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What is VJing?

Basically, VJing is improvising with video to music.

The integration of music and projection has a long history, going back centuries (honestly!) to experiments with "Colour Music" in the 1700s. I really recommend buying The VJ Book to read more about the history of VJing.

There are a huge range of styles within VJing. Give it a few years, and no doubt they'll evolve into identifiable genres. Already though, you can see characteristics of particular types of VJing, and there seems to be a fairly regional influence as well (although of course there are just as many exceptions as VJs that fit my cliches...).

Many VJs use a combination of the general styles I describe here.

See Wikipedia for VJ (video performance artist) entry.

"VJing is a type of performance that combines the visual possibilities of filmmaking with the improvisational pleasures of jazz".... from The VJ Book: Inspirations and Practical Advice for Live Visuals Performance by Paul Spinrad

vj audio-visual art and vj culture by D-Fuse at Amazon

Graphic Designer

Graphic Designers who become VJs are usually very slick. They use a lot of animated overlays and pre-prepare a lot of their content. See D-Fuse's book "VJ - audiovisual art + vj culture" for some great examples of this style of VJing, also the Audiovisualisers DVDs.

Content for this style of VJing is often prepared in Apple Motion, Flash or After Effects.

Motion Dive is perfect for this style of VJing and Edirol offer integrated hardware/software packages with Motion Dive that make this a great option for those less geekily-inclined.

One of the most proficient Motion Dive VJs is VJ MoSelle from Ministry of Sound, Singapore. The image here is our content, remixed by Mo at a MOSS gig during our 2006 tour. Seeing what other VJs do with your work is great fun - they can transform it so much it's almost unrecognisable. In this case, in a good way :)

Resolume software is also good for this style of VJing.

In terms of sweeping regional generalisations, we'd suggest that this genre of VJing is most common in the UK and Japan.

VJs that we'd suggest fit into this category include Lucidhouse VJ Anyone AlexetJeremy and D-Fuse.

Buy Eyewash2 DVD at Microcinema.com

Computer generated

This ranges from spinning balls and tunnels with rendered textures and beat-synched pulsing shapes to 3D animation etc. Many VJs who have been programmers, games or multimedia developers become this style of VJ.

Arkaos does that sort of thing well, and can be integrated in with the lightshow.

The Eyewash DVDs from Forward Motion Theater show mostly this style of VJing.

Computer generated 'Eye Candy' is particularly popular in the US - perhaps due to the historical importance of "Wet Shows" and other projection psychedelia in the last century.

Spotworks is an example of this type of VJing with his very cool Electric Sheep.

Buy Spotworks DVD at Microcinema.com


Inside-Us-All live at Psygate in London

Cut-Up VJs

Also known as Mash-Up style. These VJs use edited footage from popular culture such as news, archival footage from Prelinger archives etc.

Sampling has long been a key factor in creative DJing, and so it's no surprise that it's also a style of VJing. We react when we see familiar things, and VJing is a very powerful way tomix recognisable images together in a new way, or to make a point. (See also AV artists below)

Often influenced by the Dadist movement, Surrealist and Avant-garde cinema.

Most of the major VJ softwares are good for this style of VJing.

Live Video Feed VJs

Wherever there’s a DJ with a big ego, there’s a camera pointed at him projecting him huge on the screen.

Closely linked with the international Clubbing scene, people the world over love to see themselves on the on-screen and so that's what these VJs do. They tend to use more hardware-based tools, as flicking and blending between different camera streams with a few basic effects is the main aim, to emphasise the vibe of a huge event rather than being distracting. To add variety, they will often also mix in beat-synched 'eye candy' type visuals like Milkdrop or DVD-based backing visuals (see also Hardware VJs).

Another application of Live-feed VJing are artists such as Holly Daggers, who uses live-video feed and a hi-tech lumakeying system.

Holly Daggers - Wet Circuit

Holly Daggers - Vertigo bluescreen set

Hardware based

Even kick-arse laptops have trouble processing multiple, hi-res video streams with multiple effects, so the emphasis in this sort of VJing is using the vision mixer (aka video desk), DVJs and other hardware-based tools to the max.

There are now a number of hardware devices made specifically for VJing. Each of the devices do different things, and some of them relate specifically to particular software - such as Motion Dive or Resolume.

Other hardware controllers include Kaoss Entracer. VJ Central is a good place to read hardware reviews.

Coldcut Timber Ninja Tune 1997 - watch video

How to DVJ, a Digital DJ Masterclass by Charles Kriel

AV (Audiovisual) Artists

AV artists do audio as well as video. This makes them more palatable to a music-oriented Club scene, and therefore AV artists generally have a much higher profile than VJs.

Many activist artists use AV, as it's important for them to get a message across and audio helps that. Some examples I'd put into this category include Inside Us All and Cold Cut - whose 1997 AV work "Timber" first captured the attention of many of today's AV artists and VJs.

Inside-Us-All also develop some great Freeframe Plug-ins, so they're really helping to develop the technical side of VJing as well as promoting their political causes.

The most popular software for AV performance is probably VJamm as used by the appropriately named VJamm Allstars.

There are also a rapidly growing number of hardware-based AV artists using Pioneer DVJs, devices where you can scratch AV material from DVD.

A book is due out shortly demonstrating practical use of the DVJ called "How to DVJ , a Digital DJ Masterclass" by Charles Kriel. I guess from the title it's targetted at experienced DJs or AV artists rather than VJs.

Video Painting

OK... so have to declare a vested interest here... we made that up as a catchy title for Freeframe-Effects-based VJing,since it didn't seem to comfortably fit into the other genres we've listed.

This style of VJing uses abstracted video - eg, light-trails, blurry drive-by footage, power poles, clouds moving past etc. The VJ-ness is often achieved through use of Freeframe effects to make everyday-looking footage abstracted and artistic. In many ways similar to the Impressionist painting.

Follows in a tradition of Expressionist and other Avant-garde cinema from last century.

Resolume software is perfect for this sort of VJing - developed by a pair of Dutch VJs. This example is from one of our 'video painting' pieces, showing the input footage, the treated ouput footage and a screenshot of the Resolume interface in action.

Solu - Live Cinema

Solu recently completed a paper on Live Cinema

Context > The Academics and Art-School Prats

There are people who use VJ tools and even perform in club environments, but have a strong Postmodern contemporary art basis to what they're doing, such as Holly Daggers in the US and jean poole keith_d and dpwolf in Australia. They're busily working away to contextualise and document the theoretical base to this cultural phenomenon, like We're silly fluff-heads compared to them, but we really value what they're doing.

Using VJ tools and techniques in an Arts context, with a sit-down audience, is starting to be called Live Cinema. Solu and Addictive TV are two acts leading the development of Live Cinema. There;s an interesting interview about the possibilities of 'Expanded Cinema' using VJ Tools between jean poole and German VJ fALk here

"Art-School Prats" comes from a comment recently by a high profile VJ, who complained that VJing is being taken over by Art School Prats. I guess we fit that bill, since we met and became VJs quite literally at Art School.

I'd suggest that the context of being an Art School Wanker means that you enjoy performing in Arts-based Festivals (such as New Media Festivals) in preference to, say, big Music Festivals. Also, we place a huge value on Surrealist Cinema of the 1930's, the Dada Movement and other early experimental cinema, as we see obvious parallels with the potential created by VJ tools encouraging experimentation like the early days of cinema.

DJ Shadow

Context > Personal VJs

Some VJs work closely with one or two acts, and tailor their work to suit a particular artist or who work in collaboration with that artist. Given the lack of status currently given to VJs, these sort of collaborations aren't usually seen as "AV acts", but from the perspective of a fellow VJ, I see that the best examples really are AV acts.

For example, DJ Shadow, U2, Alice Cooper (right back to the 70's), have visuals as a key part of their live performances. These sort of deep, collaborative involvements, in my opinion, are conducive to producing the best VJ performances possible. Probably hardly anyone knows the names of these VJs, but I think history will come looking for them when visuals are given the kind of credit I think they can deserve.

Context > Club Bunnies

Some people get into VJing because they're into Club culture and it's probably less competitive than becoming a DJ :)

This category of VJs aren't usually as purist about making their own content as the others - it's the commercial end of VJing, and what many promoters of big events want.

When visuals are integrated with the lightshow at a big gig, for example, it's likely that this is hardware based, for reliability and simple operation.

Whether this is even really VJing is probably contestable, considering the lack of creative, live control over the visuals. "We'll all be replaced by a Media Server within 2 years" said one prominent VJ recently - and if your perspective is that of a big club who just want automated visuals to go with their superstar-DJs show, then he's probably right.

If the future for Clubland is in hardware-based visuals, then content production has the key growth potential.

VJzoo performance at Lux06 in Sevilla

Severed Heads 1980's video rig

So what type of VJing do we, VJzoo, do? We developed our own style which we dubbed Video Painting, since our background is more art-based than being programmers or graphic-designers.

We also love old movies though, so we use archival footage too. For example, we use old 'Soundies', Bollywood and Burlesque. We alter our style to suit the gig to a certain extent, although we'll only take a gig that's within the range of what we do well - we just don't DO that computer-generated stuff well, and aren't interested in the whole live-feed scene.

What we love about the moving image comes from what can be captured by a lens, the things that people might usually miss, or not recognise, or have forgotten about - we like to recontextualise that into a modern, immersive experience.

We also collect and use vintage equipment such as Fairlight CVIs. We're not really into the 80's revival Electro scene, but playing with temperamental old equipment is so much fun and we have huge respect for AV pioneers like Severed Heads.

We're very involved in Live Cinema too - an exciting new field where the audience is sitting watching, and we improvise either with live musicians or a predetermined soundtrack. Keeping an audience's attention with non-narrative visuals can be quite a challenge, and with people watching so intently, there's a lot more pressure to create an interesting, smooth and engaging show. The rewards are so much greater though - to have people paying such close attention means that people really 'get it'. Also, to have a rousing, enthusiastic round of applause when you finish your set is something you don't get the chance for in club VJing!

1987 Severed Heads AV track 'Hot With Fleas'

We love to work closely with musicians, DJs and sound artists and to produce collaborative work - which is why our process is quite intensive. We're not the kind of VJs you just hire to turn up on the night to do some pretty background-visuals. This is our passion. If you want something that's part of the lightshow, we can recommend some good DVDs that you could throw on instead of hiring us :)

There are more links on our Links Page. Funny that.

Some other VJing discussion that you might find interesting:

In 2006, VJzoo's newest member VJ ChikiTronix completed her Honours in Multimedia, conducting a research project on VJing. You can download her report here (word doc, about 80kb)

A Brief History of VJing in Australia by Sean Healy (VJ Jean Poole)

Sights and Sounds - article by VJ Kasumi for Remix Mag, June 2006

BBC article - Introduction to VJing, Aug 2006

VJ Central - THE centre of online VJ culture. Technical queries, reviews, discussion - it's all there.

SoftwareVJ - Great site to compare different VJ softwares.

VJzoo Bollywood gig at the Fly By Night Club with Loungerama

VJzoo are grateful to our generous supporters:
Plaza Digital - Best Service in Perth for Camera Video Computer
Government of Western Australia
ArtsWA - Western Australian Department of Culture and the Arts TDK Australia
Microcinema  International - the Art of the Moving Image

.... and our families :)

copyright all material 2003 - present kat black & jasper cook