Live Video Research

Narrative and theatrical potentials of live processed video in music theatrical performances

From 2015-2017, Falk Hübner will carry out an extensive artistic research project on the use of live video in music theatre. This project is part of the work of the Research Centre Performative Processes (RECPEP) at HKU University of the Arts Utrecht.

This research investigates the use of live video in music theatre, and aims to develop a distinct position from the perspective of experimental music theatre. Within the extensive possibilities of combining video and music, the focus of this project is to achieve extra-musical or theatrical potential, and to create narrative-associative layers by means of live visual processing of musical actions.

It aims to develop an approach to using live video in music theatrical settings with a specific perspective on the relation between input and output of the video: Instrumental actions are filmed by cameras partly attached to the instrument in order to be able to obtain extreme close-ups. This input becomes extensively processed in dedicated software (programmed in MaxMSP/Jitter and/or Isadora). The processed video will then act as an additional layer different from what can already be visually experienced in the live music on stage. Filmed parts of the instruments or preparations attached to the instruments can become theatrical objects in the live visuals (such as braces on strings could become abstract figures or human-like characters). Various techniques of video processing can be applied and researched, such as temporal displacements, tempo changes, visual effects (such as blurring, distortion, colour filters) or multiple image layerings. Different narratives than the live musical actions become possible, in which the processed movements in the video can “tell a story” of their own, different from what the live actions communicate.

Scene of the staged composition Living Room (2011). Part of the video was a little attempt to try out the idea of [this project], using braces on the harp, projected as horizontal “space”, as members of a “population”, inspired by photographs of Jeff Wall in which people are waiting for their bus to work.


Artistic creation is seen as the central part and most essential activity of the project, in which the software programming is regarded as an integral artistic and aesthetic element. This artistic practice is both method and outcome of the project. Next to creating artistic work, existing elaborations of live video in musical performance will be studied and analyzed, such as the challenging work of German composer Michael Beil. Next to this kind of work, related artistic areas such as object theatre (e.g. Dutch company Hotel Modern) and intermedial theatre (e.g. work by Belgian director Guy Cassiers), both with extensive use of live video, will be examined. As these examples all come from either contemporary composed music or theatre, the project I frame here adds the perspective of music theatre, which is not yet developed in comparable specificity and diversity. Additionally, theoretical implications (intermediality in performance, performativity of musicians and musical instruments) are considered, both through study of literature and own writing (articles and websites). Thus, the final outputs of the project will be both artistic and in written form.

Artistic outcomes

In its final realization the project will lead to a full-length music theatre version of Malcolm Lowry’s famous novel Under the Volcano. In this piece, which will be created for an actor, 4-5 musicians and live video, the visuals will be used as a virtual stage design, projecting and interpreting the inner world of the main character, the ex-consul and alcoholic Jeoffrey Firmin. Using the live instrumental actions of the musicians and their instruments as input, the video can for example project an image that could remind one of Firmin’s garden in which he is desperately looking for a hidden bottle of Mescal, a hallucinatory and surreal surrounding of images that could be either trees or deformed bottles upside down.

Two additional smaller works will be created that put the conceptual idea into concrete artistic work:

  1. The first “preparatory” work will be a performance installation for prepared double bass, live electronics and live video, which I will perform myself, to be created in the first half of 2015. The double bass (strings) will be prepared with a variety of objects, provoking alternative sounds of the bowed and plucked strings on the one hand, and providing input for the live visuals. Together with the spoken text, likely a short excerpt from Under the Volcano, this work will experiment with the theatrical meaning-making potential of the visual approach.
  2. As a second work I plan to create a composition for a small instrumental ensemble (2-4 musicians), live electronics and live video. This performance will build upon the results of the previous work: in terms of programming, versatility of the software, range of possible ways of attaching cameras on instruments or directing at instruments and instrumental actions (hand/finger-movements, key-movements on wind instruments, etc.), and possibilities of performative elements as visual material to be processed.

The experiences of these two experiments will inform the production of Under the Volcano, a full length music theatre for actor, 4-5 musicians and live video (multiple screens providing the complete stage design) (2015/16). Within the production the technical achievements and the software developed within the previous works will be used and applied to the new work, and adapted where possible. However, the idea is that the main technical possibilities and features will already be developed, especially in the second work. It could also be possible that the second work is created for the same instrumental ensemble than Under the Volcano will use.

LivingRoom Videostill
Still of the video part of the previously mentioned performance “Living Room”.