A Sound-Sensitive Disco Suit: The Concept / Part 1

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.