The Glitch Mob is one of the hot summer tickets for electronic music, and they’re fortunate enough to stage a massive live visual spectacle alongside the show. This week’s a perfect time to consider all that visual goodness, with the release of their latest original music, “We Can Make the World Stop” on EP.

So how does that scale of real-time performance come together? We find out, from the guy running the show live. He walks us through everything, from the technical setup to the performance elements to the team that brings it to life, in the kind of detail you normally only get touring the stage. -Ed.

This is Momo the Monster checking in from the road, on tour with The Glitch Mob for the summer of 2011. I’m here to spill the beans on who’s involved in making the show, and how it all works.

The Team

The man with the vision is Martin Phillips of Bionic League, who, along with John McGuire, designed the Daft Punk ‘Alive’ Tour, Deadmau5′s Cube, and tours for Wolfgang Gartner, Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, and many more. He worked with the band to design a set that would take their stage presence to the next level, creating three separate pods for the band members, using their existing BrightStripe lights in a new configuration, and adding an LED wall behind them to bind all the elements into one cohesive stage.

Mike Figge and Martin Phillips, creating content during rehearsal in LA.

With the stage design in place, Martin worked with Mike Figge and his crew at Possible in the creation of visuals for each song in The Glitch Mob’s current repertoire. Both the LED Wall and the BrightStripes on stage are controlled by the videos that Possible created – more on that in a bit.

The last piece in the puzzle is yours truly, Momo the Monster, the final cog in the great visual machine of the tour. With the stage designed and most of the visuals created, my roles are:

  1. Pre-Tour: Build a playback system to control the wall (BasicTech F-11 Tiles) and tubes (Mega-Lite BrightStripes).
  2. Rehearsal: Help the team make the whole system work together and practice the songs with the band.
  3. Before First Show: Design visuals for songs that don’t have Possible tracks already.
  4. Tour: Oversee setup/teardown of the system for each show, troubleshoot issues, run the video for the show, working with the house Lighting Director at each venue to make best use of the in-house lighting system to supplement our stage.

The Hardware

The wall is made up of seven columns, each of which have three BasicTech F-11 LED Tiles. These tiles take a signal from a proprietary BasicTech processor, and display a section of the overall video on their LED Array. Each tile has an address you set on the back which describes its place on the grid, ie (0,0) for the topmost-left tile, (0,1) for the tile just to the right of it, etc. The processor takes a 1600×1200 image and splits it up amongst all the tiles. Each tile has one video input connector and two outputs,  so a coaxial cable carries the signal into the first tile, which sends the signal up it’s column as well as over to the next column. Coaxial works well as you can run it long distances – in this case we have a 300-foot loom of two cables so we can accomodate the largest venues we play (like Red Rocks, Colorado).

BasicTech FLED F-11 Tiles all connected up.

The tiles all have custom plates on the back created by Flix FX, which have clamps on the back that are affixed to poles at each show, and inserted into heavy metal bases. Having each tile column on a separate pole instead of connected as one flat, contiguous wall allows us to shrink or expand the wall as necessary to fit on various size stages.

Stage Manager Oscar building the stations before the show, Ooah performing.

The stations are made up of risers with custom fittings and tables, created by Accurate Staging. The lights are Mega-Lite BrightStripes, which The Glitch Mob used in a different configuration on their previous tour. Each stripe is affixed to aluminum piping, which comes apart in two sections, leaving most of the cabling intact. Each stripe is controlled by DMX commands, and can be thought of as a 1×16-pixel screen.

My setup, ever-changing.

At Front-Of-House, I’m using a MacBook Pro with an APC40, Akai LPK25, and MidiFighter as my controllers. The LED Processors live with my rig, and we run Coaxial and Cat6 cables all the way to the stage. The Cat6 carries ArtNet signals to a PRG Virtuoso Node, which converts the ArtNet signals to 6 DMX Universes to run the stripes on each station.

The Software

Video routing, via software and hardware.

The main playback engine is VDMX, whose new beta8 includes Syphon integration, which is a major key to this show. It handles playback of the synced videos, and sends out a copy of the main video mixdown via Syphon.

Arkaos MediaMaster Express sees the VDMX Mixdown via a handy little trick. While it doesn’t support Syphon directly, I created a simple Quartz Composer patch which takes the Syphon image and displays it on a full-screen Billboard. MediaMaster supports Quartz Composer, so in this way it easily runs a Syphon input. MediaMaster does what is called PixelMapping (not to be confused with Projection Mapping), which translates the video image into DMX commands, which are used to drive the BrightStripes on stage. Originally, I’d rolled my own pixel mapping program, using Cinder to read the Syphon input and translate pixels to DMX values. It worked great in my studio, when I’d planned on four DMX universes due to some faulty logic. Unfortunately, it turned out that we needed at least five, and the ArtNet Server that my program depended on (OLA, which is mostly fantastic), relies on LibArtNet, which currently only supports four universes. Major props to Arkaos for a last-minute save with MediaMaster when I was beginning to tear my hair out over getting the lights up and running.

The final piece of the puzzle is a custom OpenFrameworks application with a working name of GlitchLights. Here is what a final video from Possible looks like:

Video template – stripes on the left, wall on the right.

Using this template as a starter, I created an application to draw boxes on each tile – I can draw them individually, or trigger a random number of them (mirrored on the Y Axis for prettiness). Once I had a little more time, I upgraded the program to draw a mini version of the wall inside each box, resulting in a space-invader-like creature instead of a solid box. The MidiFighter turned out to be a pretty perfect controller for this show – I’ve got a 7×3 grid to work with, so I use a 4×3 array of buttons from the MF to control the squares (always mirroring on Y), and I’ve still got a row free along the top for modifier buttons. I put the mini keyboard to use controlling the BrightStripes – each key lights up half a station, with another set of three keys which will light up a full station. This makes it easy to jam along with the band while still looking deliberate (I found that controlling columns of lights or even individual lights looked too messy with the limited amount of practice time I had).

A final bit that bears mentioning – I use the APC-40-22 MIDI Remote script with some custom changes to light up the buttons on my APC40, which I use for triggering videos, changing layer opacity, adding FX and jumping to cue points in the videos.

The Performance

For the many songs which have videos that are perfectly synced with them, my job is very simple. Each video has the audio of its song embedded, so I trigger the video on the first hit of the song, and slip the timeline forward/back to as necessary to match the audio in my headphones with the audio in the venue. Once it’s locked in, I mostly nod my head, pump my fist, and watch to make sure nothing goes wrong, checking in with my headphones every minute or so to make sure we’re still good. If needed, I’ve set 8 cue points at key parts of the song that I can jump to via buttons on my APC40. For the few songs which have not been designed by the good folks at Possible, I have one or two background clips that I’ve created (mostly by modifying the amazing Beeple’s videos) and I trigger visuals via my GlitchLights app in time with the band. I’ve also found Memo’s BadTV Quartz Composer plugin to fit quite well with the show, with the parameter mapped to four knobs on my APC40.

The Future

I continue to work on GlitchLights as time allows, adding new animations and objects to my live playback repertoire. I’d like to get a Midi-to-Cat5 extender so I can receive live data from the band as they play and have them control the wall directly. I’ve also been inspired by their Lemur playback style, and I’m working on an iPad app that’s both a controller and a game, influenced by The Glitch Mob. The band is amazingly receptive to new ideas, I’m sure the show will continue to grow and change as we travel.

Thanks for reading, and come see the show! It’s a great spectacle, and an amazing thing to be a part of. I’m happy to chat before or after the shows, and you’re welcome to look over my shoulder during – just don’t try to talk to me while we’re running, and for the love of FSM – don’t put your beer on my table.

Aerialist Selkie, performing with the band at Red Rocks in Colorado.
  • http://vade.info vade

    Whoa, awesome to see Syphon already being used on major tours in a serious way. Thats bad-ass. BTW, check out the glitch plugins for QC, I'm sure you can find some uses for them on the tour? http://v002.info/?page_id=27

    Great writeup!

  • http://mmmlabs.com Momo The Monster

    Oh yeah – Syphon is now an integral part of the way I put tour solutions together – it's so freeing to be able to mix-and-match software to play to each's strength.

    I tried to load your latest Glitch Plugins into VDMX B8 about a week ago with no success. Will give it another try soon :)

  • Harry Carter

    Have you looked at Madrix? Amazing software for controlling LED Matrices. it has sound reactive effects, custom scripts and live video input. check out their webtsie, madrix.com

  • http://robbfladry.com Robb Fladry

    Awesome show tonight in Tampa.. I said hey to you after the show.. it really was spectacular all around.

    I purchased a Lemur several years ago to work into my VJ rig, but I have never found it to be a helpful component… which really sucks seeing the price I paid for it. My biggest issue is the lack of tactile feel to it. When triggering video I find myself looking at the screen and not having buttons that I can touch becomes a problem. I imagine if you can build an iPad app that interfaces with VDMX (or whatever software for that matter) where you could have a preview of the output window that you would be in gold country.

    (FYI – Currently I'm using a Livid Ohm64 and a Livid block as my main VJ controllers.. though I really enjoy the feel of the APC40 I just have yet to actually sit down and map it out for use with my VJ rig.)

    Just my two cents.. but I'd love to hear what you come up with… and once again.. great work.

  • hiltmeyer

    great work.

    what im really interested in is how you go about a backup in case the computer crashes.

  • http://epochapex.com Epochapex

    Vey inspiring! Awesome setup. That must be really fun.

  • c6c

    Seems like d3 would be the best solution to run this entire tour with one rig no?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/momothemonster/ Surya Buchwald

    Harry – Madrix looks interesting, but it's Windows-only, and I prefer to use a Mac for Syphon integration and VDMX.

    Robb – thanks for stopping by to say hi! I do find the lack of tactile feedback one of the biggest drawbacks for touchscreens. However, they're hard to beat for many-input expressive control. My furthest-along experiment with this can be see with the free iPad app FiddlyBits (http://fiddlybits.mmmlabs.com). However, for straight-up clip triggering, I still prefer a grid controller like the APC series, Launchpad, Monome, Midifighter, etc.

    Hiltmeyer – DVI Mixer (the TV One C2-750) with a second laptop or an iPad with a basic loop as fallback while I get the main machine back up. Thankfully, it hasn't happened yet in my 1.5 tours.

    Epochapex – Thanks! It is very fun. It's probably hard to get an idea of what I'm doing with the Midifighter and keyboard, think I'll write up a separate bit about that to share.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/momothemonster/ Surya Buchwald

    c6c – the D3 looks amazing. However, with a price tag of around $40K for the desktop or $20K for the laptop version, I'll be sticking with my multipurpose MacBook pro for now :)

  • http://www.blairneal.com Blair Neal

    Hey awesome! I'll see you on Thursday I think…I'm doing visuals for Phantogram at terminal 5 and I think they're opening for glitch mob…say hey!

  • http://noisepages.com/members/momothemonster/ Surya Buchwald

    Blair – sweet! Yes, Phantogram is on tour with us for a while, they're playing right now before we go on, in fact. I look forward to meeting you!

  • http://www.vjall.de vj fupo

    from the technical view interesting, but from artistic view very bad.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/momothemonster/ Surya Buchwald

    vj fupo – elaborate or return to your spot under the bridge.

  • http://www.midlman.com midlman

    vj fupo lives under a bridge.  That's funny.  

  • hydra

    very cool setup! so cool it doesn't need a guy dancing with a computer on stage.

  • c6c

    @surya

    Yea, hopefully somehow that lowers somehow in the future, I was just curious because I was in the d3 training session with someone from bionic league and wondered if they implemented it yet.

  • lame

    Visuals look about as uninspiring as the music sounds.  The level of this stuff in the US is so low compared to europe it's kinda sad.

      

    I remember a few months back too that momo the monster tried to create some sort of open source audio-visual community project group. Lots of people gave some good ideas, with nothing back in return. Guess this is where that knowledge went.  I had a feeling it was  for profit scam. 

  • http://mmmlabs.com Momo The Monster

    Anonymous Hater: you're judging a show based on 30 seconds of footage. To be fair, I haven't posted up any other shots as I've been a bit busy, but there are plenty of fan-videos on Youtube.

    Thanks for reminding everyone about the AV Collaboration ideas I wrote about here:
    http://createdigitalmotion.com/2011/02/the-circus
    This lives on as a private Google Group and mailing list, still open to any collaborators. It has been a bit quiet as I have been on two back-to-back tours, but there are great things afoot there. Unfortunately, we haven't had time to integrate any of that on this tour, but surely we will incorporate some of that system down the road. Thankfully, since it's an open, free system, you don't have to worry about it becoming a "for-profit scam". 

  • lame

    I am not a hater, I just don't think the music or the visuals are very good. If I liked everything I saw, then I wouldn't have a mind of my own and Glitch Mob would be my favorite band.  There's a lot of cool stuff going on out there, just not this.

    This is mainstream, like something that might be found on a madonna tour. Glitch Mob seems like the Justin Beiber boyband equivalent using electronic music to cash in. For this kind of commodity type of music, most of the audience likes the music because their friends do.  The visuals need to be generic so the fans can understand it.  So in this regard, the visuals fit the music great for a mainstream audience that for the most part will have no clue what current technology and audio-visual concepts are capable of.  

    With all that gear and personel, I expected to see a hologram of Jesus rise above the crowd and start performing miracles.  Instead I just saw a bunch of blinking squares and some projection mapped swastika looking things on stage.   There is no artistic, conceptual, visual, or musical anything going on here.  

  • http://mmmlabs.com Momo The Monster

    Anonymous Hater aka Alive Machine- time to step away from the computer, go outside, take a deep breath. Try not to yell at your neighbors for having the audacity to exist. Come back when you're ready to create something and share it with the world. 

  • @v@nt(avant)

    Did some one ask for Midi-to-Cat5 extender.

    Here is the company I trust and love……

    MidiExtender.com

    MIDI Signal Extenders $244 per system so one set up is $488 to have bi-direction. They kick A**, plus they make midi to Fiber Optics units. if this works for you give me a shout out.

    Great work!

    Cheers @v@nt(avant)

  • jane fero

    I totaly agree with lame.

    These Visuals are really boring.

  • http://mmmlabs.com Momo The Monster

    Avant – thanks! Always good to get positive feedback on a piece of gear, I'll check that one out.

  • @v@nt(avant)

    Well, Well, Well………..

    All this talk about who is better that who.

    Gear mean nothing!

    Visual design is up to the viewer, if you do not like, do not speak about it. Does one thinks they can become the psychologist

    to artist with negative energy? I will fix you!

    Go Home HøE!

    If you talk you will get slap and give me my money! That is what the pimp told the young trick…

    Now lets have fun sharing not out to do in the Jones because you want that piece of A** aka money. Well keep on working you can get it too. I want corporate warfare for artist……

    F***K the JOB CREATORS!!!!

    if you dont know look it up.

    Clear the channel good news is coming…..

  • lame

    Regardless of opinions on the artistic content, nice job on the article and nicely done photos and diagrams.  Appreciate the time it took to write this up.  Provides good insight into a complex a/v setup.  Good luck with expanding your software in the future.     

       

  • james

    just make a couple of MIDI-DIN > XLR adaptors and use a spare analogue audio line from stage to FOH

  • HR

    to the author:
    i'm sure those negative comments mean nothing to you, but don't sweat it if they do.  this is really interesting stuff you're doing and there are some that appreciate what you do! keep up the hard work. 
    thanks

  • http://www.audiomasteringstudio.net music mastering

    awesome to see Syphon already being used on major tours in a serious way

  • jayjay

    Fascinating! I read this article several times. Amazing, thanks alot!

    Still got a couple of questions, if you would be so kind to help me for a band project: Did i get it right? You`ve got the prepared visuals on the mac and combine them with the interactive content of glitchlights to send them (by which resolution?) via the graphic output (thunderbold to composite) to the led processor and via ethernet to the ArtNet node (supporting the 5 DMX universes) for the stripes?
    Which node is working with VDMX?
    You got no sync input from the band – all sync is done by you live via audio – did you get your midi-to-cat5 extender already?
    You got 4 applications running simutaniously: VDMX, Mediamaster, QC (with a fullscreen billboard running in the background), Glitchlights. Which Mac-setup did you use to run them smooth?
    Thanks alot – Cheers from germany!