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TALKING MUSIC & VISUALS WITH VJ BRENDAN HARWOOD

Photography by Melissa Cowan

Where did your love for visuals and digital media come from?
It was around 2007/2008 when I started to really dedicate time diving through design and photography blogs like FFFFOUND, TodayAndTomorrow, Booooooom and ButDoesItFloat. This was before the time of tumblr (or at least as we know it today) and Instagram, where these aforementioned image-based blogs were really pushing this idea of curated digital content in an online environment. It was a huge change for me and my approach to digital media. I started to really take in hundreds of images a day that covered all forms of creative media. If I were to pin my consideration for visuals as a creative platform I would say it had a lot to do with a test video that surfaced of Nosaj Thing in 2009 working with Adam Guzman and Julia Tsao. And also watching the stunning Japanese new-media artist Daito Manabe perform his live setup in Melbourne in 2010.

How did you break into the industry?
When I was halfway through my Masters in Animation at RMIT I changed my focus from digital character animation towards doing visuals for a live show. I shaped my graduate project into what was effectively a gig — I hired a venue, built a structure to project on, brought in a sound system and booked DJs and another new-media artist, Kit Webster, to play as well. In hindsight, I didn’t feel any pressure to achieve anything more than just making it through the night and having my work assessed as an academic piece. Through doing so I made a few friendships with the people I worked with on that night which led to increasing amounts of creative work. I had no idea that what I was doing would lead me to where I am today but I knew it was a much more authentic pursuit than trying to make it as a character animator.

How progressive is Melbourne in the support and presentation of contemporary digital media?
From my experiences so far it has been incredibly helpful and nurturing. There are opportunities all around this city to engage with the creation and display of work from the smallest scale presentations right up to – in the case of projection art – big pieces that span huge amounts of distance across entire facades of buildings. Contemporary digital media is being pushed by collectives like Media Lab Melbourne who host an amazing showcase of new-media artists in their monthly lecture series, or festivals like Gertrude Street Projection Festival, White Night or Pause fest which make these new forms of media so accessible to the general public.

Tell us about your educational background in digital media.
I moved to Melbourne in 2008 to start my BA (Animation and Interactive Media) at RMIT with a background in photography and sculpture. Most of my undergraduate was spent adjusting to digital media and new technologies. It wasn’t really until I started my Masters that I felt as though I had eclipsed the inhibiting nerves when it came to approaching a new piece of technology or software. A lot of what happened from there was mainly self taught. Spending a lot of time online, trawling through forums, watching demo videos, taking a real trial-and-error approach to what was in front of me, looking at what other people were doing with their creative practices and trying to decipher it in a way that would help me grow with my practice.

How do you approach visuals for music events?
I won’t go too far down the path of “every event is different…” because they aren’t. In the lead up to each event I will spend a lot of time familiarising myself with the performer(s) as much as possible: listening to releases, remixes and entire sets of theirs from the past. From there it becomes a matter of creating visual content that I believe will suit the vibe of the music, trying to ‘see sounds’ and work with digital colour and form to develop visuals that compliment the musicality in some way. I will have between two and five different video channels running. As individual pieces most of what I have in my bank of visual assets is pretty limp as a stand-alone piece but when combined with other visuals make for a rich and structured image. This makes it easy for me to swap out particular compositional elements in a way that seems fluid while also remaining relevant to the music being performed. So it really comes down to how the performer is taking their set and what I believe would best work with their music.

What software/hardwares do you use to create? Why do they work for you?
I rely a lot on a number of different pieces of software within Adobe Creative Suit. There is a real advantage to all of these programs being able to talk to each other with such ease, mainly Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and After Effects. When you spend enough time with a musical instrument you learn to work with it in a way that seems second nature — I feel this too with software. When you spend enough time learning a piece of software with all of its capabilities and shorthands you begin to subconsciously structure your approach to the creation of new work in a way that is most efficient. Soon it becomes a matter of using Maya to make ‘this’ and Photoshop to create ‘that’ and bringing ‘this’ and ‘that’ together in After Effects to make ‘it’ then running it through a few more processes and suddenly you have ‘IT’. It’s all a matter of knowing what you want and how best to achieve it.

What’s your advice to emerging visual artists?
Be polite and be humble. Be on time. Tardiness, arrogance and rudeness will earn you nothing and get you nowhere.

brendan.harwood@gmail.com
www.brendanharwood.com
@brendan.harwood

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