Squint closely at that interface: you’ll be seeing more of it soon. 3L demands a MacBook Pro, and scoffs at your softcore MacBook AIR. And it’s likely to make a big splash in the visualist software world.

2008 is looking like an extraordinary year for visualists: there’s an explosion of new software tools for live visuals. One of the most eagerly-anticipated is 3L (pronounced “Thrill”), a multi-purpose live visual application for Mac, from the massively-talented artificialeyes trio of Pascal Lesport, Michael Parenti and Todd Thille. (Todd, FYI, you may have to change that last name to 3iL.) We’ll be showing and explaining where 3L fits in, but let me jump into my unedited geeky take on it first.

3L is unique in that it takes a lot of the cool generative effects people are doing in individual patches for Max or Processing, loads them into one massively modular interface, and mixes in the prerequisite amount of pixel processing, audio, and MIDI. It’s like the monster Jitter patch you’ll never have time to finish, all on one screen — one very big screen; the software actually requires 1440×900 resolution to operate. If they had just done that, Thrill might fade into the blur of other modular environments created in recent years, but the software has also been packed with features tested by the Artificial Eyes crew in their gigs — meaning a whole lot of what you’d want to be able to do in a club is there already, including countless features you may not have even thought of yet. Pascal also apparently coded his way around limitations in Jitter.

We got an inside peek at the software in Perth. In fact, we peeked at a little too much — so much, we’re still, erm, editing all the footage we shot. And we might have gotten into that editing in Perth were we not out until the wee hours of the morning VJing with Thrill. Jack and Coke, Western Australian nightclub filled with ridiculously young-looking clubgoers, plus a completely unfamiliar interface that looks like the love child of Max/MSP, a 747, and a spaceship? Hell, yeah. With everything wired for MIDI and sound reactivity, Jaymis and I immediately found ourselves zoning into pulsing abstract patterns, even when we weren’t entirely sure what we were doing.

Who needs hotel Pay Per View? Projecting out of your window is more fun. Todd from artificialeyes looks on as 3L projects out of our lodging in Perth, Australia at the Byte Me Festival.

3L just hit beta, and beta testers don’t have to sign NDA, so expect to hear more soon. And a full release is apparently less than a month away.

Personally, I think the fact that 3L has some company makes it more interesting, not less. The 3D/video patching package Salvation is chugging along in beta on Windows and now Mac (more on that very soon), VDMX5 continues its gradual Never-Ending Beta romp into being the Most Feature-Laden Video Compositing VJ App Ever, modular programming tool Quartz Composer just arrived on Leopard beefed up with much-needed fleshing out, coding-for-artists environment Processing still rocks for 3D and generative visuals and is growing its audience, Max 5 is due this quarter, and its open-source evil twin Pure Data continues to hit new milestones every few weeks. That’s to say nothing of the continued maturation of more conventional VJ tools like Resolume and Modul8.

What? Haven’t heard of any of this? Might want to watch this space, because you’ll be hearing more.

3L won’t get lost in that crowd, either, just because in virtually every way, it’s different. Some people will probably hate it. Some will be confused by it. Some will love it. But people will have strong feelings about it, and it’s about time that happened more often.

Electronic music had a renaissance of software in the era of Amiga, Atari, Mac, and DOS, with strange and wonderful tools like the early “trackers.” That era was so beloved that you’ll find people still emulating those tools today — or booting an ancient computer just to run them. My sense is not only that we’re seeing the beginning of a similar era for VJ apps, but that the lack of a dominant market as in music could actually mean this diversity will stick around.

Thrill’s a private beta at the moment, but that should change soon. Stay tuned, and you’ll see why 2008 won’t be like 2007.