“Performance” is the domain of “live art.” As a blanket term for music, dance, theater, and experimental variations thereof, it can be understood as the non-participatory live presentation of body movements, images, and sounds. In many cases, the notion of performance implies the presence of human actors or players on a stage, or a stagelike area. The same term is used to indicate the quality of a technical apparatus in operation: we can speak of the “performance” of a specific computer system, or of a car. This dual meaning is interesting in that it points to some general aspects of performance, for example, that it is an authorial execution system, an execution system that has a main actor. Performance can be understood as the presentation, the making present (and perceivable) of the results of an execution. (Broeckmann, 2007, p. 199)
I was recently invited to put together a performance for a 12hr festival of experimental music in Brisbane, curated by Joel Stern. His advice was succinct, “keep it simple and under 15minutes.” In committing to this performance I wanted to incorporate some of the ideas I’ve been tossing around re: the performing audiovisualist; and whilst not wishing to reinvent the wheel, I did want to produce something separate from the live work i’ve been doing with N4rgh1l3. Generally i’m much more enamoured with tools like Jitter and Isadora that allow you to define your interface and working methods for performance. However given lack of time and need for something simple I decided to give Resolume Avenue a try, as it promised to provide the kind of simple and effective performance framework that Ableton Live provides for audio. With regards to the Broeckmann quote above, it gave me an opportunity to assess the “performance” of the software in performance. It should be noted at this point that I was using a 15″ Macbook Pro, 2Ghz Dual Core with 2GB worth of 667mhz DDR2 ram. The visual output was going from the DVI output to VGA on an LG projector and the sound was going out via my ESI Quatafire 610.
This is the third iteration of the software which has been primarily of interest for VJ’s. The latest version integrates sound to image in a quite interesting fashion. Audio and Video clips are selected and dropped onto one, or the other. Changes in sound can be set to effect image and vice-versa; so a sonic filter could be set to sweep across the spectra while a wipe effects the visuals. In theory they have constructed the perfect synaesthetic tool. My setup included a number of short synthesised loops and similarly processed and edited bits of footage. The opacity of each clip was connected to the volume within specific bands; therefore making a simple and direct link between, say, a kick drum type sound and an image that would flicker in time.
The construction of the live setup was quite intuitive in theory; drag the sound loops in – then drag the video over the top of them. This was the practice recommended for best performance on the Resolume forum and the videos were pre-compressed in DKV format which does yield impressive framerates at 640×480. In practice Resolume crashed once for every 5 bits of video I dropped into the setup, prompting me to save after doing anything. The crashes seemed to be fairly arbitrary. One bit of footage might make it crash again and again – then it would suddenly work. The fact that I would receive NO ERROR MESSAGE was disturbing and enhanced my appreciation of the way Ableton and even Cycling74 catch and recover from potent errors. After working at it for about 5 hours longer than I perhaps should have I finally had a setup that worked seemlessly – with controllers assigned to turn channels on an off – it all seemed like a perfectly simple little system.
At the gig, setup times were tight as they needed to push through about 100 different artists. I found my space, connected everything and tested with the projector. After a small amount of fiddling, to get the Macbook to see the projector – everything was working fine. I turned off the projector and closed the lid on the Mac, as I was not performing for another hour. Gig time comes – I start the projector and open the Mac – what do you know – it isn’t outputting video! Not that the projector is not seeing the video… but Resolume in not sending anything but a black screen. Fortunately I have sound and a KP3 Kaoss Pad, so I set up a couple of semi-interesting loops to go, while I reset the visuals. Oh look, there’s my desktop! Still nothing but a black screen from Resolume.
So I end up praising the audio element; seemlessly constructed AV pieces that work much like Ableton Live, looping and triggering without glitch or issue. The video however… it still won’t output anything but a black screen on that Macbook and i’m looking at having to reinstall the program again to see if that makes any difference. How is it that the Resolume guys have gone from producing a decent VJ tool to a potentially excellent AV tool that fails on the Video side?
One comment from an audience member and fellow musician was that I “just try to do too much!” But this was so little effort, in comparison to my usual setups and so easily delivered in theory. A performance semi-destroyed by a random malfunctioning instability. So my performance rating for Resolume Avenue is currently pretty low. I’m sure they will fix it up eventually (though my forum post has so far been ignored) but the promise of simple and effective synaesthetic composition and performance is still unfulfilled.
“The degree of freedom offered to the performers is frequently competing, or in dialogue, with a programmed machine that imposes, or responds to, specific actions. Many artists exploring this field are consciously playing with this relationship, and attempting to use the dialogue in exciting work that embodies the tension of the struggle between human and machine in an open, unstable system. The “performance” of such a system is not immediately dependent on the involvement of an external actor, or on responses from and audience, though it may be dependent on externally set parameters and conditions.” (Broeckman, 2007, p.200)
… some of which are far from clear to the performing audiovisualist. If you have bad “performance” from your car or guitar, there are places you can go to have them “tuned” and fixed to perform in a more optimal fashion. For software, you either hit the forums and hope that someone else has had, and solved your problem, or you just use something else. I’m happy to say that I have tried Resolume Avenue out on a mid 1998 Macbook Pro with more ram and a faster cpu and so far it has worked well… but I haven’t had another performance and I still have no idea what the hell went wrong.
Broeckmann, Andreas (2007). Image, Process, Performance, Machine. in Oliver Grau (Ed), Media Art Histories (pp. 193-205). Cambridge MA, MIT Press.