Live Visuals : History, Theory, Practice book cover
1st Edition

Live Visuals
History, Theory, Practice

ISBN 9781032252681
Published July 29, 2022 by Routledge
472 Pages 128 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This volume surveys the key histories, theories and practice of artists, musicians, filmmakers, designers, architects and technologists that have worked and continue to work with visual material in real time.

Covering a wide historical period from Pythagoras’s mathematics of music and colour in ancient Greece, to Castel’s ocular harpsichord in the 18th century, to the visual music of the mid-20th century, to the liquid light shows of the 1960s and finally to the virtual reality and projection mapping of the present moment, Live Visuals is both an overarching history of real-time visuals and audio-visual art and a crucial source for understanding the various theories about audio-visual synchronization. With the inclusion of an overview of various forms of contemporary practice in Live Visuals culture – from VJing to immersive environments, architecture to design – Live Visuals also presents the key ideas of practitioners who work with the visual in a live context.

This book will appeal to a wide range of scholars, students, artists, designers and enthusiasts. It will particularly interest VJs, DJs, electronic musicians, filmmakers, interaction designers and technologists.

Table of Contents

List of contributors


Introduction - The Long History of Moving Images Becoming Alive

Steve Gibson


Chapter 1 - Inventing Instruments: Colour-Tone Correspondence to Colour-Music Performance (pre-1900)

Maura McDonnell

Chapter 2 - Moving Towards the Performed Image (Colour Organs, Synesthesia and Visual Music): Early Modernism (1900-1955)

Steve Gibson

Chapter 3 - Liquid Visuals: Late Modernism and Analogue Live Visuals (1950-1985)

Steve Gibson

Chapter 4 - Scratch Video and Rave: The Rise of the Live Visuals Performer (1985-2000)

Léon McCarthy and Steve Gibson

Chapter 5 - The Post-conceptual Digital Era (2000-present)

Paul Goodfellow and Steve Gibson



Chapter 6 - Cross-Modal Theories of Sound and Image

Joseph Hyde

Chapter 7 - Live Visuals in Theory and Art

Paul Goodfellow

Chapter 8 - Live Visuals: Technology and Aesthetics

Léon McCarthy

Chapter 9 - AVUIs: Audio-Visual User Interfaces - Working with Users to Create Performance Technologies

Nuno N. Correia and Atau Tanaka

Chapter 10 - A Parametric Model for Audio-Visual Instrument Design, Composition and Performance

Adriana Sá and Atau Tanaka

Chapter 11 - Presence and Live Visuals Performance

Donna Leishman



Chapter 12 - VJing, Live Audio-Visuals and Live Cinema

Steve Gibson and Stefan Arisona

Chapter 13 - Immersive Environments and Live Visuals

Steve Gibson

Chapter 14 - Architectural Projections: Changing the Perception of Architecture with Light

Simon Schubiger, Stefan Arisona, Lukas Treyer, and Gerhard Schmitt

Chapter 15 - Design and Live Visuals

Donna Leishman



Chapter 16 - Interview 1 - Tony Hill, Expanded Cinema pioneer 

Chapter 17 - Interview 2 - Christopher Thomas Allen, Founder & Director, The Light Surgeons                                                          

Chapter 18 - Interview 3 - Greg Hermanovic, CEO, Derivative

Chapter 19 - Interview 4 - Markus Heckmann, Technical Director, Derivative; Programmer for Carsten Nicolai and others.

Chapter 20 - Interview 5 - Peter Mettler, Digital and Live Cinema Artist




List of contributors

Christopher Thomas Allen is the founder and director of The Light Surgeons, London. The Light Surgeons are renowned for their experimental films, installations, and live cinema performances. They work across the disciplines of audio-visual production on projects that blur the boundaries between research, film, music, art, and live performance.

Nuno N. Correia is Associate Professor in Digital Transformation at Tallinn University, Estonia. Nuno’s work has been presented in such venues as ACM Multimedia – Interactive Arts, FILE, Optronica / British Film Institute, PixelAche / Kiasma and SXSW.

Paul Goodfellow is an artist with an interest in the application of systems and processes in art. He has presented his work at venues such as ISEA Istanbul, Transart Film Festival and Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei. He is Senior Lecturer in Arts at Northumbria University.

Markus Heckmann is a Technical Director with Derivative, the makers of TouchDesigner, Toronto, Canada. Apart from producing show visuals and installations, he heavily enjoys providing visual stimulus to the techno crowd under his moniker Wüstenarchitekten.

Greg Hermanovic is co-founder of Derivative and Side Effects Software. Greg has received two Scientific and Engineering Academy Awards for the advancement of procedural visual effects tools in the film industry. TouchDesigner has been used in projects for Walt Disney, Google, MIT Media Lab, Michael Snow, and Rush.

Tony Hill is a pioneer of Expanded Cinema and has presented his work at many Art Galleries and in Film Festivals worldwide. He has been working as an artist filmmaker since 1973, usually taking on all aspects of production including developing and building his own equipment. 

Joseph Hyde is Professor in Creative Music Technology at Bath Spa University, UK. He has Directed the Seeing Sound Symposium since 2009. His sound and audiovisual works have been performed worldwide. He often works with collaborators - scientists, engineers, artists and dancers/choreographers.

Léon McCarthy is a software developer, multimedia designer and audio-visual performer in Dublin, Ireland. He is currently Lead Developer at FenestraPro, was formerly Lecturer in Digital Video at University of Limerick and co-founded the Irish video production company MercuryBoy.

Maura McDonnell is a Multimedia Artist and Assistant Professor in Music and Media Technologies at Trinity College, Dublin. Her academic research focuses on the field of visual music. Her arts practice explores the visual art space of abstract video using musical expression, and has been presented worldwide.

Peter Mettler is a Swiss-Canadian film director, cinematographer and live visualist. He is best known for his distinctive approach to documentary, as shown in such films as The End of Time. He has also worked extensively as a live visualist collaborating with artists such as Fred Frith, Jim O’Rourke, and Biosphere.

Adriana Sá is transdisciplinary artist, performer musician/composer. Designing and building the instrumentation is part of her creative process. Her research bridges creative practice and perception science. She currently lectures at Lusófona University Lisbon, Portugal.

Gerhard Schmitt is Professor Emeritus of Information Architecture at ETH Zurich, former Senior Vice-President of ETH Zurich, and former Director of the Singapore-​ETH Centre for Global Environmental Sustainability (SEC).

Simon Schubiger works as a senior principal software engineer on 3D technology at Esri, Zurich. He is a co-developer of the procedural 3D modelling software CityEngine, Soundium2 multi-media platform and the NOVA software. He is also a member of the VJ collective Scheinwerfer.

Lukas Treyer holds a Master’s degree in Architecture from ETH Zurich,Switzerland. His main interests are in improving the usability of tools in urban planning and architectural design.

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Steve Gibson is an interactive media artist and audio-visual performer. He has presented at many world-leading venues, including Ars Electronica, Banff Centre for the Arts, the European Media Arts Festival and Cabaret Voltaire. He is an Associate Professor in Innovative Digital Media at Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK.

Stefan Arisona is a computer scientist and artist with interests in computer graphics, extended reality, urban planning and digital art. He is a member of the Scheinwerfer VJ collective and leads XR software development at the Esri R&D Center Zurich, Switzerland.

Donna Leishman is a media artist, designer and researcher. Recent works include an AR project To Have & To Hold and Front, a modern cautionary tale about social media. She is an Associate Professor in Communication Design at Northumbria University.

Atau Tanaka conducts research in music human–computer interaction (HCI), focusing on embodied musical interaction. By using muscle sensing in performance, the human body becomes a musical instrument. He carries out his work at Goldsmiths, the Bristol Interaction Group and the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Paris Nord.


Live Visuals is a timely and compelling account of the relationship between sound and image. It charts a historical course that is long overdue. The book brings together an impressive array of voices that in combination mix historical context, theoretical analysis, and reflections on contemporary practice, to great effect. It is an invaluable resource for audio-visual students and scholars and makes a very significant contribution to intellectual debate in this field.” Professor Stephen Kennedy, Professor of Critical Theory and Practice, Greenwich University

Live Visuals presents a timely historical and conceptual overview of the art and design of live media. Featuring the work of the early pioneers to some of today’s leading designers of spatial media, Live Visuals offers a framework for creative practitioners and students of the art of immersive visual experiences.” Damien Smith, Creative Partner, ISO,