Particle strips back the visual façades of the city to reveal an immaterial web beneath. Processed urban imagery fluctuates between recognisable urban landscapes and abstract, data-like patterns, combined with dense sound textures, layered harmonies, abstract rhythms and snippets of found sounds. Particle creates an arresting, dream-like vista of a city that exists as much in the virtual as in physical space.
The source material for Particle is from a pool of video and sound collected across the globe for the D-Fuse documentary film Endless Cities. Particle is concerned with processes of abstraction. Both images and sounds have been broken into fragments and then reconfigured, in a parallel to the data flows that permeate the urban fabric.
Mike gave me the hard drive with all the Endless Cities footage, and said “let’s make a live show of this”. The subtext was: this is all HD footage, and nobody has yet cracked how to work high-def live. Let’s crack it.
In D-Fuse’s previous live show, the experimentation happened in the studio, using motion graphic tools like After Effects to create clips and sequences that could then be played out live. The expansion of the frame into the theatre was by simply doubling the 4x3 source up: one vj setup of dvd player, loop-playing laptop and mixer, gained a twin, and the two outputs were projected side-by-side.
For me, the challenge was clear: to shift that experimentation from the studio into the performance space. Going from analogue SD to digital HD had to be dealt with, but what mattered was to be able to walk into a venue and have the spatial flexibility to work with beams of light and semi-transparent screens, and then perform a show through that projection setup that was responsive to the moment.
The answer was clear: ever more single-screen vj setups put side-by-side wasn’t tenable, and laptops were now powerful enough for high-res playback, doing the visual effects in realtime, mapped to multiple screens.
But as Mike knew, this was all bleeding-edge, and critically there wasn’t a mixer: no jamming together, and with a single laptop plugged directly into the projector, a crash would take down the whole show. And that was a deal-breaker.
To make Particle work, I –
- Made a triptych of three projection outputs out of the 1920x1080 Endless Cities footage, cutting out clips and loops as 4x3, 8x3 and 12x3 crops.
- Created a VDMX setup that could composit these different crops into the triptych, and put the first-gen SSDs just available in our laptops to be able to play them.
- Coded the video effects we wanted, some GLSL pixel shaders but mostly openGL where I could stretch smaller textures across the full canvas.
- Laced audio-analysis through it all, hooked up midi-controls, and exposed the functionality as best as could be done: custom VDMX UI, lots of Quartz Composer beneath.
That was the kind of stuff I’d been brought into D-Fuse to do. Mike had seen what I’d done elsewehere and liked it. But nomatter how much fun I could have in the studio with this, we were still in the world of plugging the laptop straight into the projector – or rather, the laptop that output a non-standard 1920x480, which a splitter box then made into 3x 640x480, from which the three projectors were fed.
So how to mix this? Or what if we needed to reboot a laptop with an audience in front of us, or take away a laptop to finish prep after the soundcheck but still with hours before doors open?
That is where the *spark d-fuser came from, a hardware mixer I hacked together for doing HD and more or less anything else a computer could output at the time. In fact, all my peers wanted one the moment they heard it was possible. This took on a life of it’s own, and it’s quite the story –
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In short, I did crack it, and as a collective we’ve created and performed Particle around the world. Here’s an edit of the premiere. If you click through, you can see comments that show the impact it had at the time –