Zebbler Peter Berdovsky: Creating Visual Magic | Berklee Valencia Campus

Zebbler Peter Berdovsky: Creating Visual Magic

Zebbler performs at one of the editions of Innovation En Vivo. Photo by Tato Baeza.

Growing up, young Zebbler Peter Berdovsky always had music in his house thanks to a mother who was a music teacher. He quickly got used to being surrounded by balalaikas, drums, cymbals, shakers, pianos, accordions, and bayans as well as the sounds of Abba and the best of 1980s Russian pop blasting on his mum's vinyl record player.

Originally from Grodno, Belarus, Berdovsky, instructor for the Master of Music in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation, goes by Zebbler although that’s his middle name. His artistic persona is not only a way to honor his roots but also the result of a revelation involving the actor Sean Connery. "When I was 13, I decided that I needed a pseudonym. While daydreaming, a visualization of a dragon with the distinct voice of Connery appeared in front of me and said, with a thick Scottish accent, ‘Frae noo oan, son, yer nam shaa be knoon as Zebbler!’ So I took up my foreign-sounding name and embraced it as my own," he recalls.

As a child, Zebbler loved to draw, to imagine worlds and read stories. His rich imagination and passion for visual self-expression made him pursue a career in visual arts. "This passion stayed with me, but it really came into focus during my studies at Massachusetts College of Art (studio for interrelated media) in the early 2000s," he says. During his studies, he felt in love with creating interactive, emotionally charged visual installations, inventing video performance instruments and submerging himself in analog glitch art culture.

"I was perhaps in the first generation to hugely benefit from being able to use a computer as a performance tool," says Zebbler. He developed an interest in VJ applications because these allow a greater freedom to manipulate and present video live, to emulate the ebbs and flows of musical tension visually. "This technology is always evolving at seemingly exponential rates, and the art form is being continuously (re)invented and evolving at a very fast pace," he says.

Zebbler has earned a good reputation for the past 10 years working as a visual performing artist, touring the U.S. 12 times and creating video work, animation, and stage design for clients like musicians to express their visual history, inspirations, and the meaning of their music. "I suggest a few ideas and brainstorm some directions to create beta versions or a look-and-feel proposal that get approved first, and then move on to the masters," he says.

One of the current trends, he explains, is the full integration of large visual sculptures into festival stages, custom-shaped LED screens, and ongoing experimentation with every emerging technological advance. Video mapping, a projection technology used to turn objects—often irregularly shaped—into a display surface for video projection, is one of his strengths. “The most amazing video mapping presentations are akin to a magic act where the viewer can be lulled into thinking that the virtual is real.”

Ben Cantil (left) and Zebbler (right) performing at Innovation En Vivo

Zebbler has been collaborating with Ben Cantil (Encanti) under the ZEE (Zebbler Encanti Experience) umbrella since 2007, creating audio/visual performances at major U.S. festivals. "There is a tremendous amount of trust in each other’s feedback and each other’s skill. It is a great freedom to co create with Encanti," he says.

“I think Zebbler and I are each other’s biggest fans and harshest critics. We play quality control and artistic direction roles for one another, and at the same time we really trust each other, providing plenty of room for experimentation,” says Cantil, also an assistant professor for the Master of Music in Music Production, Technology, and Innovation.

Hands-on Teaching Approach

Zebbler landed at Berklee's campus in Valencia thanks to the founding director of the Music Production, Technology, and Innovation program, Stephen Webber, who sought to introduce modern multimedia performance to the students. "I always liked academic institutions as they are here to share the totality of human knowledge with one another," Zebbler says.

He teaches video production and VJ/video mapping classes, where students experiment with software and hardware like Adobe Premiere, After Effects, SketchUp, Resolume Arena, Photoshop, Ableton Live, DSLR cameras, video projectors, and MIDI network sync and a/v performance strategies. His focused lessons teach students to incorporate visual media into performances, music videos, and promotional graphics.

“We are very hands-on in my classes. I believe you have to truly try something before you can understand it,” he says. Zebbler defines his teaching style as student oriented, where the focus is on staying productive and constantly learning new things. He is repeatedly astounded by his students. “This year has been particularly full of amazing surprises; I’ve discovered new talented animators, VJs, programmers. But most of all it’s the level of dedication that I see that impresses me.”

Watch a video documenting the workshop experience from a student's perspective:

Students showcase their acquired skills at the Innovation En Vivo concert, which is the culmination of each semester. For Cantil, it’s an exhibition of the most cutting edge in innovative composition, performance, and multimedia. “I think the most exciting thing for me has been the increasing role of audio/visual mediums: video mapping technology under the direction of Zebbler, video installations directed by Pierce Warnecke, and wearable lighting technologies with Pierluigi Barberis and Alayna Hughes.”

Zebbler defines it as “unpredictable, raw, and amazingly beautiful.”

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