‘rbn_esc’ is a project fusing cinema and live experimental visuals. Presenting a series of character scenarios, it invites the audience to construct narrative and cultural critique: rbn_esc >> urban escape. It is also a vj project of some development, with its premiere as a silent ‘vj film’ accompanying four tet in front of thousands at the big chill festival back in 2004. Thanks to a commission to perform at the 20/20 event in Newcastle as part of AV Festival 2006, the clip library has been worked over in a soho sound house, a soundtrack selected and resequenced, and the means to perform a refined, multichannel audio-visual whole developed. The resulting 45 minute performance work rbn_esc___av is a prominent example of what ‘live cinema’ can be.

rbn_esc was my response to seeing vjing being stuck in nightclubs and treated as wallpaper when i knew the potential was so much more. It was self-consciously the ‘next generation vj set’ in my own personal development, but also a challenge to others to really push the idea of ‘vj works’, to create performances with identity and meaning… something that an audience might actually want to watch, centre stage. I’d also just been booked to perform at the Big Chill, alongside Four Tet and on a LED wall, which was a very big thing for me. It was 2004, I’d been vjing for a few years, it was definitely time to pull out all the stops.

From the promo edit I made at the time, here is what it was all about

it started in 2003

  • born in vj mixes in club night residencies
  • a project to make the next-generation vj set
  • crossing club culture with cinema

the plan

  • create episodes of different characters
  • sequence within and between episodes live
  • watch audience construct narrative

into the studio // the first four episodes completed july'04

  • from footage shot and acquired worldwide
  • achieving soho-grade production for vjing

onto the live machine

  • from individual clips to a flowing mix
  • guiding and reacting to the soundtrack
  • using advanced live compositing

premiere » big chill ‘04

  • headline slot with four tet
  • 22 sq. meters of LED screen
  • thousands watching

01_a_walk_in_the_park

  • is it nature? its a park
  • she seems happy away from the city
  • but who is watching her?

02_a_man_a_foil/

  • pacing the streets
  • dancing on the rooftops
  • the cane his secret?

03_running_jumping

  • omnipresent technology
  • people breaking the rules
  • urban or over?

04_out_of_the_bunker

  • old concrete
  • older trees
  • escape?

rbn_esc thanks

  • narrative lab, avit.info
  • marion davies, london
  • grant davis, san francisco
  • jim henson’s creature shop

rbn_esc additional content

  • adam baker - cutcorner.org
  • nathan bainbridge - smallkid.co.uk
  • andy kiell - kiell.com
  • paul chatterton - leedsarc.org.uk

premiere thanks

  • john rixon & co - bigchill.net
  • kieran hebden - fourtet.net
  • tim, nick, stephen - filming etc.

The gig was great, there’s the cliché moments like looking up at the end and seeing thousands of people stretching out and the beautiful setting, but what was extra special was the approach Keiran aka Four Tet took to performing the music. Normally, whether a band or a dj, the set is formed from a series of songs. Keiran, rather, encompassed the same musical variety but by taking four songs and exploding them out into 15 minute remixes. So firstly its Four Tet, Rounds era, which is simply some of the finest music out there, and secondly its being remixed into four sections, for which I have four acts of rbn_esc. Totally special gig, and really inspirational for me.

In the 2006 20/20 event1, I saw the opportunity to take this silent vj set and turn it into a fully audio-visual whole I always wanted, akin to cinema with soundtrack, sound design and the visual. This allowed me to take the vj footage to a sound designer and work in a studio usally dedicated to cinema to make the clips audio-visual, ranging from adding ambience and foley for the more straight film footage to out-there sound design for the vj loops. During all this, I had been searching for the right music to base my soundtrack on. Every time I had perfomed rbn_esc, there was a conflict between the musical arc I wanted for the narrative and the arc a musician will take for a gig, and just playing dj/vj didn’t allow for real audio-visual syncronicity I envisaged. So I’d scoured record collections, bought Ableton Live and learnt how to mix tracks and get midi out of it, but I still wasn’t happy with what I had. The thing was, nothing was coming close to my memories of the Four Tet gig, or rather, my imagination of what it could have been in a live cinema fantasy, and once I realised that the path was clear: it was going to hang together beautifully as an exclusively Four Tet soundtrack, and I was going to splice it all up into a resequenced whole to perfectly suit the narrative flow and fit the a/v loops to its phrasing exactly.

The sampler video below shows the results, five minutes of clips taken from a performance of rbn_esc___av with the exact same setup as 20/20. There was a jinx at 20/20 itself, however, with something happing to the feed after sound-checking which reduced it to something not far off white noise. Gutting, but at least it was nobody’s fault: the production was faultless otherwise, what happened to that cable since the soundcheck nobody shall know for sure. There’s more on the preparation and gig in the diary posts 119 clips, 76 scenes, one piece and 2020: beauty and horror.

Since then rbn_esc___av has been published, had a technological upgrade2, and been performed all around europe, and even in the round. The sampler edit even got into the Tate.

The project is still alive, somehow it still hasn’t been performed internationally, and it will be the debut performance of my *spark cinema project, which should hopefully facilitate that international aspect. We’ll see…


  1. For what its worth, 20/20 and its organisers name deserve to have greater recognition in the UK, being pretty much unique in having commissioned a range of audio-visual works and then presented them to the highest standard and done it more than once. 

  2. Finally mixing at the SD resolution the footage was originally produced at, despite suitable vj software of the time being 320x240. I love this progress, where its gone from an iMac and laptop only producing 320x240, to one laptop doing it all at four times the number of pixels.