Lee, Ceri and I are just back from our second Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse where we were once again running audiovisual workshops under the Bleephaus banner (the design of which I had a hand in formalising recently).
Much fun was had in our corner of bloops, bleeps, whooshes and flashing lights and it was wonderful to see so many young, and not so young, people diving into the world of electronic sound and vision.
Apart from the new livery, matching t-shirts and a bigger LED screen, this year we made an important change to the format (for which I had an exemption): no screens! By which I mean no apps on iPads, no Ableton, just synths and other hardware (and carrots).
Obviously that was a bit fiddly for me on the video side, especially while working in broad daylight – so no projectors – but I tried as much as the software would allow to make the experience about interacting directly with tactile equipment.
What I’ve done in the past for workshops is have the interface that I usually use when performing on screen – you can see the output in the preview window. It’s not ideal but I thought that, while it’s not possible for someone to get the full projected experience of what I do, they can see the interaction between the control surface and the clips that are being played and what the controller is affecting.
The small problem with this is that the controller is basically mirrored on screen and the output is quite small as there isn’t much space for it – useful for me when I need to know what to cue up, playing live and all the subsidiary information on what’s going on, but confusing in a workshop for young people. The big problem is that as soon as someone sees the mouse on the table they stop using the controller – it’s got a lot of knobs, faders and buttons, I expect it can be a bit intimidating – and head for what they know.
Makes a lot of sense in one way but I think it’s very flat as an experience and you can only do one thing at a time, while the APC40 will let you work eight channels of video simultaneously, which is a lot more fun.
So the second day of the workshops I set GrandVJ to output full screen, hiding everything but the end result and set the screen to black when each person started playing. Then I just told them as little as possible to get started and let them experiment:
“This is a video mixer, these eight faders each control a video clip and the higher you push each one the more you can see of that clip on screen. And this knob puts an effect over everything all at once.”
More than enough information to start off with and the master effect adds a lot of exciting crazy without being complicated. That way they had to use the controller for everything and try and work out for themselves, with their hands, how to make what they could see on screen. From there I could bring in ‘These three knobs change the colours’, ‘this one zooms in’, ‘this does tiling’ and ‘all these other buttons have different videos to play if you want to make a change.’
The end result was I had much more engagement, for longer, from most of the kids, more questions and a lot more ‘This is cool…’ and ‘Oh, Wow!‘s which I, and it sounded like they, enjoyed immensely.
I guess the obvious secret is to, as much as possible, make the experience be about playing the video and not the software. I’m already working on making that better for the next time, and speaking of which…
We’ll be back on the road soon, bringing the audiovisual circus to a tent at the Cornbury Festival in July. If you’re coming along, do pop in to see us, say ‘Hello’ and have a play.
And as an end note, but an important one, it was wonderful to see how many girls wanted to be (and were) involved over the weekend. We’re very aware that the perception of what we do is that it’s ‘a thing for boys’ and we’re absolutely against that, it’s ridiculous, and we hope we can do our part to stop this being a thing.
Perhaps it was a function of everyone being so young but the experience of Wychwood was far more ‘that looks exciting I want a go,’ I expect because everyone was too young to have been told enough times what they’re supposed to like, I hope that it’s because everyone isn’t getting told that any more (but I expect not). In either case, I hope that we might have pointed some people in the direction of what they want to do rather than what they’re supposed to want to do by people who think they know best.