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Future Squared: Vello Virkhaus’ Sound x Vision = Revolution

The Future Squared: Vello Virkhaus’ Sound x Vision = Revolution

Take a prism and hold it up to the light. Watch the sun’s rays hit the glass and shoot out in shards of Roy G. Biv like a rainbow unlocked from your hand. Now take a different kind of prism, one made of composite angles and accelerating trends: the convergence of electronica, 3D technology and digital visual wizardry. Once again, the invisible refracts into the open with vibrant life.

In the last few years, computer programs and cheaper visual processing have fallen into the hands of hungry artists who want to change the world. From rhythms as x-rays of time to melodies gliding with wings of geometry, you no longer need psychedelics to instantly see what people have been hearing for years in electronica’s halls of infinite imagination. Anyone can access its burning fire now.

One of the most eye-catching signs of its rise is the growing use of LED sculptures and 3D projection mapping at EDM events. If “the revolution will not be televised,” as the late poet Gil Scott-Heron once famously declared, then it might very well be projected straight into your head. Just check Amon Tobin’s ISAM tour with its wall of offset cubes or Daft Punk’s now mythic space pyramid, and you can see chinks of light breaking through the haze of Hollywood’s endless rehash.

Lightwaves bouncing through an empty cityscape


In the heart of the San Fernando Valley on the other side of Tinseltown’s railroad tracks among the dusty warehouses of Panorama City, Vello Virkhaus’ V Squared Labs is busy hatching this new way of seeing the world. From here, dazzling insights moving at light speed blaze through eyeballs to light up today’s music on the inside. They’re dreaming big, and more and more people want a piece of the action, from major corporate brands to high school kids raised on Xbox and Bach.

“The last two years have been like wildfire,” Virkhaus explains, as if he’s about to run out of breath. In his 40s, he retains a wide-eyed excitement that makes one feel at home in his Alice in Wonderland tales. “It’s been great and super hard. There is something nice about the early ‘90s: Easy.”

We’re sitting in Vello’s tidy new office. A corkboard on the wall is filled with flyers and photos from his almost 30 years of VJ performance, including pictures of ‘90s breakbeat act Rabbit In The Moon, who he supported for many moons. In a glass cabinet are rows and rows of DV tapes from his past shows, an impressive archive of nocturnal wonder.

In 2011, Vello tipped the international hat with Amon Tobin’s ISAM show. Audiences and critics across the globe cheered his mechanistic, pulsating visuals. An array of giant cubes designed by Heather Shaw of Vita Motus flashed with lightning, rotating like the guts of an H.R. Giger robot with flames belching through its hidden pipes. Glowing greens shattered into swarming reds and crystalline blues: ghosts, grids and shape-shifting things. It was unreal, a holographic spell cast by spectral waves of sound and vision.

We basically modeled the entire Sound club in 3D. We did a totally virtual projection study, developed a way to map all the boxes.

More recently, Vello took on an ambitious project for Sound, one of Hollywood’s newest nightclubs. The challenge was to create an immersive environment using projectors in tight spaces on unconventional surfaces. His team crafted visual graphics that could evolve remotely and by theme. And while he had to work with lower lumins that muted the impact of his designs, the project pushed his team to develop new techniques that will serve them well in the future.

The Future Squared: Vello Virkhaus’ Sound x Vision = Revolution
The Future Squared: Vello Virkhaus’ Sound x Vision = Revolution

“We basically modeled the entire Sound club in 3D,” he explains. “We did a totally virtual projection study, developed a way to map all the boxes. If you could see it, we have animation that’s going chih-chih-chih-chih, that is totally generative, that’s audio-reactive per box and colorful and beautiful. But it’s currently only monochromatic. You can only see black and white in there because it’s on steel.”

“It’s the only system like that in the world,” he continues. “It’s our first node-based 3D mapping system. It’s a master computer and then slave computers. So it was a big architecture step for us to have a controller system that would send data to as many nodes as we wanted to. We could expand to 20 outputs, a hundred outputs, just keep stacking nodes and changing geometry and shifting it.”

Outside Vello’s office is a massive room with computer workstations lining three of its walls. Coders, animators, architects and editors busily plug away at any number of various projects in the V Squared pipeline: Redbull events, Grammy Awards parties, Ultra Music Festival and more.

Lead programmers like V Squared’s Peter Sistrom work wonders, mapping multi-faceted 3D objects in virtual space. Multiple projectors are then placed in complex angles that puzzle together an augmented reality onto abstract set designs. For projects like ISAM, collaborators like Chicago’s Leviathan help push the boundaries the extra mile, providing custom calibration tools or fresh content.

“We’re just on a mission,” Vello says. “So happy we’re here. It’s great to have the space to do this stuff now. I’d always dreamed about having a studio like this. It’s a good dream.”

In an adjacent room used for the kitchen and equipment loading, a stack of boxes have just arrived.

“My speakers got here!” he says, turning to one of his operations leads. “Andy, is this it? Parabolic sound. I’ve only witnessed it once in Las Vegas.”

We’re working on a crowd visual program for mobile devices. Each person becomes a pixel…The real 4D thing is en route.

Unwrapping the speakers, he picks up what looks like a transparent mushroom cap the size of a car tire. With it are long bulbous stems as anchors. The parabolic reflectors can target areas across long distances. Some models can also be used as weapons. It’s this willingness to experiment that goes all the way back to Vello’s art school days in Chicago. That restless spirit makes V Squared Labs one of the leading outfits in experiential art.

“We’re working on a crowd visual program for mobile devices,” he says. “Each person becomes a pixel. That’s a natural step. There’s a race to do something like that. I know five other people who are making GPS glow sticks that map. Audience immersion. The real 4D thing is en route.”

This might all sound future forward, but as Vello notes, it’s also future back that got him here. Decades of experience with old analog gear like the Video Toaster continue to give him the depth and historical background to think outside the box. He also maintains important relationships with cohorts who have been collaborating with him for years. Still working with him at V Squared, for example, is his old friend Davy Force, who worked on OVT (Optical Video Technicians) in the early ‘90s, Vello’s first VJ group in Chicago.

“This guy is the OG master of DPaint,” Vello proclaims—DPaint is one of the original 3D computer graphics programs. “This guy has the coolest video art ever, TV Sheriff. Show him the Plant Show. Nobody has anything like it.”

“It’s a really different world than this world here,” Davy warns. “It’s a live video mixing act with a performance front-end: me, an ape and a prospector.”

I hired a guy right after his high school. He’s become an amazing programmer. He came up and found me VJing. ‘What are you doing?’ I didn’t ignore him.

As you walk the open spaces of V Squared Labs’ new studio, you get the sense that everyone here is part of a distinct tribe of secret knowledge. Searching the vector-scape of a bright new world, what the cyberpunk author William Gibson once described as “consensual hallucination,” their vision mission has formed from various walks of life. Artists or technicians, they’re here to push audio-visualism to the max.

And they’ve come to Los Angeles to do it. Silicon Valley might give San Francisco a technological luster. New York still beams as the info capital of the world. Tokyo and London live off hundreds of years of rich culture. But there’s something about the expansive wasteland of this young metropolis that invites tomorrow’s dreaming.

“All these amazing people that are here doing this amazing work are Angelenos,” Vello enthuses, noting that he followed Davy and others here from Chicago in the late ‘90s. “Los Angeles is truly a great creative city filled with innovative artists.”

“It’s a good mixture,” he says, arguing LA has the open space ideal for hyper focused experimentation as well as human serendipity. “I hired a guy right after his high school. He’s become an amazing programmer. He came up and found me VJing. ‘What are you doing?’ I didn’t ignore him.”

The holy ghosts from art worlds past

Virkhaus was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the same hometown of DJ wunderkind Seth Troxler, about 140 miles west of Detroit. His father was a scientist and pianist who made sure Vello learned how to play music from an early age. He joined the marching band in junior high, learning the French horn, cello and piano. His uncle was the conductor of the Duluth Symphony Orchestra and moved in the same circles as Arvo Part and other Estonian composers.

We were walking down the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue and he goes, ‘Check this out man!’ and he puts the headphones on me, and played Holy Ghost and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ It was crazy.

For college he went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) for its radical approach to art theory and education. While there, he followed his passion for op art, Futurism and Surrealism. He also discovered a love for computer graphics, attending classes that would help fill the ranks of Pixar, Digital Domain and Weta.

“They had major controversies,” he recalls of SAIC in the early ‘90s. “They had interdisciplinary studies, where I could be in the print-making department at the same time I was in the video department at the same time I was in art technology, at the same time I was doing neon. Even though they weren’t friends—video didn’t like art technology, print-making hated that I used digital images on a lithograph, you’d get ripped apart in your critiques—they tolerated it.”

Young Vello Virkhaus was also drawn to the experimental video art of Dan Sandin, inventor of early video synthesizers and co-director of the Electronic Visualization Lab, and Nam June Paik, the “electronic superhighway” auteur who provoked a couch potato era with his groundbreaking TV installations. The interaction of sound and music with visual art cut even deeper. The convergence of the two in synesthetic splendor, what some theorists have termed Visual Music, is a long tradition.

Great painters like Wassily Kandinsky, Man Ray and Georgia O’Keefe tried to match their brushes to the ghostly world of sound. In the age of film and animation, artists like Oskar Fischinger and Hans Richter captured the fluid dynamics of music and radio on celluloid. Fischinger also worked on commercial experiments like Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

Others pushed the technology. In the early to mid 20th century, Thomas Wilfred developed the Clavilux, a mechanical organ that weaved color spectrums to create what he called Light Art, while the brothers James and John Whitney experimented with optical printers and analogue computers. Andy Warhol famously worked with color projectors for his “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” shows with The Velvet Underground. Psychedelic patterns were de rigueur at ‘60s and ‘70s rock concerts. The liquid exploits of The Joshua Light Show and Single Wing Turquoise Bird still color popular memory.

In some ways, this is where Vello found audio-visual art in the early ‘90s, an almost forgotten cliché of druggy aimlessness snapped from the purview of ultra serious academia. Neither had much of an audience. Then a funny thing happened. His roommate, an Iranian-American DJ, rubbed off on him in a big way.

“I remember the first time I heard Holy Ghost, the early Holy Ghost,” he says, referring to Holy Ghost, Inc., an influential UK techno act of the ‘90s. “We were walking down the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue and he goes, ‘Check this out man!’ and he puts the headphones on me, and played Holy Ghost and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ It was crazy.”

Out went Led Zeppelin and My Bloody Valentine, in went Vapourspace, Future Sound of London and Juan Atkins. Grabbing the tools at hand, from video clips to slide projectors, he set about with like-minded friends to form OVT. During the day, he cut his teeth as a computer graphics lead at ad agency Optimus. At night, they bathed Chicago area raves with visual otherworldliness.

I love listening to minimal electronic music and doing computer graphics.

“We used to do a lot of film loops,” Vello says. “We had a special briefcase made with a fluorescent light on the top with hundreds of loops. We’d buy old high school AV department Bell & Howell projectors. We’d have stacks and stacks and stacks of them.”

“The reason we got into it is because of this intensely experimental psychedelic work that we were into doing,” he says, his words slinging to a fiery rhythm. “To me when I went to a gallery and would see Nam June Paik, just a 100 televisions and stand in front of it and not hear any music and not feel any connection to it other than the rapid pace of the visual, was completely dead to me.”

“You’d come in and observe and have some crackers and cheese. ‘Isn’t that interesting?’ And you’d leave. It didn’t do it for me. It was about the most un-interesting thing to me. So I was kind of in revolt against the institution.”

At raves, he fell in love with not just the music but the total experience. He was especially encouraged by the audience, who were immersed in the environment and participating in the performance.

“There was a lot of space there to be individually imaginative as opposed to Houses of the Holy—the poem is told,” Vello says. “It’s a different type of daydreaming. Lyrical daydreaming is cool. But EDM has more territory, especially in the drifting minimalist patterns. It’s halfway metronome, halfway trance-inducing concentration. I love listening to minimal electronic music and doing computer graphics.”

To his mind, raves and VJing were inseparable. “That was rave for me,” he says. "The best part is we played the weirdest imagery for years. I got it all out of me. No one ever complained.”

At the same time, Vello could work in the parallel world of commercial art. That’s where he could stay on top of the latest trends and access expensive materials and machines. Between the two worlds, he found his living and his inspiration. That’s also how he got his nickname, the vision man ad infinitum.

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“It was an old joke that my boss used to tease me with,” he says. “Because I was such an obsessed computer animator, he would call me V Square. ‘Hey, Mr. V Square!’ The name kinda stuck.”

An old dog yet again shows off a new trick

Just as the disc jockey helped transform the medium of music the last 40 years, from disco to hip hop to techno, the video jockey looms large on the horizon as the missing dimension in all tomorrow’s parties. Long in the shadows, VJing is finally coming of age as a major force in music entertainment. In a kind of technological deja vu, the parallels run even deeper.

In the ‘80s, the Japanese synth-maker Roland made instruments intended for a more traditional music market. The TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and the TB-303 bass synthesizer were intended to help rock musicians practice and record demos. They were commercial failures and ended up as cheap secondhand devices at pawnshops, yard sales or in garbage bins. Falling into the hands of hungry musicians, they defined the signature sounds of electro, techno, house and acid house.

The TB-303 in particular revolutionized the trajectory of modern music. Tweaking its knobs without a user manual, Chicago’s DJ Pierre, Spanky and Herb J discovered it was capable of creating liquid, drippy, squelching waveforms that ripped right into dancers’ psyches, revving them up and conveying an elastic acceleration into the future. Thus was born “acid.”

Twenty years later, old Roland did it again when its sub-company Edirol rolled out video performance gear meant for church and corporate presentations.

The Future Squared: Vello Virkhaus’ Sound x Vision = Revolution

“The Edirol Presenter changed VJing for me,” Vello says. “The PR-80, the Presenter, was never designed as a VJ tool. Ever. I remember a guy representing Edirol was at Ultra Music Festival with his booth set up. I said to him, ‘What the hell is this ugly beige, brown keyboard? What is this thing?’ It had removable drives. He kinda showed me. I thought, ‘This is crap. I have two laptops and my tapes,’ that’s how we used to VJ. I said, ‘How fast is that?’ pressing on the keys. Ping! ‘Oh my gosh! It’s almost as fast as sixteenth notes!’ When we saw that, I realized, wow.”

“That’s the device that became my axe," he continues, calling it up in Google and Wikipedia to show me. "It was a media server designed to be controlled by a musical keyboard. So the interface was directly mapped to a 49-key keyboard, which in my brain, this is the most perfect thing ever. As a pianist, as someone who loves music and reads music and can still rudimentarily write music, that seemed like the best way to connect.”

“So it was this genius invention by Edirol. I think that helped popularize the whole VJ explosion. Then Edirol released the V4 and it was just game on. There were 500 VJ softwares all of a sudden to support it. It was the real start of the commercial worldwide spread of VJing. The MX-50 Panasonic was five or ten thousand dollars. All of a sudden, whatever, 700 bucks, you’ve got a video mixer. Oh and PCs are cheaper and cheaper, then software and clips. There you go! There’s your toolkit, all under five grand. Make cool visual shows. Blast off.”

Following the sun, Vello moved to Los Angeles in the late ‘90s as the U.S. rave scene and computer graphics in general tilted to the Pacific. He did his first Electric Daisy Carnival in 2001 at the Hanson Dam in the San Fernando Valley. V Squared Labs has done the visuals for most of Pasquale Rotella’s Insomniac Events ever since.

“We’ve been collaborating with them for a long time,” he says. “It’s been great to see the evolution from when he was in an apartment with four roommates and boxes of flyers to what a world-class event organization they are now. Hard work. He’s an entrepreneur. We’re alike in that sense. With electronic music, finding something we liked and being entrepreneurial is a lucky place to go.”

In those years leading up to his West Coast defection, Vello pushed and pushed at the technology available to him, watching the prices dribble down at a snails pace.

“It’s been a wild ride,” he says. “I can remember when I couldn’t afford any advanced equipment. It was so slow to work at home on an Apple II-CS, and trying to composite, just fighting it big time and being really locked into the Silicon Graphics platform with desktop machines that were 35, 45 thousand dollars where the software costs you another $20,000.”

Then in 1998, the developer Alias! Wavefront released the 3D computer graphics software Maya. It could run on more affordable PCs and had a customizable interface that improved its flexibility as a work environment. Like Roland’s PR-80, it was a turning point.

“At the same time, the pirate and hacker movement, like the phone phreak movement, opened the door for a lot of artists to make their own art,” he says. “A lot of it wasn’t even commercial. And here it was. The PC thing was the revolution.”

A global vision quest flooding into the open

While more accessible tools are opening the floodgates for new VJs, it also means smaller startups like V Squared Labs can go up against the heavy weights. This came to a sharp point with ISAM. The music label Ninja Tune was looking for a talented company to bring Tobin’s space travel stage vision to life. Companies like Obscura Digital, the inventors of 3D mapping, and Moment Factory, who did work for Madonna and the Super Bowl, were out of reach.

Then a chance call from Vello’s old friend and laser jockey, Alex Lazarus, opened the door. Lazarus had talked to a Ninja Tune manager about another project and was asked if he knew anyone who could do 3D mapping. Vello instantly came to mind.

Tobin is somewhere between a video game, art technology, immersive entertainment and mash-up...Faster and faster.

“Of course, we’d never done projection mapping but I put together a reel of all the spatial LED mapping we’d done and sent that to Ninja Tunes,” Vello recounts. “And then I flew to Tobin’s house and met with him. Between Alex pushing—he got Heather Shaw to do the design which was great—somehow we convinced Ninja Tune to give us a chance. It’s kind of a miracle really and it launched a lot of great things.”

“Ten years ago, Obscura were doing this and were so far ahead. But now point of entry is, ‘Oh yeah, we can use a video game graphics card.’ ‘What? OK, it’s going to work? How much is it going to cost?’ ‘550 bucks.’ ‘What!?’ I spent $6,000 on a graphics card for a Quadro. Turn around and a $500 experimental card just crushes it.”

Video game processors, which have pushed computer-processing power for years through market demand, have also been arrayed by IBM to build next generation supercomputers. Once again, from software to controllers to microchips, faster and cheaper technology reaches a critical convergence that allows for new forms of artistic expression.

“Tobin is somewhere between a video game, art technology, immersive entertainment and mash-up,” Vello explains. “Because we’re using video game technology like the Xbox Kinect and Nvidia graphics cards, using that real-time capability of these new super GPU cores and just crunching. There’s now the 680, the Kepler core. Faster and faster.”

Fifteen or 20 years ago, these kinds of visual leaps were the privilege of very few artists. Orbital’s legendary live shows benefited from the abstract graphics and film images of Giles Thacker and Luke Losey. Underworld, as members of the design firm Tomato, have explored traditional video mixed with computer animation, digging into the mysterious interplay of paint, letters and words. More recently, Daft Punk punched a hole through the popular music scene with their scintillating lights and LED pyramid.

In particular, The Future Sound of London was a major influence on Vello. “Future Sound of London, when they did ISDN, I was like ‘Holy cow, this is cool,’” Vello says of the band’s 1995 album and worldwide webcasts. “Just the imagery, the progressive look of the design and the sound. They had the coolest video. They were a huge inspiration for me.”

In most cases, advanced visuals were locked up in big budgets or museum grants. The cutting edge often still bleeds from these rarefied sources. V Squared Labs was particularly inspired by the augmented light sculptures of Pablo Valbuena. Alcatel-Lucent’s “Envision Sensory Box” was further fuel for ISAM, wrapping light around city-like structures and filling flat surfaces with vivid motional depths.

But at the other end of the spectrum, where art meets pop, where highbrow meets the underground, more and more artists are starting up the future. Vello himself noticed a paradigm shift a few years back when VJs began to show up out of the woodwork.

“The first time it really started happening I really had a negative reaction,” Vello says of festivals where VJs began to multiply. “I probably came off like a total asshole and was unprofessional and unfriendly. ‘What!? My stage? Kid, you’re VJing? Laptop, what?’ And then I realized, ‘Oh wow, it’s here.’ It doesn’t matter if I have this giant table with all this technology. This guy is here with a laptop and he’s here to VJ for Kaskade. And you realize they’re here, all these great artists.”

“I’ve met so many doing visuals, brilliant animators and designers, totally unique styles of work and visuals,” he says. “Zero appropriation. 100 percent original. All original work. All original art. Just mind-boggling.”

“It’s very individualistic. Many of the artists are coming in on their own path. I think the community is becoming more aware, outreaching and bringing people together.”

It’s some kind of weird convergence, where art world and festival world and commercial world are merging.

The innovative software that people are creating globally, like Resolume or Modul8, stems from the energy of more artists needing tools for visual performance. Online VJ forums also point to a thriving worldwide community focused on enhancing the visual pleasure of concertgoers around the world.

“If you go to VJ Central and you look under software, you could see a thousand programs in there,” Vello says. “There could be three or four thousand pieces of software in there that have been created specifically for VJing, which is huge if you think of how much creative output is going on to develop those tools, that combines computer programming, graphic art and motion broadcast design. Some of them are super obscure and experimental. The idea behind, ‘I’m gonna make this,’ is a statement in itself because its prolific.”

Video sites like YouTube and Vimeo are also helping spread cultural awareness, quickening the exchange of visual ideas across the globe. Vello cites other outfits like United Visual Artists, EyeSupply, Pilot, and AntiVJ as bright stars in the VJ firmament.

“It’s some kind of weird convergence, where art world and festival world and commercial world are merging,” he says, noting Vice Magazine and Intel’s Creator’s Project as a particular force multiplier. “They bring more cool visual art to public visibility than seemingly a Guggenheim. It’s just so now. A technology company and a magazine doing the visual art in the now. It’s not hung up on Andy Warhol’s old videos and doing another impressionist exhibit for the five thousandth time: Renoir. It’s like bam! Now!”

Reach out and touch the POW of now

From the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux to Keith Haring’s hieroglyphic graffiti at the Paradise Garage, where house music was born in the ashes of disco, visual art has always helped propel our tribal search for community and meaning. Artists like Pierre Huyghe or the photographer Andreas Gursky have seen this continuum in rave culture, bringing its vibrant life to the “crackers and cheese” crowd. But V Squared Labs remains committed to the other direction, like a positive electric current feeding the grid.

If somebody would float me a couple million, we’ll make it. That would be my dream thing.

For more than 20 years, Virkhaus has been pushing forward-looking narratives to the disaffected and the hedonistic. Where revelers have often sought escape, he has refracted the wild things in their psyches right back at them. Busby Berkeley’s dance reveries, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi or Douglas Trumbull’s “stargate” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, all used sound and vision to awake the popular imagination to deeper questions about life. V Squared Labs is no different.

In a more focused fashion, Vello would like to 3D-project onto moving objects like cars. One could see big potential for lighting up the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles as well. An invisible city in many respects, a metropolis with a barely pulsing heart, the City of Angels could use the ghostly projections of Vello Virkhaus, splashed against the dream screen of Hollywood’s dislocated public soul.

“We’ve done big proposals for building mapping,” he says. “There’s a lot of competition. There’s a lot of companies that just do that. Until you’ve done a building, we’re in this limbo. People don’t want to buy something until they see it. I’d love to do a classical Greek structure with Doric columns, ornamental architectural mapping -- the Tobin thing, the way it looks going across the surface and bounces.”

Away from grand statements in the public square, he’d love the chance to revolutionize the more intimate space of the nightclub. Listening to Vello daydream, you can visualize the full promise of electronic music finally coming to the fore. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a psychic breakthrough. The unique potential of EDM was that it was always on some level as visual as it was aural. Not in the rock star sense, with pyrotechnics and flashy hair, but in the pure imagination of shapes, colors and forms.

“I want a fully immersive LED room, that’s augmented,” Vello says, his hands shaking in front of him, as if he was holding an invisible box in the air. “So it’s the idea of mapping but all LED, so you’re inside LED with speakers behind transparent LED, with the DJ booth built into LED. Voooooom, rising, traveling, falling inside of sound and space. That is at the top. If somebody would float me a couple million, we’ll make it. That would be my dream thing.”

Dreams in Vello’s world are not effervescent floaty things. He takes his dreams and with blood, sweat and tears, makes something real out of them. When he describes both the stress and rush of performing live, you start to understand that all this sci-fi futurism mixed with electric Kool-Aid is the opposite of Plato’s rational philosophical cave from The Republic—the namesake of Dan Sandin’s virtual reality CAVE used for medical visualization research. It’s about being alive without eclipsing the sun. It’s Lascaux, not Plato.

“It’s totally nerve-wracking, up until the first open and its running, that it feels like you are going downhill,” Vello says, describing the VJ production for events like Electric Daisy Carnival or Infected Mushroom’s 2012 tour “It’s like getting ready for a swim meet. For the first show of the Tobin tour, I didn’t feel better until the first track played. And after it played I felt, ‘Okay, it’s not going to fail.’ Up until then, it’s ‘Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!’ Until then, it’s on the racing block getting ready to dive. But once you’re in it, and it’s going, it’s so much fun. The getting there is a big challenge, adrenalin rush, packing frenzy, preparing, stacking and gearing up. And then POW!”

But for Vello and his crew, meaning comes from something more fundamental. It’s the simple drive to connect with an audience in real time that draws the best EDM and VJ artists to this technological art race.

“My favorite part of Infected Mushroom was after the Avalon show, the first show,” he says. “I went outside and I was standing there to get a hot dog at four in the morning. And these two guys were standing there in the street and I overheard their conversation.”

“I have no idea how they made that whole thing move. Do you think they had giant hydraulics in there!?”

That shit was moving! It was crazy!”

“And I leaned over and I said, ‘Hey, just wanted to let you know it never moved.’ And they looked at each other bewildered. We sat down to eat our hot dogs and I explained to them how it evoked this sense of travel but nothing ever physically moved.”

Underlying their temporary belief in these moving orbs was a kind of restoration. Like the invisible rainbow in your hand, the two buddies had seen wonders unlocked before their eyes. In jaded Hollywood no less.

“This illusion that they had gone through, was magical,” Vello says with fascination. “The suspension of reality to a fantastic place, of these giant moving orbs when nothing was, was a good summary of what I hoped someone would take away. It was about being a part of it.”

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