MoRpH: The changing shape of video

Morph – (môrf)
v. morphed, morph·ing, morphs

To transform (an image) by computer.

And boy, has Morph transformed! I’ve known Grant Muir to say hi to for years, but I walked right past him into the dingy confines of the Botany View hotel. Maybe it was the prospect of a cold beer that distracted me, but Morph’s new look is startling. Red hair now black, gone with the goatee, off with the kilos, off with the red Sweet Chilli shirt and on with the skater-boi gear – this is more than a makeover, it’s a transformation. But after all, image is everything to a VJ, and Morph wants us to understand how important it is.

So what is a VJ? Well, we’ve all seen visual arts at a dance party, from simple lighting effects through random slide shows to fully sound-synchronised multimedia productions – and Morph slots in at the top end of this scale. Using live cameras, dumb lights, smart animation, powerful computers and various interfaces, he weaves these elements into a visual feast to complement what the DJ is doing on the decks, with the aim of enhancing the experience for the clubber. D’ja get those trippy visuals, man? That was Morph. Mainly, anyway.

TG: So what is it all about?

Morph: Vjing is an art form all on its own, creating something that is there one minute and gone forever the next – its very transient, but you can leave a lasting impression on the minds of the punters. You want the punters to walk away at the end of the night with a strong image in their mind, even if just a few flashes, of what the stage and screen looked like. This is what its all about for me.

You are controlling so many sources and trying to keep so many people happy – trying to add to the vibe of the party, keeping the DJ happy with how his image is being portrayed, keeping the promoter happy with what he is seeing, and appealing to the punters of course.

At trance gigs, the dancers tend to pay most attention to the screen during the breakdowns, and you have to catch them at these “magic moments”. Breaks and techno is a lot harder to figure out when the peak moment for visuals is. You have to know the music, and really understand it – I’ve been around turntables since I was 8 years old, and I really feel the music. I come to visuals from a dance floor perspective, not an artistic perspective.

TG: How do you match visuals to sound?

Morph: You need to know the DJs music, then talk to the promoter about the image they are wanting to portray, what they think will go with the music. Then I’ll go and download some recent live sets from that DJ so you have an idea of what tunes they might play. For example, Adam Freeland’s recent gig, he played a lot of the same tracks that he did on his Radio One gig, so I prepped a lot of visuals specifically for that music. I used a lot of iconography that he mentions in his tracks, TV, game shows, credit cards, corporate life – and really worked that in the show.

I love working live on stage with the DJ – a real chemistry and energy between VJ & DJ and it can work very well.

TG: So do you think the punters enjoy it? Do you think they have a better night out because of the VJ?

Morph: Absolutely! If you are at a trance night say, and the visuals are just some swirly, audio-reactive stuff, a little ball that pulses with the bass-drum, fine, but that doesn’t have anything like the impact, of say, someone on a track says something, and then that action is portrayed in video on the screen! It’s all about taking the mood that the DJ is trying to portray, and then you as a VJ being a conduit between the DJ and the crowd. If you just have a rotating logo and some stills, there is no interaction with the crowd. A lot of people put video fairly low down in the food chain, but I think its very important – the goal for the promoter, the DJ and me is to send the punters home thinking that the music was wonderful, the sound was great, the visuals were fantastic, the lighting was good – the whole package. And video comes second only to the audio – it is the only other thing that can communicate a message to the dance floor. Lasers are fun, lights are good – but video and audio communicate, and when they gel, people realise what they are looking at – a show!

TG: So you aren’t just programming something then letting it run?

Morph: I use a video Fairlight which lets me do video effect in real time – the control panel allows me to fully interact with the video live. For example, if I move a slider, it zooms the video, or pans, or affects the colour. I also do a lot of that with software.

TG: Why if DJs are so popular, aren’t there more VJs?

Morph: Interesting question. If you’ve seen the Underworld or Kraftwerk shows, you’ll have to agree they were beautiful. Anyone who has seen the Underworld DVD or shows will attest to Tomato’s brilliance – and these artists have seen the potential in combining the media to create an audio-visual show. But very few DJs have the time or resources to do that, and very few people realise how much the visuals have contributed to the success of the show.

TG: So how will VJs become more popular?

Morph: Everything in the market is driven by the punters. If we can catch the imagination of the punters, so that they are going onto the DJ’s websites, and saying how much they loved the video, we’ll be more in demand. There are some great promoters out there, Kink, Fuzzy, these are the promoters that understand how important video is – but we need to get the message to more of them. And this will come from the punters feeding back to them how much they liked my show, or Spook’s, or whoever.

TG: Can you make a living out of this? Are you making a living out of this?

Morph: Yes, this is pretty much what I do, apart from a little bit of contract a/v work. But given the current level of commitment to VJs from current promoters and punters, there is definitely a very limited scope for new people to make a living from this.

TG: What is the most exciting thing about the scene at the moment for you?

Morph: The internet – everyone has access to the internet now, and there is a huge level of communication internationally between VJs – it’s very exciting. You have guys all around the world working on different projects, different styles and genres of music, film, whatever, and all sharing ideas and building off each other.

TG: And the future for you – any projects?

Morph: I’d be interested in getting into producing music videos – it’s a branch of the video tree, and while some live artists scorn it, I’m keen to give it a go.

So – keep an eye out for the visuals at the next party you are at. Find out who the VJ is, and cast a critical eye over his or her performance. If you like it, don’t just tell them, send an email to the promoter. If anything was clear from Morph’s talk with me, it is that the future of Vjing is in our hands – so get the word out, we want our VJs live and performing onstage with the DJ!

You can catch MoRpH this weekend with LabRock @ Bohem, at Naughty By Nature on the 20th at Space, and NYE at Mobile Home and Kink. He is also a resident at Fuzzy Breaks and Kink special events.