Los Angeles

The Perpetual Vertigo of Strangeloop

Strangeloop | Photo by Theo Jemison

To experience a Strangeloop video is an exercise in perpetual vertigo. There is always movement, not just across the screen but into it as the viewer is continually sent floating through space (or is it amniotic fluid)? Through his mesmerizing music/video/art, Strangeloop creates worlds where "technology" and "nature" aren't in opposition but rather, organically at one, like a electron microscope boring past cell membranes.

As part of the burgeoning Brainfeeder family, Strangeloop (née David Wexler) has become the collective's visual wizard, conjuring video art for everyone from Erykah Badu to Skrillex, one of his oldest partners, Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus. Wexler and Ellison first met one another in college, at San Francisco's Academy of Arts. At the time, they were simply kindred student spirits, with a shared love for hip-hop and electronic music but a few years later, that friendship helped them build the Brainfeeder collective into one of the most dynamic musical forces in contemporary Los Angeles.

CEPHALAPODOPHILIA from StrangeLoop on Vimeo.

On April 6, Wexler debuts ANAMNESIA, part film premiere, part performance art, part collaborative creative throwdown between Wexler, Micah Nelson, Moskito, and Leigh McCloskey among others. It's not just a show, it's an "unveiling" of an "avant-sci-fi Universe." In the days leading up to that portal being opened, ArtBound sat down with Wexler to talk about his videos, his music, and what it's like to try to see past infinity.

Oliver Wang: I was trying to decipher exactly what ANAMNESIA will be...is it an event? And exhibit? Both?

David Wexler: It's actually both. It is an exhibition of artwork and a bunch of different mediums. We have paintings, digital prints and video installations and that sort of thing. It's all revolves around this universe that's been in my mind for a while. All the people participating in the show helped produce this film so it's a multimedia event where we'll be showing the film and exploring the world that is depicted in the film throughout a bunch of different works.

OW: Some artists work in specific mediums but your work always seems to blur those lines.

DW: I've been really curious about projects [where] a world is represented in many media. I released an album for the last project I did on Brainfeeder and then made a gallery show around the music and had like a web sort of experience where you could navigate through this almost neurological network and always find various animations I've made. I'm just curious about projects where you can have something that's not just a music project or not just a film, it's almost like a world with many sort of windows into that world.

OW: If you had to pinpoint a moment where you began to see the potential in creating these mixed, audiovisual worlds, when would that have been?
DW: Earliest memory I remember, I guess I was probably 13 or 14. I discovered video feedback loops which is that effect you get when you put a camera facing a television and you take the out-through the camera and plug it into the input of the TV. You can get this wall of mirrors kind of effect but what you start seeing if you zoom in and explore it is all this data unfolding which really is like a computer or a system trying to show you the infinite. I saw that and became pretty obsessed and I just spent of a lot of my time looking at video feedback loops and listening to music. It was like my first live visual stuff, obviously with no audience except for me and maybe some friends. but it was [how] I got interested in having this kind of visual component at play when I was listening to music. This was before I was playing with any visualizers or anything like that. It was just a very simple system to produce complex results.

OW: I like that analogy about peering into the infinite, I can see how that might capture someone's imagination.

DW: I have a lot of fractal geometries in my stuff and I'm always trying to figure out ways of depicting something in visual or auditory media which has that aspect of approaching the infinite where you can see it, you know, reach for that. For instance, the prints I'm making for the show are really really big prints -- I think they're like maybe 9 feet by 4 feet or something -- and the level of detail is more than I've ever done on anything in any visual work. The printers basically told me that the level of detail was testing their laser printers. They've never had something in there [that] required that much precision. I'm trying to figure out how much detail I can really have in an image and have it hold up.

Image by Strangeloop

OW: What's always been interesting to me about fractals is how mathematically precise they are yet how we also see them show up in the most literal natural of settings - from plants to galaxies. In your work, there's that same combination of the technological with the organic. I'm assuming this is not a coincidence.

DW: No, definitely not. I forget who said this but someone referred to the Mandelbrot Set as the thumbprint of God. To me, from the beginning, when I saw these fractals even in video feedback loops it was an emotional thing. I was like, "Oh my God! What is this? What does this mean?!" and it's great because the more you zone into these things, you do start seeing them everywhere in nature. Doing a lot of 3-D work, if I'm designing video stuff for Skrillex or Erykah Bad, to get what I want to see, I have to start thinking about how nature does what it does.

BIRDS OF PASSAGE /// STRANGELOOP VISUALIZATION from StrangeLoop on Vimeo.

OW: As a visual artist, it must be noted...you come from a multigenerational family of filmmakers, yes?

DW: Yes, my grandpa and my dad are really great filmmakers and I've been influenced by them my whole life. My grandfather is a cinematographer, Haskell Wexler; he shot One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf. I always loved learning about his career growing up and talking to him because I had some fundamentally similar interests but I was coming at all of it from a different angle. He's very interested in the relationship between things that we perceive as fictional and things which we perceive as factual. He's going to release a documentary pretty soon and he's 91, which is phenomenal. I just helped him with some graphics and stuff on it and he knows a little bit about what I do but he's never really been to one of my concerts. He sees all of it as a little bit crazy but he respects it. I was joking with him with the film...he wanted some simple titles and I was like, "alright, you want some 3-D alien beings and lens flares?" My dad [Jeff Wexler] is a production sound mixer for film. He's into sound and my grandpa's into image so I like things which kind of are in between or an interplay. At this point they're both Academy Award-winning filmmakers and I'm super proud to be a Wexler but I also wanted to explore things which hadn't been explored yet.

OW: Besides your family ties, the other person who's had a major impact on your artistic evolution has been Flying Lotus. You two met in art school and then teamed up, a few years later, when he invited you to join Brainfreeder. What has that collaboration meant to your creative development over the years?

DW: It's interesting because with Lotus and I, for one reason or another, we've had this influence in one another's lives which are small things that ended up being really big things. I was making electronic music in college. Lotus [and I] listened to it while we were playing video games and at some point, he wanted to start making beats so I gave him a copy of [the audio production software] Reason and showed him very rudimentary stuff. In a couple of months, he was making already pretty good music. We were all sitting around saying, "you know it sounds pretty good, Steve. It's not bad." (laughs).

When we came back to L.A. I was kind of lost because I was just obsessed with making all this bizarre sort of psychedelic imagery or what not but I had nowhere to put it. I had these hard drives full of stuff. I thought maybe I could make this crazy TV pilot or something where I could use the psychedelic animation like a cartoon. Nothing worked out exactly and then, at some point, Lotus asked me to be on Brainfeeder. He was like "you should come out and do visuals for the first Brainfeeder event we're doing in L.A." And so I came out and I think it was Ras G, Lotus, MIM, all the original Brainfeeder crew, and something really clicked. So yeah, both Steve and I synchronously led each other to stuff that was really important for us to do.

OW: Do you see Brainfeeder or you work within it as having an inherent relationship to Los Angeles as a city or as a space?

DW: I sometimes go between thinking of L.A. as a very utopian place and sometimes a very dystopian place for a whole bunch of reasons. L.A.'s just a weird place. I've travelled the world so much now where I got to experience other places in bursts but I always think, "man, L.A.'s just so strange." There's all these plays between simulation and reality going on in L.A., maybe at this point, the lines have gotten so fuzzy that they don't exist anymore. I've read a lot of [Jean] Baudrillard when I was younger and to me, I'd be looking around and [think], "this is so much about what's going on in a place like L.A." I think it's so interesting with Lotus' music for instance, there's so many elements which you listen to it and you're like, "is that a synth or is that a real instrument which has been modified?" It just blurs together.

STRANGELOOP // FIELDS [ mov. 1 of 3 ] from StrangeLoop on Vimeo.

OW: It may be easy to forget that given all your visual work, you also make music. Listening to some of your tracks, what strikes me is how, just like your videos, there's always a sense of space and atmosphere -- you're constantly reminding the listener that they're in a three-dimensional space. Why is movement through space so important to your musical and visual work?

DW: One of the things that frustrates me about a lot of media that I'm exposed to, whether it be commercials or just pop cultural media, is that I have an allergic reaction when feel like there's no space there for me to experience something. I'm being bombarded, like in advertisements...everything is explicit, right? It's all up front, it's all in your face. Everything is so packed to the point where we can't have space anymore. What I've been looking to make is to somehow give the person who is absorbing it some space. Space to experience something and some of that is almost philosophical space too. I like when things aren't necessarily defined so abruptly. With the music, I just wanted something where we kind of hypnotize you after awhile and you could move into sort of a space via the music.

I always love that with visuals...something that had a lot of dimensionality to it and depth that would take you somewhere. I was always looking for filmmaking tricks that could allow the screen to become something that would give you a sense of a grander space. I always loved the "2001" star gate sequence for that very reason. Kubrick, I guess being the genius he was, was able to figure out how to -- with the help of Douglas Trumbull -- make this sequence where you really feel like you are traveling somewhere. You're not just watching some movie. We don't know exactly what we're looking at. Like, "is this God or is this some alien force?" I'm always looking for stuff that has that uncanny element that I can't describe why it's important to me exactly but it's more than someone yelling at you. It's not the quick thing necessarily, it's something that changes the way you see things in a profound way.

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Top Image: Strangeloop | Photo by Theo Jemison.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach.
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