Live show visuals

Inspired by my buddy 5th Spear ( who takes a whole drumkit and a VJ to his gigs with him, I’ve been trying out different ideas to make my shows more visuals. I’ve got myself a Critter and Guitari video scope, borrowed a pocket projector and have organised my synths and controllers into a decent-looking flight case so that my performance area is as visual as possible, instead of a haphazard pile of cable spaghetti. Oh and I’m dragging my double bass to shows with me. I’m taking this set-up live for the first time on the 15th (wish me luck!)

What are your thoughts on visuals / videos / light shows / etc for live show?
What have you tried to make your shows more visual?
Do electronic music shows need visuals, or does it cheapen the artistry of the musicians?


I get really turned off by visuals that are just blobs of random colours without any particular palette or relationship to the music at all. On the other hand visuals in context can be really powerful and enhance the music.


Best visuals I have witnessed at a gig were when Red Sparowes played. They had a story going on, told through reworkings of old news footage. (All manipulated and combined with original effects and images/films).


[quote=“kisielk, post:2, topic:5234”]blobs of random colours without any particular palette or relationship to the music


For me, to not detract from the experience, visuals need to be really integral to the show, carefully considered, thematically related to the music and preferably subtle; I don’t need shiny stuff constantly bubbling away projected over the musicians, in fact I’d actively rather not have that.


Exactly. There are some “visual artists” in town that recently bought a bunch of “vintage” video synth equipment and are using it at every show without really having any sense of how it works or any aesthetic purpose. It just ends up being a mush of colour. To me it’s the equivalent of visual vomit and just entirely ruins the performance. I’ve actually stopped going to any shows where they are performing because I just can’t bear to watch it.

I’m all for people experimenting with equipment and techniques, but don’t ruin someone else’s art to do it…

On the other hands I saw some performances at the New Forms Festival this year that had incredible visuals that were really tailored to the musician and their works. Combined with the venue it really led to a heightened sense of surrealism. That kind of stuff is awesome.

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If you are doing a grid centric set I like the idea of showing an overhead view of your performance a la Edison.


I think it’s awesome that you thought to explore/integrate this whole other sense ALONG with your musical practice, the domain where you are able to ‘think’ quite easily already. I agree with what’s been said above and can only add that you should consider that if you’re incorporating the visual treat that as art as well. Care for it as well. That makes sense…visual art is already a thing and people, living in a modern visual culture, are exposed to visual art in high volume. This means people will be comfortable having opinions about it already : P…which can sound intimidating until you realize you’re one of these people too and because of the sheer exposure you’ve had to visual art you are allowed opinions and synthesis too…and you’re well informed!

Also, at first perhaps you’ll have to think about the two (audio and visual) separately–but this shouldn’t dissuade you because it seems like twice the work. It should excite you! There is SO much to do where these two senses “meet” and once you get into it the ideas just come. So many ideas…try them. And then the real muthafuckin cool thing is when the visual starts to inform the sound in ways you could have never predicted.

If you want to know what I think a good starting point would be…
If you know any visual artists ask them to think about what this could mean along with you. A true collaboration. Even if the collaboration doesn’t “last” speaking with someone who thinks primarily in visual terms and creatively is just a good way to get your own juices going too. Not to mention, this kind of interaction with people is–as far as I’m concerned–the best way to spend a life.


To answer these spqcifically:

  1. Soooo into it when its clear that it’s not just an after thought or gimmick. Any bit of originality or creativity or care is very much appreciated by me.

  2. a. Live painting (and what this means has varied because of the relationship between the heard and the seen),
    b. live video feedback (pointing a camera at a screen of it’s own feed and placing bits of ‘stuff’ on the surface of the screen…all responding to the sound,
    c. lights (!) DMX lights controlled with biometric sensors and some Max patches,
    d. a straight up music video (because a ‘show’ doesn’t have to be live)
    e. documentary of the live show as supplement either released before or after the show. This will give additional context to the live event.

  3. No, they don’t need them. Neither does it cheapen the artistry of the musicians. <<< I’m actually curious about why you think that would be the case. If you could elaborate I’d like to hear your thoughts.
    I think thoughtfulness comes through. Likewise, I think carelessness comes through…whether in the visual domain or aural domain.


With some exceptions (Nosaj Thing, Chris Willits, etc), I usually hate “visuals” as they often seem like a (unneeded) crutch for a non-vocal performer. Even the “camera on the buttons” vibe usually feels like it puts an emphasis on technique rather than the music, which often comes off as a little gimmicky to me.

I still think stage production is a great consideration for every band or performer, but I’d lean towards lighting rather than projected visuals. When we first started doing SE headlining sets I used a usb to dmx box to program a light show for our set in ableton, and it worked great. It was a lot of work, but in the end we had a pretty legit light show without needing to hire anyone to set it up or run it every night.

I heard about the dmxis box from the All Tiny Creatures guys, who had one of my favorite simple diy light shows on their last few tours:


i dislike random video collage and love light play, synced or not

@jondashkyle is my fav practitioner




how could I forget nonotak


Love good visuals, hate bad visuals. Just like music.

Here is a gig with my band again:

On this one I am also using a usb-dmx inface to control the lights at 3.00

Nanotak is a long time favorite! And also Ryoji Ikeda:

Oh and I am really loving this!


Pretty much everyone has said a version of this, and I totally agree with that. There’s been several shows where the organizer, meaning well, has booked a vj-type artist to do visuals over people’s sets, and I’ve never been into it. I, too, hate seeing random shit projected on top of unrelated music.

I also echo @Angela’s call for deep/integrated collaboration, which can often mean carving your own language/approach. She mentioned many specific things we’ve done together (or have tried together), but it can be anything.

The Nonotak stuff looks cool, but comes off as too slick for me. Not to mention they have their “thing” where they are standing there with their gear and stuff. Like it’s really ‘branded’ or something.

Reminds me of Martin Messier as well, where there are some beautiful visuals (with borderline genius visual ideas) that suffer from brutal one-note-ness.


Wow. Looks great, but I agree the music is kind of lame, and I’m not really into the overacting.

I really like Robert Henke’s Lumiere work, both from a technical and aesthetic perspective:

Apparently he’s going to be performing it in San Francisco next year, I think it would be worth the trip for me.

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yooooo is that desertdaze app released anywhere? tried to search around the internets and couldn’t find any meaningful results. totally gorgeous!!! @jondashkyle


i really liked this video of randy jones from madrona labs:


@zebra posted this : from the experimental music notation resources
it’s an interesting attempt to get visual as art and music notation for a performance.

very cool examples. could a setup for this kind of thing be as simple as a usb-dmx device and a few of these? I would love to try DIY lighting but really no idea of the materials to start

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always loved that and for some reason the motion really adds a sense of temporal depth

@mr_sibs not sure either but he mentioned some of his hardware was custom ( other times he just used imp-dmx in max along with enttec dmx usb to control traditional dmx gear

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