Songs You Can See: Visualizing Music with the Glitch Mob

Los Angeles-based electronic music titans the Glitch Mob make songs that sound downright huge. It wouldn’t be off-base to call them cinematic — and they have, in fact, graced the soundtracks of numerous productions, most recently featured in the trailer for the upcoming Sin City 2.

Perhaps equally as intriguing as their large-scale sonic productions, however, are their visual accompaniments. The trio, who teamed up with Martin Phillips of Bionic League to create a stunning live stage setup called “The Blade,” also collaborated with numerous visual artists to help bring their latest album, Love Death Immortality, to life.

The group tasked David Wexler, aka Strangeloop, with creating “visualizations” for every song on the record, while artist Susi Sie was given carte blanche to give their music physical form via Cymatics in the video for “Becoming Harmonious.” We caught up with Justin Boreta, one third of the Mob, to talk about these collaborations, the relationship between art and technology, and how we can discover new ways of “seeing” sound.

The Glitch Mob: (L-R) Josh Mayer (Ooah), Justin Boreta (Boreta), and Edward Ma (edIT)
The Glitch Mob: (L-R) Josh Mayer (Ooah), Justin Boreta (Boreta), and Edward Ma (edIT)

Shutterstock: There’s a very strong visual component to this album. When you’re creating music, do visual elements come into play, or do you like to see what the artists you collaborate with develop based on the finished product?

Boreta: The way we collaborate to create visual art starts when the music is about 60 percent done. For this album, we worked with an artist named Aerosyn-Lex and our creative director, Dean Grenier. We sent them the music along with extensive mood boards to give them an idea of what we were thinking. The idea is to let the artists do it themselves, but with a seed of inspiration for us.

Glitch Mob TriPhase Mask by Aerosyn-Lex
Glitch Mob TriPhase Mask by Aerosyn-Lex

Tell us about the collaboration with Strangeloop. What do you like about his work? Why did you choose to have him visualize the entire album, and how well do you think he captured your aesthetic?

David is a genius. Like Aerosyn-Lex, we had been looking for a reason to collaborate with him for years. We wanted to give him the entire album and let him just do his thing with it, but riffing off of the materials and palette we had gotten from Lex. We sent Strangeloop the album cover, mood boards, and music and let him run with it.

Making visuals out of organic materials was a theme for us on this album. He used ferrofluid and ink and water, the same as Beeple and Susi Sie did for the other videos. We find that we get the best results when we don’t place a creative box around people and let them run with their own inspiration. Because of this, it’s crucial that we work with artists who we respect and admire. It’s also why artists have fun working with us, because they get to go big.

How important is the relationship between music and visual art to you? What inspires you from a visual perspective?

All of the visual aspects of the process are super important. The cover, the vinyl art, the live show, the visuals — everything. It’s another way for people to get into the music. It extends the story beyond the musical realm. Imagination is key.

How do you think technology is changing the way we interact with music and art? What are you doing personally to explore that convergence?

We are a living, breathing example of an entire project that would not be possible without technology. We make music completely in the box on the computer; everything is stored in the cloud so that we can collaborate remotely and recall sessions while on tour. Our live-performance rig, The Blade, is a custom-designed system using a ton of interlocking pieces of technology that allow us to perform our music live. Nobody else could use this technology to play live, and nothing exists to do this yet out-of-the-box, which is why we had to custom design it from the ground up.

How collaborative is your work with Martin and Bionic League? What do you think is most important to communicate via a live setup? Is there anything he did that really surprised you?

The project with Martin is deeply collaborative. We worked closely with him for months on the vision, sending him mood boards, music, album art, and videos from all of the other artists. We also would have a lot of meetings and Skype chats where ideas would bounce back and forth and slowly refine into what eventually became The Blade. His whole vision is to extract the essences of our live performance and the music and realize them in 3D space.

There are are a lot of constraints to live show design, too. It’s basically an art installation that plays music, which moves around the world and has to fit in tons of different-sized rooms. There are a lot of moving pieces — Martin is a creative director, lighting designer, and more. It’s a pretty crazy operation that he pulls off. He’s the best at what he does. We’re truly honored to get to work with him.

What led you to Susi Sie’s work? Did you give her free rein over your latest video too? Is it important to you to explore analogue art forms in addition to digital ones?

We gave Susi the album and let her pick. I discovered her one day on vimeo as we were looking around for inspiration, and she was actually on our mood board tumblr for a while. So we decided to reach out, and she was a big fan. She loved “Becoming Harmonious” and we trusted her specific vision so much that we didn’t give her any direction at all. She just did her thing and came back with that video, which we loved.

If you had to describe what your music “looks” like, how would you do it?

Like Khaleesi’s dragons battling with Walter White in space.

The Glitch Mob are on tour through the summer, including performances at Governors Ball, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo. For full tour dates, a free download, and more, visit their official website. To watch all the Strangeloop album visualizations, head over to YouTube.