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Opti-Phonic VJs Remix Culture

By Michael A. Mohammed, Crimson Staff Writer

You’ve probably seen music visualizations before—those pretty and colorful displays that pulse in time with the music in your favorite MP3 program. Controlled by sophisticated algorithms, they can be fascinating, and even (under the right conditions) utterly hypnotizing.

You might, then, assume that VJs do pretty much the same thing. VJs are a recent phenomenon, a disparate group of alternative artists who edit visual images on the fly.

However, as DJ Spooky’s show at Sanders Theatre last month demonstrated, VJs aren’t limited to psychedelic wankery, but can create unique politically charged artistic statements. In Sanders, Spooky juxtaposed a live remix of the Ku Klux Klan epic “Birth of a Nation” with his own orchestrated hip-hop beats.

The organizer of Spooky’s show, Tina H. Rivers ’05, continues to bring innovative visual artists to Harvard with tonight’s “Opti-Phonic,” a showcase of three unique VJ acts.

Rivers herself discovered Sosolimited, an “audiovisual artist crew” putting on one of the three shows, at Central Square’s Enormous Room. The trio (one of their four members is on hiatus) put on a remix of a live evening news broadcast, flipping back and forth between CNN and Fox News.

According to Rivers, the trio “didn’t know what was going to be on the news,” but the results were still fascinating because “they’re just that good.”

The group gained an underground following for their live remix of the presidential debates, which took the visual, audio, and closed-captioned text straight from the TV signal. While one of the crew acted as DJ, creating and mixing beats on the fly, the other two manipulated the text and image.

“They programmed the software to seek out words in the closed captioning such as ‘Iraq,’ and they had a counter tallying how often those words appeared,” Rivers says. “The idea, generally, is to deconstruct the media.”

Jen Rosselli, a second performer at tonight’s show, showcases her own visual artwork in her performances. As “DJ Phi,” Rosselli creates many short animated clips which she then splices and remixes.

In one of her techniques, Rosselli paints an abstract oil-on-canvas, and then uses a video camera to “[animate] an extreme close-up running over the surface of the painting. She turns it into a video and it looks like the surface of her painting is dancing,” Rivers said.

Tonight, to add an extra level of challenge, Rosselli will match her video stream beat-by-beat with electronic improvisations.

The third performer of the evening, Shawn Faherty, uses sophisticated software and high-end graphics hardware to create abstract 3D shapes, which he then manipulates to prerecorded music. Tonight he will be performing to songs by Mogwai and Nine Inch Nails.

Faherty, who works the Boston Globe’s presses at night “to pay the bills,” says that his performances have an important pre-planned aspect: “Just as an animator will work from a storyboard, I’ve actually written up storyboards for this Nine Inch Nails track.”

Rivers, who will be soon be starting a Ph.D. in visual studies at UC-Irvine, has high hopes for VJing as a popular art form.

“I want to show people that there are multiple ways to go about working in basically the same kind of aesthetic,” she says.

The show is free and open (no tickets or RSVP required). Science Center D, tonight, 8 p.m.

—Staff writer Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mohammed@fas.harvard.edu.

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