Snapshotting Live Vidi-Yo in Oz, 2007

Where do you point the camera? When trying to capture an overview of live video in Australia, circa 2007, the first of two problems is that the target never remains still – is constantly morphing, expanding, evolving. Widespread enabling technologies and a few decades of community infiltration by “VJs” means most populations inevitably harbour small armies of garage laptoppers, artschoolers and youtubers all adept at manipulating video in real-time. No secret handshakes necessary.

Adding slipperiness to any attempted overview, is the difficulty of squeezing live video into some kind of container, given the sheer breadth it can encompass these days. What are we looking at here? Video is quite the malleable medium, readily blurring boundaries with other media ( handycam footage shot in a cinema, VHS tape, a floppy disc of animated photos, youtube clips projected onto a dancer etc), so inevitably when Australian video artists are exploring it in real-time, they tend to manipulate it in an incredibly diverse set of ways. And so, broken up into a few categories, some of these explorations are documented below, most artists overlapping across many. Additions welcomed online.

Visual Synthesis
The creation and manipulation of moving imagery in real-time, is pleasurably pursued by most live visualists, with an almost alchemical combination of software and hardware, new and old. This can include squeezing abstract imagery out of the latest in generative software ( eg Andrew Gadow, Samuel Bruce and Peter Newman on Sydney’s demux audiovisual label ), where the ‘art’ is just as much in the creation of unique software processes for generating patterns and imagery, as it is in the end results. Or, in the live context, a fluid application of visual effects processes can also lend itself to near formal explorations of the image ( eg the founders of TesseractJustin Maynard & Cindi Drennan, James Loveday who also blogs on the internationally popular, or the ‘light paintings’ of Perth’s VJ Zoo – a Perth duo also curating both the 2007 Byte Me festival, and regular Perth Plug N Play live audiovisual events ). Even old hardware can be harnessed for it’s visual feedback techniques ( mixer to screen, to camera to mixer etc ) by artists such as Botborg ( Brisbane ) to facilitate a live creation of abstract imagery.

Lighting & Location Design
All this giddy conjuring up of shapes, patterns, textures and layers, is used by many, when we’re down to it – as splashes of rhythm, of light and colour, with which the atmosphere of a space, inside or outside, can be transformed. Melbourne’s Digital Fringe has facilitated much drive-by projections in 2006-7, with artists projecting onto both buildings and the web ( via a live camera stream from the mobile projection van ), eg the recent ‘talking head’ projections which were accompanied by megaphonics to passersby. This was preceded by Video Stealth Ninja a few years earlier in Sydney, and the ever cheapening of projector technology offers increasing opportunities for provocative outdoor projection. Indeed, video projectors are being increasingly recognised as incredibly versatile lighting controllers, with much more subtlety than traditional lighting rigs. Cicada‘s Re-Squared project in Sydney 2003, remains an Australian benchmark in outdoor projections, custom fitting their typically luscious work onto a collection of concrete columns in response to soundscapes by Ben Frost.

Sampling & Collage
From stuttery channel surfing through to loose and fragmented narratives, sample-based VJing offers a large array of stylistic possibility. Artists such as John Jacobs ( of Video Subvertigo infamy ) or Guy 7U? continue to refine the visual equivalent of the free sound system techno party aesthetic and politics. Abject Leader in Brisbane perform expanded cinema with multiple 16mm projectors and handmade film ( and their manipulations also fit under visual synthesis and live cinema ). VJ Nosis (Melb) beautifully layers and combines her samples in evocative ways and Emile Zile ( fresh from touring Europe as VJ for Melbourne freak-hoppers ‘Curse Ov Dialect‘ ) brings a kind of Harmony Korine aesthetic to his dense live video collages. Collapsicon extends hiphop aesthetics into all kinds of visual terrain – sample based video creations, turntable video scratching, and even embryonic audiovisual sequencing in 3D game engines ( sonic objects on a conveyor belt anyone? ).

Audiovisual / Live Cinema
Severed Heads pioneered live audiovisual musical creations, and founding member Tom Ellard still continues that quest to sequence and mutate AV live. Within the live video sphere, relatively few acts are developing dedicated, live audiovisual performances, where the video isn’t just a responsive backdrop to the music, but an integrated and interwoven part of the performance. The demux crew definitely fly the A+V flag, especially ringleader Wade Marynowsky ( I have a soft spot for wearable kangaroo suits that trigger audiovisual loops ). Roly Spender and ChrisM + Fenris have flown that same A+V flag from Perth, and thematic audiovisual performances in Melbourne have long been performed by Future Eater, Anna Spanna & Suckaphish P Jones ( during MC battles vs onscreen beatboxing monkeys ) in collaboration with Jean Poole ( which indeed, iz me… ). The tightly synchronised live AV sequences of ‘Keith D & Cory‘ ( Melb ) are worth a mention too.

Video & Performance
Improvisational video skills lend themselves wonderfully to theatre, creating all kinds of interesting screen vs actor interaction and juxtaposition. As well as the screen of material, Kirsten from Cicada found herself onstage alongside the actors in ‘Beasty Grrl’, processing her video. A performance long before this by Morganics ( ex Meta Bass N Breath ), highlighted how much is possible with screens and actor, with a wonderfully executed interaction between live MC and pre-recorded, live triggered videos of himself in various disguises during a ‘shakespeare as hip-hop’ performance. From another angle, VJ Morph ( Syd), prides himself on maintaining a highly active and visible ‘performance mode’ when VJing. A few Melbourne video artists ( Lindsay Cox, Tim Webster, John Power ) extend this with art-performances where their unique analogue processes of image creation ( live cameras, mechanical objects, shadows, liquids, processing etc ) engage audiences as much as the video.

Data Visualisation
Beyond mouse-clicking, live video is popularly triggered, manipulated, generated or has it’s parameters adjusted using data extracted from gestures, movements, proximity sensors, weather patterns, data feeds etc. Within this realm of sophistication, live video artists may create work in a wide variety of contexts – nightclub VJ screens, venue installations, or integrated art-performances. David Wolf’s performances with custom software integrating live flickr photo feeds are continually progressing, and again the demux crew are at play here, with label co-founder Wade Marynowsky‘s various max, nato and jitter software patches over the years transforming ever stranger data inputs into a range of provocative and perverted performances, with a cumulative impact gathering for his recent Autonomous Improvisation v.1 installation. Robin Fox gets the last shout, for even though he doesn’t not video, his short-burst dimensional laser performances are some of the most captivating and compelling translations of data into vision.

Jean Poole
– is currently on a 6 month video residency with in Istanbul, Turkey, where amongst other things, he has been projecting from moving cars onto surreal desert landscapes. He also maintains, where he would love to be updated with links to the inevitable armies of live Australian visualists who undeservedly missed out on a mention.

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