Some of the best musicians of our time offer elaborate visual accompaniments to their work. Tool, Radiohead, Deadmau5, Bjork and Madonna are just a few popular examples of incredible shows made more memorable with the addition of state-of-the-art visual animations and effects.
Among the greatest breakthroughs in concert technology in recent years was the advent of 3D projection mapping, which allows animators to precisely calibrate projected images to uneven surfaces, giving them a depth previously unachievable in a live performance environment. To learn more about this new wave of visual performance art, L.A. Weekly spoke with David Wexler, aka Strangeloop, who along with his partner John King (aka Timeboy) has created not one, but two groundbreaking concepts in 3D projection mapping, both for electronic musician Flying Lotus. The Layer3 uses three surfaces with dual projectors to “layer” animations over one another, while their newest innovation, the Hypercube, frames three-dimensional animations onto a cube that surrounds Flying Lotus as he performs.
How did you come up with the idea for the Layer3 concept used in parts of the You’re Dead tour with Flying Lotus?
The Layer3 show and the new Hypercube version of the show we've been recently traveling with were developed in collaboration with John King (Timeboy) and Flying Lotus. We are constantly evolving the show, adding animation, altering the stage design, and refining the set, which is still something we use spontaneously, live, triggering different routines we've developed, and discovering new combinations in the moment as Lotus might be improvising, or bring[ing] in new material we haven't heard. John was in charge of the stage design for the new show and I was in charge of the content development, but we both got constant input from one another and it has been a big collaborative process.
Can you talk about the improvisation part of your work? What does it take to get the telepathy right between you and another artist like Flying Lotus?
Steve [Flying Lotus] is a really unique and incredible person. I always love listening to his music and seeing what he does with it all live. I think that between John, myself and Steve, there is a shared enthusiasm for some of the same themes, and since we're all friends, and not just colleagues, some of that I'm sure comes through in the performance. John and I love to be surprised and follow the vibe that is being invoked on stage — then respond through what we're doing visually. We try to make visuals that will appear like an extension of Steve's performance, and embody that same energy, so we have to tune in and really try to read everything that's going on in real time: “What's he doing now? Is he gonna get on the mic? Is he gonna play this, or that…?”
We definitely all have to be on the same page, and sometimes it does reach a kind of oddly telepathic place. It’s like when you get the right musicians together, and they've been working for long enough that they can anticipate each other's moves. I think it also helps that there are definitely these inexplicable things we're all excited about, dreams, science fiction, other realms… we all geek out on the same stuff.
What software do you use and what would you recommend to aspiring visual artists?
There is only one VJ app for me now; I've fallen in love, and there can be no other. That app is Resolume, and it has made my live style possible. However, I think there are many great apps out there and whatever works, use it. I just think Resolume is incredible, and they keep making it more incredible. I've been lucky enough to hang out with the developers a few times when I've been in Amsterdam, and they are incredible people; I'm quite frankly in awe of them and what they do.
It was kind of funny the last time, because they wanted to look at our set-up, and I'm pretty sure I was using Resolume in a really silly way compared to how they intended it. I'm like that, unfortunately; I'm actually far less of a tech-y than people would imagine. I'm like some mad painter who get his hands on software and just jumps in, trying to see anything it can do, then find my own wacky way of approaching things — when perhaps I should have just read the manual.
John [Timeboy] is far more technically adept, and so he might be a more model Resolume user. I was using an older version, all my clips were disordered. I felt like maybe I was gonna be chastised for using their whole system improperly. But they were very nice and gave us some tips.
Where do the visions in your video work come from and what do you think they mean?
My wife Jess makes fun of me because I'm always jumping up from bed saying I've got some idea, or staring off into space at breakfast then exclaiming that I had a vision of some sort. I'm not saying all these ideas are good, but I do get struck with a lot of ideas in the course of an average day. I see little animations in my head, little possibilities, some different way of doing things. I write all of them down, sketch 'em, put them on a dry-erase board, but it's only a handful that find their way beyond that form.
Also, sometimes I have dreams that really stick with me. I'll put some idea in my back pocket and say, “Someday I'm going to make this thing real.” A collection of those sorts of ideas came together to form the story for a short I made called “Anamnesia.” It was great because I could provide the foundation for all of this incredible artwork that was really created through a big collaborative effort. Artists like Micah Nelson, Steve Teeps, Gavin Gamboa came in and put tremendous effort in on a little-to-no-budget project, adding to and building onto the original visions I'd had for this alternate world. Not too long ago, Vimeo staff picked it… and suddenly it had thousands of people watching it beyond our little circle. It was a great thrill.
I used to have dreams where I was seeing some artist do some incredible visual show, or performance, [or] installation, and in the dream I felt it was exactly what I wanted to do… It kind of frustrated me a little bit, but then I thought, “It's great that someone is doing this.” I would put my ego aside and go try to meet the artist after the show, and I would wake up as I approached them. Suddenly I'd realize that whatever I'd seen hadn't been done, it was something I could do myself. It was like a weird loop in time, as if I was seeing a show of something I would end up doing in the future, but only because I saw it in the dream… I haven't had one of those dreams in a bit, I kind of miss them.
I have no idea what any of it means, really. I used to feel like I did, like everything fit together in this perfect fractal jigsaw puzzle. The universe is stranger than we can suppose though, that's my current view.
What’s the next dream for Strangeloop?
Future cinema — I'm exploring new forms of storytelling, like Oculus Rift explorations, one of which I made for the Flying Lotus You're Dead release party. I have some audio-visuals albums in the works, films, a graphic novel I made with my friend Micah Nelson, Xenovore… Everything I've been working on gets posted on strangeloop-studios.com if not brainfeedersite.com. I draw every day, post things on my Instagram strangelooptv. I'm creating a new entity purely for dealing with visual shows with John King. I think it's safe to say that I'm working on a great deal of projects, maybe too many? I really never stop, but the larger scale works take some time to come together.