VJ Loops – Medium, Aesthetics & Emergence

While admittedly the topic of VJ loops themselves — the short video clips label-arrayed in databases for live projection and performance — is a fairly niche topic, I did not realize at the start of this investigation just how extremely niche it might be! To be clear, the focus of this article is on the VJ loop itself — not VJ/DJ culture in general, or the sociology of music clubs and festivals, or the design of interactive media systems. Those are vastly larger topics and would require much lengthier treatments. Here I am interested in the loop itself — its varieties, formats, aesthetics, and similar aspects that reasonably relate to the subtitle, Tools, Typologies and Techniques.

The VJ Loop in Media Discourse

The two tables below set up some contrast between the scant academic interest in VJ loops, and the online communities of practice that have sprung up around them. In the first table, I summarize the number of articles in the twenty most relevant academic databases where one might expect to find articles about them, which are returned under the search terms “VJ loops” or “VJ loop.” In the second table, I list the associated Facebook and Reddit groups and the number of their members in which VJ loop skill, knowledge and media are disseminated. In the first table, “(overlap)” designates articles returned that also appeared in another academic archive.

Table 1: VJ loops in the academic archive

The table sufficiently captures the generally low level of academic interest in VJ loops. Omitted from the table are off-topic articles, since ‘loops’ of Vj entities also sometimes appear in statistics, engineering and genetics articles. Also omitted is one short and minor news item from an industry publication, and one article where the website vjloops.com is simply listed in a table of 127 online video collections.

One might want to fault the search term here, but “VJing” in general is not what is of interest here. In the literature, the “VJ” also includes television presenters of music videos. Also, there is robust discussion of new interfaces and systems for live video presentation and performance, almost all of which are unique prototypes in the context of individual or lab research agendas which are not part of the main tool set used by VJ loop artists.

VJ loops, by contrast, are widely disseminated in online databases and are available for anyone to use, through either paid or free access. They are not prototypes for peer reviewed presentation in conference papers and posters, nor are they programmed into cable tv or streaming platform content flows. They are part of the texture and informatic architecture of audiovisual culture whether one wants to categorize and investigate that culture in its popular, vernacular, fringe or underground figurations. VJ loops are a moving image form that can sometimes be part of everyday life (for instance, if displayed on media facades in public spaces), and they find presentation in either center or periphery sociocultural contexts.

Much of course depends on what search terms are used to find the relevant past research. Salter (2010, cited in Correia, Castro and Tanaka 2017, 1) lists other headings which organize similar subject matter, such as “audiovisual performance, real-time video, live cinema, performance cinema, and VJ culture.” VJ loops are suitably distinct from these other headings because the practices involved in these much larger topic areas (as already alluded to) go well beyond VJ loops as a media type.

For example, video clips with which live performers establish different looping start and end points which are continuously adjustable are not VJ loops, but rather are simply video files being subject to loop processing methods. This might strike some as being a minor semantic difference (though I hope not!) but it’s rather material to this discussion. We can sketch out some preliminary characteristics of VJ loops here at the outset, in order to better explain why this larger literature is being bracketed out, at least for the moment.

VJ loops are characterized by the following kinds of features:

• They are often extremely short, even just a few seconds in length.

• They are silent.

• They are often organized in loop ‘packs’ consisting of sometimes dozens of related loops, or variations of the same loop theme.

• They can be purchased, traded, shared, downloaded and used by anyone.

• Metadata is critical for VJ loops, because they need to work well within software databases where they are organized along with many other VJ loops, and so need to have appropriate metadata tags for organizing and optimizing storage, composition, playback and processing.

• They are often preformatted for particular software applications widely used by VJ artists, with certain file extensions and codecs preferred.

  • They tend to be high resolution video formats such as 4K so that they render well when projected at large scale.
A vj loop pack (source)
Lime Art Group’s vj loops (source)

This initial sketch of VJ loop features highlights their differences from any other kinds of video files that might be used as part of a live VJ type performance. To be sure, the rich literature on live visuals can contribute to the production and discussion of VJ loops in general. Later in this series, I will come back to the general literature on live visuals and see what we might want to import into this context. This article, however, is intended primarily for those with a close connection to practice, and is not really a work of media studies, new media theory, art historiography or similar more analytical fields where an extensive consideration of all related artforms might be presented.

My goal is more to better understand current practices and forms, and less about developing my own novel taxonomy. Others have done this kind of work already, such as Ribas’s conceptual scheme (2011) of audiovisual entities, interactive sounding shapes, sounding figurations and audiovisual reactions to interactions. Schemes such as these often include the audiovisual unit as a whole, i.e. a sound-image composite, whereas I note above that VJ loops are typically silent, because they are intended to be used in any sonic context where VJ artists may want to use them.

A silent vj loop with intro.

With VJ loops, there is a kind of situational ‘double lack’ in place that calls for their production and dissemination. Lack #1 is that, as often noted, electronic music typically presents nothing much to look at, since a music performer moving a mouse at a laptop or pushing buttons on a MIDI controller is not that interesting to see. Lack #2 is that the visuals produced to make up for Lack #1 lack an audio component and are silent by design.

VJ loops are a new kind of silent cinema (which like the old silent cinema, isn’t silent in the totality of its experience) produced for musical performances that do not have the visual appeal of other kinds of live performed music. That being said, live music with ‘actually live’ performing instrumentalists and vocalists also employ complex visual systems and media designs. In these cases, the media production tends to be highly customized, made bespoke for that particular festival or artist tour, and would not typically make use of off-the-shelf stock VJ loop files that can be downloaded and used in any live event.

Thus in the main, I am happy with my short and direct research archive search term, “VJ loops.” I aim to use the discovered lack of academic articles as a spur to make a modest contribution to this (very!) short form of video content, which is typically much shorter in duration than even the shortest of short films.

In the next table, I have organized what I take to be the main and largest online communities and their membership numbers — here mostly Facebook groups and a few subreddits. Online communities in the table prefixed by a forward slash / are subreddits on the Reddit platform.

Table 2: Online communities for VJ loop makers

To be sure, many individuals will be members of multiple online communities, and so it’s not possible to estimate how many unique individuals participate in these groups (at least, not without severe data privacy violations!). Table 2’s purpose is mainly to illustrate a contrast with Table 1 (the lack of academic interest), and also to give a sense of the scale of these organized online interest groups.

A third general set of data points that help to contextualize the scale of VJ loop media in audiovisual culture relates to audience sizes. Just how many millions of people have seen VJ loops in live contexts over the years? Answering this difficult market sizing and demographic question is well outside my scope, but it is safe to conjecture that it would easily be in the tens of millions.

“[T]here is no collective research on the growth of the global music festival market” (Ask Wonder, 2017). From various online sources one can piece together a picture of audience sizes where VJ loops might be a part of the experience. In the US, pre-pandemic, 32 million people attended a music festival, while in the UK 22 million attended a live music performance. Dance club data is hard to parse, since statistics sources typically lump together ‘bars and nightclubs’ (Statista, 2020).

For our purposes here, it suffices to assume that tens of millions of people globally have seen VJ loops as part of their experience of audiovisual events, whether those events are part of a local show, dance club or internationally renowned music festival. Those large numbers of audience members are reflected in the tens of thousands of creative practitioners participating in social media involved in producing those experiences. As for the short video loops themselves which make up a good part of the VJ show (lasers, fog and lighting systems are not under consideration here), we can find approximately six academic articles that mention them, and almost the same number of student theses.

Those student theses, perhaps not surprisingly, offer the most extended commentary in which we might want to tease out the creative and cultural significance of VJ loops. Students tend to be young people, after all, and we can sometimes look to their research interests for signs of future waves of inquiry. Below, I will consider the ‘properly’ academic articles first, and then discuss how VJ loops have appeared in the thesis writing of some young scholars (younger than me at least!).

In an article on video projection practices in architectural contexts, Elashmawy (2020, 138) mentions “event content…prepared from video clips, animations or visual effects that can be downloaded from VJ Loops and then returned again to the projection mapping specialist.” Presumably the author is referring to the website vjloops.com, though the exact website is unspecified. The author uses the more general term “video clips” here and beyond this one mention of VJ loops, the article’s main focus is on the integration of large scale projected visuals working in tandem with architectural forms.

In a couple instances, “VJ loops” show up in a list surrounded by other media formats:

First generation performances might be realized as web pages, emails, text messages, flickr image sets, iPod playlists, PowerPoint presentations, VJ loops, del.icio,us bookmarks and RSS feeds. Second-generation editions may thereafter take forms as university seminars and lectures, parties, con- temporary rituals, backcountry camp- ing trips, political actions, increased environmental awareness, critiques and conversation. (Peppermint 2008, 345)

The script called for media on its own, prescribing that some scenes take place on video and certain fantastical sequences occur in certain parts, but Gharavi and I took things many steps further: VJ loops, music videos, television news anchors, weird talking baby dolls, YouTube video blogs by the main character (a la screen name LonelyGirl15), family portraits, and crime scene photos. Although in the process of doing this, we violated an important rule of media design I try to instill in students — “do not distract from the live performers” — that tension was critical to the concept, as it centered around the “thinness of reality” that some celebrities experience as their images are endlessly reproduced. (Pinholster 2007, 27)

In these article sections, it is clear that VJ loops are considered just one of many different forms of electronic media that can be utilized in novel assemblages, and almost disappear inside of long lists of highly disparate formats and materials.

VJ loops can also be used adjectivally instead of in their typical noun form, grammatically speaking:

Meanwhile, Strang worked in Cinema 4D and OTOY’s Octane Render to create clips with realistic camera dolly motion, volumetric lighting, and stunning photorealistic quality. We combined these custom elements with some time-coded music videos from Logic, as well as some sparse stock, and were able to fill out a VJ loops-style package for all 22 songs on the tour. (Aron 2018)

Here “Logic” refers to the music performer of that name, and not the popular digital audio workstation (that might be easy to confuse in this context). This citation relates also to what was said earlier — that visual media design for live performers typically makes use of elements composed specifically for that particular event or tour, and are not drawn from a database of pre-existing loops, as might be a common practice in projection mapping practices, as noted above. In this context, though, the idea of VJ loops is employed as a design metaphor for organizing media as part of a music tour where playback needs to be repeated many times, requiring prior lock to timecode for uniformity in presentation across multiple shows.

VJ loops can also stand in for a general cultural world that might become of interest to artists in other media. Consider these passages from an article on digital poetry (Strehovec 2004), for instance, which I have decided to reproduce at some length because they capture some of the list-like character that we saw above (VJ loops as an electronic format amongst formats, situated for novel heterogeneous assemblages), and also give a sense of the wider and general cultural import and appeal of this video artform.

The institutions in which such a textual practice exists are the rooms of club-, DJ-, and VJ- culture, mailing lists, newsletters, digital arts conferences and digital art exhibitions, rather than university classrooms and libraries.” (144)

“[D]igital poetry generated by programming and scripting languages and made possible by very special interfaces (computer screens, navigation devices such as the mouse and scroll-bar) is by no means merely about technical innovations, it enables us to face textual practices happening inside the text and in the context of the present artistic production, defined by globalisation, multiculturalism, the new economy, new forms of experiencing identity, the issues of gender, community and embodiment, new forms and new modes of representing the world and its objects, by a new audience, which is closer to the club (DJ and VJ) culture than to the elite culture, by the Internet, the aesthetics of special effects and of mosaic, and — this is of crucial importance — by present linguistic practices. (146)

On the basis of the development so far attained in digital poetry, it seems to belong more to the world of new media and new media-based art (especially software art), as well as to entertainment connected with this world (e.g. VJ textual performances) than to the world of literary, book-based culture. (147)

If we want to define a reference framework for the post-lyrical kinetic digital poetry on the level of contemporary popular culture and its audience then this is mainly the club, DJ and VJ culture, the online Internet culture and the verbal culture emerging from online and mobile based communications. Rather than reading Baudelaire, Whitman and Rilke’s lyrics, the authentic audience of kinetic digital poetry is familiar with net art, software art and electronic installation art as well as the genre of moving images. (158)

The cultural worlds, technologies and techniques, and indeed, just the general image of DJs and VJs, is a rich multisensory contemporary and computational reference for the transformation of other artistic practices with long histories and established traditions — in this case, poetry — where practitioners seek stable models elsewhere when their own artforms are undergoing radical transformations.

We have just completed our very thorough non-student literature review (!) of VJ loops in 20 academic archives. Now let’s see how VJ loops appear in the few student theses that were discovered.

While the mention of VJ loops is indeed very brief in a thesis on the Animation Nodes package for Blender (Tiss, 2017), it is still worth a brief citation and discussion. Animation Nodes (AN) is an add-on to the popular free open source 3D modelling and animation software Blender, from developer Jacques Lucke. AN is a node-based editor for doing animations in Blender, similar to the modular visual programming that one does in other well-known environments such as Blueprints in Unreal Engine, Quartz Composer or TouchDesigner.

From user [sic] perspective, it is almost impossible to compare which animation method is better or worse, faster or slower. It highly depends on personal knowledge and preference. For example, Midge Sinnaeve (www.themantissa.net), a Blender artist from Antwerp, Belgium, produces abstract procedural motion graphics and VJ loops mostly using modifiers and other features that are already implemented in official Blender releases. (17)

This brief passage conveys that VJ loop makers often utilize free and open source tools and their extensions. A similar insight was presented by Correia et al (2017) in the same article previously cited:

Audiovisual (AV) artists often create their own systems for performance, with a DIY approach, using software and programming environments such as Max/MSP, PureData, Processing and openFrameworks. (2)

Audio can be imported into Blender, since it can be used to produce animation videos complete with soundtracks, but it is generally not thought of as an ‘audiovisual’ application like the other software mentioned in the list above. VJ loops are generally a silent format, though sometimes the introductory video to a loop package will feature music for promo purposes, while the loops themselves are silent. The thesis passage notes that the main official Blender package already includes procedural motion graphics capabilities suitable for producing VJ loops and that extensions such as Animation Nodes are not necessarily needed.

The Phantoms of Projection (Karunaratne 2018) draws out extensive analysis and imaginative parallels between VJ practices and the magic lantern apparatus performances that were the predecessor media form to what eventually became slideshows in the 20th century. The use of VJ loop media in part defines a difference between ‘appropriators’ and ‘creators’ in the practice of VJing.

[M]oving image appropriation is at the core of VJing, where VJs often sample from pre- existing content. Within the VJ community, there are two kinds of VJs: one who samples and appropriates the content of other VJs who sell their content, and the VJ who sees their self as a visual artist as they create their visuals from scratch. The VJ’s modes of appropriation are ever growing. A VJ can download videos online, rip the films from a DVD, buy and download VJ loops and content created by other VJs, or pull from a live stream. (31–32)

Here again VJ loops appear in a list, though compared to the previous lists noted earlier, the media formats are far more narrowly defined as different categories of video clips.

Karunaratne connects VJing to Tom Gunning’s concept of the Cinema of Attractions (2000), in which the years between 1907 and 1913 saw “a cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator.” (232). This short period of filmic creativity was eventually supplanted by narrative as the dominant film form, but has remained an important historical touchpoint for countless scholars and artists seeking an alternative paradigm to mainstream filmmaking.

The final paragraph of the thesis is somewhat energetic and inspiring, and is reproduced in full below:

Gunning describes how after 1906 there was a turn towards narrative cinema, and emphasis on the plot and characters of the film. Whatever happened though, to an experience of viewing that was founded on the visual inducing an emotive response, rather than a search for meaning, the distraction of story? VJing with its techniques of sampling and looping, appropriating visual content and manipulating time, challenges a conventional narrative because of its improvisational and unpredictable nature. Each time, the performer has the opportunity to reinvent, to recreate, to reimagine, and not be bounded by a structure of repetition. In doing so, they contribute to the creation of an immersive experience. In the creation of a visual experience, there is a desire to open up the experience of the everyday for an audience member. Constantly surrounded by screens, audiences are desensitized to visuals. As a form that lies at the intersection of film and theater, VJing reawakens life into light. The showman has been reinvented, and the magic has returned. (38)

Here the VJ loop somewhat disappears as it becomes more essential that the performance is improvised, and thus different every time, with its goal to awaken emotions in an audience otherwise desensitized to imagery through novel screen-based projections in a live context. The discrete VJ loop, however, if it is anything, is a small chunk of rather finite time-based sameness! Its potential for change comes about through the combinatorics of live resequencing, montage juxtaposition and image processing.

In the somewhat exultant passage above, the VJ loop is backgrounded as a rather small or elementary grammatical unit to be taken up by more potent creative syntaxes of reinvention. Indeed the performance should “not be bounded by a structure of repetition” implied by the VJ loop, which is just a building block or starting point in the larger immersive scheme of things.

An undergraduate thesis (Pigg 2020, 48) also considers VJ loops in terms of their difference from narrative moving image.

Associational montage, where two images are placed in succession in order to build meaning association between the two, is also evidenced in VJ performances. In maintaining the notion that all aspects of the show should be read as text, associational montage is built between the meaning of the image and sound to build a novel rhetoric. In a simplistic consideration of associational montage, the triggering of distinct looped video is by nature associational, and through this a VJ can begin to build a nonhierarchical narrative if they so choose. While these theories are present in VJ compositions, they thus derive from an early cinematic interest in conveying narrative. However, the synesthetic performance does not necessitate a formal narrative at all. Instead, VJ collaborations with musicians create a visual interpretation of the music, which itself leads to a rhetorical message through intertextuality. The narrative cinema utilizes temporal montage to signal the passage of time, which is certainly crucial in articulating a plot. The VJ’s resistance to temporal montage indicates the shift from temporal montage to spatial montage in cinema. And spatial montage itself acts out the human experience of using computers, which replaces cinema’s interest in time with the cultural interest of simultaneity.

This dense passage is rich in its articulation of the video loop file’s potentiality to lend itself either to narrative or poetic associational logics (as the VJ sees fit), though with a tendency towards the latter. In eschewing narrative interpretation in the association of image against image, or the loop in a sequence of other loops, the elaboration of space takes precedence over the structuring of time. A synaesthesis of co-producing meaning in simultaneity with music’s effects replaces cinema’s traditional interest in plot and by inference, the causal chains which make up narrative events.

AVIEM: Library of Emotions (Büyükbaş 2011) is a Masters research-creation thesis exploring the development of a novel interface for connecting databases of moving images and sound. The project eschews the idea of any direct synchronization between sound and image media, and has a particular focus on exploring short-duration abstract elements that are designed with the aim of eliciting strong emotions in the listener-viewer.

The project AVIEM (Audio Visual Emotion), takes its route idea from VJing tools: experimenting on the audiovisual relation with an interface that enables the user to compare, arrange and create multisensory compositions. With the integration of a tag database, AVIEM forms an audiovisual library where the user can sort all single and multisensory components according to emotion tags added by users. All the visual elements are 3d generated abstract animations describing virtual environments along with digitally created soundscapes, which in the end form all together diverse and engaging emotionscapes. AVIEM puts emphasis on the creation process and strategic use of sound and image in order to catalyze strong emotional response on the viewer. (9)

Since music videos have limited time to develop emotional plots, they do emphasis on these sensory and physical elements of emotional scripts, to create brief, intense emotional signals (cues). These instant signals which give clues about the audiovisual message, establish undirected moods that are the basis of target emotions. Therefore, short duration audiovisual compositions such as music and promotion videos, VJ loops -and AVIEM library in this case- tend to use emotional cues redundantly in order to gain control over the viewer’s perception first of all pre-consciously, to have access all over the flexible emotion system of the viewer. (18)

Here, as we saw earlier, VJ tools and methods provide a concrete practical reference for experimental new media creators working in a nearby technological terrain. The VJ is figured as a manipulator of audiovisual databases, though usually in actual practice the DJ handles the audio part, and the VJ the video projection aspects — the ‘audiovisual’ experience comes about typically from a collaboration between specialized and dedicated audio and video performers with their associated expertise.

With AVIEM, video loops do not appear directly in the text, since there is not an explicit focus in the artefact design that the media files should be pre-designed or readymade for easy looping in a live context. Instead, the interest is towards exploring “audiovisual metaphors” (18) that come about through combining sounds and images from the two libraries that are accessed through its interface.

Özdem (2017) presents a comprehensive overview of the differing kind of “computer generated imagery” in VJ performances.

VJs need visual material…to use in live visual performance….These visual material forms could be short movies, video loops, computer generated imageries, pictures, live streams from input devices and more. There is no limit in the usage of visual material, if the VJ software or analog device support the file format. However, [certain] types of visuals are preferred to be used by VJs including video loops, real time computer generated imageries and conceptual videos.

The most frequently used visual material type for VJing can be accepted as VJ loops. Loops means that the video generally starts and ends with the same frame which gives an effect of eternity without any interruption. When the loop video ends and starts from the beginning, viewer[s] can not realize [repetition] by virtue of [the] logic of looping….VJ Loops could be more useful than other videos because these loops are more controllable in live performance. Videos like short movies or animations without looping could be used but it is really hard to synchronize and harmonize the musical performance. Looping can blur the transition between beginning and ending and VJ[s] can use looped videos without any timing limitation or sequence problems. Therefore, many…designer[s], animators, film makers and creatives who generate visual materials for VJ Performance, prefer to design their visuals in [a] looping structure. There is also a huge online market that people can buy or sell VJ Loops. (61–62)

While VJ loops are clearly one out of several main forms of visual media used (since VJs also often use live video feeds, generative/algorithmic video output, longer duration video files, video synthesis and even processed still images), they are understood as being the dominant visual media format for VJ artists, since they are more easily synchronized and sequenced to music as their short duration affords more possibilities for control in a performance environment.

Also, because they have the same (or highly similar) start and end frame, the loop points are not discernible to an audience, and so temporal effects can be produced whereby a short video clip can seem to be much longer. This favored status as the visual media format preferred by VJs in turn leads to the development of large online commercial databases where thousands of loops can be downloaded, typically for a fee though there is also active trading in loops and free loop collections.

Emergence of the Artform

Now that we have examined what the research archive has to say about VJ loops, either directly or indirectly, let’s now try to clarify their emergence as an artform. Note that none of the preceding articles reviewed gives a history of the emergence of video loops (!), so we will have to find a way to get a sense as to when they appeared on the audiovisual scene.

There are some clues in the preceding articles that are tantalizing but difficult to follow up on. In the Büyükbaş thesis (2011, 8), for instance, there is this section in the text:

A new form of underground art, VJing, appeared on the club scenes, focusing on live performance by projecting computer generated visual materials to reflect the interactive emotional nature of the venue (Michael Faulkner, 2006, p.9).

The book cited here, VJ: Audio-Visual Art and VJ Culture (D-Fuse 2006) is out of print, however, and with the current pandemic shutdown the interlibrary loan apparatus is not currently operational to this author. This thesis excerpt lists the book’s editor as “Michael Faulkner” and Amazon lists the same volume’s author as “D-Fuse” but we can infer these are the same person.

Another chapter in the same volume is cited in Özdem’s M.F.A. thesis (2017):

Before the term of Vjing, nightclubs and other music events also used visual materials as lights during musical performance. According to Crevits (2006), “the history of VJs had started in clubs in New York and San Francisco in [the] 1970’s to refer to a person using video, film projections and lights to accompany a DJ’s music sets. (47)

Situating VJ loop practices as having roots in pre-laptop 1970s nightclubs seems adequate enough for our purposes, since the other main locus of video loop activity in this timeframe would be art world video forms including installation, performance art and electronic synthesis which can be traced back to the 1960s. These are likely to be quite distant from the memories, knowledge and education of today’s VJ loop makers, who presumably are more interested in video loops as they have been produced in their more recent memory. This is probably the rule to which there would be some interesting exceptions. For instance, one undergraduate thesis author (Pigg 2020, 2), herself a practicing VJ, argues:

that the VJ hails from the slow molding of new media into performance and has developed among distinct periods of the twentieth century, which I have separated into the 1910s-1940s, 1960s-1980s, and 1990s-2000s. Each of these periods reflect shifts in the human relationship to technoculture, and more specifically, the artist’s relationship to media.

We will see in the next part of this article series, where survey and interview data is considered, how far back historically we need to go to get a sense of what particular histories matter to today’s VJ loop producers.

The creation of VJ loop online databases and VJ software applications offers other historical insights into VJ loops, since their creation would be a good index for gauging a market need for their existence. According to lookup.icann.org, both the domains vjloop.com and vjloops.com were registered on November 11th, 2002. One of the main VJ loop software applications is Resolume, and resolume.com was registered on May16th, 2000. A year before, vidvox.net (associated with the VJ software VDMX) was registered on May 4th, 1999. Earlier still, Arkaos’ (another VJ application) website arkaos.com was registered on August 1st, 1997.

Together, these point to the late 1990s and early 2000s as the time period when commercial interest seemed to galvanize the first major industry responses to the new media audiovisual practices associated with VJ loops into more mainstream configurations. Interestingly, Google Books Ngram Viewer shows a small decline in usage of VJ in texts from 2000 onward (note that in the figure below, the peak on the appearance of “VJ” in 1946 relates to V-J Day, or Victory Over Japan Day).

Google Ngram Viewer on the term “VJ.”

Interestingly, “VJ Loops” and “VJ Loop” return nothing at all in Ngram viewer, which seems to parallel in a strange way their absence in the academic archive!

Google Ngram Viewer on the terms “VJ Loop, VJ Loops.”

“Video Loops,” on the other hand, is currently towards its peak mention in texts.

Google Ngram Viewer on the term “video loops.”

Below, “video loops” is plotted against “VJ” for comparison:

“VJ” vs. “video loops” in Google Ngram viewer.

Google Trends show a decline in online interest in VJ loops about a decade ago followed by fairly steady state activity:

Google Trends on “VJ Loops.”

Finally, Jitter, the video extension object set for the popular Max/MSP visual programming environment, was added to Max’s MIDI and audio signal processing capabilities in 2003 (Max software, n.d.). Together, these data points indicate that around the turn of the millennium, audiovisual practices and developments in the computational power available to creators reached a point where the concept of the VJ loop gained a material foothold in both software applications for their storage and presentation, as well as online databases for their general and commercial dissemination.

Video loops are as old as video art, and loops were large spatial configurations of physical analog tape repeating in circular motions decades before they were digital files with virtual playheads jumping from end to start points in a timeline. This long history of the general video loop is out of scope here, and there is already ample coverage of video art’s “extendedness and repetition” (Ross 2006, 98) in the literature. There are some interesting parallels worth noting, however, between the worlds of video art and VJ media. Just as websites like Cinemetrics (Cinemetrics, n.d.) have noted a decrease in the Average Shot Length or ASL in films over time, similar patterns have been noticed with video in the art world. In an interview, performance artist Marina Abramovic notes (Ross 2006, 96):

These days the young generation of video or performance artists excessively uses the video media in loop form. It’s interesting to see how from the 90S until now that these loops have become shorter and shorter. From 7 minutes to 3 minutes, and now from one and a half minutes to 30 sec- onds. Time has become condensed more and more. What really is different is that the artists of the 1970S made long duration performances, but the artists of today by constructing video loops are producing the illusion of the long process performance without going through the experience themselves.

Today’s VJ artists are not necessarily aficionados of video art performances and installations going back to the 1960s! In the next part of this article, through the interviews and surveys, we will develop a better understanding of how art and design worlds have factored into contemporary VJ loop making and performing. Video loops today are often as short as another popular looping format, GIFs, and it is hard to see how they can get any shorter and still be usable in a VJ performance context since they are often just a few seconds long.


Altmark, Aron. 2018. “How I Did That: Designing Logic’s Everybody Tour.” Live Design online. Accessed Apr 28th, 2021. https://www.livedesignonline.com/concerts/how-i-did-designing-logic-s-everybody-tour

Ask Wonder. 27th, 2017. ‘Please do a market size analysis for the global music festival market. Interested also in growth rate, geographic distribution (festivals and attendees), how frequently people attend festivals per year, etc.” January, 2017. Accessed Apr 28th, 2021. https://askwonder.com/research/please-market-size-analysis-global-music-festival-market-interested-growth-rate-ence3i7fw

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