Shpongletron 3.0 – Exclusive Interview


Nowadays when you go to a show, it’s no longer just about the music. In order to diversify their live performance, modern day artists often seek the accompaniment of custom visual experiences. Whether it be in the form of a VJ (video jockey) touring with them, a custom produced stage, projection mapped/ LED graphics, or a combination of the three, musicians and visual artists join forces to give their audience an experience rather than just a performance.

Recently Electric Bare had the opportunity to interview one of the more exquisite visual powerhouses, Zebbler Studios. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, Zebbler Studios produces visual experiences unlike any other in the industry. Having produced several full-scale Shpongle tours, EOTO lotus tours, as well as content for Verizon and Defcon, Zebbler Studios pumps life into some of the most beautiful visual experiences of the modern day. After attending a Shpongle concert in San Francisco recently, we got to talk with Zebbler Studios owner, Peter (Zebbler) Berdovsky, about their latest masterpiece, the Shpongletron 3.0:

When were you originally approached to start working with Shpongle on his tour visuals?

I first started working with Shpongle in 2009. Their US management was looking for a VJ who could bring their own projection setup, and drive themselves to every tour show in the country.

I really liked Shpongle’s music, and I was also crazy enough to be able to drive 9 hours right after finishing a set to get to the next venue on time for setup. So this seemed like a good fit for me.

This is how it all really started.

Where did your/ your studio’s psychedelic influenced style originate? Where/what do you draw inspiration from when working on large scale tour visuals? Is it a team effort or are you usually restricted to some degree by what the artist wants?
We craft custom visuals for each tour. I get really inspired by listening to the artist’s music, as well as analyzing their past graphic design preferences. Each artist is akin to a totally different country, with their own history, their own flag, and their own national anthem. I draw from that history, as well as our communication, to create all of the touring artwork.
Where did the concept for Shpongletron 3.0 originate and what were the key changes you wanted to incorporate after Shpongletron 2.0?

I was given quite a bit of design freedom with Shpongletron 3.0 For several years by now, I’ve been itching to create a design that incorporates an LED show, synchronized with the projections. This was my chance! I also wanted to create something that merges the worlds of synthetic and organic in a seamless way, to illustrate the visions that come to my mind while listening to Shpongle. So we decided that creating a very abstract rendition of the Shpongle mask was the way to go. And for complete phantasmagory, and to keep pushing the art of video mapped stages forward, we embedded 17 infinity mirrors into the structure as well.

It’s a complicated design, and I think it will take several tours for us to fully understand the kind of synchronization that could occur between the music, visuals and lighting in the stage. Even though we are in the middle of our fist tour, I am already really excited and full of new ideas and treatments for the next run.

From conceptualization to its first show, approximately how long does it take to bring a project like Shpongletron to fruition?
3.0 was pretty complicated. Our overall team numbered around 20 people (with around 10 “core group” people) and it took us about 3 months to complete this structure and all of the visual / LED content for it.
What are your go to softwares for content creation and the actual show operation. Any advice for aspiring visual artists or VJs?

Things of this scale are impossible to do on your own. I would definitely recommend forming a collective or a team of talented fabricators, coders and animators. Find helpful people, and get them energized about your vision!

Our creative process brought us through the following software:

First, hand drawn illustration / sketches were created. Those were then converted into a 3d model in Rhino, out of which the model was exported into Cinema 4D for animation, and Solidworks to create components for machining / fabrication. Cinema 4D template also provided us with a good start for an After Effects template. The bulk of our animations was done in C4D and AE so that we could standardize the workflow between all of our animators.

What is something your studio takes pride in that you feel you do better/ differently than others?

I take risks. I want to constantly grow and challenge myself. I yearn to be excited about the projects that I take on and create, because if I am thrilled about creating something (and I am pretty jaded by now), that generally means the audiences will love it too.

I also try to make sure that with every big project, my team and I learn a range of new skills that we could then apply to every other new project. This constant growth of skills and strategies is a huge asset for us, every project becomes a chance to step up our game, to scrape the boundary of unprecedented.

What’s a typical day like on tour? Do you enjoy the content creation aspect of the project more or the actual touring?
Building a new stage is an amazingly stressful exercise. Deadline crunch, no sleep, brainstorming the impossible, it’s all a part of the build. I enjoy it, as I enjoy every challenge (I’m somehow very competitive naturally), but touring provides a bit of a relief from this stress. We enter a new modality, a set of daily rituals that are predictable and comforting to me. We wake up in a different city each day, and build the stage from 1pm – 6pm, then dinner and a moment of rest, followed by a performance. The show is generally over by 1am, and we are all packed up and leaving for another city by 3-4am. At which time I crawl into my bunk to fall asleep. The next day I wake up to do it all over again…. Somehow, I really like this routine. It gives my brain a chance to rest from the previews few intense months of building.
If you could work with any artist on their next tour visuals, who would it be?

I would love to work with Radiohead, Bjork, Massive Attack, NIN, and of course… Shpongle.

I also really enjoy crafting visuals for my own a/v bass heavy act Zebbler Encanti Experience. We are doing a rare US tour this summer so catch us while you can!

And finally, what’s your favorite music/ arts-culture festival to attend and/or take part in?

Electric Forest is probably my favorite festival in the US.

Burning Man is absolutely amazing, but kind of like doing DMT – only if you are truly ready.

I really like nerding out at DEF CON – Zebbler Studios has a yearly presence there with our video mapped sculptures and deco. And I love listening in on hacker conferences where they describe how to see what’s on your computer screen by listening to radio frequencies emitted by your laptop.

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