Between 1999 and 2001, I used to “video-jockey” (or “VJ”) at some of Los Angeles hottest night clubs. I carried two Mac laptops, a video mixer, a small LCD screen, and a pair of rudimentary “VR goggles” inside of a modified electric guitar case. Almost every Saturday night, I was paid $150 to geek out and hang out for four hours at a night club.
One of the things unique to the visuals I produced was that they were both interesting and very sound-reactive. Unlike traditional VJs who would simply play various video clips one after another, these graphics were very much alive with the music. Unlike “music visualizers” (like those still available in iTunes), the graphics were more interesting to look at over a longer period of time.
When the price of “smart” RGB LEDs began to drop, I began to think of how I could put together a full-body suit covered in dozens if not hundreds of sound-reactive LEDs. I’ve saw similar ideas on the Playa in 2011 and 2012, but they all suffered from a few flaws:
- Too loose of a fit: more of a “cape” or “coat” rather than a form-fitting “suit” that permitted dancing
- The patterns or implementations were boring, such as sewn-on light strips playing the same animation over and over
- Lack of music sensitivity
Several factors made 2014 a great year for the project:
- Newer “WS2811” LEDs had finally become cost-effective in the necessary quantities.
- Micha Scott‘s fadecandy board made controlling those LEDs with a variety of hardware—from Macs to Raspberry Pis—an order of magnitude easier.
- “USB batteries” had become high-quality and inexpensive.
- The Raspberry Pi was fast enough to power the art.
- Beta Brand’s Disco Jumpsuit was available for pre-order.
My friend Ken Feldman is bringing a 747 to the Playa. I never cease to be inspired!
Here’s a mural (bigger, please don’t use this for anything commercial) that I commissioned from Fred “NoOne” Padilla.
In the upper-left-hand corner, an art car (“Charlie the Unicorn”) can be seen riding off in the distance. Beneath that, a representation of the cluster of condo buildings I’m living in at the moment and rooftops from a distance. A circle around a fire with elder ones, younger ones, and familiar spirits. Beneath that, a fruit and vegetable stand outside of the Ferry Building. A food stand in the Mission, a view over Bernal Heights to Sutro Tower, a truck and VW bug on 280 South, the docks along the Islais Creek Channel. Broken Glass waves as an homage to The Slanted Door, a map of Golden Gate Park, a nicely set table. A picnic in Dolores Park. Finally, the cosmos represented as a galaxy, but if looked at carefully is a night-time view of the Playa on the night of the Temple burn in 2009.
Mind-blowingly beautiful, Fred. Thanks again. 🙂
Three out of six surfaces of the cube are made of flexible membrane (foil mirror) with air tank and a compressor connected to it and the other three mirrors are semi transparent spy-glass. By inflating or deflating the air tank, the membrane turns convex or concave, deforming the reflections.
Gorgeous! Instead of using a compressor, I think it would have been interesting to add linear actuators to each of the three flexible membranes so that more complex patterns could have been created. Alternative lighting schemes would have been interesting, too.
I met Ben Katz of Etchstar.com–home to engraved iPods, engraved MacBooks, and other awesome custom electronics–at a recent LA tech meetup. He handed me an awesome all-metal business card, and we struck up a quick conversation.
Ben offered me a nice deal on an etching for my MacBook Pro. I thought about for a few days and realized that the only art I’d want on my machine would be the work of Heisuke Kitazawa, A.K.A. “PCP” (which has nothing to do with the drug by the same name), an emerging contemporary Japanese artist. I have a copy of his painting “i’ll always make time to write/2005” hanging in my living room. (This same painting also adorns at least one chic hotel room.)
I went through PCP’s illustration file and tested a few images in B&W on the engraving template. His “everyday is sunday, baby” print really resonated with me, and seemed like it would look great on the MacBook Pro. I reached out to PCP who offered to give me permission to engrave and send me the B&W line art if I bought the print.
So I did! The B&W line art looked great, and with a couple of minor changes I was able to line it up on the template perfectly. A quick call to Ben got me a 6:00 appointment at Etchstar, where Bill and Denny prepped the file in CorelDraw and sent it to the laser.
I expected to be more anxious about handing over a $2,800 computer to folks wielding a Class IV laser, but the team exuded competency and confidence and I had no reservations whatsoever. The process took about 40 minutes, but, boy, am I thrilled with how it all turned out. Check it out!
Mishima is a 15″ PowerBook G4 that met an untimely demise when my cat Lilo knocked it off a desk… face-down right onto a lead-acid battery. The LCD display was irreversably damaged, a few keys popped off, and the case was cracked a bit. I replaced the keys from a spare keyboard, opened up the machine, and gently removed the screen assembly. I procured a Dell 2001FP 21″ LCD display from a friend. I then designed a custom stand using heavy-duty extruded-aluminum structural framing and machined a VESA-compliant mount for the LCD display. I put it all together to create a standing “digital hub kiosk” that provides a source of music, a dashboard for my morning rituals (traffic, mail, etc), and a display for one of my server’s traffic graphs. The design is stable and did not require drilling into the floor or ceiling; the unit is “wedged” in with high-grade neoprene rubber bumpers at the top and bottom for traction. Not a bad use for a broken laptop!
In 2009, I moved Mishima to my exercise room at home where she can now be used while walking on a treadmill. The screen has been upgraded to a 24″ widescreen LCD, making this an ideal setup for watching DVDs while exercising.
I stopped at a stoplight on the way to work a few days ago. Just as I stopped, a wasp landed on my windshield.
I took a moment to appreciate how beautiful it was. I started to think about how it’s much easier to see the beauty in something if you’re not afraid of it… I’m not sure I would have felt the same way if it had been in the car!