Visuals are a big part of the Tycho live show and I’m often asked how they were created and presented in a live setting. The answer is VDMX, a modular video performance platform. For those of you familiar with video editing / effecting, you could think of it as a stripped down, real-time version of After Effects where every parameter is controllable via various protocols (MIDI, OSC) and even by other parameters. It can mix multiple sources using blending modes like multiply and color burn all while utilizing Quartz Composer effects.
I’ve been using VDMX for a few years now and it’s become one of those tools that I can’t live without. Because it’s modular, VDMX’s interface can be arranged in any way you prefer. I personally use three video decks with and effects bin on each and then a master effects bin. I trigger clips and modulate parameter via MIDI over IP from Reaper running on a Macbook Pro w/ a Vertex 3 MAX IOPS drive (VDMX eats data bandwidth alive!).
VDMX is an incredibly deep and flexible application which I have yet to see any real limitation to. The workflow and functionality is so abstract that there are myriad ways to accomplish pretty much anything you can think of. And therein lies the only real problem I can find with VDMX; the flexibility and modularity afforded by the abstract way in which the application functions comes at the expense of usability. The learning curve is very steep and many of the initial concepts are a little tough to wrap your head around. Vidvox (the developers of VDMX) have put together some great tutorial videos which can help move the learning process along.
Thankfully a new version is out, and with it come some very helpful additions and changes. VDMX 5 is an entirely new program, written from the ground up. For those coming from older versions a lot of the way VDMX works will feel familiar. But you’ll quickly notice that some subtle changes in workflow make a big difference. I just started learning the new version during this current tour and it was pretty straight forward.
VDMX, while certainly not geared toward the casual user, is one of those apps that will allow you to grow into it. The relatively steep learning curve will pay off pretty quickly when you realize just what it’s capable of.
Above is some (poorly shot on a phone, sorry) test footage from the new visuals set for the Tycho live show (next one is this Thursday, 4/7 in SF). The song is from the forthcoming album. It’s not all completely tightened up yet but you get the idea. I recently stripped down the entire live set — audio and video — and started from scratch. With the new album pretty much wrapped up I decided to rework the visuals to go with all the new material and to have everything work better with the new live band. What you’re seeing is VDMX effecting / compositing video in real-time on a Macbook Pro. Everything is being triggered / synced by another machine via MIDI over IP running Reaper which is handling all the audio duties.
I’ve been using VDMX for years now but just recently switched to Reaper as my DAW for recording and decided to use it for the live shows as well (Was never happy with Ableton. It’s a great app but it just didn’t fit my specific needs / workflow). It’s been a very freeing experience to say the least. Being able to use the same software in the studio and on stage has helped immeasurably and opened up some possibilities that didn’t exist before. Here’s hoping it all works as smoothly on Thursday (the first Tycho show to feature the new album and visuals) as it has been during rehearsals.
I also wanted to take this time to give a bit of a progress report on the new Tycho album. It feels like forever since I started, but everything has finally come together. Things took a lot of twists and turns; a lot has changed and some songs have been shelved while new ones have taken their place. But I think the album is now — finally — what I envisioned it to be when I started this process some two years ago. All that is left to do now is tie up some loose ends and complete the mixing / mastering phase and things should be ready to go. With label schedules and all that I’d imagine a release date sometime after this summer.
Thanks to everyone for your patience and support over this past couple years. You have afforded me the ability to focus on my work in a way I was never able to before, and for that I am extremely grateful.
It’s been nice being home this weekend after the past couple weeks on the road. PackardPlantz was kind enough to post up some video from the Detroit show (see above). I’ve been using Vidvox’s VDMX for the live visuals. VDMX is an incredibly powerful, modular, realtime video app for OS X. It employs Apple CoreImage to leverage the GPU directly and the performance is pretty amazing. It can handle full HD video with multiple layers of QC effects running over three decks with no problems. For this trip I brought along the brand new Vestax VCM-600 (pictured below) which I’ve really enjoyed working with.
After my set I had the honor of doing live visuals for Telefon Tel Aviv which was really an amazing experience to say the least (see video below or click here to view). Will Calcutt shot the video with a Canon 5D MKII and it looks pretty amazing. He showed me some other shots he got of Matthew Dear’s DEMF closing set which really showed off the range of the camera. I was pretty much sold after seeing those, unfortunately he hasn’t posted them yet. Suffices to say, the 5D MKII is the strong frontrunner for HD-capable DSLR’s in my book right now.
Telefon Tel Aviv w/ ISO50 Visuals – Magic Stick, Detroit – Link
Just want to say thanks again for everyone who made it out to the Tampa, Detroit, and Toronto shows. I had a blast playing and hope to be back soon. You can find a few more videos on Youtube here: Tycho Detroit Videos