Last month I visited Vienna. I am discovering that it has a very vibrant VJ scene. I must have already had hints of this from brief interactions with some VJs from there such as Luma.Luanisch who were invited to the Mapping Festival last year and performed a colorful audio visual set that was one of the highlights of the festival. The person I was in contact with the most was Astrid Steiner who is one half of Luma Luanisch. The other half Luma.Luanisch is Florian Tanzer whom I only had the chance to meet during my visit to Vienna.
I actually knew of Astrid’s work when she contacted us with some questions about modul8. Her signature included a link to her web site and I was very pleased with the types of projects she was working on. She was not only doing VJing but also working with Jazz groups and choruses. On top of that her images were curious constructs that were not completely literal but balanced in such a way that there was room for the viewer to connect the meaning in their own way. I believe this is one of the cornerstones of live visuals.
After meeting her briefly at the Mapping and then again in New York City last summer I proposed to conduct an interview with her for modul8.us. Proving how busy we both are it took a while to get this interview finished and I am very happy to post it for you the readers today.
m8.us: How did you get into VJ’ing? What attracted you about it?
Astrid: I’ve been working as an editor for film & television and started to VJ about 6 years ago. Video editing is a beautiful work. You influence the tempo, the look, the storytelling of a film. But it’s always somebody else’s story you tell. You are one link in the chain and have to deal with a lot of compromises. So I started to shoot and create my own footage, my own stories and to collaborate with musicians who loved to integrate videos into their concerts or DJ Sets.
m8.us: What did you study originally?
Astrid: Before I started to work in film & postproduction I studied media technology and media design. These were very technical oriented with classes in programming, information technology, signal processing. Very boring. But now I find it extremely helpful to this technical foundation.
m8.us: What process do you use when creating visuals? What are you thinking about? Is it a certain amount of experimentation that goes into it? Or do you have a clear picture in your head before handling the materials you want to use? How much of it is personal?
Astrid: The footage I use in my shows is always my own material filmed by myself or by artists I collaborate with. I don’t use found footage. That doesn’t inspire me.
When I started VJ-ing I walked around with the camera in my hand, shooting pretty much everything and anything that attracted me visually. I collected tons of clips with an interesting motion or an appealing motive, like “power poles out of the train window”, sky-scrapers, tunnels, time lapsed clouds, dancing people, highways, neon signs, graffiti. It’s nice, but when you see other VJs working with exactly the same subjects you start to think. Composing video live in a club or concert is such a great opportunity to reach people, so why waste it by projecting the same pictures over and over again? VJs should seize this chance and add real creative input to an event. We should start to surprise our audience with visual differences and bring this art form to the next level. So my approach in producing clips changed a lot recently. Now I want to show visual stories rather than visual moments.
m8.us: What has been your best and on a creative level the most rewarding performance project you have worked on?
Astrid: My favorite project is “MONEY”, an opera by Gene Pritsker, an outstanding composer who integrates chamber music, hip hop and jazz in an absolutely unique and “ear-opening” way. We premiered the opera 2006 in New York City and performed it since then in Sicily, Austria and New York.
I had absolute freedom with the visual implementation of the scenes. The opera is a performance, with the musicians, the singers and me performing live on stage. The visuals play with analogies and symbols according to the lyrics. For one scene I decided to document everything I spend money on within a month by photographing the money transaction and what I bought.
Many companies pay millions of dollars to get this information about us. Having those commercial traces presented so frankly may feel intimidating for the audience. It demonstrates in a truly striking way how much you learn about a person when you trace their commercial behavior. And is that something we really want to share?
m8.us: How did you find out about modul8? What did you use before you started using it?
Astrid: I started to VJ with Arkaos and loved it. You hit a key and suddenly the video turns crazy, kaleidoskopy, flashy or distorted. I was amazed and excited by the great looking effects although I was never quite sure what exactly would happen. After a couple of gigs my excitement dropped realizing that I need more control over what I was doing. I did my research and found modul8. It was exactly the tool I was looking for, the way you control the layers complimented my idea of mixing. I needed a reliable and stable tool with a clearly arranged interface, MIDI integration and I very much liked the idea of its scalability by modules. So playing around with effects doesn’t exist in my sets any more. I focus on using images that are striking and imaginative.
m8.us: Do you prefer focused and rehearsed projects, VJ’ing or both?
Astrid: I need both. I love the club VJ-ing where you improvise and just go with the flow.
You can create so much atmosphere with the visuals, you enhance the intensity of the music and you can push the party. I love minimal techno and I love to dance behind my laptop and drift away with the music. Especially in Europe VJs became an integral part of the club scene, which is definitely a result of the VJs dedication and strong engagement rather than the club promoters’ effort. Also the audience appreciates good visuals and demands that more and more.
m8.us: Where do you see yourself moving forward with this medium?
Astrid: I am mainly interested in telling stories. Sometimes when you see a really good photograph it tells you so much more than what you actually see. I try to find equivalencies in compositing different video clips into one image. I want to trigger a story in the viewer’s eye without showing the story. What interests me most is sparking the audience’s imagination and fantasy.
m8.us: Is it important for you to be seen during the performance?
Astrid: I definitely prefer to perform on stage, especially with the interaction that’s possible when you work with a band. For example when I play with Jazz musicians they would give me a solo where I can go crazy with my video. It feels much more like being a part of the concert, so I always demand to be close to the musicians. To me visuals are more than a decorative background element. They are a creative, performative act and I want to see the VJs on stage.
m8.us: Are there other VJ’s who inspire you? If not then what artists or things do?
Astrid: I love the work of my partner Florian Launisch. He is my favorite visual artist and I am very excited about our collaboration. The warm, analog and rough look of his animations has a high recognition value and I honestly don’t know a better live performer than him. Last year at the Mapping Festival I saw the band EZ3KIEL, maybe one of the best music & video symbiosis I’ve seen so far. They fascinated me with their great visual ideas and a unique look.
But in general I don’t find my inspiration in the arts. I find it in real life. Random words I catch, images I see, people I meet. It’s always reality itself that shows me what to film and tell.