Virtual Reality: actually doing it!

Imperfect VR workshop

Following on from my recent post about VR and music, I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on ‘Imperfect VR’ with Michael Straeubig at Vivid Projects. And I made a VR experience! That makes it sound a little grand, but using freely available tools and some very basic HTML coding (I knew nothing before I started), we learnt how to create a simple virtual environment which we could immediately try on our phones using a Google Cardboard headset, pictured. This was a workshop mainly for visual artists and Imperfect VR is all about making VR open-source, accessible, and putting it into the hands of artists (rather than ‘our tech overlords’ as they were dubbed – see my last post for more on that).

First I learnt how to make this:


And then I discovered I could do this – I made a solar system! Not scientifically accurate, but I like to think it looks better this way 😉

solar system

There are lots of examples of the potential of the free tools we used on the A-Frame website. All this made me hugely impressed by Mat Collishaw’s Thresholds VR exhibition which I wrote about in my last post. Having spent an over hour making some shapes, changing the colours and making them float I now understand quite what an achievement that exhibition was.

I’m not an artist so I don’t see myself immediately using these skills but having a better understanding of what goes on under the bonnet of VR is really useful when thinking about possible applications in my work with live music.

We could be watching virtual gigs performed in the round so that you can put yourself wherever you want in the room, with binaural audio to match the visuals. We could experience being on stage with a band, or explore a virtual building with different performers in each room. Just for starters…

Michael talked about multiplayer ‘hide and seek’ experiences where you can interact with each other, and showed a way to create a large virtual space out of a small physical one – the ‘infinite corridor’.

Infinite corridor

He also pointed out that VR itself can have a performative element, which I found really interesting. The image of a person alone in an empty room wearing a strange plastic headpiece, completely absorbed in their own world and making random movements is not something we are used to yet. It bears a few similarities to a person spending hours alone in a room with a musical instrument, pressing buttons and keys, completely absorbed in their own world: a practising musician… The difference is that music gets shared and it connects people, whereas VR is largely a solitary experience at the moment (in the Thresholds exhibition, other people were only visible as ghostly white columns).  I guess that’s why I find it interesting working out how to combine live music with VR: if we can crack this we could be sharing gig experiences with someone on the other side of the world.

 

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