MARK FRANCOMBE Musician, Filmmaker, Game-designer & Kipple-monger

VJ Program Comparisons

The Task:
To research VJ visual mixing programs for use in new musical project.
I have always been interested in live visuals, both from a psychedelic hippy point of view, but also from a more art oriented and academic point of view. I’m very interested in translating sound into picture, and the visual effects of synchronization and tightly linked audio and video experiences. Indeed in my texts section, above, there is a long article I wrote at Art College in 1989, about Synesthesia.
With this new looping band (all of us are live-loopers, and will synchronize all our equipment so we all add small amounts to create a rhythmic whole) we would like to link what we do to a live generated looping projection, that is generated live, FROM the music, with little or no user interaction.
I met with my friend Grete, who is a professional VJ called EYEBORG and has worked at Ministry of Sound and Renaissance, about software’s, and techniques. She told me about three packages, and a little about each. They were:

Resolume Avenue

Having checked all 3 packages, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. All seem great. All have lots of fun possibilities. I am certain that once you get deep into each of these you will find lots of interesting things, I was only really testing for 2 things.
1. I really cant be bothered to learn a really complex program, with all sorts of online tutorials necessary and ages before I get results, no I want “Out of the box” results, I want to see immediately how it works and how I might use it, but will NOT shy away from many days/hours working on the visuals, but I don’t want to WASTE time in the wrong software.
2. I am ONLY testing the products ability to GENERATE visuals, not play back short quirky video clips. This is a biggie, almost all VJ’s basically do this, I’m am not in the slightest bit interested in flash! made mandalas or bouncy texts, of trippy zooms, or god help me FRACTALS !!! YIKES!!
No, I need this to analyze the music(volume, frequencies whatever) take in midi clock and maybe midi notes, and use it to create visual on the fly.

Oh, and I was only testing the demos, available on there sites for free d/l. Maybe full versions bring in more cool shit!

The Test

€ 299.- (+TAX) License for 2 computers
I started with Modul8, as Grete uses this, very funky and annoying interface… And dont you just HATE modular interfaces, that allow you to move things about (Like all fucking Adobe things nowadays… UGH!) I dont want to see through to my rather messy desktop) Ill get used to it I guess, very 80s design, pseudo futuristic, like those interfaces of clever programs on CSI. tiny writing (important to me, cos I have bad eyesight).. but immediately simple to see how it works. 2 stacks of clips fade-able between each other. (Why is it assumed that VJs want a fader, like DJ’s) as you click a clip in the stack, you can switch on or of effects, that are immediately available. all of the effect parameters have a small menu, that you use to select movement, fade ins and outs, an LFO, and the all important audio level, that is split between 3 frequency bands.. ahh clever.. So yo can have a different effect occurring as a result of the bass in your track as the treble.
But, then I got lost… the changes I made didn’t always reflect what I saw, there seems to be some parameters that I couldn’t figure out WHERE they were, and kept animating. I would try removing everything, only for some thing to remain… but I take all this as petty, I’m sure I would get the hang of it, but… a put off.
One more thing… couldn’t find ANYTHING about live created visuals, everything seems to be based on clips… except.. I read something on their website, about a video artist/vj who creates everything from the “line Module”…
I look into “Modules”
AHA!! There is infact LOTS more under the hood, but now “Line Module”, so this is an add-on… I check out these modules but cant suss anything on… time to move on… Lots here, but need to get an overview of the other software’s first…

279€ software version single user
Er.. hated the interface straight away, looks like a kids toy, and designed with one thing in mind, PLAYING the clips from the keyboard. All video clips are triggerable from the computer keyboard, and/or midi keyboard… wait… (reopens Modul8, ahhh yes.. can be done here too… midi mapping window…OK) But in Arkaos, this technique is presented to you as the default mode of operation. Effects??? I cant get any effects to load, till I realize that they are dragged to the keyboard too, and so you can combine things there, and then I hit spacebar accidentally, and the clip/effect is locked ON until you click it again.. very cool… I turn some music on and jam along… Ha ha LOTS OF FUN!… but wait… I check my task.. nope, not for me, I need something to generate stuff for me… but its then that something takes my eye… OK the file types… Flash animations, Quicktime’s, Avi’s and QC files… whassat? QC?? Whats that.. Google is my friend and I discover. QC are Quartz composer files, and Quartz composer is a graphic environment for accessing your graphics card direct on the Mac…and Quartz composer COMES WITH XCODE… I HAVE IT ON MY MACHINE, AND DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT IT!!!

(1 hour interlude reading up on QC and what THAT package can do, basically screen-saver type graphics based on particles and physics… and generated live on your computer!!! Right up my street!)

But Im tiring of Arkaos, it accepts QC files, abut the lack of control over clips (which is, remember, probably simple. Its just that i didn’t find it) annoys me and I move onto…

Resolume Avenue
€ 299.00 Euro ex VAT single computer license
Immediately I love this program, why? Cos it looks professional (slightly annoyed that is a white on black graphics, hurts your eyes to read, but then I realize that in a dark environment, a white screen would be bright in my face the whole time) It looks a little like Abelton Live, simple, almost flash style graphics, on a more timeline look. I figure out that its VERY like Abelton, in that you launch a clip buy clicking (probably by keyboard commands too) but you can also click a column to launch a whole set of clips.
The effects and clips are added from a menu on the right, and they sit center of the interface for you to tweak. Each Clip on the timeline, when clicked, will reveal a “stack” that starts from the clip itself, and any controls that migh have, followed by affects in the order that they are applied. At the top of each stack, is a set of greyed out knobs, that I quickly figured our were for “dropping stuff on”, that knob would then control that thing, and if you drop multiple “things”, the knob will affect all at once… cool! I’m guessing that the knob could easily be on a midi control surface, or iPad (TouchOSC thing). There’s more… The QC files are very noticeable here, dragged just like a clip, they immediately reveal tweakable parameters (I discover later that you can only reveal 4 parameters, but maybe that’s all you need?). And these parameters can be audio level, LFOs (that can be synched to midi clock).. SO I plug in a cable from my rack and start up the Kaoscillator Pro… within 2 minutes I have a synched to audio visualization (very trippy, not my thing, but def acceptable in any Trance club) and generated live, on the fly and reacting to my music… therfore NOT the same as anyone else…!
I quickly realise that in order to do this properly, I must get into designing QC modules using the inbuilt to macXOS (if you install XCode) Quartz Composer.
So suddenly my Caveat changes…
I AM willing now to work with a lot of tutorials and new things to learn… Im seeing so many possibilities with this technologies, that Im thinking of starting up where I left off 20 years ago, go back to college and finally do an MA in synesthesia and connections between audio and visual. But where? Im serious! Mark wants to go back to college!

So, the winner is, for the meantime, Resolume Avenue, with Quartz Composer.

(I’ll just have to save up a bit for a license)

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