Since the arrival of MTV, musicians have fully embraced the fusion of beats and images. Modern artists don't even conceive of the single without a video already attached. At first, the club scene followed suit — 15 years ago, promoters splashed trippy acid graphics onto hanging screens and laser-light shows were as mind-bending as the music itself. But somewhere between the move from warehouses to clubs, the art of projection stagnated. And, today, it's quite normal for DJs to have no clue what images are projected over their music.
This year, however, all of that may change. Pioneer introduced a brand-new deck called the DVJ-X1, which is capable of spinning DVDs with the same ease that the CDJ-1000 spins CDs. The DVJ-X1 marries video and audio elements to a single track — that is, visual content is matched to the audio, beat for beat. When the audio track gets cued, looped or scratched, so does the video.
Dutch DJ, producer and remixer Sander Kleinenberg was one of just five people in the world to beta-test the DVJ-X1. He first revealed it at WMC 2004 in Miami and, since then, has road-tested it while touring in support of his newest mix CD, This Is Everybody Too (Thrive, 2004), which features two original artist tracks: “The Right Time” and “The Fruit.” After returning from Tokyo to meet with the DVJ-X1's designers and offer feedback on the new deck, Kleinenberg has much to say about how the new unit fits in with today's evolving DJs.
Kleinenberg's fascination with visuals goes back to when he was a child in Holland. He loved TV, even though he only had access to two or three channels. “On a clear day, maybe I could pick up a German station,” he says. “But, now, we have an entire generation that grew up on 50, 60 channels, and they're completely in tune with the visual world as well as the audio world.” And with the rise of affordable desktop technology, anyone can produce a homemade video and upload it to a Website, further extending the power of personally chosen images.
And that's why Kleinenberg loves his new DVJ-X1. For him, it takes the club scene out of “the Stone Age” and puts it on par with the rest of the world. Kleinenberg is constantly creating new content that he tries out on his fans. At his most recent Los Angeles show at Spundae, three projection screens broadcast a range of visuals, including animated words that correlated to vocals on a track, cartoon imagery, grainy film effects, punctuated outdoor time-lapse sequences and abstract montages. And every time Kleinenberg looped or cued the audio, the visuals themselves looped and cued perfectly in sync with the track.
The DVJ-X1 is fairly simple to use, as well. “If you've worked with the CDJ-1000, you know how to use the DVJ-X1,” he says. “It's no different to me than spinning a CD. Essentially, it's a CDJ-1000 with a video out. It has pitch control cue points, reverb and everything.” Enterprising DJs can even include up-to-the-minute visuals to correspond to an evening's performance. Before playing a set in Tokyo, Kleinenberg took his camera outside; faced the Tokyo skyline; and filmed five minutes of daylight and, from the same angle, five minutes of nighttime. He synched up the footage to a track and played it out that night. The crowd went nuts.
EARN YOUR KEEP
With so many new possibilities for self-expression at his fingertips, Kleinenberg clearly has no patience for clubs that are still stuck in the strobe-and-laser days. “I don't know how many times I've shouted, ‘Turn the fucking lights off!’” he says with a laugh. “You're probably tripping at the moment, and you think it's great, but there are 500 people here with a headache because you've had the strobe on for 20 minutes.”
At the moment, Kleinenberg syncs about 25 percent of his set with customized DVD content — including not only entertaining content but also hyperpolitical messages. During “Music Revolution,” an especially powerful sequence of revolutionary images flashes in time to the music: old footage of Nazis marching, horrific massacres and war scenes, Gorbachev speaking to an assembly, a soldier waving goodbye to his family. In between image segments, animated sequences spell out “Revolution” and “nine-0-nine Revolution” across the screen. The effect on the crowd was palpable, showing that Kleinenberg is not resting on his laurels.
“We have to show our fans why we're worthy of where we are and earn the thousands of dollars per set that we do,” he says. Kleinenberg also feels that a lot of DJs “play the same records and commission $20,000 for the same set they've played for the last 12 months. It's just a joke.”
THE VJ INGREDIENTS
The practical question is, can DJs really afford to add visuals to their mix? Must every track become a short film? At first glance, the hardware isn't that prohibitive. Kleinenberg creates his visuals on an Apple Mac G4 system running Apple's Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro. The biggest investment is time.
“I'm lucky,” Kleinenberg admits. “Because I make money DJing, I can invest in hiring someone to create my DVDs.” But he still wants creative control of the content, and that can weigh heavily. “I play a track three months in a row, and then it's probably old,” he says. “To make a video for each track I play is impossible, even if I had someone working 20 hours a day just doing video editing.”
Because the audio and video are synched to the same track with the DVJ-X1, if Kleinenberg decides to mix a CD or vinyl into his DVD content, the audio mixes just fine, but the video either stalls or skips. To mix the video, he has to work two different mixing boards simultaneously. “I just can't work all of that — the screens, the music — at the same time,” Kleinenberg says. To compensate, he works closely with the VJ on site. When he's mixing in a CD or vinyl into his DVD, Kleinenberg signals back to the VJ to come up with his or her own images. Fortunately, Pioneer is already working on a solution: a combined audio-video mixer in which both visuals and audio tracks can be tweaked on the same unit.
“It would be great to have simple video clips that you could let loose on your visuals and maybe even a video memory chip included on the deck where you could upload screen savers, animations or titles created at home,” Kleinenberg says. In his meeting with the DVJ-X1's designers, he also suggested a video in for an external live feed and a delay sync adjustment knob. With the current DVJ-X1, if the video is run through a bunch of gear on its way out to the projectors, it's usually delayed by a beat. A knob would allow the DJ to bring the sample forward or backward, in sync with the mix.
MUSIC IN EFFECT
Before the video comes into play, it all starts with the music. And for Kleinenberg, that means investing heavily into top-of-the-line gear — both analog and digital. On the track “The Right Time,” for example, he processed the guitars with a Universal Audio UAD-1 Studio Pak DSP card for compression. “It has this really amazing guitar effect called Nigel,” he says. “And there's this amazing soft EQ effect called Cambridge. It drains my CPU, but in terms of soft EQ, it's the best I've ever come across.
“[I always include] analog compression at some point, even if it's only at the end of my mix,” he continues. “And I'm a big fan of the tubes. If you consider investing in anything, it should be here. I'm very lucky because I have the privilege of owning an SSL [XLogic] end compressor as well as the Rupert Neve channel strip and the Rupert Neve dual compressor [by Amek] — both amazing.”
Among the other studio items that Kleinenberg loves is the new Tube-Tech SMC 2B multiband compressor. “[It's] a phenomenal piece of machinery,” he says, shaking his head. “I've never heard anything like it. It's just a different world. You can highlight elements in your spectrum that you would never have heard before.”
Although outboard compressors and EQs can add freshness to instruments and vocals, Kleinenberg loves the 8-track TL Audio M-3 Tubetracker mixer for tracking vocals. “You know that great-sounding vocal where it sounds like the singer is right there in the room with you?” he asks with a grin. “You still can't do that with software.”
WARNINGS AND PROPHECIES
When it comes to synths, Kleinenberg owns a bunch: the Korg KLC1 Legacy Collection of soft synths, a Roland Juno-106 (“William Orbit's favorite,” he says) and JV-1080, a Waldorf Q and Pulse, an Access Virus (used for the bass line on “The Fruit”) and a Yamaha AN1x, which contributed to most of the sounds from the “My Lexicon” 12-inch.
Hard-disk recording comes down to Kleinenberg's souped-up Mac G5 and his G4 laptop. But as the DJ discovered, no matter how much you spend on computers and software, money alone will not guarantee smooth sailing in the studio. “The problem with digital recording is that you have to be really good at what you do,” Kleinenberg warns. “You can't blend things together the way you would on an analog desk and get away with it. If you're not aware of where to place each sound, they'll distress each other out. And that's why it's important to work with a good, solid engineer.”
One area that Kleinenberg suggests investing in is your computer's video card. “If you're tired of your computer being slow, it's probably because your video is draining too much of your CPU,” he says. “Buy as high end of a video card as you can afford. It's absolutely worth it.”
With the Pioneer DVJ-X1 onboard, Kleinenberg's CPU will be crunching hard for months to come. His images — which he works out on his computers, along with the music — are now a permanent part of his performances. In fact, Kleinenberg sees the future of singles in DVD format. “Why repeat the past?” he asks. “Everybody Too is my last CD mix. My next mix will be a DVD.” And as the future unfolds with the likes of the DVJ-X1, video continues to kill the radio star.
Computer, DAW, recording hardware:
Apple Logic Pro 7 DAW, Mac G5/dual 2GHz computer w/23-inch Cinema Display, Mac G4/1GHz 12-inch PowerBook
Digidesign Pro Tools 6 LE DAW
MOTU 2408mk3 audio interface
Universal Audio UAD-1 Studio Pak DSP card
Consoles, mixers, interfaces:
Digidesign Mbox interface
Mackie d8b 8-bus mixer
TL Audio M-3 Tubetracker 852 mic/line mixer
Samplers, drum machines, turntables, DJ mixers:
Allen & Heath Xone:V6 rotary club mixer (modified with tubes on all channels and an EQ strip)
Pioneer CDJ-1000 DJ CD players, DVJ-X1 DVD turntables
Technics SL-1210MK2 turntables
Synths, modules, software, plug-ins, instruments:
Access Virus synth
Korg KLC1 Legacy Collection soft synths
Roland Juno-106 synth, JV-1080 rackmount synth
Waldorf Pulse rackmount synth, Q synth
Yamaha AN1x synth
Mics, mic preamps, EQs, compressors, effects:
Amek Pure Path Channel in a Box EQ/compressor/preamp, Pure Path Dual
Focusrite Green 3 Voicebox EQ/compressor/preamp
Lexicon M480L Digital Effects System, PCM90 digital reverb, MPX1 multi-effects processor
Solid State Logic XLogic G-Series Stereo Compressor
Tube-Tech SMC 2B multiband compressor