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An introduction to the art and craft
of live visuals mixing

Technical aspect of Video Mixing
Video mixing requires a video mixer and two or more video sources. A hardware mixer is an actual physical device that you can plug video sources into with standard video cables. New hardware mixers can be bought for $600 to $1500, and can be found used for $400. Video sources can include computers, DVD players, VCR's, VideoCD players, video cameras, PVR's (Personal Video Recorders), Video iPods and other video devices. Hardware video mixers have an outbound video signal that can be plugged into televisions or a video projector.

Alternatively, mixing can be performed solely with a computer using a software mixer. Mixing on a computer has many advantages such as quick access to clips and a portable performance system. The disadvantage of a software based mixer is that it is usually less flexible and customizable than building your own setup with hardware. Another disadvantage is that computers are more prone to crash than say, a VCR.

The ideal setup includes a minimum of a computer and a DVD going into a hardware mixer. In the event of a computer problem, you can switch instantly to the DVD.
In order to use a computer, you need a way to export a video signal. There are several ways to do this.
Direct video out:
Some computer display cards, and most laptop computers have a S-VIDEO or RCA video out jack. This video out signal can work in two ways:
mirror, exporting the same view that is on the main monitor, or
multi-monitor, where the video signal acts as a whole new monitor. The problem with mirror is that is that you generally cannot control which area of the screen is being exported to the video signal. Therefore you can only use it with visuals programs or videoplayers that playback full screen, allowing no room for onscreen controls. A multi-monitor system is the way to go, then you can have your visuals controls on the main monitor, and put the output on the video monitor.
Scan Converter:
Scan converters attach to the monitor port on the computer. You can then plug your monitor into the scan converter to get the regular signal. The scan converter also has a video out jack.
The beauty of a good scan converter is that you can zoom in to the area of the image that you want to send out on the video signal. Acceptable quality scan converters run from 100 to 350 $US, with high quality ones costing as much as 15000 $US.

Which equipment and gear you use is an important choice and will influence how you mix. But ultimately, the most important thing is what sort of energy, ideas, and style you have.

Like a DJ mixes with mp3's, records or CDs, a VJ mixes with videoclips, videotapes and DVDs, live videocameras and other video media.
By mixing and weaving separate video signals into a whole, a VJ can take totally different clips and make a new movie or visual experience. Mixing live, a VJ can respond to the music and the flow of an event as well as their own mood.

So, what is the content that VJ's mix?
There are many good visuals programs that are available, most with realtime controls. Many of them also offer some kind of sound responsiveness, with various degrees of success.
Global culture has created quite a bit of video content in the last 80 years, so that is nice to pull from. A live camera at the venue is a great way to involve the people in the visuals. Additionally, with a live camera you can create stunning effects by filming the mix as you create it. This organically interactive technique, Video Feedback, takes on a whole new dimension when combined with a video mixer.
Most importantly, you can create your own content. Videos can be created purely with software, or some hybrid between software and images from the world. I cannot recommend using a videocamera highly enough. Remixing the world is a beautiful thing.

This looks like a great opportunity to plug dc's videos:
VJs have a sea of material to pull from.
Sampling movies and tv is a given, but when you are trying to create something new, the heavily edited shows already have too much meaning, context and interruption.
dandelion collective's SOURCE Visuals provides pure, simple, consistent themes and clips that you can combine and layer in any way you like.
SOURCE, a series of DVD/DVDROM's and downloadable videoclips engineered for live mixing.

State of the Art
VJing is still in its infancy, it will be incredible to see what happens in the next few years. But actually, THATS BULLSHIT! :) Artists have been performing live visuals to music for ages. Just look at the psychedelia screens from the 60's... Wait a minute, just look at Oskar Fischingers work from the 20's. Wait a minute, just look at Indonesian shadow puppetry performed to Gamelon music which dates back centuries.

Well, now that we've got the historical perspective out of the way, new technology is changing what is possible in cataclysmic ways. One of the most significant is non-linear access to media. DVDs and VideoCDs are an example of this, where you can get to any track instantly. But, computers with big harddrives and web connections are the ultimate: entire media libraries are instantly accessible. For VJs who want to want to create video live, not just choose which tape should go on next, nothing could be better.
Another revolution is that the cost of gear is dropping readily. My advice to people getting into this is to get a laptop.

Everyones got their own. We thought we would share some of ours. Send us some of your tips and we'll post them with your name (and email/url if you would like).

symbio - dandelion collective visual
  • listen to the music. anticipate changes and build up of rhythm and sound
  • when applicable, try to build some meaning and theme into your mixing sets, try and take your audience on a visual journey and tell a story. too many vjs just play pop movies and eye candy. make your set truly help define the audience experience of an event.
topherZ - dandelion collective visual
  • focus on your mix. a transition can last 1/30th of a second or 5 minutes.
  • you dont have to always be in the mix. some clips stand by themselves, a mix with another clip might just dilute it.
  • don't switch clips too fast. sometimes a clip will fit perfectly with the music or mood, let it roll.
  • other people may not like what you like.
  • depending on the situation, mixing back to a clip you have already used can be:
    very powerful
    annoying and lame
  • still images are as beautiful as moving ones
  • black is a powerful color
  • be passionate

You've got the skills, the visuals, the equipment... now how about an audience?
If you're interested in playing out, there's a lot of options. Think about what you like about visuals, what kind of style you have, and who else would be interested in your visual aesthetic.
  • Join a band.
  • Join a DJ to create an audiovisual team.
  • Get a regular gig at a weekly or monthly clubnight.
  • Team up with an event promoter to provide visuals for their event.
OK, but how do you get a gig in the first place? Just like a band does, lots of legwork and promotion. Make a promotional website for yourself, on myspace or better yet your own website. Create a DVD demo. Keep your demo's short. A demo is experienced differently then visuals in an event. Just choose your best stuff and create a 3-5 minute piece. For maximum effect, tailor your demo for the exact gig you are trying to get.

Think about the whole visuals community. Its tempting to take on gigs for free when you first get started, you want to play out, but feel like you need some practice and dont mind playing for free.
That is a great instinct, but if an event promoter can always get a VJ for free, then they will never pay for one. Playing for free will hurt other VJ's and eventually will hurt you when you are ready to charge.
Whats the solution? Play for free if the event is free or a benefit, otherwise you should charge. How much? It really depends where you are and what the event is. If you have the skills and good visual content for the event, go for 50$ per hour.

Here are some excellent web sites to check out if you are interested in learning more about visual mixing:

- all kinds of good info and the latest news.

- active message board, helpful community.

- interviews and mixes from visuals pioneers.

- chaotic collection of video mixing links and resources and a gargantuan (fairly outdated)
list of software mixers and other visuals programs.

- email list for vjs.

- site with information on creating DVDs and VideoCDs.