Interview with Strangeloop / David Wexler
Over at Resolume HQ we like our music to be weird, experimental and full of big bass. The music that's coming out on the Brainfeeder label fits this bill exactly, and many a time has a head been bopped to Brainfeeder beats. So when we heard it through the grapevine that Strangeloop had signed to that label as a visual artist, our interest was piqued, to say the least.
David Wexler, aka Strangeloop is a visual artist and musician that works with a variety of media, ranging from stop motion to full on CG to generative work. Visit his Vimeo page, and prepare to be blown away, if only by the sheer variety of his skills. Combined with his beautiful electronic melodies, you're all set for your trip to the other side of the looking glass.
So when we then found out he was using Resolume for his shows, the deal was done: we had to know more about this guy! So at the end of last year, we conducted an interview via mail, and the wonderful results you can read below. Step in to the mind of a strange loop!
-So, what's your strangest loop?
I always thought the name Strangeloop was a fitting title for my work, because I have, for as long as I can remember, been completely obsessed with fractals and 'strange loops' in chaotic systems. A "strange loop" is actually a technical term for a tangled hierchary, where you can move from one level of a hierachy to another and find yourself back where you started (kind of like the Escher drawing you see below). Its a really interesting paradox you find in all sorts of natural phenomena, including the most fundamental natural phenomena I can think of, perception.
In other words, its all a "strange loop."
Though on the video front, I made a piece awhile ago called Holographic Landscapes : Synesthetic Studies of Natural Sequence in Relation to God and Reality which is essentially an experiment in strange loops. I took a lot of video of a creek where I used to play when I was a kid, and then seamlessly looped the footage back on itself that gave the appearance of these un-ending zooms and camera moves. Like you were forever zooming into a leaf passing by in the current... kind of like a video version of the droste-effect.
-How did you get started with doing visuals?
I've always been a very visual thinker, and spent a lot of my time when I was younger tuning out of school and drawing elaborate, psychedelic pictures [see below]. Actually, I still draw pretty frequently, and am in the process of putting together a book of my sketches. Drawing was my first love, but I never felt confined to any medium. I love all the possibilities that CG brings into the mix; painting, music, writing, it all interesting to me deeply. Different mediums bring different things out of you, and lend themselves to different kinds of exploration.
I was working on a psychedelic tv-show pilot called 'EuKi,' but found it difficult pitching my ideas to the corporate world that could give me money to make it, and deep down I didn't even want to be involved in any of that... So I may have self-sabotaged a bit. I found myself with a surplus of psychedelic animations and didn't know what to do with all of it. Also, I was frustrated with the mainstream world of media production, and wanted to avoid the whole process of 'pitching' projects to people.
I realized that by being a live-visualist I could perform media, make stuff and show it to huge audiences, and turn media production into a much more performative, spontaneous, interactive thing. Live-visuals are really exciting because there are really no rules to the form, anything is possible. Sometimes its more like directly downloading associations to people than it is giving them a narrative; you can have subliminal narratives, abstract narratives, fractal narratives where you are the main character. Its really exciting territory
Flying Lotus gave me the opportunity to perform at the first Brainfeeder event in LA, and I started putting material together. Something clicked that night, and I sensed that it wasn't just for me. A lot of people all of sudden were coming up to me with a kind of fervor about what was going on. I felt like I'd found something very deep and authentic, something I already knew how to do without any specific training; A way of communicating deeper concepts and feelings that felt very natural to me.
-As a visual artist you got signed to Brainfeeder which is a music label. How does that compute?
Brainfeeder is very multidimensional, and I know Steve (Flying Lotus) has always thought about it that way. When we were going to art school together, there was a deep interest amongst us in all sorts of creative forms. Avant-garde cinema, video games, drill n' bassy music, psychedelic visual art like H.R. Giger, Alex Grey, Leigh McCloskey its all good.
Brainfeeder is definitely more than a music label. Its really, for me, about cross-pollination, different media, the synesthetic play between the senses. Hell, its really about feeding brains. Whatever mediums we can do that in are totally acceptable.
-Is making music very different from making visuals?
In ways, yes. Music is almost even more personal to me, it is like therapy. Most of my life I have made music without the thought of releasing it in any significant way. It is like journaling for me. Steve [Flying Lotus] was one of the first people I really respected to suggest that I release some of it, and was really intent on making it happen. I literally have hundreds, if not thousands of unreleased songs, but it has been a struggle balancing all the visual work with the musical work. I find that the scale seems to tip more in one direction at any given time and the other form gets neglected. It would be so much easier if I was just musician or a vj!
However, I also recognize that many of my strengths lie in my synesthetic aspects.
My avant-sci-fi project 2010 : (or) How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Singularity was an attempt at integrating some of my strange tunes and visuals into one piece, I was really excited that Mary Anne Hobbs wanted to feature it on the BBC, she has really championed a lot of my work, and I am really thankful for that. She gave me a lot of confidence to get the really authentic stuff out there without worrying about what people would think.
-Your vimeo page shows work in a lot of different styles, ranging from stop motion to cg, and you also mention Quartz Composer. Can you describe a bit about how you approach projects and how you end up working in a particular style or medium?
Its funny, in ways I don't really have a style. Real style is what happens when you're not even thinking about style, its authentic and spontaneous. However, I am totally ADHD in certain respects, and find that I can shift my style very rapidly without feeling weird about it. I think there is something deeper in the work hopefully that people can identify, but in terms of the aesthetic style of my work, I kind of shape-shift … I try on different styles, and even though I have common motifs (fractals, bio-mechanical forms, semi-abstract sci-fi narratives etc.) I'm really always trying to evolve, which means doing things I haven't done.
This can be a funny situation sometimes, because without much hesitation I'll think, I can make a stop-action video! Then I find myself with all this clay and fabric and what-not, and realize how little I know about the whole process. It makes creating things really fun though, continually moving into unfamiliar territory and really being educated along the way. Plus, most of the stuff you really want to learn can't be taught to you, you just have to dive into the process.
-Can you talk a bit about your work process in general?
First, I drink 10 cups of coffee every morning. Then I take a hit of DMT and travel into the far reaches of space. It is there that I meet with various galactic councils, alpha centaurian drum circles, etc. and attempt to convince their thoughts to migrate to Earth (which can be quite difficult!) One has to, first of all, dissuade them from believing the common misconception, that Earth is a barren wasteland, quarantined, and populated by radioactive monkeys. In other words, you give them advertisements (in the form of thoughts and what-not) for dope stuff going on in our neck of the woods, but you have to be subtle, otherwise they detect your eagerness and turn into puddles of oozing phosphenous ectoplasm ... (just joking by the way). I'm crazy, but only that crazy on occasions.
-How does Resolume fit into all this?
Honestly, Resolume has changed everything for me. I was using other software for a long time, but found myself running up against a lot of walls. I wanted sophisticated generative forms, audio-responsive parameters, and to be able to integrate all of this with the videos I'd been designing and appropriating over the last ten years. It always seemed like different pieces of software had different parts of the puzzle, but Resolume was the first I found that tied it all together. I've even performed audio-visual sets using Resolume, which is a trip. Music and visuals in the same program?
There's definitely so much more territory to explore in this realm, but you guys are on the edge of it all … and its commercial software that doesn't require a lot of back-end programming, which is great for me, because even though I can rock 3d graphics pretty proficiently, I have a lot to learn in the programming world.
-What functionality of Resolume do you use the most? How do you use Resolume in general?
I tried to use literally everything, or rather, rig my set-up so it at least all available. Music responsive geometries, sampled video clips, my own 3d graphics, all mapped to midi-controllers so I can play the visuals in the same way many in our community perform their electronic music compositions.
However, I have a lot of dreams where I am using verrrry sophisticated VJ software / hardware that I would love to get my hands on. Though Resolume is fantastic, it is still only a step towards one of my holy grails, which is to create fully immersive holographic visuals directly from my thoughts and movements. There is a lot of work being done on these sorts of mind-machine interfaces now, but we're still a little bit aways from what I've used in my dreams. However, I think there are certain mind-altering technologies available now that can accomplish what I'm talking about
-What gear do you use on a show?
visuals : MacBook Pro laptop 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7, Resolume Software, Akai MPD24.
music : MacBook Pro laptop 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7, Ableton, Akai APC20, Duet audio interface.
….that's the simple set-up, but its sometimes gets very complex. Live-camera feeds, video mixers, multiple laptops, DVDs etc. I try to keep it simple these days, because all the gear sometimes gives me a headache. Its like one element breaks down and you have to change your whole plan for the show! Craziness.
-Are your live shows very different from the videos you make? What does a typical Srangeloop show look like?
I incorporate more sampled footage live, usually for fun, and because its sometimes hard to fill a night with purely original imagery. I also like turning people on to media I really dig, like the work of Studio 4 Degrees Celcius. They are my absolute heroes, and I love it when people come up and ask "What was that clip with the little boy telepathically destroying those nuclear war-heads and…" I get to tell them about what I'm really excited about.
Tekkon Kinkreet, Mindgame, Noisman Sound Insect, these to me are the first truly 21st century animated films. Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Nausicaa, these were some of our great animated sci-fi psychedelic epics of the late 20th century, and were far beyond their years, but Studio 4 Degrees Celcius takes it to the next level ….
Their work, like many of our lives currently, is vaguely sci-fi, but way beyond that. Its shamanic, its post-genre, totally intuitively psychedelic, in a very natural way, rooted in characters and experience … not just the thrill of strange technologies, or trippy aesthetics. I think in many ways, they are about 10 years beyond anything out there right now.
So yeah, I can't stress this enough, you should just drop this interview right now and watch everything they've ever done. haha
My shows are tripped the f**k out, and I'm always trying to bootstrap them to another level. Whether I'm doing visuals or music I'm always looking to bring something different and awe-inspiring into the mix. First and foremost, I want to be awed, I want to be educated, I want strange and mystical experiences. This is why I do what I do, to invoke that in myself, and then hopefully share it with other people and evolve through that process.
-What's the best and worst gig you ever played?
That's a tough one. I love playing with the Gaslamp Killer, because, quite simply put, he is a beast. After he plays, I'm surprised the walls are still standing. Any show we can do together is a jolt of inspiration to my system. Recently, doing visuals for Amon Tobin on the NinjaTune XX shows was really incredible, because he basically got me interested in electronic music when I was 14, him and Aphex Twin. It felt pretty serendipitous.
On the 'worst' front, one time I was helping kick off a mini-tour starting at Low End Theory when my audio-card conked out. It sounded like everything was going through a ring-modulator / distortion pedal and it was really noxious ...I tried to fix it a couple times, but to no avail! I kind of realized I just had to run with it and act like I intended the audio to be mind-blowingly distorted ... to my surprise, there was a group of people that were getting into to it, and I kind of just performed like I normally would, still trying to bring the energy behind the music. It was really funny because a lot of people came up to me afterwards and enthusiastically said they'd never heard anything like it. So I suppose it turned out all right, but basically, what people had heard was the sound of the computer uncontrollably destroying my music.
-What's the last album you heard / book you read / video you saw/ lyric you heard / game you played that knocked your head back?
Cosmogramma was my favorite album of the year. Seeing Flying Lotus' evolution over the years has been incredible, and in my opinion, he really changed the game with that one; its completely ridiculous that it wasn't nominated for a Grammy. Flat-out absurd. Though I don't think the Grammys represents the most exciting worlds blooming in the global music community, it is just a big hype circus that has lost its soul, like the Oscars.
If you want to find more crazy music stuff, LA is popping. The underground is thriving with communities like Magical Properties, SoSimple Records, Low End Theory//AlphaPup, Dublab … that's the really good stuff, continually evolving, always inspiring and challenging. I am blessed to know a lot of these people, and they keep LA really interesting.
On the movie front, ENTER THE VOID is IT. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It felt to me almost the '2001' of our generation, but instead of going deep into outer space, it went into inner-space, the DMT trance, psychedelic realities ... insane.
-Who are the up and coming visual artists out there that we should be looking out for?
Beeple (who just did one of the latest Flying Lotus videos, 'Kill Your CoWorkers') is the sh*t. His open-source sensibility and DIY approach to sophisticated 3d imagery is great. Sometimes I'll take his files and use them as a jumping off point, they are always impeccably designed, dynamic, inventive.
Theo Elsworth is also incredibly dope, and a champion of a whole new type of fractal narrative. AntiVJ is dope. Daito Manabe is dope. Robert Seidel. Lucio Arese. Scott Pagano (KILLS it), check out his video below… actually, we are going to feature a lot of these cats in an upcoming Brainfeeder DVD that we'll release next year as another manifestation of the Future Cinema Series experimental shorts program I curated for the Brainfeeder Sessions in LA. Its gonna be crazy.
I feel like a lot of this interview is pretty hyper-textual, but seriously, check all these people out. They are phenomenal.
-Do you have any upcoming collaborations with other artists coming up, or projects in general you're excited about?
Almost so many it makes my head spin. Ay mi! Where to start … I'm working on music videos for Take, Jon Wayne, collaborating on music projects with Austin Peralta (an EP of some of our avant-beat creations), Rebekah Raff (various experimental works), Timeboy (an ambient EP we've finished called 'Balance'), Micah Nelson (son of Willie Nelson and one of the founders of psychedelic freak-out band Insects vs. Robots), and Miguel Baptistia Benedict (a sound-collage project just featured on Dublab called 'DINS') … I have few mini-albums almost completed Everything is Alive, 2099, and Easy Listening for our Future Children. I have been kind of hoarding all this music, but I really want to give it all a life beyond my studio in 2011.
Flying Lotus and I have some really exciting stuff in the works, both event-wise and on the cinematic front, but I don't want to reveal too many details. I will also be working with 12th Planet on a custom visual show we will premier at Together as One in LA New Years Eve 2011. ::whew::
That's just the half of it, I'm really thinking of cloning myself to get all of this moving a bit faster.
-Nature or code?
Nature is code
-Realtime or premade?
-Richie or the Fonz?
For more info on Strangeloop visit http://www.strangelooptv.com Posted by Joris on Wednesday January 5, 2011 at 15:07
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