Visual Whirlwind

Whether heís creating dance club videos, studying yoga in India or filming the Burning Man Festival, thereís a lot more to video artist Doug Jablin than meets the eye

by Lee Abraham

The House of Blues is packed. Music thumps loudly and the folks jammed in front of the stage love it. Leaping around and literally running from one side of the stage to the other, the singer works the crowd into a frenzy. Seems like a hundred multicolored lights are all flashing at the same time. Throughout the room and up in the balconies, bodies sway to the rock and roll thunder. Near the bar, shot glasses are hoisted in revelry.

Meanwhile, couples dance and singles cruise... everywhere you look thereís a party goin on. Huge screens on both sides of the stage follow the band in action, alternating close-ups of the singerís facial contortions with images of a hyperactive guitar player dancing atop his amp. Both sequences are woven together with a never ending array of psychedelic patterns pulsing in sync with the music. Thereís a Times-Square-on-New-Yearís-eve, multimedia sensory overload happening here. Sure, it all starts with the music. But thereís nothing like the fast moving visual stimuli to makes things extra crazy.

"You donít have enough time to be creative because you have to operate the mixer and three cameras," says video artist Doug Jablin. "You have to keep an eye onstage and hit the action, then you have to figure out where the next angle is, itís very hectic." Take Jablinís word for it. The guy is a virtual whirlwind of creative imagery. "I tend to do lots of different stuff all the time," he says with an easy smile.

In addition to producing and mixing video for concerts at the House of Blues, Jablin has created images for most of the dance clubs around town. Babyís, Motown Alive, Ra, Utopia and Studio 54, have all used his work. "Video mixing for nightclubs though is a whole different approach," says Jablin. "Thatís producing visuals. I create all the premixed stuff, the sequences and then someone else has fun with the mixers."

Although Jablin currently deals in visuals, he started altering his audiencesí consciousness many years ago with sound. "Itís all sort of a continuum," says Jablin, who began as a KUNV DJ back in í85. "At first I did a show called ĎExotic Excursions,í" he recalls. "That became ĎDifficult Listening,í which became ĎVirtual Radio,í which became ĎRadio Lucent.í" The common theme in all the different shows - creativity. From obscure, less approachable soundscapes to thought provoking, eclectically themed "sound magazines," Jablinís shows always offered something different.

Although he had a stint as the stationís program director "for a few months," Jablin was KUNVís "Specialty Music Director" for several years. "It was a position I created," he says with a chuckle. After more than ten years behind the DJ mic, Jablin hung up the headphones in í96.

"Doing it for that long was just really, really difficult," says Jablin, now in his mid to late thirties. "Radioís tough because you donít have any feedback. You can do these great shows and nobody calls you, thereís a feeling of loss because you donít have an interactive audience. But if you do something at a cafe, and you fill the place up, and thereís a line outside of people that want to check out what youíre doing, thereís a real sense of satisfaction."

Jablin found his way into the cafes while working as a music writer for a local magazine. "I was writing for Scope and the Las Vegas Weekly for a few years and I connected with all these musicians," recalls Jablin. "Then I started doing multimedia shows in cafes, and then I switched to the bars. I did a lot of stuff at the old Fremont Street Reggae and Blues Club. Video was part of the larger picture, it was just another media to play with."

At first, Jablin stuck to the music and had a partner handle the video. "I was doing a show at Calamity Janeís with somebody who did video named Christian Fisher. I was doing the audio and he was doing video. Then he moved out of town, which left me without video, so I borrowed a camera from somebody for about six months, and I documented all my shows with it. Then I went to India and when I got back I bought my first camera." India?

"Iíve always had a fascination with Eastern Philosophy," says the curly haired native of Brooklyn, New York, who moved to Las Vegas with his family as a small child. As a kid, Jablinís dad worked for TWA and he experienced international travel at an early age. Jablinís first trip to India was in Ď93. He was there for ten days as part of a two month excursion overseas.

"I didnít do any research," he says with a laugh. "I just knew I had to go. I got the plane ticket and then I started to figure out what I was going to do." In spite of, or maybe -because- of his casual approach, Jablinís first trip to India made a huge impression. "It was what I was looking for," he says. "I met a swami, had a mystical experience, and traveled around a little bit."

Since then, heís been back twice. Both times for three months. Whether at home or abroad, Jablin was also studying yoga. After several years of successfully balancing his interests, Jablin found himself at a crossroads. In October of í96 he gave the last of his big multimedia presentations at Utopia. "I stopped doing big multimedia shows, which was really tough because I was doing a lot of them," says Jablin. "But it was too much and inside I knew I had to stop this. I wasnít getting the fulfillment that needed. Although the shows were still very successful, I was done and ready to move on... I had to make a decision on which way I wanted to go. Did I want to pursue video in a stronger way or did I want to pursue yoga in a stronger way. I knew I couldnít do both."

He chose yoga. In addition to continuing his studies, Jablin also began to teach the ancient art of spiritual and physical well being. At the peak of his instructional activities, he was teaching yoga three to five times a week. Thatís not to say Jablin completely gave up videos. He didnít. "I never stopped doing videos," says Jablin. "I just wasnít doing it full time."

A couple of the projects Jablin continued to work on - a series of videos from his travels to India, and another on the annual celebration of art and all-things-bohemiam, known as the Burning Man festival.

Then came last yearís New Yearís party at Treasure Island. After producing the videos for that blowout, Jablin once again caught the shutter bug. "I started getting back into working for the nightclubs," he recalls. "Then I decided to do it for a living." And he hasnít looked back. These days Jablinís so busy doing video for the House of Blues that yoga instruction is down to one night a week. In addition to a non stop flow of freelance production work, he currently supplies two dance clubs in town with fresh video images every week. Oh yeah, the Burning Man and India video series continue to be his two pet projects.

Jablinís fascination with Burning Man makes sense. The colorful community of performance artists, painters, sculptors, conceptualists, gawkers and self proclaimed freaks participating in the week-long Ďfest are made to order for a video madman such as Jablin. So are the stunning images of the huge burning "Man" itself.

The fact that all the art and other works produced are dismantled or destroyed at the end of the event also gives the festival a certain artistic legitimacy... a celebration of creativity heightened by the inevitability of its own destruction. Equally important - Jablin thrives on experiencing change.

"The first year I went to Burning Man was in í94 when there were only 2,000 people. That was the last of the small years. Itís a very unique event, thereís nothing else like it. Every year itís a little different." ###