Retro Analog Technologies in Visual Culture

I write a lot about the proliferation of digital production and its effects on concepts of creativity and aesthetic value in established music subcultures – and I have often thought that the resurgence in analog synthesis/retro music technology is connected somehow to the availability of digital production tools to the “masses”. It’s not a phenomenon that is especially unique to music, though. The retro aura is not restricted to the Roland TB-303 or the Moog, but extends to Polaroid cameras (from the 1970s), Super-8 film, and even, I discovered via lorbus, the etcha-sketch.

Similarly, photographers are increasingly turning back to obsolescent technologies to fuel their creativity: witness the growing interest in hand-altered polaroid images and pinhole photography.In many ways, the process of producing an etcha-sketch image from a manual sketch is the antithesis of digital imagery: one mistake can mean the sudden death of hours of painstaking work – there is no undo button! And it is my theory that this is precisely the attraction for the artist – the process requires enormous skill, the result is impermanent and unstable, and it is clear that the image has been produced unaided by “technology” – and yet, it requires the use of technology whose obsolescence has been reversed consciously by the artist. That’s what makes it cool, but also what makes it very interesting from a cultural studies point of view.

Remix your TV

VJamm is far more than a toy. It’s a lean mean VJ machine, a software instrument which allows you to play 16 audiovisual samples and collate them together to make your own video remixes – in essence triggering and sequencing video loops in a way analogous to audio sequencing. The software has proved popular in a range of contexts, including experimental electronic scenes all over the place. The net-friendly VJamm 1.0 demo with lo-res clips can be downloaded here.

VJamm Pro 2.5 is a step up, however, offering broadcast resolution video, support for multiple displays, and full “polyphony”, where all 16 clips can be positioned freely around the screen & any number can be playing at once. Size and aspect ratio can be adjusted for each clip, and a midi XY controller like the Korg Kaoss Pad can be used to move clips around the screen in realtime. Each of the 16 video layers can have a luma key transparency level. All parameters are MIDI controllable for live use or sequencing. On the VJamm Downloads Page you can get the latest demo version.

Project Overhead Projector contd.

Of course, the OHP is an essential part of any psychedelic lightshow’s arsenal, particularly if it is 1968 and you are tripping to the moon. And the projector hasn’t been forgotten by the Retro Chic Army: just came across a little article about a couple of dudes who run something called the State Prison Light Show – their promo blurb describes it as:

a 60’s style psychedelic lightshow, featuring a variety of artists using their own secret techniqes to bring the audience into new dimensions of light and sound. Using classic liquid oil and film projection, SPLS creates a mind blowing visual roller coaster ride at festivals, clubs and theaters througout the New England area.

Their current stock includes 21 overhead projectors [!!go guys!!], six 16mm and 15mm projectors. [The projectors] come from institutions such as Dover High School, Horne Street School, Garrison School, Somersworth, the University of New Hampshire and even a black GTL projector (a brand that only sells to churches) that came from a Hampton church.

“We just try to beat them to the trash can,” says one of the dudes in question. Now these guys are Down with OHP.

Blowing air to move around a special mixture of water oil and “special ingredients’ which sits on top of an old projector.

NewWavePunkPowerPointArt – David Byrne Loves PowerPoint

Meanwhile, David Byrne has been Learning to Love PowerPoint, subvertively using the tools to seriously renovate the master’s house, at least art-wise: “Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.”

“This is Dan Rather’s profile. Expanded to the nth degree. Taken to infinity. Overlayed on the back of Patrick Stewart’s head. It’s recombinant phrenology. The elements of phrenology recombined in ways that follow the rules of irrational logic, a rigorous methodology that follows nonrational rules. It is a structure for following your intuition and your obsessions. It is the hyperfocused scribblings of the mad and the gifted. The order and structure give it the appearance of rationality and scientific rigor. This appearance is easy to emulate.”

Project Overhead Projector (PowerPoint is Evil)

I knew it, you knew it, university students and teachers have known it for quite some time, and now the whole world knows it: PowerPoint Is Evil: Wired says so! Although the article draws some nice parallels between PowerPoint-ism and the over-beauracratized Stalinist state (see the pic) I am disappointed to find that in the end it is little more than yet another *boring* PowerPoint tutorial with a thin veneer of sardonic humour slapped on top.

I am calling for presentation technologies to become part of the whole old-skool/analog retro thing: bring back the OHP, I say, along with Vespas, Moogs, Polaroid cameras and text-based, link-heavy websites. Hang it all, I like using the BLACKBOARD!

Note to self: get T-shirts printed that say: “I’m Down with OHP”.