Audiovisual Live Performance

5 VJing

By the early 1990s, raves and the house music scene had gained international popularity. The use of Ecstasy at these events had stoked enthusiasm for synesthetic experience[3]—and the VJ scene emerged. Initially, VJs used simple equipment to play videos or produce abstract imagery in real time.[4] By the turn of the twenty-first century, the accessibility and power of portable computer and video equipment had reached a level that made performing sophisticated live visuals at a rave, nightclub, or festival practical for a critical mass of artists. Although equipment varies widely, contemporary VJs’ rigs usually include computers, DVD players, and video mixers—though it is also common to see a VJ using nothing more than a laptop computer. External control interfaces such as MIDI or OSC controllers are often employed,[5] and sometimes the beat of the music is used as a control (either through miking the house sound or through the VJ tapping a tempo into a computer interface). The visuals are typically projected onto a screen at the front of the venue—although video screens are sometimes used in place of or in addition to projection. Because the term DJ had long been used to refer to a performer who mixes audio tracks, the term VJ came to be widely used as a term for a performer who mixes video sequences.[6] However, many VJs create original material live—either exclusively or in combination with remixed material. A number of VJs, such as VJ Miixxy (Melissa Ulto), include live camera feeds as source material, allowing the VJ to enhance the live presence of the visuals by including the audience and/or the performers in the visual mix (Peep Delish: VJ Miixxy—a Selection of Works). In addition to working with external video sources, many VJs generate real-time abstract imagery, reminiscent of earlier performances with color organs, liquid light shows, and video synthesizers. Because the VJ can layer and manipulate images extensively, the line between representational and abstract imagery can be blurred. In this regard, many VJ performances can be compared to the image collages of 1960s light shows. A significant difference, however, is that the VJ’s multilayered imagery is in most cases created by a solo performer rather than by the collaborative improvisation of an ensemble.

In club performances, the role of the VJ is generally seen as ancillary to that of the DJ; it is expected that the VJ’s performance will function as a visual accompaniment to the music. While the DJ typically performs onstage so that the crowd can see the performance, the VJ is rarely seen and frequently performs from a booth at the back of the house. Whether or not individual VJs find this treatment objectionable, many VJs see their mission as accompanying or visualizing the music. Finding this context as well as the club environment itself limiting, many visual artists have chosen to perform in a context known as live cinema.

Musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) is an industry-standard digital protocol, defined in 1982, that enables electronic musical instruments such as keyboards and controllers to transmit control signals (event messages) to compatible soft- or hardware. MIDI signals can be used to control the pitch of an audio-synthesizer or the intensity of an electronic image by means of physical interfaces such as buttons, knobs, and sliders. Open Sound Control (OSC) is a newer protocol for communication and meant to supersede the MIDI standard, which many consider inadequate for modern multimedia purposes. The advantages of OSC over MIDI are primarily speed and throughput data-type resolution and Internet connectivity. OSC was developed at the UC Berkeley Center for New Music and Audio Technology (CNMAT).  
In the 1980s, MTV popularized the term VJ as a title for its on-air hosts. There is often confusion between the two meanings of the term.