Audiovisual Live Performance

Live visual performance, both in clubs and in art venues, has become popular in recent years, particularly with the advent of laptops with substantial real-time graphics capabilities. Nightclubs increasingly employ VJs—visual performers who project ambient visual imagery—to complement the auditory environment created by the DJ. Art venues and festivals have begun in recent years to program live cinema performances—audiovisual performances with seated audiences who experience the performance much as an audience would experience a concert. Contemporary performance contexts—particularly VJ performances in clubs—often situate visual projections in a subservient role as an accompaniment to music. The familiarity of other popular media, such as music videos and software music visualizers, has further solidified the notion in many people’s minds of real-time visuals as either a synesthetic device or an accompaniment to music—and of synchronization between audio and visuals as a central focus of this type of work. Yet a look at historical predecessors of today’s visual performance reveals a variety of approaches to the relationship between sound and visuals. The idea of integrated audiovisual performance goes back centuries; to write a truly comprehensive history, one would need to include opera, dance, theater, performance art, orchestral scores with visual components, and even amusement parks. If we narrow our focus to screen-based antecedents, a complete history would still need to consider films, television, and music videos; there will necessarily be many things left out. This text therefore focuses on major historical performance practices that can be considered direct predecessors to contemporary VJing and live cinema.