Art: Pushing pixels from ‘The Dudleys!’ to Dead Pixel Designs

Our passion for retro lo-fi pixel art has really fired up these last 2 years. It all began with the discovery of the freeware progam IcoFX which allowed us to reconnected us with our c64-generation creative urges. I produced our first pixel art poster for a Supermarket show in Big Star Records’ basement in September 2008 and things have snowballed from there!

Happening around the same time was the erection of a giant public lo-res screen at the end of Adelaide’s busy Rundle Mall- The Rundle Lantern. Astonishing in both scale and low-resolution, it wraps around two sides of a multi-storey carpark at a highly trafficked intersection. Emma Sterling and I leapt at the opportunity to produce original animation for it. Our ‘how to’ guide to producing animation for it is available here at Creativity Base. Merge Magazine also caught wind of what I was up to, and commissioned artwork for a front cover and feature article spread.

Meanwhile, in North America, a man I met through a chiptune email-list was cooking up a grand design. Emerging theatre writer and director Steven Gridley put a call out for chiptune musicians and pixel artists and animators, to help create a world that slips between the ‘real’ and that of a glitchy 1980’s Nintendo game. I was originally eager to animate many projected sequences throughout the play, but in the end the team expanded and the workload was shared nicely. Below is a showreel featuring some of the animated sequences from the play, and a chiptune score also written by Steven Gridley. Mine is the flat-looking Mario-esque sidescroller. You can read more about the show at the blog Brooklynshiner.

Since then, I’ve had enough compliments on my pixel art to decide to open an online store, and make designs for merchandise and apparrel. Dead Pixel Designs launched late last year, and the inventory in the Zazzle shopfront is growing nicely. Recent friend and gun programmer Jay Straw also helped me integrate the store into my website, closing the associative gap between danimations and Dead Pixel Designs.

In March, Emma Sterling and I are running a pixel art and animation workshop as part of the DIY cultural event Format Festival right here in Adelaide. Keep an eye on their website, and come along if you love pixels as much as we do- finished works will be screening on the Rundle Lantern!

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Video mixing: Numark’s NuVJ drives Supermarket’s VJ rig

When we first began mixing video live at our Supermarket audio-visual shows in 2008, we used an old-school 1990’s hardware video mixer from Panasonic. It was heavy and cumbersome, but it delivered every time when fed a camera and two streams of standard definition video. We hired the unit from Adelaide’s Media Resource Centre on several occasions, and despite it having a bunch of extra effects onboard including keying, fades and wipes, we were essentially using it as a bloated video cross-fader. Needless to say, things have changed a lot since then and after an ongoing battle with technology, we may have finally arrived at a harmonious setup.

Supermarket @ Adelaide Fringe Festival, March 2008
Supermarket @ Adelaide Fringe Festival, March 2008

We chose software over hardware in August of 2008 after looking into Numark’s NuVJ package. Despite not knowing anyone personally who’d committed to the rig, there were a few factors that made this the winner for us. Korg had (and still have) some great high-end video mixing gear on the market. So did Edirol. We were concerned though about future-proofing ourselves, and while hardware becomes quickly outdated, software can usually be upgraded without generating any waste and is lighter on the pocket. Purchase price was the was the next factor, and with the Numark rig coming in at less than half the price of a hardware fix from Edirol or Korg, we took the plunge. We gambled on the Numark controller, but the combination of our tolerance for the Panasonic’s crude design and Numark’s reputation of delivering high quality performance oriented DJ products left no cause for hesitation.

NuVJ midi controller & software solution
The solution: NuVJ video mixing midi controller & software

Snapping NuVJ up for a song via Amazon.com, Emma Sterling and I put the rig to work immediately, christening it at local street magazine Rip It Up‘s 1000th issue launch party. Unfortunately unable to run the NuVJ software on our laptops due to their wimpy video card specs, we pumped VHS, DVD, prepared samples and live camera feeds through Em’s Windows XP desktop computer for over four hours without a single restart or hiccup. Unfortunatley, not every gig since has run so smoothly.

The main problems we have suffered with our rig relate directly to our 3rd party analog capture devices. Running at its best, our desktop rig featured three EasyCAP USB analog video capture devices dangling out the back, taking whatever we threw at them. For some reason, these input devices would occasionally not appear as accessible sources in the NuVJ software (after upgrading from version 1.0 to the infinitely better version 1.5 (upgrade available from the Numark website). Restarting, switching USB ports and uninstalling/reinstalling drivers never consistently solved the problem, and many a show was compromised as a result. Despite receiving glowing reviews, only the third of our three show Adelaide Fringe Festival season of Basement Beats this year saw our rig run at %100 the whole show through.

EasyCAP video capture unit
EasyCAP USB video capture unit

Despite the bumpy road so far, we remain optimistic. Just two days ago our NuVJ rig became truly portable for the first time with the purchase of a new Acer Aspire 6930 notebook computer. Featuring a 1 Gb dedicated video card from Nvidea, the system has enough grunt to run video simultaneously over several external outputs. The computer was the first of its kind to sell through A&R Computers here in SA, and we are very happy to see that PC laptops have risen to the challenge of our video needs at long last. I can’t imagine what it was like for Ninjatune’s breakbeat audio-visual act Hexstatic when they were giving birth to the art of the live video mix using re-purposed studio technology in the 1990’s. Much respect to them, as always.

So if you’re all dry, tech’d out and keen for a taste of Supermarket’s VJ stylings, we’re breaking the rig in with a VJ set at the Crown & Sceptre Hotel here in Adelaide on April 9th. The event’s called All Hands on Decks and it’ll be a booty-shaking hip-hop and breakbeat affair, featuring two of Australia’s three-times DJ DMC champ turntablists, Staen-1 (local hero) and Perplex (Melbourne). Come celebrate the beginning of the Easter long weekend on the dancefloor with us, and hopefully the beginning of a much smoother ride for Supermarket’s video mixing future!

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Music: Basement Beats makes waves in the media

We’re steaming on towards our second episode of our Adelaide Fringe show, Basement Beats this Thursday night, and it seems like word is getting around. We had a fine turnout last week for our show featuring Amoeba Muzak, which ramped up from chilled out a/v zone to pumping underground club with the transition from Supermarket to Amoeba Muzak beats. While Em was VJing through the Amoeba Muzak set, I shot a little video which we’ve just finished cutting and assembling to some sweet original minimal techno from the dancefloor driving duo. Relive the party (or see what you missed out on) with the clip below!


Basement Beats: Amoeba Muzak & Supermarket (a/v) from Dan Monceaux on Vimeo.

Going to air yesterday, the widget below launches the Adelaide Fringe special episode of Star Formation, an internet radio show produced by Young Australia Productions. In part an educational institution powered by youth, they’re a great supporter of our creative community here in Adelaide and their website is worth a visit. Tune in to the widget below if you want to hear an in-depth interview with me about Supermarket’s recent exploits (including Basement Beats). No, I don’t have a nasty lisp… that’s just a crazy audio compression artifact!

Word about Basement Beats has been hitting the press too it seems, and we appear to have a new friend at local newspaper The Independent Weekly, if Jo Vabolis’ review of our premiere show is anything to go by. The fine young chaps at Merge Magazine also appear to have a soft spot for our work, listing us as one of their 10 ‘Fringe of the Fringe’ must-see picks. Thanks fellas! If you’re unable to pick up a copy of Merge Magazine, you can actually download the whole mag via their website and we can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s always a fine read and has breathed some fresh air into the free street-press scene here in Adelaide over the last few months.

So, if this has whet your appetite for some Basement Beats, this week’s show features DJ Tr!p and is set to go off. Just make your way down to Big Star CD’s, 197 Rundle St at 7.30pm on Thursday night (March 12) and bring $12/10 for a ticket to two hours of audio-visual bliss. There will also be a guest appearance by an Atari 2600 console- a perfect compliment to Tr!p’s promised set of original chiptune breakbeats. Tickets are also available online from FringeTIX. See you there!

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