"Vampling" does not mean "baby vampire."
It's a portmanteau for "video audio sampling."
James Schneider is a vampler, a breed of artist that can encompass names like Negativland, TV Sheriff or The Light Surgeons. But Schneider may be the first to vample the way he vamples. "It's fluid performance on the fly," he says, and though he's been on the lookout for others of his kind, he hasn't seen them yet. "I'm not familiar with other people doing it. I have been looking around."
Under the name Matterlink, Schneider performs cinema, improvising in front of an audience using bits of video and sound running through a MIDI keyboard. He assigns a video clip to each key. A sampler and editing software on a laptop allow Schneider to layer clips, cycle clips, speed them up or slow them down. "I feel kind of like I did when I was in high school and in my 20s when I was playing guitar or singing in a band," he says.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Schneider has lived and worked in France for eight years. He and fellow frenchwoman El Mapi, who performs electronic pop music made of found sounds, are touring through 24 of the United States.
Matterlink, as the project exists today, developed slowly over 10 years, though Schneider's only been a solo act for about a year and a half. Before Matterlink, he performed with a group called Ai. Schneider collaged video while other members created music using samples and instruments. Audio from the videos occasionally snuck in and became part of the music.
The effect of what Schneider's up to these days is often musical, with rhythms and loops emerging sonically from clips—and the odd moment when Schneider uses his keyboard as a keyboard. He's got thousands of clips from movies and some he recorded himself. The layers of video are usually either focused on a theme or on creating a narrative. It all depends on the night and the feedback he gets from the audience. "Unlike a film screening where it's always the same film, this can be adapted in speed and time and intensity and volume—everything changes."
If the audience is enthusiastic about a certain segment, he can dig into that moment a little more. "It goes back to the idea of the showman, to the period in the ’50s," he says. "People would travel with their films and it would become an event, not where you go and get shuttled into the cinema and then shuttled out."