Storytelling through the Teaching Machine: An Interview with Strangeloop
In the world of high-octane projection mapping concepts and eye-popping 3D animations, few have the style and panache of David Wexler. Also known as Strangeloop, Wexler's notoriety stems from weaving together zero gravity crime scenes and psychedelic explosions into abstract narratives and themes. He graciously took the time to chat with EDM.com so that we could get a breakdown of the production process. In our short time together, Wexler gave us a peek inside his collaborations with Phil Reyneri on Skrillex’s projection mapped installation from The Cell, Flying Lotus’ Layer3 show, which was co-designed with the mysterious and talented set designer John King, aka TimeBoy and his new collective of technical wizards, the Teaching Machine.
"We'll often begin with a lot of reference material, figure out our direction aesthetically in collaboration with the musician, explore what iconography the musician is working with and how it can be brought into an immersive form in a live- setting. We look at what can be done to create a novel context for new content. From these projects, each piece’s use of colors and symbols can be custom tailored to suit the stage presence of the artist, the tempo of the song or the feel of the moment. In short, the work is a validation of a simple, yet powerful idea: that by combining our best efforts, the unprecedented is possible. In other words, it’s a team effort that makes for a richer experience."
As stewards of a new human experience Wexler seems ever mindful of his gift, yet he seems most appreciative of the collaborative opportunities he’s received along the way. For instance, Wexler downplays his own work with The Cell, for instance, as “a small piece of a much larger operation that had been in motion for quite some time.”
Skrillex's The Cell:
The true proverbial man behind the curtain, Wexler contributed animations and was brought on to be the piloting VJ for Skrillex's The Cell Tour in 2012, which was developed by the folks at V Squared Labs. “It was a great thrill being Skrillex's VJ for all those shows, he's such an incredible person, and I was lucky to be given the opportunity.” While collaborating turned out to be a highlight of the experience, it also meant there would be a few speed bumps along the way. “There were a lot of cooks,” said Wexler. “and sometimes they were right but I'd be stubborn about how I wanted to do things. The fact is, I was one piece of something that a lot of people had put a lot into, and it had to be respected.” It all paid off too because without a doubt the end result was a thing of beauty.
Flying Lotus' The Layer3:
Wexler has designed several other 3D projection mapping animations, with the most recent of these being Flying Lotus' Layer3 show from the You’re Dead Tour. According to Wexler, it “incorporates a Hypercube shaped scrim-structure in front, and rear-projection screen in back, allowing us to do some mapping as well as layered projections. It’s fun being able to turn a structure into a screen, and use those geometries to bring more dimensionality into a show.”
The Teaching Machine
Following his growing success, Wexler built a network of talented technical ninjas from all over the city. From this position, he was able to learn faster by soaking up the surrounding expertise and do more with the vast array of skills suddenly at his disposal. Perhaps most importantly, he could pass on his knowledge and experience and groom fresh talent so that others could continue to grow. With an overwhelming amount of potential surrounding him, he formed the Teaching Machine Project. He describes the team as "a collective of my friends who work on audio-visual projects. When I get an offer to work on a project, sometimes the scope is beyond my expertise personally, and I'm lucky to have all these insane geniuses around me I can call upon to create shows, videos, and installations, with me. Every project I work on might require a different set of skills, so Teaching Machine has become a sort of collaborative well to draw from for all of us.”
In addition to managing weekly visuals at LA's Low End Theory night club, the Teaching Machine has also delivered live visual performances for legendary artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Flosstradamus, Glitch Mob, Hundred Waters and Lauryn Hill. With so many successful projects, each member of the Teaching Machine collective has to be a master of their unique talent. “They are often multi-disciplinary artists,” said Wexler. “They are VJs and painters, coders and classical composers, web-designers and laser-techs, they defy categorization and that's precisely why they're the type of mad people I love to work with.”
Storytelling through Collaboration:
With so much extra creative horsepower, the Teaching Machine has been a fortuitous collaborative effort, however, Wexler explained that there are others in the field “that have gone much deeper down that rabbit hole.” As a result, Wexler feels “it's been done a lot [albeit] in some incredible ways. If I do projection mapping,” he explained, “I want to bring something different to it - hence the Lotus show.” I didn’t realize what that 'something different' was right away, but an important clue [for me] was seeing the explosive congruence between the visuals and the music on the You’re Dead tour. They were in sync - parallel. Just as two jazz musicians might play off of one another’s movements, visuals can respond and anticipate changes in the live performance for unprecedented artistic balance. Also, each performance takes lessons from the last to continuously serve up the best show possible." Perhaps to facilitate the learning process further, animations are showcased with a face-melting, improvisational flair. As a result, each show is organic and unique.
To encourage the learning process further, animations are showcased with a face-melting, improvisational flair. As a result, each show is organic and unique. Mapping projects like The Cell and the Layer3 are extraordinary for their inherent wonder but perhaps part of the magic of the Strangeloop approach lies in the way he accentuates the theme of the tour to make it more memorable. For instance, Wexler discussed his view of the stage, as both a phenomenal entertainment platform and an unconventional story-telling medium. “This is something I always think about,” stated Wexler. “It’s one of my favorite parts of designing a show…we're always looking to create some sort of narrative, even if its subliminal, non-linear, untraditional - we want to build a world for the audience,” continued Wexler. “Something with a philosophy behind the aesthetics. Something you can dive into. Something that is an extension of the musicians who are performing.”