Hey guess what? It’s a thrill to present an interview with one of the founders of E.B.N., pioneers of audiovisual radness, and inspiration to many since way back in 1991. Yeah, those guys beaming their live video sampler performances from a bunch of TVs atop a station wagon on the Lollapalooza tour, the guys that made a video remix ‘album’ from Gulf War footage, and opened U2’s ZOO TV tour. That was E.B.N., and they paved the way for much of today’s live video. Although long disbanded, Brian Kane and the other founders, Joshua Pearson and Gardner Post, have each continued exploring various multimedia technologies ( links to each and more E.B.N. details / videos etc at their wikipedia page ). Brian’s thoughts below.
Back in 1992, you invented VuJak, the worlds first video sampler. What real-time video software impresses you today, and what surprises you about the ways video software has developed?
Ableton Live is amazing, and I also like the Pioneer DVJ line. I still use Max/MSP/Jitter because you can do so much and I have worked with it for many years. The Cycling74 folks have done a great job with Max, and Josh Clayton’s Jitter objects are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve seen some incredible things done with Processing, though I haven’t used it yet myself. What interests there is Mobile Processing, I am more and more interested in mobile/handheld video applications.
YouTube is now serving 1 billion video views a day, so it’s hard not to be impressed with YouTube. They got it right, and they continue to drive video usability, which has helped make online video become so popular.
One of the main goals of making the video sampling tool was to give people a way to deconstruct/reconstruct the media. When you deconstruct television, it helps you see how messages are created and used to manipulate peoples emotions. So I had always seen VuJak as a counter-ops measure to help the public fight back against manipulative media and propaganda. This has certainly taken hold in the laptop era and in the modern art world. These days it’s called an intervention, but it’s basically a force multiplier for the public against perception management.
Emergency Broadcast Network left quite a footprint in the live audiovisual arena. What extent of your original video sampling vision did you manage to execute?
Video sampling and cut-up is mainstream now. Yesterday I saw a segment on CNN called Mashup where they cover remix videos on YouTube. Remix culture has become its own art genre and has been pushed beyond anything I had imagined in the early 90’s. There are some very talented artists putting their work on YouTube – such as Kutiman – which blow me away. Auto-tune the News is great, too.
The same is true for the generative school of video art, too. It has become mature as a genre and and the tools are robust. So now we have the tools to do anything, but what should we do? So now I think it’s all about content.
For me, the big “oh yeah” moment was in 1991 when I managed to get a quicktime movie tied into Max. The first time I pressed a midi keyboard note and saw a movie play, I knew it could be done.
What are your thoughts on today’s live audiovisual acts, or the evolution of AV performance? What has improved? What has stagnated?
My favorite recent live acts are Addictive TV, ColdCut, Hexstatic, eXceeda. DJ Yoda is amazing, I wish I could’ve seen him with Shlomo. The production quality of shows has improved vastly, and there is essentially no barrier to entry as well, which means there are lots of people doing it, which I believe is a good thing. Audience interactivity in live shows hasn’t yet taken off on in a big way, but I could see that happening now, since everyone has a cell phone. My only criticism these days is that I think it’s boring to watch two guys fingering their laptops on stage. I’m guilty of this myself. But I’d like to see more fun presentation styles for live shows. There’s a lot of room for fun input devices using things like Arduino boards and such as well, too.
What do you see as the various interesting trends amongst live video at the moment?
I’m fascinated with the new micro-projectors that are coming out, and expect to see interesting innovations there. Also of personal interest is optical mixing with multiple projectors, as well as L.E.D. architecture. I want to play Pong on the side of a mountain.
What did you learn about humans and technology from your online casino days?
Humans are unpredictable as individuals, but predictable in groups. People don’t mind losing money if they are having fun. 1 attention unit equals 7 seconds. People prefer playing with a machine to playing with people. 1 button is enough.
What about commercial holography, where has that gone since the early nineties?
The latest generation of large scale full-color holography is truly impressive. Zebra Imaging produces the best in the world. Full color, full parallax. Optical computing is progressing rapidly, too, which will bring about the next major advance in computing.
And to continue this techno trajectory of art forms you’ve been involved with, what were you doing with robotic software?
In 1994 I started to believe that the screen image is useless – meaning that people have become numb to video images and that there is simply no way of communicating with people in a meaningful way via screen images. This is a deep and long conversation, and in many ways I still believe it is true. So I stopped working with video and became interested in building physical experiences for audiences – moving objects in the real world that people can have a relationship with.
At that time, I met artist Chico MacMurtrie who was building robotic sculptures, and we started to work together. George Homesy had build a midi-to-voltage control box for the machines, but the software piece wasn’t robust yet. I wrote a variety of max patches which control the machines and sequence them into shows. Some of the machines required feedback to operate and so we needed an intelligent system to drive those, while at the same time allowing for improvisation within the framework of a master sequenced show. We toured extensively in the 90’s with a large show, and over time this became a rather complex system, all built with Max.
I continue to work with Chico to this day, although the latest piece, the Birds, is an autonomous installation piece. There is more information on my website and on http://amorphicrobotworks.org.
What kinds of ideas are you hoping to provoke with your sculpture series?
I’m interested in taking the virtual experience into the real world. Creating physical manifestations of our shared virtual experiences.
I see these as documentary objects which capture a common cultural snapshot of the present and preserve it for the future. As our present shared virtual culture decays though continuous obsolescence, very little remains beyond its’ designed 18 month life cycle / memory cycle. So by physicalizing these experiences, we can archive them for the future.
As people switch off their televisions, projects like wikipedia spawn from their free time. Or like Urban Dictionary, which I noticed you’ve been contributing to. What draws you to that, and what are some projects that point to more interesting group dynamics and collaboration?
I’m drawn to Urban Dictionary because it is funny as hell. I went through a period when I was putting in words, but that seems to have passed, like most transient newisms these days. One of my entries was Urban Word of the Day, so I guess that means something.
Flash mobs are another great new form of collaboration, as well as local currencies.
Three things you’d tell a class of young interactive designers today?
Fast. Fun. Easy.
Design for humans.
Pay attention to the way humans behave. Watch what people do.
If an application is pretty, people are impressed for a few moments. If an application is useful, people will use it repeatedly.