Design, Music

Designing in real time and not a minute later

Projector rainbowI VJed at my first party last night! I’ve been playing at home for friends for a few months until last night  when I took the first step out into the wild and exercised my digits.

VJing is a broad designation for realtime visual performance. VJing is the manipulation or selection of visuals, the same way DJing is a selection and manipulation of audio. This results in a live multimedia performance that can include music, actors and dancers.  The subject of VJ-DJ collaboration also started to become a subject of interest for those studying in the field of academic human-computer interaction (HCI).

I’ve been working in Modul8 to control the live, real-time look, feel, actions, motion and mixing of projected images. My friend Sarah composes her visuals in Resolume. Curious to commit to a weapon of choice, she and I booked a design jam to trade vj notes. She then invited me to get my feet wet and tag with her for the SF Haçeteria party at Deco Lounge. Having only used Resolume twice, worked with a midi controller once, being newborn fresh to Sarah’s compositions and having never VJed with video clips, there was a high probability I would produce visuals that look like they were Winamp visualizers circa 1998. Mostly excited, slightly hesitant, I said yes.

So here’s the thing. If you want to do something, you just have to do it. That’s what the people who get things done, say. It’s a Twilio mantra and is heartfelt advice from Ira Glass‘ talk on good taste.

Glass says, quite simply:

  1. You love doing this kind of creative work, so you do it.
  2. Because you have good taste, you can see what you’re producing. But, especially in the beginning, is not very good. In fact, it’s pretty crappy.
  3. There is only one way to get better. Do work. Do a huge volume of work.
I’m thankful I was reminded of this again by Public Works’ resident VJ, Howard Wong. He advised,

I think you should lock down a gig playing out. You’re going to run into a bunch of hardware/production issues. The best way to learn is to simply dive right in.

When Sarah very graciously invited me to join her I had no choice but to say yes, even with all the Winamp fears in hand. The night went great, the vibe was killer and the DJs spun everything from Acid House to 90s Technotronic tracks. Sarah set the stage and invited me to jump in soon after and start mixing some clips. She carried the set through the main singing act. After I hopped back in and then really got into a groove. Then we tagged back and forth before Sarah closed down the night. Party-goers were taking photos in the lights and grooving until close well beyond last-call.  I recorded 6 seconds of my compositions for you:

Though I missed beat drops and confused a few layers from one another, I did it–and that was the big win. I did eventually get my bearings enough to find my rhythm and make compositions that felt like my work. I composed somethings I liked and got to say something to the world. We made that tiny little spot in the Tenderloin a better space for people to meditate and move their bodies to music.

A handful of our friends came out to see Sarah play and discovered me behind the proverbial curtain. Keep good people in your life, good things will happen. I heard words ringing in my head that I had been sprouting off to my peers launching creative endeavors. I’ve been saying, “We, we your friends, we want you to be successful. Our reflex behavior will be to support you, encourage you to grow and pursue happiness. Go do the thing that you cannot not do. We’re cheering you on. “What is more joyful than seeing people you care about find fruits and joy from their labor? And those friends did just that.

I’m humbled by the invitation to design for motion, color, sound, lights and the immediate, immersive experience for people. It’s more than I could ask for and is really really fun.

Follow for my clips and book me for your party.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at