Tour complete – now for the critique.

We’re just back from shows in the USA, and we thank you for coming to see us. With Canada earlier in the year, we feel we’ve made a solid attempt at greeting North America in person. The shows were well received (the usual audience photos will follow soon) and in the larger cities the combo of Front 242 and ourselves sold out venues.

2017-09-19 20.43.15

Vincent the rat holds court in NYC

A debrief comes at the end of every tour. The previous visit was exceptional just because it happened at all: we were in the garbage bin for decades, then unexpectedly rescued. This time it had to be special for other reasons, and it was partly so.

GOOD: We were able to perform a wider range of songs from videos completed between 2015 and 2017. Generally the videos are of higher quality – each represents weeks, sometimes months of work. We were constrained by my catching a throat cold in NYC, but were able to patch around this with the greater repertoire.

BAD: But they are the same material drawn from the earlier albums, presented in much the same way as before. Despite our adding all these songs you might have thought the show was the same as the last time. We need to think about the staging of any future appearances. Most of the ‘industrial dance’ bands we align with have stage shows involving costumes, radio microphones, masks and fog. We’re never going to take that up (not being an ‘industrial dance’ band) but the dynamism of the stage needs addressing.

To perform in the USA costs international airfares and the wildly expensive P1 visa process. Carting our bodies across the planet uses up money that could fund a stage show. And that’s maintaining the bare minimum – two people with suitcases, borrowed equipment. Unless our income jumps dramatically, we’re in a bind where the show has reached a production cost limit.


Right now we prefer that people look at the video and not at us. We are the puppeteers, and the puppets are the show. But it may be time that the musicians enter the screen, and are visible as part of that virtual space. That way we can be seen to perform on all the weird and wonderful instruments we simulate on computers now, as part of a coherent presentation filling the audience viewpoint.

This has some difficult implications: the video has to be live, in real time on stage. We have to be able to position ourselves in a virtual set, but won’t know the stage beforehand. The process has to be fast, minimal latency. The system has to tolerate human errors.

The advantages are many. Two of the players can be present, others could be remote, recorded or simulated, so that you can have a full band. In some case all the players could be remote – although that leads to “where’s the beef?” problems where the audience needs meat on stage to feel fully satisfied. But that meat could be made in the USA – a local operator not needing airfares or a P1. After all if it works for Gorillaz & Daft Punk why not us?

Remote performance means latency and the risk of drop outs. I feel it can be done through something like Vimeo Live, Stewart is more knowledgeable and has doubts, and we will have to do some experimentation.

Then there’s the aesthetics. What would you see? Would it be based on the static clips? Would the show be one space or a space for each song? How much room is given to the performers? Does that change based on the size of the venue? It really is a rocky business, but I feel we’re at the point where it’s got too comfortable. That’s not our purpose.

Future Proof

Right now there’s a resurgence of interest in all things late 20th century, from film sequels to goth bands. That’s understandable given the uncertainty of a new century, but of course the people of 1917 only pined for La Belle Époque for a while before new culture took hold. I would not bank on aging electronic bands too much longer. Two years from now we cannot just pop back up again with the same old. Even if this project fails, it seems a better bet than expecting everything to stay the same.

It also aligns with Sevcom’s other aspirations in immersive media and therapeutic environment design. Not just a matter of neatness – also a matter of the amount of time we have left.

As always your comments appreciated.

Update to Big Iron – Fingers Crossed

About a year ago I wrote about a project to start an experimental video lab. And since then, very little to report.

It started well as we leased the digital switching gear, but ran into trouble when Stephen R Jones became unwell, and as often is the nature of visual music only he was able to prepare his equipment. There’s been plenty of other things to do at work so we took time out. But a year is a year and suddenly there had to be a plan B or the whole deal was off.

Big Iron 2 copy

One of the things I have learned over the last few years is whenever you reissue old albums, there’s a whole bunch of unfinished business that comes back to life. You have an equal chance that everyone is sweet, or that people are ready with a pump action shotgun. There was some business here as well, in-between these two extremes, but I have to get on with it, so the plan became to get a functioning rig now and sort out who shares the credit later. I don’t have the technical skill to trace that (I’m a middle manager).

By strange coincidence Ant, the Severed Heads ‘mother hen’ for many years, also works in A/V at the university and knows some of the local people who make contemporary video synthesisers. We’re hoping for a catch-up soon, where we can check out the latest toys. But it turns out they know the guy that bought the “Supernova 12”. That was Stephen’s last video synthesiser design, and is quite different to the “Fridge”, which is the one we used in Severed Heads.

Noting had been heard of it in years, when suddenly Ant got a mail to say, it exists, it needs some repairs, but if we can find a way to move it, it can come to the video lab. Which is kind of like when somebody says, ‘I found a box with MASTER TAPE written on it, do you want it?’.


In fact there was another Supernova based machine shown last year at Campbelltown. Maybe that can join its sister – I’ve asked the current user about joining in the project.

Catching Light, Campbelltown Arts Centre, 2013

Stephen agrees that the Fridge does some things better – the SN12 is a bit more brutal, doesn’t have quite same range of expression due to the way the colour is mixed. But I’m more hopeful now that we will have something to show for this and perhaps some day as many as three of Stephen’s machines in the one space.

Liminal Synth

As promised, a look at Studio Artist.

I think it’s part of the story that John Dalton is one of the bad old boys of DECK, the first Mac based multi-track recording system that would one day be absorbed into Studio Tools, later to be known as Pro Tools. Sounds like those days were a bit like knocking over grave stones while doing wheelies on your hot rod, so the contemplative aspect of Studio Artist could be part of a healing process. More relevant – the interface and operation feels like an elder program, & none of this Kai Krause gobbledegook. SA looks like it existed before the grand wizards of MetaCreations got their orbs together, & get off my lawn.


Studio Artist is a complicated thing, like a Tower of Babel halfway built, parts of it are lounges, parts of it are holes. It looks like the author is somewhere near to putting it together, but always has a few more more loose nuts & bolts to tighten. To try explain the complexity I’ll underestimate it, then expand the idea.

Goodbye Tonsils

At the most basic level SA is a Paint Synthesiser that takes photographs and turns them into paintings by splotching brush strokes at the edges of things. Fractal Painter does this, as does Filter Forge. Along with presets, SA provides a multitude of settings for the way the paint is applied – does it start at the top? does the brush follow the edge? does it dab or stroke or mop? So many settings that it can be discouraging to work through them like reading a phone book from cover to cover.

Goodbye Tonsils paint

But there’s sense in this. Example: the problem with painting movies is that the usual algorithm dabs at random over the source image, which makes for 25 irritating random dabblings a second. One of the controls here forces the dabs into a regular grid which reduces the noise a little. SA doesn’t presume to decide what you might need, it just gives you one of everything.

The Image Operation mode filters the entire image with blurs and blocks and colourisations. The big difference here is that there’s no brushing, the pixels are modified as a plane. This contrasts with the interactive Warp, where you brush in spheres & waves & kaleidoscopes. Similarly the Adjust brushes in colour, levels & other Photoshop style changes.

Goodbye Tonsils iopGoodbye Tonsils warp

The Texture Synthesiser modulates the entire image to produce abstractions with rhythmic distortions & colourations. It’s different to the Image Operation in that it imposes a pattern over the image, modulating it. Different again are Modularized Synthetic Graphics, which are complex chains of smaller graphical modifiers. The manual says there’s over 500 of them & then wishes them into the background, which is disappointing. It’s difficult feature & I guess most users wouldn’t want to get into detail with it, but if you primarily bought the software as a synthesiser (as I did) you’re left scratching out the details unaided.

Goodbye Tonsils texGoodbye Tonsils msg

If you’re keen to make synthesis in real time the DualMode Paint mode follows the brush about the drawing area, creating shapes & echoes that have a particular Yellow Submarine look to them.

The Paint Action Sequencer is really nice, because it thinks musically. The usual case for this kind of sequencer is ‘do this, then do that’. Here you have the capability to ‘do this every couple of bars & that four times’. The grid is like an array of notes, with each note being a painterly activity. So you can make melodies of these actions, if your mind can figure that out.

Animation is something that comes close to brilliance without kissing it. It’s dead easy to load up a movie & have SA perform all kinds of painting & twists & turns on the frames & save it back out again. But in my experience the way it works a frame at a time means there’s always a jangling movement over everything, it seems impossible to make something smooth & flowing. There’s a Temporal Image Operation module which tracks & flows & jumbles frames and so on & probably the secret is in there. But as I said the tower is unfinished, bits are over here & others over there & the end user is hard pressed to make it a coherent whole.

Kai Krause is revered because he would limit your options in such a way that you’d get to a good outcome early on. You’d then have to fight to get anywhere else, with Kai laughing at you. Dalton doesn’t play this game. He says, ‘here are a couple of thousand controls, see you on the other side’. Each tactic has worth, & in SA‘s case there’s the serendipity that’s been missing from software for a long time. This really is the spiritual successor of the Fairlight CVI, knobs and menus everywhere – and maybe you won’t know how you got there, but the result is a real trip.

Additional notes from John Dalton:

A few comments. The kinds of things going on under the hood of Studio Artist are much more technically sophisticated than some of the other programs you mention. And incorporate a lot of academic research results associated with how the human brain perceives visual imagery, and how that relates to artistic visual representation. Also, those other programs basically draw what we would call a single paint nib (single dab of paint), and while you can certainly do that in Studio Artist, you can also automatically draw complete paint strokes, so the automatic painting is emulating the way real paintings are generated, as opposed to just being an image processing filter effect.

The trick to generating fluid non flickering paint animation is to build temporal continuity into the paint animation. This involves constructing the Paint Action Sequence you will use to process the source movie in such a way that the paint build up taking place builds temporal continuity into the resulting paint animation output. Temporal continuity basically means that there needs to be continuity in the appearance of the painted output frames across several adjacent frame times in the output movie file. The simplest way to do this is to overdraw on top of the previous output frame, but you can get much more elaborate, which leads to all kinds of great paint animation effects.
We have some tutorials that go into how to do this in depth on our online Studio Artist documentation. Here’s one place to get started.
And here are 2 simple tutorials on building temporal continuity in a Paint Action Sequence.

If you look at my vimeo posts, you can see some examples of smooth non-flickering paint animation generated with Studio Artist.

You are right about the need for more documentation associated with MSG. Anyone interested does have the option of asking questions on the Studio Artist User Forum
which includes a MSG group.We’re very responsive to providing additional technical information to anyone who asks.
And if you look in the doc folder in your main Studio Artist folder, there is a lot of additional html documentation on MSG processors hidden in there.
And, here are some links to some MSG tips
You can also build a paint tool that incorporates a MSG preset in the paint tool, so that provides essentially an unlimited way to expand the functionality of the paint synthesizer.

What is great about Studio Artist (in my opinion) is that the synergy that occurs as you start to combine together different features provided in Studio Artist, which work together to create really an unlimited range of different visual effects. Here’s some more information on the philosophy behind the design of Studio Artist.

Oxygen Mask

Funny how the last post ended with the Video Cox Box. I thought that was a known reference – and was dead wrong. Obscure video equipment hasn’t the same general interest as musical equipment – everyone is well versed in Rolands and Korgs, especially in over-pricing them, but the Cox Box raises only the most feeble of online presence, and when you do find it mentioned it’ll be somebody from the old school of experimental video in Australia.

I feel like a Moonie, raised in a parallel culture. But there is such a thing:

Big Iron 12 copy

The rack thing with 9 knobs plus the bits underneath. Red, green, blue for each of 3 grey levels.

Synthetics must be only art form where the visual is completely dominated by the sonic. I don’t fully understand why this would be; I suspect it’s related to the floating problems of abstract art (that is, butt ugliness) that I’m trying to solve.

Plug In Wastelands

Using the KVR site as a source, there are now over 5500 VST plug ins, 2700 being VST instruments. If you exclude anything made with SynthEdit, the number is still 1400 – which just shows what a phenomenon SynthEdit has been.


You’d struggle to even find an equivalent to VST for video synthesis. Let’s use the open source FreeFrame as nearly all VJ software tools claim to support it. The project page mentions about 200 plug ins; there should be more as this very old page still lists software makers that died many years ago (Macromedia!) or have since become mainstream IT consultants. The same figure appears on IntrinsicFX’s home page and it seems almost every surviving FreeFrame plug-in comes from one or two vendors. If it weren’t for BigFug it’d be dead. Hero Alert.

This virtual tumble weed is much the same as the SynthEdit phenomenon. Apple Computer picked up PixelShox to dominate live visuals. Binding synthesis to QuickTime was excellent marketing – everyone started to develop in Quartz Composer killing the open source format, and once that was achieved Apple moved on to their next bit of Embrace, Expand, Extinguish. Even the people that have done well out of QC have realised that Apple has rolled on to the next bit of scorched earth and they’ll have to create something to fill the dead space. If VUO becomes a thing that’d be sweet. But you can understand why I’m not confident.


It goes so well with my coffee table!

Simon Hunt points out that the rabid interest in old audio hardware is likely a consequence of virtual instruments. That is, it was software like KORG’s Legacy collection that inspired the surge in KORG prices as people wanted the ‘real thing’. That would need a lot of research to decide – VST came in 1996, but it wasn’t wide spread for a few years after. Certainly in the late 90’s I could buy a MonoPoly for $250*, which now sells for around $1,500.

It matches my Persian rug!

It matches my Persian rug!

Had someone created a CoxBox or a Fairlight CVI in software, would these would now be equal in their mythology to the 303 Bassline? More importantly; would we now be able to enjoy the same spread of ‘looks’ as we currently enjoy ‘sounds’? How would we do this, and what format would we use? Should we make this part of the ‘Big Iron’ project?

Musty Old Castles

How many online synthesiser museums are there? More than stars in the sky or grains of sand? Then how many video synthesiser sites are there? Battered, and bruised with lava lamps half empty, AudioVisualizers is the original and the only. There’s more missing animated GIFs than you can shake a data glove at, but still nearly all the wikipedia articles use it as the definitive reference for visual synthesis. That’s pretty worrying and I see that part of the ‘Big Iron’ project needs be a web site that collects that info in case it dies.

Some old-school VJ Tools have lasted through the millennium bug. Arkaos is most venerable, Resolume still kicks along. Both now have versions that address the more lucrative media server market, the projection of video clips and DMX lighting in large events like the UK Olympics. Other tools like Salvation and Visual Jockey have become only media servers, joining ones like Ventuz that always were. New contenders like VDMX are keeping the flame lit.

Still the community is nowhere near that of sound and music. Fragmentation is part of it. Video edit guys are not live visuals lads are not interaction design gals. Maybe Isadora tries to unite the latter two users.

Max/Jitter has recently gone all-out to be less inscrutable more accessible via Vizzie, but it’s still like driving an 18 wheeler to the corner shop. Way too big and hard to steer. However the excellent adaptation of Vizzie into VizzAble by Zeal Hero Alert might bring Max4Live into focus as a living, breathing video equivalent to Reaktor. That’s currently my best hope for one day sharing the distinct ‘looks’ of these old video machines with everyone.

* No, I sold it again quickly because the MonoPoly is actually pretty boring.

Operation “Big Iron”

Over the years I’ve been lucky to have many artistic opportunities – but I don’t need to tell you that opportunity rarely equals reality; good ideas often fall apart in the planning stages. When I was young and even more stupid, I would tell everyone wonderful things were going to happen, then eat socks in penance when nothing came of it. But I still get very excited & so I only announce project code names – if they die I can always pop them in a memory hole. There’s mystery in project naming as well as making merry with corporate culture. But at risk of sock eating I’d like to break protocol and talk about Big Iron because I think it’s on the verge of coming together and it relates to the last post.

2013 and the new broom.

I work at an art college, which sometimes feels like being a waiter on the Titanic. Of all the things that are waiting to be swept away, the art college is the one with KICK ME pinned to its backside. In consequence our executive are dragging the place over to be a research laboratory of some sort. We have a robotics lab now, which says, ‘do not shut us down we make potential weapons,‘ I guess.

My area is the sound and image coursework. That’s been about production – making movies, recording music. Given that plenty of places do that, there’s a need to be unique and not second fiddle to the competition. I have formed an idea – and it relates to the old band.


First you should know that Stephen R Jones wrote a history of the synthetic image in Australia. The book stops in 1975, but the study goes on – he has collected the original masters of important works going back through the complete history of the subject. The collection is private but some of it may be seen online through the Scanlines website which was put together by a team at the college including Stephen, Ross Harley and John Gillies.

Stephen wants to find a home for some of the hardware he’s built. Part of the old studio is on display at the Powerhouse Museum – but in a glass case where you can’t touch it. We both think that a museum should be a living place. So the idea comes to build a space on campus where the history of the synthetic image can continue to be made.

Experimental Television Workshop?

I want to build what used to be called an Experimental Television Workshop. ‘Television’ is no longer the right word, and there’s a few problems that need discussion.

A workplace that pools production equipment for artistic access has been tried all over the world many times. Perhaps the best known is the Experimental Television Centre. In Australia we’ve had Bush Video, Heuristic, Metro Screen, and more. They provided people with access to new equipment that was too expensive for their alternative ideas. One reason why the workshops have declined is that you can now buy a HD camera, a copy of VDMX and a laptop and have more power than the pioneers could even conceive. Access is no longer the problem.

Rather, this ETW is planned to disrupt the historical lineage. ‘New’ and ‘old’ are worthless ideas and the value is only in the outcome. If you use a tissue and comb and the result is beautiful, then all is good. The only reason to collect historical devices is that they encapsulate ways of thinking otherwise unavailable and therefore expand the creative potential.

I can illustrate this with tape recorders – I find no importance in recording to analogue tape compared to a digital system that emulates tape. But I do find value in analogue tape as a way to grab and bend and scrub sound recordings.

Big Iron 2 copy

Some of the ‘Fridge’. Needs some love.

The heart of the system would be the Stephen Jones ‘Fridge’ video synthesiser from the mid 1980’s. There were models before and models after, but this one has a story that Stephen and I share, and for this reason alone I wish to fund its reassembly. I think the colour that this version makes is nicer than the models afterwards, due in part to the included Fairlight Paintbox.

The college owns equipment which is suitable as well. One favourite of mine is the Panasonic MX-30 mixer which I use to do things like this:

These old things will need to be tied to new things in such a way as it doesn’t matter whether you’re using The Fridge or VDMX, just that the outcome is what you wanted. I see a lot of Blackmagic Design in my future.


The workshop will be part of clearly structured coursework that covers the history and meaning of synthetic video. It must never be allowed to degenerate into a meaningless VJ fetish, and that means carefully chosen artists in residence and plenty of background research before people get to twiddle.

It’s fair to ask why synthetic visuals should be the focus. Why not high definition or interactivity? Why not documentary, after all that’s one of the courses I teach?

I think that linear documentary and narrative are not dependent on video, they are film. Sure, video solved issues of community access and cost and there’s live broadcast, but these are not things unique to an art college and the Film & Television school is a better venue for this. An art college should first consider the relationship between painting and video.

Interactivity is the business of iCinema. The ETW should cover performance, which is a very different thing.

High Definition is nice to have but hasn’t prevented great work that inspires this project, and at worst aspires to be filmic. You can think I’m being bigoted and I welcome the guidance, but in the long run somebody has to put their personality into a creative environment, just as much as an artwork.

What happens next.

I have to make sure everybody at the college is in agreement. There is much to build and repair, it will probably be a year before the facility could be working. In America all the bits and pieces I need are all over eBay, here they are rare and I will have to meet people who have collected the parts I need and see if they have unwanted things they would like to contribute.

So if you happen to have a Video Cox Box sitting in storage, do let me know!

OpenGL Then and Now

From the forthcoming festival show: the video for Memorial Discotheque, created using real time OpenGL tools in 2002 and 2012. Surprising to say – mostly the same tool, still working a decade later.

This is a patch in Visual Jockey, with titles added in AFX. The aspect ratio is DV, so it looks squashed horizontally here.

The same section generated in Element 3D, a near real time plug in for AFX. All the 3D was done with this.

Perhaps surprising – most of this scene was done with the same Visual Jockey tool as in 2002. Only the globe is from Element 3D. The same old tool on a hideously more powerful machine.

Again, same patch as 2002. There’s some motion blur added in AFX. Visual Jockey still runs fine on Windows 7, and obviously loves the display cards of ‘the future’.

Some bonus shots from Fold, from around the same time.

Both in Cinema 4D. But the latter escapes the green wash of the Matrix!

One problem with having more realistic joints is the arms wouldn’t bend as far. Had to refine some of the moves to be possible.

Reclusive and Colourful

Part 1: Colour.

Having complained about the lack of colour sense in most synthetic video I’m doing the required reading. Colour is a rabbit hole, deep and treacherous. I know Johannes Itten, grew up with his Art of Colour in my parents house like the family bible.

He has blue, yellow and red sitting there looking as if they mean business. I don’t know how Itten could run this fallacy so long when yellow’ and ‘blue’ don’t actually make ‘green’. Not using pigments and not in any printing process I’ve used, where yellow, cyan and black are required (and a spot colour more likely). I haven’t yet found where the idea started. I’m halfway through Gage’s Colour And Meaning and he’s not yet decided. He has however dug into an issue that concerns me by blaming Newton solidly for wrapping the rainbow into a circle simply because it recapitulated the octave. And there it is in Itten’s colour wheel, neatly broken into 12 ‘notes’. Newton is looking the cause of centuries of bullshit by that one conceit.

Gage is thankfully free of most philosophical musings although he does jump back and forwards in time to make a point. He turns out to be have been a visitor at my work, but died this year. (Worse still, there was a showing of Ralph Balson’s paintings at my work in the first year I was there and because I am a dumbfuck musician I didn’t know who it was about).

Working at an art college is damn fine for big glossy books about colour theory. But the best book so far turns out to be a very simple and practical one by Hilary Page. She takes you from diagrams of the retinal cells to mixing watercolours in an economy of pages and touches on everything you need to know about the psychology of colour and how to tweak it. This is the text I would force any video artist to read before they start wobbling their rectangles.

Actually it makes me think about interfaces that can get away from Red, Green and Blue faders. Something like Kuler should be the front panel.

Part 2: Reclusive.

A … funny? sobering event – distant family in the USA needed to contact us urgently. Apparently that was difficult and annoying because I’m visible but not easily contactable. By current norms I’m not ‘social’ enough. A recluse.

Vimeo and YouTube and GMail and Windows Live and Linked In (which ended up being the venue) 7 email addresses and a whole host of specialist sites isn’t enough. Being ‘social’ is as programmatic as the days of presenting your visiting card in the drawing room. In lieu of FaceBook I have invites showing up at Linked In that are obviously not about locating next year’s employment damnit.

Look, you spend 20 years with some kind of net address (OK so some of that was fidonet but it still counts) and then you’re not social enough. Screw it. DO I HAVE TO BE ON FACEBOOK?? ADVICE? (If you are one of my creepy stalkers don’t answer that thanks).

YouTube can kiss my ass. UPDATE: Who the hell are IODA?

Dear TomEllard,

Your video, Dead Eyes Opened Sydney January 2010, may have content that is owned or licensed by IODA.

No action is required on your part; however, if you’re interested in learning how this affects your video, please visit the Content ID Matches section of your account for more information.

– The YouTube Team


Dear YouTube.

The composer of the music, the recording artist, the maker of the video and the person that posted it ARE OBVIOUSLY THE SAME PERSON.

You idiots.

You have a million people uploading shit they stole from where ever. So instead, you send out a pissy insulting form letter to somebody that contributes their own work. A form letter that offers 4 tiny boxes where I am allowed to reply that hey, I have no idea who IODA is, why they should be able to do this, what it has to do with the fact I am promoting my own goddamn work on your site.

And it’s the SECOND time you’ve done this. You haven’t even dealt with my first dispute yet.

I am going to try walking and calming down, but the temptation is to go somewhere else because hey, you really are the exact opposite of everything worthwhile.

Tom Ellard, a person that makes shit that you monetize.


Through my own efforts I find that IODA is a US based distributor of my music. They have a non exclusive sub-license, which is kind of like having a franchise in that territory. It doesn’t give them any exclusive rights – certainly they don’t own the synchronization rights of my music, and that’s exactly what YouTube’s automated system can’t understand. It’s twigged a match between the soundtrack of these videos and their licensed material. Being automated it starts a process which is inflexible and stupid to any nuances in the situation.

Somebody at IODA has countered my claim that they don’t own my videos: at least that’s the probable reason why the dispute robot has rejected my disputation. But no one has actually emailed another person to ask, hey is this TomEllard account ‘official’?

It is (as always) up to the artist to start fixing the mess that the companies have created ‘on their behalf’. This begins with human communication; I have started that. It involves pressure; I have damaged the videos on YouTube with an annotation and an audio swap. This may help the companies involved to feel a small amount of monetary and PR displeasure, the only sensation that they can feel. I have provided an alternative venue on Vimeo. I always wanted to do that, so this is as good a time as ever.

As soon as somebody notices that their robots have screwed up, I will be happy to put things back as they were. In the meanwhile they can ‘own’ a web page that explains just how dumb they are.

At the heart of Visual Music is…

Thanks to people for the sympathy for the olds. But they passed on a month or so ago (obits take time to write) and I think they were unhappy waiting for the inevitable. So, better to have moved on. Unfortunately the “Rosabelle believe” signal that was to be sent back has failed to appear, possibly as they are otherwise engaged.

I am now at the end of stage one of the doctorate, and trying to cram paper writing inbetween the job and the other job and preparing for the next shows. I have to admit I’m a bit behind, not too badly considering I’m doing three careers at once. But today I had to admit I didn’t see what was coming. I knew there was something pretty slippery inside the entire notion of visual music, but lord help me I didn’t expect

Annie Besant. You can Google it if you like, won’t take long.

It’s like a onion. You start peeling away, finding little bearded men and their light organs, futurist films and all the usual early 20th century modernist rigmarole. You note that Kandinsky mentions Theosophy. So does Shoenberg. Mondrian. Thomas Wilfred, creator of the Clavilux turns out have started work in a Theosophical think tank. You try find the connections – here is Goethe and his ideas on light – there is white and black that add up to blue or yellow, depending on which way you tilt the prism. How does this idea get to Kandinsky? Well it’s Goethe after all but, now you find frickken Rudolf  Steiner as the middle man, peddling mystical interpretations of Goethe’s higher levels. We haven’t even gone near the lunatic fringe and we’re already deeply embedded in yogis and astral claptrap.

Which is rather bewildering.

Because what I thought I was doing was using a psychological tool to categorise video, simply as a means to performance. No great claims to universal truth here – simply the need for something that puts on a good show. Disclaimers apply. No attempt to make aesthetics into a metric any more than 24 frames a second is the UrSprache.

But it is quite possible that what I am doing is part of an occult history which I think anyone would agree IS COMPLETELY ROCK N ROLL. In the early 20th century they believed in colours. Now here I am, believing in psychometrics. Paging Mr. Foucault, white courtesy telephone. Following my own ‘World’s Fair’ rule (50 percent scholar 50 percent drunken maniac) I really should take this thing and run it as far as I can get away with it.

I wouldn’t have to change a thing. All I do is change the way I speak about it. Chuck a bit of Jung in there. Oops.

Actually Jung is the best guide here. He’d pop out of the coffin and say “look, you’re at the right age for the big one. The big kapow. This is the moment in life where you put together everything you have so far learned, push the red button on the blender and come out with a nervous breakdown and a theory of everything that will leave them guessing for years to come. You’re already a closet Freudian, come over the dark side.”

He’d then pull out a bunch of photographs that I recently scanned that my old man took on a lake near Zurich. That lake. Synchronicity.

I think what I’ll do is hold it on the right side of sanity until I get the floppy hat. Then go apeshit. Over the last few years the siren call to occultism has been growing, and there are few pleasures left to the older man. I will drown in cymatics and entrainment, colours and thought broadcasts, ghosts and video synthesisers. There will be FUN.

No, not THAT far.

(Actually having read back over this entire post I think I might need some sleep.)

Software! Feck! Arse! Part 2.

(In which your host visits Apple and finds Enlightenment.)

I went to Apple. Despite the presentation, I found out what I needed to know.

Before we go any further they want to dispel some rumours. I am now sure that they are not abandoning the professional market. They are not dumping Logic. The new look of FCPX doesn’t represent a dumbing down of the software. Nor is the retail division taking over the professional division.  That’s all BS.

The pity is that much of the furore could be avoided if they would just stop talking like North Korean Central News. Because Final Cut X does represent a forward looking paradigm. Just hopelessly marketed in Jobspeak and not tested in the real world.

First I was shown the pre-canned demonstration. Yes, I know that Apple is the leader in NLE. Yes I know that Final Cut arrived around the same time as DV. I have seen the car race footage plenty of times. Can we please talk about my particular needs?

Nope. The presentation was going to be made and all bullet points ticked off. Apple are so ‘on message’ that they ran as if I was 200 people. So I just sat back and watched it again, keeping my story lines and compound clips magnetised, taking in the practical needs. Two days later I clicked & suddenly thought WHY THE HELL DIDN’T THEY JUST SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE! Well they did. Just not to me, as much as to their phantom 200 audience. My own subconscious had to translate it.

I’ll give you an exaggerated comparison. Suppose the whole of YouTube was all one videotape. The bit you wanted to watch was 23 hours and 15 minutes ‘down the tape’ and so you fast forwarded to the bit you wanted and played it from there. The next clip was at 7 days, 13 hours and so you fast forwarded to that and so on. Sound stupid? Yes, and yet that’s the way we think when edit on a time line – as if we were using tape. We use timecode and bins because that’s the history.

Instead YouTube has many small clips (< 10min) that we sort by filters and keywords and jump between them making playlists. And that’s more how Final Cut X is supposed to work. Load up your footage and it starts by auto tagging, for example with face recognition, hue etc. You then define the sections that have semantic meaning – the example given was ‘splashing water’. Tag those and they become a new folder. Your project becomes a semantic web.

Bring those clips down into the storyline. Snap clips or side stories to the main storyline. Instead of scrubbing, jump through the timeline by selecting from the metadata over at the left. You’re not cutting a clip so much as you’re arranging a report from a database – which has as much to do with Filemaker as Final Cut. In a world where assets and storage are exponential the idea is not one of cutting but gate keeping.

Now this sounds brilliant in theory, but right now it’s really clumsy. For a start they’re still trying to conform everything into ProRes by background rendering (versus Adobe’s reply where they assemble mixed resolutions of MP4 straight off the camera card). Final Cut X is very much ‘of the moment’ in that it fulfils current engineering challenges – not based around file management in the OS, not bound by physical volumes, non linear, semantic etc.  But the actual file organisation must be rigid for the apparent file organisation to be flexible. Once you’re inside it all seems fine. Outside, in reality, the way that the files are managed is unusable by our systems.

(At some point OSX might become completely free of folders, and group files by searches and tasks. It will then be a super version of Sugar. I don’t know if that is really a great idea, but software companies keep having it.)

They have forgotten that people need familiar metaphors. Pro Tools is a big tape recorder when there’s no actual need to be a tape recorder – but people are happier for that. SONY Vegas has most of the benefits without the drawbacks – it is exceedingly fast, gives real time previews, has a database system, and yet it follows the familiar metaphor. If Apple had made a variant of Vegas the world would sing their praises.

Having completed the demonstration we got into questions. While acknowledging my requests, the reps followed the now familiar reply: each time Apple moves everyone adapts. We will adapt to their ideas, or else.

And that was really the crux of the meeting. They want to play chicken, which works great with individual users. But I can’t steer an entire university, revise IT structures that have taken 2 or more years to put in place. I can’t retrain myself, to then retrain my staff, then have them retrain the students in time for next semester. And why the hell would I want to? It won’t make better art.

FCPX stemmed from bleeding edge engineering, it has met reality, and now needs a rethink about what is needed rather than what is clever. In a few years it will be ready.