Wednesday 27 February 2019

Time flies in the ointment

Recapping our past two gigs, one at the Performance Arcade and the other a birthday bash for the Hatman at San Fran I'm struck by how crucial technology is for our performance and by extension for life in general. We've seen sound systems break down mid-show, we've had subs go mid-show, projectors too old to work with our HDMI or drop out mid-show and pretty much anything that can happen has happened. Sometimes it's easy to cope with and others it's not. But as we're finding out we can still continue on with our show without anything amiss being noticed, most of the time.
Sometimes spending a day dealing with recalcitrant technology can drain the creativity, but then when the music starts to build in intensity, it all comes back and we start to hit a 'peak moment' which is what it's all about...the crowd dancing to the beat alongside the dancing visuals!

The pics and video here show two opposing setups, one indoors with a lovely bright screen backstage and the other with a huge not-so-bright screen on the container above us in a lovely outdoor venue on the waterfront.

As we like to say, it's all a work in progress, both creatively and in maximising the technology and equipment. For both of these we've all been connected -with Will's analog percussion and digital drum-machine feeding into Iain's synths and keyboards, while the audio passes through my software to trigger effects on the drawings - and it makes for a tighter show. Possibly higher risk? We'll find out as we go...

These were great gigs and lots of fun - now we're looking forward to the big CubaDupa festival on 30 March; the rumour is that Electric Fields will be playing too (fingers crossed that it won't be the same time-slot of 10-12 on the Saturday night!). We'll be adjacent to the Fortune Favours brewpub, a great site with buildings to project onto. Then we're thinking about cutting a single over winter..

Kuki Koori (incl Will Ricketts) at San Fran, Wellington
Kuki Koori (incl Will Ricketts) at San Fran, Wellington

Sunday 17 February 2019

Time flies

Whew, the proverbial time does fly past, not just when I'm busy getting ready for our "Time Flies" gig at the Performance Arcade next Thursday, but also when work is about to fly out the window and I need to be busy chasing either contract work or a full-time job.
At the least we're almost ready for our performance, with 4 days to go. Last rehearsal went well, positioned as accompaniment to a wonderful dinner performance by Juval Diezinger (of famed Bar 25 and Holzmarkt clubs/villages in Berlin), with Will Ricketts joining in on percussion as we projected onto Iain's living room walls. No room on the table for food with the audio and visual gear takeover.

Lots of creatures were created, including Scrab here with a few interactive effects thrown in.
With the launch of Performance Arcade 2019 today in Wellington, and a preview set from Uncle Silverback, we still have 4 days till opening night - time for two more rehearsals before Thursday. Hopefully some more characters like these can eventuate on the night. 
Then I'll really have to focus on job-hunting.

Wednesday 30 January 2019


..or the gig that almost wasn't. But it was, and it was lots of fun too.

Gardens Magic 2019
As a very recent entity, the two of us making up Kuki Koori have managed to foster a Be Prepared, Be Very Prepared attitude, knowing the dangers of relying on technology and power supplies.  So, sound and visual checks are Not To Be Missed and our gear is handled Reverently.

And after a great soundcheck, on a PA system that had been running smoothly for 17 days, we were pretty relaxed. The Gardens Magic series has been going for 20+ years  and the bands on before us -  A.U.R.A. , CL-Audio, and Rob Thorne - were sounding good too. Time to relax and enjoy the ambience of a friendly crowd and the very pleasantly warm Wellington Botanic Gardens venue.

We had a 25 minute set planned for when the sun went down...but 10 minutes into A.U.R.A.s set there was an ominous sound...of silence. It was, it seemed, a fuse and a fried mixing desk. After an interesting interim, with MC Polyfilla dragged back onto the stage (pun intended) and Rob Thorne traipsing through the crowd with putorino flute in hand followed by a line of kids Pied Piper style, a solution was found. Iain's small mixing desk, part of our setup and already on stage, could be used as a replacement and the show could go on.

So, slightly shorter sets for most of us, while the wonderful crowd stayed on to watch and dance to the end. Luckily I brought two cameras to catch the crowd from afar as well as the stage action.  And two tripods, which leads to another lesson's bloody hard to draw on a waist height table when you're used to having the drawing tablet at just the right height. I ended up kneeling on the stage to protect my back. Mental note - get an extra tripod...

The end result should be good - the distant camera with one angle, and the onstage fisheye capturing both the crowd and us plus the screen. We cut some very short instagram clips together the next day; this one here showing off the very supportive crowd.

The final 10-15 minutes clip will have some of Rob Thorne's Taonga Puoro (Maori instruments) on at the start as we transitioned - who knows, we may end up making a special cross-cultural performance one day, with yidaki and clapsticks along with the Maori conch and flutes...I'm thinking a birrung baya or guwanyi (story about the stars) would be cool.

I'm still looking out for Dharawal words, for 2019 Year of Indigenous Languages, and Yabun is a great one - as evidenced by the recent very awesome looking Yabun Festival. *Music made by singing and beating time...

Saturday 26 January 2019

26 January

Over the past few years I've been inspired to see the bigger and bigger crowds in Australian cities out in full support of Invasion Day and Change the Date, and basically not supporting the government trope of nationalistic flag-waving for "aussies, oi, oi, oi". But, living over  in Aotearoa it's also very disheartening to not be able to participate.

But this year was different!

Thanks to Alex Keeble and Julia, who organised for Melissa Lucashenko to drop in to Pataka Art+Museum for some korero about her latest book Too Much Lip  (read it! so good!) and about lots of indigenous issues in Oz and Aotearoa. So great to hear Melissa expanding on her book, reading the intro and for the shared readings from across the Pacific. "Cook gets cooked.."

Thanks Melissa, and safe travels through the South Island! Walawaani.

Here's a pic that the wonderful author Patricia Grace took, with Melissa holding a poster from the long march/hikoi of 2004...

Now it's back to the studio to rehearse a little more for our postphoned Kuki Koori Space Race gig, now on Monday night in the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Fingers crossed that the weather will be fine!

Friday 18 January 2019

Drawing and technology part II

Getting the bug for hand-drawn visuals for VJ'ing is one thing but getting it to work live is the big thing. First step was to try switching between the LP animations and some hand-drawn ipad visuals and in the process of setting this up I found something called Tagtool! It didn't work so well live on the old ipad 2 and it was at beta testing stage but I took a punt and got a new ipad pro with the pencil to test it out...

Tagtool is the creation of Josef and Markus Dorninger in Austria and it cleverly combines simple drawing with simple and sometimes complex animation. Once I tried it I was sure it could work live and broached the idea to Iain with whom we'd occasionally discussed audio-visual collaborations. The idea we came up with was to try to compose music and draw live and see how it turned out.

We set our sights on an upcoming private party and then a local gig along with DJs Koa, Benny and Vertigo (Berlin). And started rehearsing. Which turned out to be a total blast; being in the studio with Iain while he conjured up all sorts of sounds and looped and sequenced them was not just a blast though - it was also incredibly stimulating and I started creating all sorts of crazy characters.

Here's some footage from the first gig - you can see the ipad at right and Iain at left creating beats.

From here it went pretty fast; at the Kanikani gig in Paekakariki Dj Mu joined us and added another awesome layer of sound onto the beats. Then gigs at Splore, Performance Arcade and Meow, followed by the Carter Observatory. And a solo visual gig for Olmecha Supreme, plus Rhombus at Coastella. Lots and lots of fun.

I was also experimenting with the Tagtool app over January, trying for a daily animation on the theme of aboriginal astronomy. Although I don't know much about the Yuin birrung (if I already had a Masters I would love to do a PhD on it though) but I had lots of info about Wardaman astronomy through Bill Yidumduma Wardaman's book Dark Sparklers so I read that and let my imagination fill the spaces with some characters.

Still from the Jan 23 animation..
It wasn't something that would work live but it was lots of fun. The 30 or so one minute animations (mostly sped up versions of the longer drawing process) were cut together to make a final one minute summary for IG; probably too short to show much but it gives an idea..

After these gigs and other local ones (or not so local with the NZ Symphony Orchestra Shed Series) we were wondering how to tie the visuals in a lot more with the music. Which led to chaining in some audio-reactivity with some software called MMV (Magic Music Visuals) and then going crazy with a Leap Motion sensor, to capture hand movements as midi signals and add lots of effects to drawings.

Having now tested the setup over an almost 5 hour New Years Eve DJ support gig at Te Awanga Festival I'm pretty sure we're on the right track with it, but I realise that there are no presets and there's a lot of hand-crafting for each hand-movement and effect. But it's getting there! Here's a quick grab from a mirror/line drawing effect on a practice drawing..

We even have a customised Kuki Koori midi controller made by Yaeltex in Argentina which has held up well to my bashing the buttons.

It's interesting having the extra layer of technology over the original animated visuals - I'd say it's essential for longer DJ gigs but for Kuki Koori we will probably keep it to a more subtle level depending on Iain's music and the dancefloor crowd...

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Drawing and technology

A while back, when I occasionally threw a few songs together for parties and called myself a dj, I started thinking about visuals to match the songs. Then I managed to get to see Hexstatic performing on a barge in the Wellington lagoon in 2006 and wow! Not the abstract visuals I'd seen at festivals and clubs, but cleverly cut video crazily repeating and transforming with the sound. This was what it was all about.

My research showed hinted at their  sophisticated setup with macbooks and dvd mixers, and others like Coldcut VJ Fader started to make  their own customised software like VJAMM.
It did seem to be very technology-focused though, especially as the likes of U2 made huge claws and a giant screen for their 360 tour. Luckily there was also a move away from generic looking video un-related to music, as bands started incorporating their own ideas and art into the background visuals.

Hexstatic, Wellington, 2006. Pic by Lyndon Hood, Scoop.

Ultimately the trigger that got me from DJ to VJ was seeing a random Vimeo video about a praxinoscope, where a set of drawings on an LP sized sheet were filmed at a certain speed while spinning on the turntable. This created a lovely, organic animation. I was now officially hooked and
I started (after doing the maths to check it would work) sketching the 33 frames that would make an animation. Setup a performance, borrowed a projector and off we went.

Here's a bunch of laboriously drawn praxinoscope/zoetrope style sheets..

Hand drawn animations on LP sized sheets

In theory it should have been simple but using a modern digital camera meant that getting the filmed image to the projector (even via a laptop) was fraught with difficulties. Sometimes the Blackmagic HD box would capture the signal and sometimes not, and it seemed that the Panasonic GH series HD output was very easily turned off. But it  mostly worked and it was fun to operate at gigs alongside the dj - here is some of the animation . captured, mixed in with some After Effects animations that were also used live.

Space Doctor and Zoe Trope - A phonotrope sampler for the Paekakariki 88.2 FM fundraiser from Science Films NZ on Vimeo.

One of the downsides, apart from the camera cable technology problems, was that the animations at 33 drawings apiece were terrifically time-consuming to create. I have no problems coming up with quirky ideas but redrawing them over and over was a lot for a part-time hobby, alongside astro-photography, an astronomy radio show and running/football.

Then I saw the work of Tapebox/Sculpture! Computed created super-trippy visuals that had so much going on.  As well as being inspiring these awesome pieces also hit me hard in the realism-plexus. I wasn't going to be able to create this level of awesomeness in After Effects; and even if I could I would miss the pencil drawing aspect of it all.

So where to next? How do we incorporate hand-drawn art with technology for live VJ-ing? How did we (Kuki Koori)  end up at Splore 2018, twelve years after Hexstatic's gig there?

The answer is in part II...

Monday 14 January 2019

Art and adventure

Documentary is easily one of my favourite genres of filmmaking, from tales of near-fatal mountaineering (Touching the Void) to intrepid jungle expeditions to sport (Hoop Dreams, and Murderball) and more experimental work like Koyaanisqatsi. I like to think that we leave faint traces of our lives behind, like the trail of a sugar ant, and a well-made doco leaves a larger ant-hill sized trace. It's a more formal version of traditional stories, passed down through thousands of years - but we don't know if hard-drives can last more than twenty years at this stage so those ant-hills may well be blown away.

Doco is probably the hardest genre to get funded, especially with remote overseas adventures!

Luckily I've had some chances to work on documentaries in New Zealand, PNG and Indonesia. The Creative Communities scheme in NZ provides seed funding for local projects so, teamed up with local feature film director Himiona Grace (in our collaborative Mai Kapiti), we made a short piece about local artist Alan Weihipihana. And lined up another about rising sea levels on a nearby island but the weather halted that one. Here is our local Paekakariki artist musing on art..

Wehi Art from Mai Kapiti on Vimeo.
I also made some short pieces about a photography project - a return ten years post-tsunami toAceh, Indonesia,  but we never made a final documentary. The scientist/photographer Noel Trustrum, who photographed the disaster back in 2004 and then returned and  produced a book in 2015, died in early 2016.  His book is a brilliant documentary of Aceh reviving. Here is one of the shorts advertising it.

Aceh Revives from Science Films NZ on Vimeo.

There's been other local short pieces, mainly to do with conservation ands renewable energy (the projects that led to me starting up Science Films NZ) but there is one project on the backburner which may get finished shortly.

I won't give out details as it may jinx it, except to say it involves Papua New Guinea, mountains, charity and adversity....and it also reminds me of one of the tricky aspects of docos - you can't go back and recapture anything!

This one, about a SOUL squad at the local high school, made for the suffrage anniversary here in New Zealand, was very inspiring to all of us involved in making it. Small budget, two quick shoots, one for the interviews, the other the performance but a big impact from these girls! SOUL = Sources Of Unconditional Love

ps I forgot to mention in early blogs that I hope to take on the 52-week deadly bloggers challenge ;
even though writing is not a natural task for me, I really like the challenge of a regular writing effort as a form of reflection and meditation (I think).