The technology of the Squarepusher live show

The Squarepusher live show control system is the integration of a variety of hardware and software elements, both bespoke and commercially available, which are used to create a fully generative, audio-driven visual process.

One of main challenges was to create a system that could produce varying results based upon incoming data streams, whislt still remaining congruous with the movements of the audio. This was achieved, in part, by making each piece into its own bespoke piece of programming. The parameters of each specific program, which control every aspect as to how visual content generates could then be modulated automatically depending on values they recieved from elsewhere.

The programs were individually tailored to give the musician flexibility to perform his music progressively. Squarepusher's musical performances take unexpected turns at every avenue, so in order for the visual side to keep up, it needed to be malleable enough to progress with him, even without necessarily knowing where to, or for how long.

The system also takes multiple audio feeds from the Squarepusher's performance setup, which can be assigned to individual elements within each patch. The production is designed to work as a visual instrument conducted by the musician. If there is no audio being received, there will be no generation of video, despite what the parameters within the patch are displaying. 

A separate bespoke program deals with the data input. For each location the tour visits, specific information is logged into the software and compared with the history of data that it has acquired from all the previous performances. This can be anything from the longitude and lattitude of the city to the current ambient air temperature. The program then uses several logorythmic processes at the beginning of each piece to send information the visual programs as to how it should generate, which effects chain it should isolate and how exactly it should output this to each to canvas.

Many of the programs also look into the graphical memory of the computer for information as to how they should generate. As an addendum to the process, the computer is fed specific imagery from each location before the performance. Anything from topographical maps & schematics of culturally relevant architecture to imagery from local events or conflitcs are used to feed the memory. What the programs take from this imagery varies dramatically. Sometimes it can determine the colour pallete a certain patch uses; at other points it can burst through warped versions of the imagery at speeds that make them almost imperceptible.

This process applies for both the content of the two projection surfaces set out in a V shape behind the musician, and also the projection that is focussed on him. A combination of infra red and depth map is used to isolate Squarepusher, with the map then being used as a mask for the visual content that is projected back on to him, updating itself as he moves around his control surfaces.

The major challenge with the hardware to make this possible was that it had to made in a way that it could traverse the globe on standard air travel. The position of each unit inside the rack cases was not just defined by its logical placement for the performance, but also by the importance of keeping each case below the weight limit of regular carriers.

Learn more about the art of the Squarepusher live show