Guest post by Jen Sako of The Music Development Agency
Virtual Reality is bringing us exciting, new technology and the way it is being incorporated with music is groundbreaking.
If you’ve ever spent any time wondering how you can make your imagination a reality (and who as an artist hasn’t?), you’re this close to an answer. Brilliant minds, with billions of dollars behind them, are working day and night on arguably the biggest technological push since the smartphone–virtual reality.
So far, virtual reality has been a sort of a neato thing that, while interesting, has given us little more than roller coaster rides in our living rooms and headaches behind our eyes. The prices for consumers have ranged from about twenty bucks for a set of Google Cardboard, made out of, well, cardboard, to more substantial headgear for a more substantial price tag. If you’re a gamer with a Sony PlayStation, you’re probably more excited about the current state of VR than the rest of us.
But all groundbreaking technology has to start somewhere.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a three-dimensional environment created by a combination of computer software and hardware. Anyone entering the environment wearing sensory headgear and gloves can move objects around or otherwise cause an action. To the person immersed in this environment, objects are perceived by the senses as being real, even though without the special gear, they are not. VR technology extends beyond the basic senses to stimulate our sense of balance and other physiological factors so that our brains mediate the artificial environment as one where we are actually there.
Where Virtual Reality and Music Meet
Super-secretive Magic Leap, a billion dollar company at the forefront of virtual reality development, teased us for the past several years with tweets dropping enigmatic hints about upcoming VR product offerings. But from what tech bloggers can tell after exclusive previews, virtual reality is going beyond the current applications of gaming and design to change the way music is encountered. The future music experience looks to be fully interactive outside the limits of hearing and sight. Like a personal concert, except soaked with texture, action, and decision-making. Songs, conceived as events, can make listeners participants and leave them with an unforgettable impression.
Google Play has already worked with VR developer, Enosis VR, and legendary band, Queen, to create an immersive video experience. Fans could dance on stage with a rendering of Freddie Mercury as he and the group performed “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The idea was to recreate the inside of Mercury’s mind using 2D and 3D technology along with a team of ballet dancers for motion. The app also used where the participant’s gaze fell to change the sequence of events throughout the experience.
Other artists are working with developers to create immersive concert experiences for audiences. The locations are spectacular, but no travel is necessary for either the bands or the listeners. Fans can even pick up an instrument and play along. Because of the intense participation in the music, the brain perceives this experience as real and unforgettable. All without being there.
The Musical Future of VR
VR technology is still in its earliest stages, but musicians are already seeing how they will be able to connect to fans and make news ones without the expense of touring. In artificial environments, bands can invite music lovers into their world.
But beyond the obvious entertainment factor, VR has the potential to become a tool for education. Music students could enter a studio space using VR gear for lessons and practice. The immediate feedback provided and game-like atmosphere may keep students more motivated and engaged. Imagine methods for teaching that include ways to slow down and loop difficult parts or bringing in the composer for lessons.
VR can also connect music lovers to the many people behind the scenes involved in producing the music they enjoy. Listeners can learn about the industry and how a song comes to life. They’ll understand why it’s important to play a part in sustaining the music business.
For this technology to become a reality in itself inside consumers’ listening and learning spaces, obstacles need addressing. The hardware is still pricey, bulky and requires a power source. Apps need creators who will need more in the way of artificial intelligence.
There also exists concerns about how we are permitting ways for the internet to manipulate our lives. As far as the physical and personal data needed for fully developed virtual reality technology, facial details may only be the start. But now we can see a path emerge for musicians to thrive in a world where art can be downloaded a single song at a time for less than a cup of gas station coffee.
As for the fans, the choice will be theirs to join in and create or listen and enjoy. Either way, virtual reality has the potential to return the focus of music from background noise while we shop, eat and socialize, to the interactive experience it was meant to be.
In many ways, through this futuristic and fantastic technology, we are heading back to a time when albums were composed from track one as whole idea concepts, written to be immersive and delivering us awareness of the world around us.