to make something sacred, free, with new perspective. Open the mind!” – Alejandro Jodorowsky
Finally got to see Jodorowsky’s Dune recently (with long-time fan, and comic-book genius, Gregory Mackay, who is is great for detailing the sordid history of sci-fi illustration). It’s an incredible story of an incredibly audacious and film…. and although that feature never got completed, the documentary shows how lots of the creative energy involved was rewarded elsewhere later.
Alejandro Jodorowsky : “I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs. The difference being that when one creates a psychedelic film, he need not create a film that shows the visions of a person who has taken a pill; rather, he needs to manufacture the pill.”
El Topo – a metaphysical western.. ( see also, ‘acid western’ ), catapulting Jodorowsky into the cult director spotlight…
Holy Mountain – another quest for enlightenment, with vast and ambitious set designs… thanks to an increased budget of $1million from a Beatles business associate (John Lennon was a huge fan of El Topo).
Following the success and acclaim for Holy Mountain… his next wish was to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune, as a psychedelic space opera, a spiritual film for transformation… And in 1974 French producer Michel Seydoux offered to finance the start of it.
Amongst the formidable artistic army gathered to make Dune :
and Salvador Dali (as the mad emperor of the universe, who insisted on helicopters, a burning giraffe and “an Emperor’s throne / toilet made from intersected dolphins, the tails forming the feet and the mouths to receive piss and shit separately. (He thought it terribly bad taste to mix the two.) .. and $100,000 an hour to sit on it”)
So the world’s greatest ‘psychedelic space opera’ never got made… but director Frank Pavich did a great job of teasing out the possibilities, ably assisted by the subtle storyboard animations of Syd Garon (director and animator of Wave Twisters, yo!). More importantly though, the director was able to reunite producer Seydoux with Jodorowsky (after 30 years!), and Seydoux not only co-produced Jodorowsky’s Dune, but also went on to produce Jodorowsky’s first film in over 20 years: Dance of Reality (another incredible film!).
Am delighted to be helping host an ACMI workshop on March 1st – with David Lublin (Vidvox co-developer for VDMX).
((UPDATE: video workshop was archived on youtube, and is viewable at the bottom of this page))
David will be delivering the workshop from New York, with high bandwidth streams of both a video-conferencing computer and his VDMX video output for workshop attendees to view. ACMI will be providing laptops with VDMX pre-installed, although people are welcome to bring their own.
This is an incredible opportunity to hear about VDMX from a core developer, and get inside knowledge about real-time video manipulation.
Tickets are limited for the workshop, +pitched at a video-artist friendly $25. Book via ACMI.
(Drop a line if they sell out, we can reserve you a spot if you bring your own laptop.)
The workshop will also be youtube streamed and later archived online (See link at bottom of page):
Comments can be left by online viewers, and there will be a dedicated section at the end, where online questions will be answered by David.