On the eve of the first show of his current tour, which started Sept. 12, Joel Zimmerman was holed up in a Dallas hotel room — writing code. Using a custom version of the visual development platform Derivative TouchDesigner, the man known as the massively successful electronic music producer deadmau5 was putting the final flourishes on an audiovisual spectacle eight months and thousands of hours in the making.
Called Cube v3, the production is Zimmerman’s most technologically advanced to date. Zimmerman talks in coder-speak — IDE tools, GPU systems, data-handling digitalization suites — while discussing his show, for which he and his team used TouchDesigner (a Canadian company partially chosen due to its proximity to the artist’s house outside Toronto) to write the millions of lines of code that together form the Cube. Now complete, the Cube — a massive, rotating structure from which he performs — flashes images such as Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and deadmau5’s signature “mau5head” logo to the tune of hits like “Faxing Berlin,” “Raise Your Weapon” and “Ghosts N Stuff.”
The majority of electronic artists use playback technology for their visuals, displaying premade imagery in tandem with a locked set list. With the Cube v3, Zimmerman can cue up visuals in real time, leaving space for spontaneity during sets and ensuring that no two shows on the tour, which runs across North America through February 2020, are the same.
“The show has developed in such a way that we literally start the server up with all the TouchDesigner applications, hit F1, minimize it and then we never look at it again,” says Zimmerman, who partnered with Chris Schroeder Productions and technical designer Collyns Stenzel (who has worked on festivals like Life in Color and Spring Awakening). The applications read the information sent through sonic cues (like track names and notes) and respond commensurately. “I wouldn’t call it AI,” he continues, “but there’s definitely some intelligence in the system that says, ‘Joel is doing this, so I’m going to fade to black and go ahead and do that.’ ”
And while he’s excited to share his new live show with fans, Zimmerman says that the most gratifying part of the process thus far has been blowing the minds of the developers whose tech he used to make the show. “Guys who’ve invented a lot of the IDE tools I’m using are coming up and saying, ‘Holy shit, I’ve never seen anyone use what I made for something like this.’ ”