Improvizone

Between gigs one and two

Andrew Booker 2011-10-08 22:20:54

This coming Friday I will play only my second gig in 2011, with No-Man at the Burning Shed 10th Anniversary evening at The Leamington Assembly. Today we did rehearsal two of four, and tomorrow and Monday we will be joined by Steven Wilson to finalise the songs. At the moment a lot of it is sounding pretty good, but having been through this process three years ago, we know not to get too comfortable or complacent about anything before SW arrives. It might just get torn up.

More on the rehearsals later in the week perhaps. Meanwhile, I have been reflecting on my utterly slack schedule of two gigs per year for 2011, and I realise I never even said anything about the first. It was back in April, when Os, Mike and I headed off to Germany to appear as Darkroom at the International Cologne Livelooping Festival organised by Michael Peters.

Michael's was an excellent gathering. Considering I'm not a massive fan of some uses of looping I enjoyed the evening a great deal, and the trip as whole. I even drove the Osmobile part of the way back. And when we got to Calais I stopped the Osmobile. I've never achieved or experienced braking quite like that. Three mph to zero in a fingersnap is quite a shock in a large vehicle full of gear.

Musically from Darkroom's perspective there is little to add beyond the complete video documentation you can find on the Darkroom blog. Except maybe one interesting departure from our normal operations, which is that we did two rehearsals. We were only going to get half an hour to summon convincing musics, much less than the two or three hours we would usually take over an Improvizone gig.

On the other hand, in the weeks beforehand I was devoting all my attention to generating backdrop video for our set. Every act was supposed to supply its own video, and inevitably my catalogue of Improvizone backdrop-making ensured this task be allocated to me. There would be nine other sets of half-hour video ideas. How would they compare to mine? Would my visuals show me up as the naive dated amateur I truly am?

First, everything needed to be done to a higher spec than my output thus far. 800 by 600 pixels instead of 640 by 480, at 30 frames per second instead of 25. If that means nothing to you, to me it meant exactly the following. Do everything again.

Any original material I had captured using the webcam was 800 by 600 already, so naturally I wanted to compile my new video directly from that stock rather than scale back up my existing compressed and reduced videos. For the abstract stuff taken on phone cameras I didn't care, as they were supposed to look blurry and poor quality. In addition, for the first time, I included some of my very first home made animations. The rest of the CGI world may be 30 years ahead of me on this stuff, but it was a personal achievement, and I included three snippets, each showing three items moving at different random speeds across the screen. Three signifying, obviously, the three members of Darkroom for this gig.

In the end I think I mis-selected some of the material. For the first half I used abstract forms that sat comfortably with our up-tempo opening piece. But for the second half, I used the entire length of my round trip to Antwerp, shot the last time the Darkroom trio travelled to Europe. It is visually spectacular, if unoriginal, and I'm hugely proud of it, but it grated against Os and Mike's opening drone, and fared no better when the music developed into, at most, a mid-tempo rhythmic plod. Looking back I would have used slow-moving abstract imagery throughout.

Otherwise our video stood up reasonably well compared to the rest. Throughout the evening there was a lot of slow-motion, a lot of inverted imagery (photographic negative), a bit of traffic, and a bit of mirror-imaging horizontally or vertically. These are all places I have been by now, and so I left the gig with the resolution to come up with some new ideas for video that I could manage and would make sense in my cottage-industrial backwardness, rather than look like they were trying to compete even with a modern screensaver.

In terms of technicals that's pretty much how I filled in the next three or four months. I experimented with masking each video frame into hexagonal or circular components that slowly oscillated in size. If I updated each shape at a time to the next frame, I realised I had a good way of slowing down the video, of stretching out a five-second abstract clip into two or three minutes of very handsome and calming imagery. I could have taken this work a lot further, but I reached a suitable stopping point and moved onto timelapse video. My latest goal on this area has been to start using old smartphones as timelapse capture devices. I'm talking specifically about the Nokia N95, of which we have two spare in this household. This is how I generally like to work. Have equipment, will figure out how to do something with it. Let the rest of the world spend their whole lives shopping.

The camera on the N95 is pretty good, certainly the Carl Zeiss lens is exceptional, and the operating system supports applications written in java. Given that is a language I use to earn a living, I figured I should not be afraid to tackle this. I soon came up with an app that takes one frame every so often and saves it to the memory card. The trouble begins here. You are not allowed to do anything on the N95 without permission. For every frame it takes, my app asks for permission three times. Once to use the camera, once to read the memory chip and once to write to it. In order to get round this I have to tell the phone it can trust my application, which I believe is the process of signing the compiled software. Around the middle of the summer I got stuck in a continuous loop of nearly getting somewhere with this. Just as abandoning a bad novel can put me off reading for six months, so this setback left me paralysed. The problem has been waiting for me to solve it since July, and I've done hardly anything on it or anything else since.

No-Man rehearsing << | >> No-Man rehearsing parts 2, 3 and 4