Monday morning I drove past Candlestick Park as the first demolition crews got down to work on the big old thing. I was on my way to the Palo Alto office of a company called Jaunt, to strap an Oculus headset to my face and watch a fabulously new live concert video from Paul McCartneyThe August 14 show at Candlestick, presented as the last major event of the place.
Shortly after arriving, I was taken to a conference room where I sat in a comfortable wheelchair in the middle of a conference room equipped with computers and cables. Moments later, I was only feet away from Sir Paul as he banged and sang “Live and Let Die” to a crowd of tens of thousands. Did he just wink at me?
I rotated the chair to watch the drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., bash as the group walked in, and I suddenly found myself staring at the center of the stage in a fireworks storm. I had switched to camera two, essentially placing myself in front of the stage. I looked through the crowd. Somewhere in the virtual afterlife, beyond this sea of faces and limbs, thousands of other ticket holders would be stranded in a top-notch traffic jam in the Bay Area and never make it to the show. Here I was in a wheelchair right in the heart of it, a five-piece band staring at my behind as it built itself through the runs and climaxes of the song “Roger-Moore-outfoxes-a-” Harlem-voodoo-druglord “. Tongues of fire and triumphantly choreographed stage lighting rippled through my peripherals.
The illusion of “being there” or “presence” is often invoked by enthusiasts of virtual reality. Did I feel like I was there? Not exactly. I felt like I was in the best movie theater of my life, however. Video resolution, sound and depth of field were outstanding. It took very little effort for me to suspend my disbelief.
Jaunt released the video today as a web app compatible with Google’s Cardboard headset, with releases coming soon for Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift when those platforms hit the market.
If three is a trend, it should be noted that last week WHO launched a VR application, and the Swedish crooner José González released a clip for the Rift the week before. Earlier this week, Taylor Swift released a 360-degree music video for their single “Blank Space,” a song that has since won No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The industry seems to be staking flags at the virtual border. There is already a Beatle on board. Could virtual reality be a new vertical to consolidate the declining profits of the music industry?
There is a lot of hope in music these days, but not a lot of money. Each day brings a series of new plans to save the industry, to take advantage of 21st century technologies to rebuild the fantastic, articulated supply and distribution network that has arisen from the technological advancements of the 20th century.
The industry has been humiliated over the past decades by the emergence of new platforms and media. In the early 1990s, a number of the world’s greatest musical groups, including U2, Pierre Gabriel, David Bowie and Prince, lined up to jump on a ship to nowhere called “interactive media,” releasing expensive CD-ROMs containing the equivalent of today’s DVD extras – interactive studio tours, music videos, games, mixing tools and d rudimentary recording, all kinds of listening options.
It was perhaps the first example of labels, artists and computer coders working together in harmony towards the same imaginary pot of money.
“Time Warner, Viacom, Sony, MCA, Paramount Fox, Phillips – name it – they all have an interactive strategy… in fact, refusing to recognize interactive music these days would be about as smart as pretending to be video. didn’t matter during the ascendancy of MTV ”, Fred davis written in a Wired magazine in the summer of 1993.
Of course, these interactive musical strategies didn’t work out the way everyone expected. The idea of paying $ 50 apiece for music CD-ROMs by your favorite artists never caught on, not least because the video and audio rendering of the products was lousy by traditional entertainment standards. In a decade, the industry has been shaken to its foundations by MP3, an ordeal from which it has not yet recovered. Recently, the genre of “interactive video” has quietly reappeared with impressive results in releases like Bob dylan and Pharrell williams.
The release of the interactive app to accompany Swift’s “Blank Space”, an effort funded by American Express, marks the long-delayed arrival of the medium that seemed imminent in 1993. In the app’s press materials, it is mentioned as “an immersive journey with interwoven stories, multiple rooms, and dozens of hidden interactive features waiting to be unlocked and explored.” This language could have been extracted directly from the foam of the early 90s around these CD-ROMs. The difference, of course, is that this time around the technology is much more compelling, although the underlying idea remains the same.
Meanwhile, virtual reality is arguably the hottest new development at the forefront of consumer technology. This is mainly due to the craze around the Oculus Rift, the former Kickstarter project bought by Facebook in March for $ 2 billion. Last week he was the subject of an episode of South Park and a New York Times Magazine characteristic. Sony is developing its own headset, called Project Morpheus. Samsung is about to release the Gear VR, which, like Google Cardboard, is a head mount that uses a smartphone for its display.
This technology also had an unsuccessful period in the 90s, capturing the public imagination and skyrocketing the expectations of business interests, before collapsing almost completely.
Ten ticks of Moore’s Law later, as a battery of new VR gear prepares to enter the mainstream market and 360-degree video and audio recording equipment emerges, the two bygone trends are renewing themselves. and seem about to collide.
Jaunt has developed its own camera and audio recording equipment, as well as the computational pipeline to render these inputs in an immersive 3D environment in a form compatible with more familiar editing tools. The company is interested in several potential verticals for cinematic virtual reality, including travel, education, real estate, news and sports. It is an engineering company that is currently working in partnership with filmmakers and artists to bring content to its consumer app, available on Google Play.
He chose to make McCartney’s performance his first public outing, an indication that some see music as a crucial vehicle to kickstart the mainstream adoption of virtual reality.
“We’re talking about starting a whole ecosystem,” said CEO Jens christensen. “This is a call to action to the creative community saying ‘Look what we can do.’ How often do we see entirely new media? “
Music is somewhat incidental to the current VR craze, as the lion’s share of interest continues to come from the gaming community. Video games, of course, usually feature music, and sometimes prominently – Paul McCartney just wrote and recorded a song for the endgame credits as well. destiny. If Oculus and the VR economy are to become colossal successes, however, they will need to reach a wider audience by attracting people with little interest in games. Music has pretty much the greatest appeal of anything, anywhere.
“We think the music is just fantastic in virtual reality. You can connect emotionally with an artist and have that feeling of exclusive access, ”Christensen said.
Gaming is big business these days, but remains a limited segment of the consumer experience. Music, on the other hand, is as mainstream as it gets. Judging by the hype around Oculus, its staggering valuation, and the speculation surrounding Facebook’s intentions towards it, there is a perception that we could be on the verge of something that is revolutionizing far more than gaming.
Brian shuster, the pop-up advertising pioneer, put it in the most hyperbolic way in an article for Wired.com last month:
“Virtual reality promises to be even more transformative than the flat web was, reaching every segment of every market and remaking it to be virtually accessible. “
The logic seems to be that if a mainstream audience can only be drawn to headsets, they’ll be able to receive the medium’s inherent message, which can then sell itself into every corner of their life. To this end, the world’s most beloved musical artists function as extremely fragrant baits. Everyone loves music, soon most Americans will have smartphones. If Joe Schmo can be coerced into tying his phone to his face by the promise of a virtual date with Sir Paul, then this marginal VR craze could very quickly start to look like an impending cultural juggernaut in the United States. Jobs scale.
The technology is finally here. The question that remains is: are we ready to take this step into an all-encompassing virtual universe? It might sound like a bleak prospect, but for the fact that new virtual reality has the potential to convey beautiful art.
The Oculus clip released earlier this month by Gonzalez showcases another way this new medium could be used by artists; to create music videos or filmed experiences that surpass their gazing 2D ancestors in scope and wonder.
Of course, this art will only reach those who are willing to shell out for an Oculus Rift, or tie their smartphones to their faces with more basic offerings from Google or Samsung.
In this video, a balloon carrying a 3D camera is released and rises to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, accompanied by a sober and soothing accompaniment to “Every Age” by Gonzalez. The viewer can turn around to admire the entire geography as it unfolds below.
It’s a promising demonstration of how these new technologies can be paired with an idea and a soundtrack and produce a work of art greater than the sum of its parts. If the musical experiences in virtual reality are successful, it would confirm the sagacity of Pierre Gabriel as it is quoted in this Wired article 1993:
“I think that often the first generation of new technologies can be dehumanizing; but the second generation can be super-humanizing.