A few months back, I interviewed DJ Kentaro for this column, and he thought the future of turntablism lies in video. While that remains to be seen, significant headway has been made in the world of DVJ-ing, DVDJ-ing or VDJ-ing, whichever hard-to-pronounce acronym floats your boat. Just as the name is unclear, so is the direction this technology is headed. Will video be a hardware or software revolution? Will Numark DVDJs dominate the scene as they go down in price, or will heavyweight Serato win another title in a different weight class?
NOT SO HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
The Pioneer DVJ-X1 burst on the scene in 2003 with a bang, and kids around the world began snatching them up like candy bars. Well, maybe not quite — at an entry-level price tag of around $3,500, Pioneer's forward-thinking VJ/DJ tool was out of most people's reach. It looked cool and was really fun to scratch with, but it suffered from one important problem: If your standard-issue DJ mixer blends the audio outputs, then how do you mix two video signals together so they match the audio? Anyone…anyone…Bueller? To date, there are precious few answers on the market. That's a shame because the DVJ-X1 and Pioneer's newer DVJ-1000 behave just like the company's industry-standard CDJ-1000s, with excellent scratching capability that nearly rivals a turntable.
To try to fill the video-mixing need, Numark showcased the new AVM-02 mixer at NAMM 2007. It offers the ability to digitally control video fading with a standard crossfader housed in a full-size, 4-channel mixer. Numark is one of the surprisingly few companies rushing to fill the potential demand for visual DJ equipment, offering several players, mixers and two hardware/software combinations, including the VJ-oriented NuVJ built on the respected Arkaos VJ software platform and bundled with a DJ-style mixer interface. Although it may not be ideal for serious club mixing, the affordable NuVJ package can accomplish basic music video juggling. Numark also offers the Virtual Vinyl system, boasting software video playback and — when combined with its new Total Control DJ MIDI controller — scratching and mixing of two video files. While all of those developments are a big step up, many artists are waiting for one big release before they place their bets. (Note: Remix knows Pioneer has an A/V mixer in the works that just may be the next big release, but at press time there were scant details available.)
SERATO VIDEO SCRATCH
One of the most anticipated developments in digital video DJ land was the announcement that Serato will release the Serato Video Scratch plug-in ($199) for its popular Scratch Live 1.8 DJ software. While writing this, I got the chance to check out an early Alpha version of the software, and it looked very promising. The reason that everyone is so hyped on the release, and what will set Serato Video Scratch apart from other video software, is the full integration of the popular Rane TTM-57SL mixer. (The first version of the plug-in will work only with that mixer.) Many of the controls on that world-class audio mixer (including the crossfader) will also directly control the video blend, bringing to fruition the full possibility of video scratching, mixing and juggling. How well your Sony Vaio laptop performs while you attempt to juggle a pair of 200 MB video files, however, remains to be seen.
ON THE ROAD WITH A PRO
DVJ technology has enabled artists such as Mike Relm to turn their live sets into a visual tale with video as the storyboard. Once a top-level turntablist and ITF champion, Mike Relm has shifted his talents into the new realm of video DJing, leading to a position as the Blue Man Group's opening act. Ironically, he compares video to the early days of turntablism. “Ten years ago when we were doing turntablist shows, that was new, and it took people a while to understand what we were doing,” Relm says. “There are all these intricacies you have to figure out in the first few minutes or you're going to spend the entire hour trying to figure out what's going on.” That situation was understandable with turntablism, given that you had to be a few feet away from the artist to really get a visual idea of what he was doing. Video DJ-ing, however, should be obvious, right? Not the case, Relm says. “It took people a while to figure out what I was doing onstage,” he says. “Ninety percent of the audience had no idea you could scratch video. I think that took away from the show because I would not get a reaction until halfway through it.” Slowly, Relm and a few other pioneers increasingly find success and great crowd reactions as they continue to incorporate more and more video into their sets.
As equipment prices come into reach and technology catches up with imaginations, more people may hop on the video bandwagon. The problem now seems to be content. Although most of the country boasts extensive digital audio collections thanks to P2P networks, hardly anyone has any decent video files lying around. In the end, it may not be video at all that opens the visual doors to DJs everywhere. Some people think we're heading into a '90s rave revival, so I wouldn't be surprised if you start to see some computer-generated visuals making a comeback in clubs. The good news is that they won't be cheesy, never-ending fractals, but incredibly beautiful 3-D art that breathes and dances in response to the DJ's every action. Check back in a few months, when I will show how you can fully realize some exciting new possibilities for the video DJ.