Mathstatic, Time Squid & more: Twin Cities' live visual jockeys talk shop
We wanted to get into the heads of the Cities' most talented live visual artists to see where they came from, where they're going, and just what exactly it is that they do so strangely and perfectly. We spoke to Max McDougall aka Mathstatic, whose light shows recall a certain subculture from a half-century ago, repurposed and Toxic Avengered, Matt Bardins aka Visionquest about his goof-a-loop tweaks and shudders, Nico Demonte aka 000000000001 who has dove deep into the discursive possibilities of vintage technologies, and Hal Schuler aka Time Squid, the man, the force, the mystery.
MAX MCDOUGALL, AKA MATHSTATIC
So you performed at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival? Do you call it performing?
It was more work than a performance, if that makes sense. Very laborious. I was running lights and video for an after party called Centre Street Socia in this cool old place called the Harmonie Club in downtown Detroit. It was an old jazz club that doesn't get used much anymore. The Particle People guys asked me to come.
Who are they?
Particle people is made up of Aaron Bliss and Jesse Jacob, they are two local techno DJs. who do the Black nights every Saturday night in the Record Room. There were other promoters as well: Kontrol, Humanaut, Beretta Music. There were guys from all over the place. Juan Atkins' manager was there and had me stay the following night to run lights for the Metroplex anniversary party. I got to run a little light show for the originators of Detroit techno. That was kind of fun, and VERY hot.
So what would you call what you do? I've tried several names, none of which are very elegant. 'Veejaying' is personally my least favorite.
Mine too. I prefer 'visuals' or "light show," even if I'm doing all video it's still a light show.
And how did you stumble upon this odd little world?
I think it all started back when I was in school for audio, I had a copy of Max/MSP on my computer and was bringing my laptop EVERYWHERE with me. I ended up over at club underground one night beneath Spring St. Bar in Northeast.
How old were you, what year about was this? And what's MAX/MSP?
Too young to be drinking haha, probably like 19-20, so a few years ago (I'm turning 24 on August 4th). So I was downstairs and they had DJs playing electronic music with a REALLY crappy anime playing on this huge screen just looping it was bright and obnoxious and very distracting. In a drunken stupor I convinced the sound guy to let me plug my laptop into their line I just opened some really simple patches in Max and rolled with it and everyone thought it was great, and boom. I was back every week for months. It's funny too because I liked electronic music but I didn't know anything about the local scene whatsoever. But one night Steve Centrific was DJing down at Club Underground and he introduced himself. We got along and starting doing more underground/warehouse stuff together
Sorry, what is MAX again?
It's a really overpriced piece of software for writing your own multimedia patches and software. I mean it's great, I still use it quite a bit it's just really expensive. Pure Data is like the same thing and it's free.
So you sort of fell into this situation at club underground, started experimenting there, then hooked up with Centrific? You started booking gigs together?
That's pretty much it. I would come out and do video during his sets. That led to doing the Intellephunk 10 Year Party and Profile Center. That was really fun. I think that's one of the first times I brought a ridiculous amount of hardware out. By now I am kind of known for doing that during my sets.
Which I wanted to ask you about. You started with a laptop and some patches, but you're now doing all this work with mirrors, and giant TV walls, and some maybe more 'conventional' - in the sense of psychedelia - type of live visuals. Is that fair? do you see yourself as sort of updating and redefining the work of the old 'colored water' guys?
I try to treat the video like a light show - there is nothing worse that a video loop just hanging out on a screen. The video projector is another lighting instrument just like a par can, ellipsoidal, fresnel, or what have you. I try to use as many different 'instruments' as possible. Like CRT monitors for example. I LOVE the color you get from real phosphor on a CRT display. There is nothing like it.
Did you start thinking about it this way fairly quickly?
When I use LCD projectors I tend to do a lot of squares and hard edges. I really dislike the 'screendoor' effect that LCDs make (where you can see the individual pixels) but by using only hard edges you don't see that and it looks like you have infinite resolution. I make content specifically for the tools I will be using. Yes, I am very technical, and I sort of obsess over this stuff. Mostly because it really bothers me.
When did you start thinking about using different tools? How did you go from a laptop to a 4x4 wall of TVs?
As soon as I was getting gigs and didn't have anything to connect my computer to! Haha.
"Shit, there's not a projector here."
Pretty much. And most projectors look like garbage the blacks are grey... ick. And as far as the video wall goes. Who doesn't want a fucking video wall? I mean, seriously.
When I started looking at your stuff, and I don't mean to beleaguer the fact, but I immediately thought of the old psychedelic light show guys, with odd mirrored projections etc, but on a completely different level, for a different type of music, and for a different audience. As in the construction of your shows are as much art as what they create.
Exactly. What I really love about those old psychedelic light shows, that I have the most connection with as far as what I do, is the mystery behind some of it. It's not always completely obvious what's going on back there! You can't just go online and read a tutorial you know?
This isn't QBASIC!
Apples being apples and oranges being oranges, how would you contrast your stuff to say, Nico's, who you're collaborating with at Bassgasm on Friday?
That reminds me.. I need to pull out some of the old demos I made on the C128. But I'm not sure I am collaborating with Nico on [Friday], that would be a suprise to me. Apparently I am running a small moving light show in the entry throughout the night. I think I am bringing the UFO as well so it should be pretty old school.
The Clay Paky Astrodisco, it kills people. It's an old centerpiece light from 1982. It's big. It's loud. It's awesome. In fact I won't be bringing any video with. Just my light desk.
So, for someone who obviously puts a lot of time and research and a least a heaping tablespoon of money to your light shows, what's your opinion of how veejays (lol) are received, locally or otherwise?
I think there are a lot of hacks. The same way there are a lot of hack rave promoters, doing it for all the wrong reasons. Most the guys I know are pretty rad I mean, Timesquid, Nico, Rastermind. They all have very different styles, some of it I like and some I don't and I'm sure they have the same opinions about my stuff. Most importantly they are doing it for the right reasons and that really shows.
And what about audience reaction?
Crowds are different. I've done Too Much Love and nobody gave a damn. I mean, I don't think the crowd reacted at all. Put Hal up in the booth and he's like a fucking rock star, they love it. That's what I really love about Timesquid is his booth presence. Dancing around all crazy. That guy is awesome. That's another thing: a friend once told me that she doesn't trust a DJ that doesn't dance. I feel the same way about the visuals
Do you dance?
Hell yeah I dance! If you can't get down to the party that's happening then what's the point in contributing to it? That really separates the wheat from the chaff in my opinion.
I'm planning some pretty big things so keep your eyes open. Bigger. Heavier. Things.
BIGGER. MORE HEAVIER, FOR MAKE DAZZLE.
Exactly. STOP BREAK BREAK.
You can see Mathstatic next at Bassgasm in the 7th St. Entry this Friday, July 23rd