New Gadgets for the Show

Ghost Ghost’s main show at SXSW this year was the Ignite Austin/Dorkbot SXSW Interactive¬†opening night event at the Austin Music Hall. It marked the live debut of Ghost Ghost’s new lineup, with weirder, more electronic sound — more synth from Kevin Peckham, Karl Ward creating vocal and percussion loops with Ableton, and the incomparable Mark Christensen on guitar.¬†The fans seem to approve.


Mark couldn’t make it to Texas this year, so he appeared via Skype, on a center-stage laptop. I threw that into the video mix. It worked with the interactive theme, although Mark missed the tacos and beer.

In addition to my usual VDMX rig with Akai MPK49 keyboard to trigger video clips, I built a few new toys in honor of the techie nature of the show. First was a simple foot pedal switch, since I was on stage with the band.



I used an enclosure and basic stomp switch to create an on-off toggle that closes a circuit coming in through a 1/4″ jack. That way I can connect it to the computer with any instrument cable. The blue LED is independent, and a bit too bright.

On the other end of the cable was a Hagstrom 36-input USB keyboard encoder, with a 1/4″ jack wired to a few of the inputs. Stomping on the pedal sent a simple keyboard signal to the computer, which I assigned in VDMX.


I built a few pedals, but only ended up using one. It started and stopped video recording from my handheld camera, so I could grab snippets throughout the evening and build them up into a collage of loops. I’m still working on getting this to run smoothly on my MBP, but it’s coming along.

The other new toy was Spikenzie Labs’s drum kit kit, which is an Arduino-based MIDI encoder for piezos. I just taped the sensors onto the bottom of Karl’s drums with blue painter’s tape, and set the levels to adjust video effect levels.


After the show we went back to a dot com startup office to finish off some kegs with the organizers. The last time I was at SXSW was in 2000, just before the end of the original dot com boom. Now everyone’s talking about revenue models. So different. But they still have giant beanbag chairs.