Saturday, January 15, 2011

Then and Now

While suffering a 21st Century moderately high-tech DJ/VJ presentation last week, I was reminded of a similar experience from 25 years ago. Friends of my wife did a regular AV show in a small performance area in a restaurant in southern California. This was in the early days of semi-affordable video processing and one of the artists was a laser tech who did work for Disney and lots of rock bands.

For that particular show, these guys wanted to include a blast from AV's psychedelic past along with their high tech gear. So, they brought in an old fashioned overhead projector and my wife added an oil-paint-on-water component to the one large screen where all three visual artists combined their output.

The other aspect of this performance was aural. For that the "musicians" were two electronic music performers and a percussionist. The link between the three musicians was a click/sync signal provided by one of the performer's sequencer-synths that electronically tied the two synth performers together and provided the percussionist with an audible beat. In the mid-80's, SMPTE could have been used to tie it all together but the visual artists chose to make most of their component respond to the audio. The laser artist used a lot of Lissajous figures generated by some or all of the audio. By today's tech standards, this sounds pretty benign but all of the artists were pioneers in computer art technology and they all went on to be a big part of that world in the next 20 years. It was, in retrospect, a big deal. It was, in fact, a a pretty amazing event. Visually and musically it was one of the best live events I've participated in (I provided the sound for the show.).

The point of this article is that, at the end of the night, the audience was overwhelmingly interested in the sounds and sights that came from . . . the percussionist and my wife's oil-on-water work. $300k worth of lasers and $100k in cameras were grossly overshadowed by a 2nd hand public school overhead projector (slightly modified for higher output by the laser guy). A dozen synthesizers and a couple of 1980's Apple computers were put into the background by "that little Indian drum" or an ordinary drum kit. I don't mean mostly, I mean entirely. At the wrap-up party all of the tech artists complained about being relegated to being background for "prehistoric" instruments and a lady who dripped oil colors into a glass pan and swirled them with a stick.

The more recent version of this combination of visual and aural art was missing the percussionist and the old-school hippy artist and it was boring as death. What does that tell you?

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.