Art: ‘Heartsong’ performance combines music, animation, video mixing, sculpture and text

Several months back, Emma Sterling and I were invited by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions in Adelaide to join a project out of Flinders Medical Centre’s Arts in Health program. The project entitled Heartsong was inspired by the experiences and thoughts of patients and their carers on the Cardiac Care Unit. Fittingly, the resulting multimedia performance was to premiere in an adjoining space, and did so last week.

Heartsong poster & performance details
Heartsong poster & performance details

The project’s video design task was almost an open brief when we were first introduced, though other elements of the performance had been roughly hewn. A text had been assembled by the project’s producer, Cheryl Pickering, constructed from patient and staff testimonials. Accomplished musicians Richard Chew (keyboards) and Ian Dixon (flugelhorn) were involved, and successfully plotted an improvised musical course which supported the text with colour and emotion. A large scale sculpture of a human heart (approximately six feet tall) was constructed by Diwani Oak, and then lit by Emma Sterling and myself, using a combination of projected and LED rope lighting. Diwani also produced several screen-printed and hand-crafted hangings which also adorned the space, and provided a canvas for the thematically connected poetry of Ian Gibbins to feature on.

Heartsongs central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)
Heartsong's central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)

Emma Sterling’s and my greater commitment though was the production and presentation of video and animated content to harmonize with Heartsong’s other elements. We called upon many of the approaches we used to produce our first documentary film ‘A Shift in Perception‘ back in 2006 and set about crafting stop-motion animations, moving textural sequences, lifting public domain found footage from The Internet Archive, and preparing them all for live delivery.

When audience members enter the Heartsong space, they are first drawn to Diwani’s light sculpture, which sits as the work’s hearth. An animated rendition of it also rotates on video screens, while another projection presents a faithful recording of a medical heart monitor read-out. When the improvised music begins, pre-recorded voices recall the words of patients and nurses alike, and lead the audience through the patient’s journey- from symptoms and hospital admittance through care and recovery. In performance, my task is to react to the text and emotions presented by Richard and Ian with improvised video, which I layer, blend and loop for the duration of the performance using Arkaos GrandVJ and a Korg NanoKontrol MIDI controller. The piece is designed to have a meditative, gentle and nurturing quality about it, and audience responses thus far have suggested we’re striking that chord.

Heartsong is installed and performed at the RiAus
'Heartsong' is installed and performed at the RiAus

The first performances of the work are behind us now, with only one remaining performance of our debut season remaining. On Friday, December 11th at the Royal Institution of Australia from 6-9pm, the installation will be open, with the performance occurring around 7pm. The performance runs for approximately 25 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion with the involved artists plus another artist also currently exhibiting at the RiAus, George Poonkin Khut.

Dan Monceaux

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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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Click for more details...
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Art: Supermarket DJ/VJ sets at ‘Art on the Square’

Things are about to kick into gear for our audio-visual breakbeat electronic music project Supermarket for 2009, starting tomorrow. Around September last year, the City of Charles Sturt council contacted us after reading an article about us on the great local music culture website musicsa.com.au . Plans were made for us to perform at the Summer in the Square season of events, taking place in the prominent beachfront location (known best for its great restaurants and watering holes).

Since we are known in Adelaide for straddling the divides between art, cinema and music we were booked for Art in the Square (which happens Feb. 15) and are responsible for setting much of the ambience on the day through our musical offerings and video mixing. You can also read about the other artists who are performing and exhibiting work on the day by reading the flyer. The video setup will be the first time we’ve used more than two screens live, as we string together a projector, and (if all goes well) five televisions at the outdoor location.

Summer on the Square featuring Supermarket
'Summer on the Square' featuring Supermarket

Our three ours of audio-visual bliss will be divided three ways. The first and last breackets (2-3 pm and 4-5pm) will be DJ/VJ sets, with myself on the selections, and Em working her video mixing rig. The tunes wil have a feel-good Summer tilt to them, and will cover the breakbeat spectrum from dub and funk through to dancehall, breaks, house and liquid drum n bass. I’ll give the show an international spin too, with some beats from unlikely places.

In between DJ/VJ sets we’ll deliver our Supermarket performance. The show will be very similar to the one we showcased last August during the South Australian Living Artists festival, after returning from our 2nd North American tour. For a little teaser/memory jogger, I’ve embedded our piece Optech 1 (featuring the track Casionassis) below. The show will mix a live video feed with prepared video and audio samples, and a master a/v track. The install should be pretty neat, and we’ve enlisted Harriet, a creative young artist to shoot some video on the day so we can share it with our far away friends.

Now if you’re reading this and wondering why we didn’t publicize the show earlier, there’s rhyme and reason to it. The main focus of our Supermarket energy is this year’s Fringe run of shows: Basement Beats. In many ways we’re breaking the drought of shows over the past few months with Art on the Square, and also road-testing it on a truly general, beach-going public. Drop in to Henley Square if you’re up for some lazy beachside vibes tomorrow, or drop back here to the blog next week for the rinse-out!

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