Media-Arts Titan: Vello Virkhaus on Amon Tobin’s ISAM Tour


Max Eternity @ Art Digital Magazine | Feature Interview – AD MAG recently caught up with the founder of V Squared Labs.  His name is Vello Virkhaus, and if you haven’t heard of him already, chances are you’ve seen his work, because VirKhaus is arguably one of the most innovative, living art-technologist producing work in media arts today.

What does that mean?  Well, simply put: V Squared translates in graphics what Bugatti means to transportation.

Off the scale–forget about it!

Once you see and feel the work of Virkhaus’ V Squared Labs, you will undoubtedly have had an one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life, which you’ll never forget.  And with a client list that includes Sting, Mary J. Blige, Coldplay, 50 Cents and others–including Michael Jackson–none of this should come as a surprise.

Think motion graphics fueled by a laser-focused solar flare being filtered through the enjoined minds of George Clinton, Gene Roddenberry and Jean-Paul Gaultier.  Did someone say wicked?  Yea, that’s the word, and here’s the conversation that was had with Virkhaus and AD MAG, about V Squared’s project collaboration with Brazilian-born, supra-electronica megastar, Amon Tobin, currently touring the ISAM Live 2.0 show:

Amon Tobin's ISAM Live 2.0 graphic by V Squared Labs (video capture)

AD MAG:  With your hands in so many things, how do you introduce yourself?

Vello Virkhaus (VV):  That’s a good question.  I guess I could say that I’m a multi-media artist.  That would probably be pretty accurate.

In my case, as someone who directs and produces and also does live performance, as well as engineering, I guess its different disciplines of work—wearing different hats on different days.

AD MAG:  First and foremost, you consider yourself an artist?

VV:  Historically, I’ve always been an artist, and was probably born an artist.  For me, I’ve always been interested in visual medium.  Video was something that was always fascinating to me, even at an early age.

I got my first video camera around 1985-86; sometime around there, and was really interested in video.  Previously, I had mostly been painting and drawing…fine art.

My grandfather was a gallery owner, art dealer and painter, on my mother’s side.  On my father’s side, his father was a classical musician and also worked on manufacturing instruments.  There were some strong influences, even thought I was dissuaded from being an artist by my family.

I choose to do something because I like it, aside from what was acceptable.  It speaks to me and I get great pleasure out of doing the work.

AD MAG:  Let’s talk about some of your prior projects, starting with Mary J. Blige? 

VV:  We were brought in by a production designer and another director to bring this lighting environment to come to life to her music video—it was the Just Fine music video.  They were all very happy, and she [Blige] really put on a great show—and look good in front of this video lighting sculpture that I worked on.

AD MAG:  Blige is legendary.  And, what did V Squared do for American Idol? 

VV:  We created all of the 2012 season on-stage, 3-d mapping visuals.  They heard about us through the industry, along with Heather Shaw, who designed the set.  As a team we’d been asked to come in, and they decided that they really liked.

AD MAG:  Nice, and what about Coldplay.  What did you do for them?

VV:  The Speed of Sound video [which] was a cold-call through an industry recommendation, and was on a very tight schedule.  We were given the job, because they thought that we would be able to create something dynamic for that video—our ability to create visual art through music.  We created all the visuals on the LED wall.

AD MAG:  So now, let’s turn our attention to your current collaboration with Brazilian, electronica superstar, Amon Tobin.  As an artist, what does Amon Tobin represent for you? 

VV:  As an artist, he represents someone who has a very unique musical sound and style that has always been unique and stood out.  I consider him and innovator and ground breaking artist in dynamic combinations of new sound and old sound.  I see him as some who is created his own genre of music, going together with the stuff that Ninja Tunes created on their label.

He represents also, finding something, your own inspiration, and doing it because you enjoy it.  My favorite thing he said to me was “I just wanted to create something and present.”  That’s a strong statement, not bending to the will of some pop producer, one way or another.  He[Tobin] represents some who is an amazing artist on a lot of levels.

AD MAG:  And specifically, his ISAM Tour?

VV:  Amon Tobin’s ISAM World Tour, the second version, 2.0, came about from the first version.  It has been an evolution.  The tour itself is in my mind, part two, a significant upgrade and an expansion of ideas.  I would see this all as part of the ISAM live experience.

AD MAG:  And how do you describe ISAM?

VV:  ISAM is a 3d projected map experiential visual show a very strong presentation in a sync form and improvisation.  This shows up as real-time effects, and also selections of media to musical selection that’s able to be done in real time.

AD MAG:  In more detail, that means what?

VV:  Here’s the scoop.  You’ve got a pallet of things in front of you that’s like a very simple of a pallet of color.  You can choose those things based on what type of things the music is doing in the moment.  It’s a good way to interpret the sound emotionally and visually—bending and flexing in the moment.  You can put a sprinkle of glitch in with a bit of blue geometric shapes with some green angular flex with a linier high had or bright snare or kick drum.

We move our bodies to sound.  The way that dance interprets body motion to sound has a way where visual performance can be done with sound.  You’re making choices on the fly that has a visual response to the music.  That’s what VJ’ing is all about

AD MAG:  You talked earlier about following your passion.  So, what would you say to young people about following their passion and dreams?

VV:  A lot of people ask me about how to get into this field, how they can do it.  How does it happen?  What I always say is you enter by just going out there and giving it your best shot all the time, and by familiarizing yourself with types of tools are out there; to pursue with being educated with art and technology.

I always suggest to people that learning to be an artist really requires a strong education in art and technology, both.  I always recommend people to go to an art school, instead of a trade school—if they can afford it—interdisciplinary studies, and maybe some business school.  I think the institution of an art school is great if you have the money.  I also encourage people to look at what opportunities are there, out in the market.

A lot of people ask ‘what should I use?’  I sometimes just try to help people focus, and make some suggestions of what I like.  I always recommend a strong education, and tell them to just do it.

AD MAG:  Just do it?

VV:  The best way to do it is to sit at home with your computer and do it because you like it.  Give it a try.  Just give it a try.  Go for it.  That’s the way to really get into it.  Get yourself out there.

AD MAG:  Final thoughts?

VV:  ISAM has been one of the more amazing projects that I’ve gotten to work on—some amazing collaboration.  A lot of great things have come from the collaboration of this show…to get to work with one of my favorite musical artists.


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