Building Tech for Visuals versus Making Art

by Clint on January 1st 2013

Happy New Year 2013.

Next week synnack will be performing at Planet Myer Day in Leipzig, Germany. The set will feature 2 new, yet unreleased, tracks from the upcoming v3 release, and the next generation of live visual work by 0xf8 Studios for synnack live performances. I thought I'd spend a few minutes on the first day of the new year explaining a bit about this new video work. (more to come later on the new music!)

Upon the release of the init.system DVD in 2010, Jennifer and I turned our video sights towards building a custom VJ environment in Max/Jitter that leveraged Max for Live devices to send numerical representations of the music I play in Ableton Live in order to render one-of-a-kind live visuals for synnack shows. You can read all about this on the 0xf8 Phase 2 and 0xf8 Progress blog posts. I'm proud of all the work we did to create this massive Max patch to host the visuals but it was a ton of work that ultimately took way too much time from actually making art with it.

Recently, we realized that for the past 3 years, we've been spending way too much time building technology, and not nearly enough time actually making art with it. This must change in 2013. Some amount of technology-building is expected. You have to be willing to sink in enough time to learn the basics of a craft before you can use it. But we would actually spend a YEAR (it feels like) learning some new programming language or software environment and producing very little art as a result.

We've made some big changes to how we've been working to fix this. We are now using Resolume Arena to host the HD footage we shoot and Quartz Composer to render 3d transformations inside it. Max and Max for Live are still a big part of the setup, but QC and Arena instead of Jitter has a ton of advantages.

1. FPS (Frames Per Second) - Using the 1080p HD footage we shoot for cinema-like quality often brought Jitter to its knees with all the crazy effects we built. Even when using GL shaders on the GPU. We'd get ~10 fps in many cases. With the Resolume codec, with all sorts of insanity going on, the laptop sits at ~60 fps! Things are much faster and stable.

2. Image Quality - In Jitter, we'd spend days troubleshooting quality issues. Why did something look "jagged"? Why didn't things look as sharp as the original footage? Countless hours spent messing with Jitter object attributes, searching forums, and transcoding video clips to different sizes and codecs. All that effort is pretty much gone now. Quartz Composer 3d designs just look great by default in Resolume. Using their codec, footage looks killer. This is a huge help to stay focused on the art and not the technology as mentioned above.

3. Quartz Composer - I tried QC a while ago but never found much value in it. I was very wrong. In QC it's so easy to build complicated 3d animations and expose (or "publish") specific controls to OSC for real time manipulation by Max for Live. With just a few days of messing around and learning QC we are able to get some pretty cool results that give a whole new angle to the visual work but still allow for expressive, real-time syncing to the music.

4. Max for Live - all the time spent with Max and Max for Live is still needed. The same Max for Live devices we were using before are still used to turn sound and environmental factors of Ableton Live into numbers send the OSC data to a new "OSC2Resolume" max router patch. This allows us to save routings of specific M4L data to specific visual controls in Resolume so each song can be its own piece of art with specific visuals connected to specific sets of data.

The new architecture looks like this:

Well that's an overview of where we are with the 0xf8 visuals for synnack shows. In 2013 I will be much more prolific with music, starting with completing and releasing v3 in first half of the year. I've been using Ableton Live 9 exclusively for this. Stay tuned for another blog post detailing that work.

Welcome to synnack and 0xf8 2013. This year will be much less about building our own tools, and much more about making our own works of art.

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