Diagraf's Reverse Filmmaking

A peek at his process and a preview of his VJ set with Voices from the Lake and Max Cooper

Patrick Trudeau - May 20, 2014
Diagraf's Reverse Filmmaking

Patrick Trudeau creates mesmerizing visual shows as Diagraf. He's performed extensively in Montréal, including several editions of MUTEK here and in Mexico City - and all over the world. In this post he provides a peek at his process and a preview of what to expect when he accompanies Voices from the Lake and Max Cooper at Métropolis on Friday, May 30.


Since its inception, MUTEK has been at the avant-garde of the interaction between music and technology. Fortunately for visual artists such as myself (at a similar intersection between visual imagery and technology), a recognition of our contributions came quite early, and the festival has been a fertile territory for audio-visual experimentation in general and VJing in particular.

While immediate perception is multi-sensory, memory is an inherently visual phenomenon. We speak of the mind's eye, for example, and when we recall an event the mental images associated with it play back on the mind's movie screen. Think of the best concert you have attended and the images will come flooding back, perhaps in a very concrete form. For this reason I believe that it is of great importance for an event to have a strong visual dimension.

In this regard, along with the lights and the scenography an increasingly large role is played by the VJ. In a technologically assisted process, we are the reverse filmmakers: live-editing and crafting the movie to the soundtrack itself.

Director Sidney Pollack, speaking about filmmaking, said of the editing process that it feels like sculpting. I would argue that it is even more so with VJing. With the music as our muse and guide we find the visual elements that fit, we chip away some layers, add others, and shape it further in a constantly shifting and evolving dance of interpretation and form.

This of course requires quite a bit of preparation. My own process, particularly at a festival such as MUTEK, starts with gaining a familiarity with the musicians and their work. Their sounds inspire the creation of new visual content and its addition to my existing bank of images. (I try to use a strong percentage of new material for important events, although I've also discovered that I am quite incapable of using the same footage the same exact way twice.) I attempt to always come up with something new and a little different, using new (at least for me) tools and techniques, new software and plugins. I assemble it in loose scenes in my software, while making sure it is easy to make changes on the fly. For myself, at least, it is most important not to be locked into anything, but instead have a strong base which also leaves as much room as possible for improvisation.

Many questions come up before and during the performance itself. Is this luminous screen a flat surface to be painted, or a window precipitating the illusion of depth and the projection of great distance? Am I reaching towards beauty or the sublime, towards the light or towards the darkness? Does the music call for representative imagery or abstraction? Which colour palate is appropriate for the mood and setting? Always, in these things, the music is the guide.

For the Voices From The Lake performance, for example, I have a very subdued set planned. Understated and meditative, I envision it as monochromatic and cinematic, with strong organic features in a constant counterpoint to the more digital elements. The same night I am performing with Max Cooper, and in that set I will most likely use more abstraction, more geometry and more colour. Of course in a situation like this I can only guess at what the artists are going to do so any of that might change in the moment of performance.

The underlying challenge is not to do too much. The visuals must always support the music, drawing attention to certain aspects of it, never distracting attention away from it.

Most important is the voyage. I try to inject into my VJ sets a narrative thread which, along with the music, takes the audience on a journey with a clear introduction, climax, and resolution. I approach it as I did my filmmaking and my music: with the introduction of elements and scenes slowly building towards the whole, and with the introduction of tension and its eventual release. Finally, the goal is to create the strongest possible impression of synaesthesia, and through that process craft truly memorable experiences.


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