Vector Lovers in York

Still life with speak and spellJuly 7th sees the return of Vector Lovers (aka Martin Wheeler) to York for his first gig in his old home town for a long while (details at the freakin’ website here).

Martin’s asked me to do some visuals for his performance – which’ll be my first new club visuals since the showcase at 2006’s Latitude Festival. Previously (due to lack of mobile computing equipment), I’ve taken a very offline approach to visuals, preferring to render anything from 30 minutes to around 2 hours of video, film, graphics and text onto a DVD, and then simply having that run for the duration of the night.

This time it’s going to be different.

Having had my MacBook for just over a year now, I reckon it’s about time that I do something a bit more live – and hence I’ll be heading out on Saturday night with a Quartz Composer (QC) application which will allow me to freely mix, match, and process video clips, motion graphics and still images in response to the night’s entertainment. Using a proper live setup means that I can also have images which react to the music being played (i.e. I knocked up a quick spectrum analyser patch). QC has the nice feature of allowing MIDI input to be used as a control source, so I can use my Kenton Control Freak to mix up the images as well…

So anyway – it’s going to be interesting, if you read this and make it down on Saturday, come over and say ‘hi’.

Old-fashioned photography

As you may have noticed, all of the photographs on this site were taken on film (discounting screenshots of OS X screensavers, CGI, and video of course).

Why should anyone living in the 21st century still cling on to such an archaic form of image capture? Personally:

  • I like the quality of a real photograph; sure, having taken the picture, developed and printed myself adds something to the artefact itself, and yes, it’s a long process (a quick turnaround would be a couple of days between taking the shot and hanging it on a wall), but there’s something about the visual quality that just pushes my buttons..!
  • I’ve never been happy with the quality of images printed from a computer – they seem kind of flat somehow. Maybe I need to shell out on a better printer. Or a better digital camera. Or both.
  • Knowing that I’m dealing with a finite resource (I may have packed an extra roll or two of film, but that’s still limited compared with a 2GB memory card) – and getting to medium format? Only 12 shots per roll!

Using film also means that I’m take more consideration about shooting; shots are framed and focussed, depth-of-field and shutter speed are taken into account with more deliberation.

Sure, maybe I’d be the same with a nice DSLR (one day, one day!) but with that LCD, there’s the temptation to chimp 🙂

I also found this when I started using Super 8… DV tape is a reusable commodity (and a tape will last an hour!); Super 8 forces shots to be considered (and rehearsed) – 3 minutes 20 seconds at 18fps – or 2 minutes 30 seconds at 24fps is not a long time – better get that shooting ratio up!

Will we be a post-history generation?

Something that (I think) Brian Eno said quite a few years ago, about the impermanence of digital audio (that much new music was being recorded, mixed, mastered, and delivered on digital media which has a relatively short life – a master tape with a few bits corrupted here and there becomes unreadable. Compared to analogue tape which may pick up dropouts, but the tape can still be listened to many years after its recording*), was echoed in a program last night touching on photography (BBC4’s ‘Thoroughly modern: The snapshot camera’).

A remark was made that previous generations of photographers made real physical artefacts when taking pictures – the negative film strip – versus the digital images which ‘we’ are so fond of.

We can still view the images that were taken a hundred or more years ago: take a bit of chemistry (photo-sensitive paper, developer etc.), add some light, and there you have it – a reproduction of a picture which would have been seen in Edwardian times.

Compare that with the current reliance on digital image capture, where ‘images’ exist merely as a pattern of bits on a disk – there’s an awful lot of technology required to view the image – and when it’s gone with your next hard disk crash (backup? what backup?), all you have left is the printout from your inkjet printer, with it’s non-permanent inks which will gradually fade away…

Of course, digital isn’t all bad – those files can be duplicated ad infinitum, uploaded to web-based services, burnt to CDs, DVDs etc. (but even then, CDs and DVDs will eventually become unreadable due to degradation of the media itself – cf. Brian Eno’s remark about the potential loss of digital audio masters).

Digital images are also, in the general case, stored in a lossy form – features which we cannot see on a 6×4 print, suddenly become solid blocks of colour (‘compression artifacts’) when viewed at 12×16…

The only hope for digital creations is to duplicate, duplicate, duplicate… A new storage standard? Use it! Backup all of you data from those Zip disks onto CD… CDs onto DVDs… DVDs onto HD-DVD (or should I use Blu-ray?)… from HD-DVD to ???

Is this any worse than ‘analogue’ media? Negative strips etc.? I don’t know – Negatives are in themselves precious artefacts, and may of course be lost or destroyed as well… but when they survive, the data is still intact (even if only a fragment of an image survives, it can still be printed; if an analogue tape is noisy or has dropouts, or if a vinyl record has clicks and pops, it can still be listened to…).

Still, both have uses, both have their own strengths (and weaknesses). Me? I’m currently using film a lot…

* of course analogue tape is not immune to problems either – in the 1970s Ampex changed the formulation of the most popular master tape in the world – with the result that tapes became unplayable… but recoverable nonetheless – See this AIR article
Another approach to the problem of degraded tapes was to use contemporary vinyl records as the master source…

A Project!

Got a message from Martin last night, wondering about resurrecting the project we were supposed to do last year at the Tate (Martin got chickenpox, so we were unable to do it). Feeling quite excited by the prospect of doing something creative with someone again… Since Martin went to Berlin, things have been a little quiet here in York, nowadays there seem to be too many other things to do.

Kurt Vonnegut… RIP

Just a short note to acknowledge the passing of the author Kurt Vonnegut. I first read a KV novel back in around 1987 I suppose – having just got the Dave Howard Singers’ Yon Yonson 12″ which referenced Slaughterhouse-5… I went down to my local library and tried to get the book, but all they had was Deadeye Dick and Breakfast of Champions, which I duly read and was hooked…

I guess he’s an author who can polarise opinion – you either love or hate him. My wife can’t bear to read his books.

So it goes.

Thank you Kurt.

“I guess he’s up in heaven now”

Totally Retro…

My creative side has been gradually becoming more and more bipolar:

On one side, I love new technology – whether it be digital video captured from a camcorder; pure computer graphics created in Blender/Quartz Composer; or simply digital stills caught from my PowerShot; or on the audio side perhaps some new softsynths or plugin effects running within Logic.

On the other side, is the retro – I’ve owned a bunch of analogue/vintage synthesisers and drum machines for ages, and I still occasionally pick up my guitar; however the latest retro-fad I’ve been looking at is visual; super8 filming and 35mm still photography.

Work In Progress (2)

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here, but we finished the music video for Sand a couple of months ago. Both Mark and I have done an edit, and the band seem to like the look so far.

The track is called The Dalston Shroud and coincidentally is the title track for the new Sand album out in July…

Big thanks go out to everyone involved! Let’s get some more done!!

Work In Progress

We are currently in the process of creating a music video for a track on the forthcoming (as yet untitled) Sand LP. We did the filming (yes, filming – not video! ** ) over the weekend of 24th/25th September, and sent the film over to Berlin to be processed. From Berlin, the processed film went to Uppsala for transfer to computer-file – the DVD of the transfer will then be sent back to us here (along with the film of course).

I have just had news from the guy doing the transfer that it is now all done, and it will be sent to us very soon. The footage was a bit dark (but I suspected that would be the case) – he also correctly guessed that we were “after a ‘dark and scary’ kinda image anyway, not a ‘bright and happy’ one,” right ;).

So, all that remains now is to put the final creation together once we receive the footage. It’s going to be great 🙂

[** We filmed using Super8 Kodak Tri-X. Camera was a Canon 814E]

I can highly recommend the following services:
Andec film processing in Berlin, and
Uppsala BildTeknik for the transfer.