VJ Interview – Mercury Boy

The Mercury Boy VJs are Cal-TV, 3-Pin and Yeager (John Callaghan, Leon McCarthy and Tim Duggan). Their speciality is large scale audio-visual spectacles such as when they used the office blocks in George’s Dock IFSC as huge projection screens for the Dublin Fringe Festival launch in 2007.

They started off as a media art collaborative in 2005, but now now also produce music videos, commercials and video podcasts such as The Bubble.

They weren’t free to do an interview together for What The Fuck Is VJing?! back in October, but John and Leon very kindly offered to respond to my questions via video podcast instead. Here’s the transcript:

WHAT IS VJING?

JOHN: It’s when you listen to music and you close your eyes and you start imagining scenes or visions. That’s what a VJ is doing with music.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN VJING?

LEON: Individually, as 3-Pin, I’ve been VJing since 2004, and collectively with Mercury Boy, we’ve been together, running events and performing as visual artists, since mid-2005.

HOW DID YOU START VJING?

JOHN: How did I start VJing? The first thing that kind of peaked my interest was Coldcut’s Timber video. I started going to a couple of festivals that (had) a lot of VJ emphasis, like the Big Chill, stuff like that, and I saw Hexstatic. I thought “Well, I have to give this a go,” and I was interested in the more audio-visual side of it rather than just the VJing side of it. I thought that the way guys like Coldcut and Hexstatic were doing things was just clever. And it was working on a dance floor, but it actually had a meaning to it, rather than the more wallpaper-y visual stuff.

DO YOU THINK VJING IS AN ART FORM? WHY?

LEON: Do I think VJing is an art form? VJing can be an art form, yet it can also be a form of entertainment. If a VJ plays generic video in a nightclub, as a form of wallpaper for a DJ, well then it’s entertainment. Yet if the VJ produces audio-visual media to stimulate thought in the viewer, then it’s an art form and what else is art but that which challenges you to engage?

WHAT MAKES VJING DIFFERENT TO OTHER ART FORMS?

JOHN: What makes VJing different from other art forms… I think the way it’s constantly evolving and also the way it takes elements from so many other disciplines like computer programing for generative visuals and illustration and graphic design and CGI and 3D and all these different things.

WHAT WOULD YOU SEE AS OBSTACLES TO VJING BEING CONSIDERED A VALID ART FORM? OR A PARTICULAR VJ SET FROM BEING TRULY ARTISTIC?

LEON: What obstacles are there to VJing becoming a valid art form… I suppose primarily those challenged by it, those afraid of engaging with the technology, with the subject and the content matter. Of course those who VJ badly also give the genre a bad name, but I think in general it’s an art form that’s valid in it’s own time and space, culturally and currently.

WHAT DO YOU AIM FOR IN YOUR VJ SETS?

JOHN: Something emotive the audience responds to, something original. I don’t think it ever… A VJ set isn’t working if the crowd isn’t looking at it and talking to their friends and pointing at it. Otherwise it’s kind of pointless I think. So I always try and grab people’s attention and get a bit of engagement with the audience. Also, synchronicity and having things happening in tune with the music is important.

DESCRIBE WHAT YOUR VJ SETS ARE LIKE.

LEON: Describe what our VJ sets are like… Our VJ sets would vary greatly depending on the venue and the event and what equipment we’d decide to bring along. We’ve moved from the straight up nightclub set-ups where we would run possibly two laptops, some MIDI controllers, lots of external hard drives, vision mixer and then a live camera on stage, and that allows us, along with a DVD player, to layer backing footage over either live footage of the performers or live motion graphics over other content that we’d key in under the top layers of footage.
Stylewise… I think we always tend to come at an event with a direction in mind and an orientation as to what tempo and what density the content’s gonna be at different stages of the evening. And then behind that, I suppose we try and back it up with certain messages that are important to us, at that point in time.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE VJ SCENE IN IRELAND?

JOHN: What do I think of the VJ scene in Ireland? It’s much bigger than it used to be. I think over the last two or three years it’s exploded, but I think it’s still if you want to make a career of it, it’s not really a viable thing to do. Mainly because, if you want to create good content and original stuff, which takes so long, and you can’t afford to, y’know, spend your whole time creating content when you’re getting paid like €200 to do eight hours work a week. It just isn’t economical.

THE ISSUE OF VJS MAKING THEIR OWN CONTENT VERSUS SAMPLING OR DOWNLOADING CLIPS… HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS?

LEON: You’re asking me the issues regarding whether VJs should sample or should download or should produce their own material. I think the viewer is discerning. So should the artist be. And as with DJs, people have now become uninspired by the same old DJ set and when that happens with visuals, I mean only the fittest will survive. But in the end, it’s VJs who create their own content that do so for their own satisfaction and the VJs who solely rip samples and play it safe do so for their buzz, and in the end I think we all get what we want out of it.

Mercury Boy: http://www.mercuryboyinc.com

The Bubble: http://www.thebubble.ie

Cal-TV: http://www.cal-tv.net

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