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Photo: Vello Virkhaus with Red Hot Chili Peppers in London (thanks, Vello!)


Live visuals for keyboardists? Absolutely: if you’ve got MIDI chops, slick new tools can help you tickle projected imagery while you tickle the ivories. There’s just too much to say about VJing to fit into one story, so when I wrote up an introduction to live visuals for Keyboard Magazine‘s Laptops Live special, I ran out of space fast. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the gear and tools you’ll need to pump out live visuals at your next gig.


CDM Sister Site: Incidentally, thanks to all of you who sent in thoughtful feedback about where VJ content belongs here at CDM, or on its own site. After careful consideration, I have decided to launch a new visual performance site towards the end of the year. But don’t worry: those of you who want to occasionally read VJ content will be able to follow the new site here on CDM, and thanks to a bunch of volunteer writers, I expect both sites to grow, not languish. More on that in December . . . now on with our VJ roundup.

Secrets of VJ Superstars


Talented VJ Jackie Passmore missed the cut for my Keyboard piece as it was trimmed for space; see a link to a profile of her.

Vello and Mat are real VJ superstars, appearing everywhere from Cirque du Soleil to tours with Jay-Z and Sasha and the Museum of Modern Art.

VJing in book, movie, and party form

Who says you need a lot of hardware to gig as a VJ? VJ Miixxy can pump out lots of live visuals using one lone PowerBook.

For a hardware-based approach, see Go-Go VJing with Holly Daggers, plus more on Holly at Keyboard, including tours with the likes of Fischerspooner and the Black Eyed Peas.

Learn about dance pad-VJs and a whole lot more via the folks at LAVA in Los Angeles.

Want signs VJing has gone mainstream? How about VJing with IMAX at London’s Optronica, or digging into the early history of visual music at the Smithsonian Institute.

And hey, why not remix your whole TV?

Essential VJ Hardware + Software

Edirol’s motion dive .tokyo performance package mixes terrific Mac/Windows software with a terrific controller at a low price — probably the easiest entry-level, all-in-one VJ package.

Korg’s Kaptivator hardware has terrific audio-triggering capabilities and enough storage that you can leave your computer at home; see my hands-on report.

Livid’s hardware/software combo has a sophisticated, high-end controller with an LCD display and real-wood case. I VJed alongside Livid’s Jay Smith using the new gear, and the results were fantastic.

Edirol’s V-440HD is super-expensive, but what do you want for a video mixer that lets you mix high-def feeds live? If you’ve got thousands to spend, why not add a very cool CG-8 video synthesizer, too?

Keeping up with software is a challenge, with lots of updates, like the powerful Modul8 V2, Livid Union 1.5, Resolume, Grid Pro, VDMX, and others . . .

Controller Hardware for VJing

What use are live visuals if you can’t control the output live using musical, expressive hardware? Here are a few favorites:

The super-slim Edirol PCR-M1 keyboard is actually a little too squashed for any heavy musical use, but it happens to be perfect for VJing; see Lee Sherman’s great review from a few months back.

Another must-have for VJs: M-Audio’s brilliant Trigger Finger drum pad. Buy two — one for your drums, one for your VJing.

I love my Mixman USB scratch hardware, but the manufacturer has declared third-party MIDI support “illegal”. (Read the article, then go give them a hard time about it.)

The XP10 gives you MIDI scratching capability, and has been getting rave reviews from our readers.

Alternatively, why not just connect four silver knobs?

Free Live Visual Power Tools

Apple’s Quartz Composer for Mac (included free in the developer tools starting with 10.4 Tiger) lets you do elaborate Core Image / OpenGL 3D and 2D graphics live; see my report on learning it.

If you’re geeky enough, the free Pure Data (Mac/Windows/Linux) can be fairly capable for live visuals — just prepare for a steep learning curve and custom-patching your own work. Check out my introductory resources round-up, and general music/video DIY advice. You’ll need more than just the normal Pd install: grab add-ons like PiDiP (Linux/Mac) video, pd-gem (cross-platform OpenGL and video), and framestein (Windows-only video).


There you go. Now, if anyone’s still reading, any questions? :-)


Above right: Matt and Vello at Version Festival. Below: The Ramones try at mass hypnosis with the help of VJ Miixxy (aka Melissa Ulto).

  • martin

    Though I'm glad you're going to split off the VJ content into a seperate site, I do think you should occasionally post some of the cooler and noteworthy things here.

    By the way, the Ramones? Surely you didn't mean to confuse the Strokes with the Ramones.

  • admin

    That's the idea; I will have some links from here so regular cdm readers don't miss anything especially cool from the other site.

    Oh, and I thought that was the Ramones because that's what the site told me: http://thecataract.com/ramonesbenefit/ramonesbene

  • m15a

    wow! that's quite a roundup!

    peter, i was one of the people at your discussion at mpl last month and have been reading the site since. just wanted to say hi and thanks (for the presentation and the articles). the site's definitely a fun work diversion, and all the articles linked here will give me something to read over the thanksgiving weekend. :)

    salman