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performance: video as an instrument?

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by Hizzoner, May 21, 2011.

  1. Hizzoner


    Jan 6, 2005
    Chicago area
    A long time ago I read the Wired article on the Lights in the Sky tour(wish I had seen it in person) and this quote has stayed with me:

    "Unlike most rock shows, the visuals for about 40 percent of the show (including "Only") aren't pre-rendered. There's no staging, no pantomiming by band members: It's all interactive, live and rendered on the fly.
    According to Reznor, it all started with a relatively simple idea.

    "I wanted to see how I could use video as an instrument," he says, "and try to really make the stage feel like it's organic -- like it's part of the overall set."- TR

    question for JMJ-
    how did you make it organic during that tour/use video as an instrument? Any tips?..obviously it helps having cutting edge tech at your fingertips..

    I wonder how could we apply that knowledge to a smaller or midsized gig? I'm looking to enhance the visual presentation of my band to make the show as appealing as possible.

    Thanks for your tips

  2. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 25, 2005
    Hi Mark,
    You ask a very broad and deep question. I'm not, unfortunately, so technologically savvy as to have many recommendations as to how to apply some of the things we did into a smaller context. Moment Factory, the Montreal-based video design firm that we consulted with, utilized methodologies old and new to achieve our show. The problem is, some of the ones I call new were still in beta/unreleased form when we toured, and certainly rather expensive and esoteric. Not to mention delicate and potentially unreliable: laser range-finding motion sensors, that kind of thing.

    However, what I would look into if I were you is figuring out ways to have Ableton Live implement/manipulate/trigger video/light-related events...that seems to be an area that is ripe for exploitation. TouchOSC based controllers, Max for Live video devices, that kind of thing. There are paths opening now that I only have an inkling of, but that seem to be very intriguing to say the least. That concerns the area of having a sequence triggering events, and/or a person on-stage or off doing it using an Akai APC40 or the like.

    As far as doing stuff that is truly interactive like we did on Lights In The Sky, I'm not sure how exactly you would be able to go there. I mean, we did some very deep programming to get, for instance, an LED wall to respond in very certain ways to very uncertain audio events. (YouTube: NIN The Great Destroyer live) Getting that to happen with cheaper tech is definitely not my specialty. :)

    Good luck!!

  3. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    i can't see it happening cheaply, to be honest. even sequencing video to your tracks requires a fairly decent investment in gear and a screen to make it happen. at club level, you have to really want it. my band just did a 2 camera video with a screen behind us on our gigs this weekend, and they had a 4 man crew to pull it off. probably cost the promoter a couple grand per night. i think it would really be cool, but boy, costs for something like that can add up. but if you end up pulling it off, let us know how you did it so we can all do it ;)
  4. Hizzoner


    Jan 6, 2005
    Chicago area
    I was showing a video on the history of the sixties to my students and Peter Coyote explained the Haight/Ashbury diggers concept of the "free frame of reference". This got me thinking more broadly and "freely" on the way home from work about the nature of playing live with a band. I just think the concept of controlling visuals/presentation from the stage is so cool. It adds an element that really crosses boundaries into performance art. I think even at an amateur level you are a musician first of course but your job is to entertain an audience. If that is true then I am willing to explore new ways of doing that. In reasonable fashion of course...Jimmy-no gigi a. stuff from ME:)!!!
  5. pbass2


    Jan 25, 2007
    Los Angeles
    If you're interested in doing this kinda stuff yourself, download the trial version of Max/MSP/Jitter:

    Cycling 74

    Play around with some of the tutorials that are related to midi and audio control of video, drawing, etc.
    Now, Max is DEEP, and the learning curve is like, vertical, but you can start to get some ideas. (I've been using it for about 3 years and consider myself a total beginner;)

    Some things CAN be done cheaply, just depends.
    I'm making a Max device right now for a band where the guitarist's playing will trigger video events(using a variety of factors, including pitch, amplitude, etc.). Aside from the Max/MSP/Jitter patch itself, all that's needed is a laptop to run it, a simple audio interface to get the guitar's signal in, DI or mic'd (they're using a $200 Presonus Firebox) and then a way to output the video. In their case, they're going to use either a $500 USB projector on stage to project onto a screen or other surfaces, or, if the venue has the capability, a video out feed from the laptop can simply be plugged into the club's video/projection/etc. system.

    So, that's all---not a huge investment gear-wise.

    Max is definitely the rabbit hole though . . .

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