Audiovisual Live Performance

7 Tools

In addition to the development of live cinema and VJing as genres, another hallmark of visual performance in the 2000s has been the proliferation of digital tools for real-time visual performance, both commercially produced and artist-produced. Commercial tools such as Modul8 and VJamm allow for easy mixing and triggering of video clips and require little or no programming experience. However, many visual performers develop their own visual tools because they desire more flexibility.

Visual performance software can be written in virtually any language, and a few artists—such as Dave Griffiths—develop their own languages. However, patch-based development environments, such as Max/MSP/Jitter and Pd/Gem, have become popular in recent years with visual performers.[7] Originally developed as environments for real-time sound and device control, Max/MSP and Pure Data (Pd), both created by Miller Puckette, are graphical programming environments that function similarly to early analog audio and video synthesizers, which used patch cords to connect hardware modules. Thus, the Max or Pd programmer can develop a program by patching together pre-existing software objects; the programmer can also develop his or her own objects. Jitter and Gem add objects for visual processing to Max and Pd, respectively. Various factors influence whether an artist chooses to work with Max/Jitter or Pd/Gem. One major consideration is that Max is commercial software, now sold by Cycling ’74, Pd is open-source, free software. Besides the obvious cost difference, many artists prefer to work with open source tools, which empower the user community to revise and extend the software in any way they choose. Thus, while many visual performers find Jitter to be more powerful than Gem, there are many who use Pd/Gem out of a preference for open-source software. Yet the large number of available user-contributed objects for both Max/Jitter and Pd/Gem means that both projects are largely community-developed efforts.

Whereas patch-based environments are popular with many performers, other performers prefer to develop in more traditional text-based programming languages. The open source Processing language, initiated by Ben Fry and Casey Reas, while not originally geared toward performance, has become increasingly popular for developing live visual performance tools. There are also numerous artist-written tools using proprietary development environments like Flash, as well as tools that combine a proprietary development platform with an open source approach, such as Onyx.

In the latter part of the 2000s, visual artists have become increasingly interested in expanding their use of hardware interfaces for performance. Although video mixers have been employed in performance since predigital days, most computer-based visual performers’ setups have otherwise used standard computer interfaces (i.e., mice and keyboards), or repurposed electronic music or game controllers (e.g., keyboards, drum pads, joysticks).

However, in recent years, some dedicated devices for visual performance have begun to emerge. The Pioneer DVJ-X1, introduced in 2004, and its successor, the DVJ-1000, enable performers to scratch and loop video DVDs much as DJs do with audio CDs. The units allow audio and video to be mixed simultaneously by a single performer, often called a DVJ. In addition to commercial products, do-it-yourself visual performance hardware has also begun to emerge: the open source Tagtool, initiated by OMA International, can be built and programmed by a performer using instructions available on the Tagtool website. The Tagtool facilitates real-time drawing and animation for live visual performance.

Although Max and Pd are the most popular patch-based environments used by audio and visual performers, other patch environments such as open-source project vvvv, which focuses on real-time video synthesis, and Eyesweb, which focuses on computer vision for gestural control, have been gaining popularity with visual performers. There are also various open source graphical/visual libraries for Pd in addition to Gem.