Virtual Reality, The Next Big Music Thing?

Just like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality (VR) isn’t a new thing.
It has reached “hype” many times, in different moments, during the past 15 years.
Linden’s Second Life was probably the most successful experiment in the field – it was all over the place 10 years ago, generating interest and gathering money from investors, only to fail miserably – probably because of the centralised nature of the system itself: the whole ecosystem required a lot of processing power, was expensive to maintain and it ultimately relied on the fate and operation capabilities of a single company.

Now, thanks to huge investments in companies like Oculus and the virtually infinite availability of processing power and storage at affordable prices, VR (and its Augmented Reality sibling) is raising again in popularity.

VR headsets are massively available on the market, from the inexpensive cartons to the feature rich Rift, and when companies like Apple, Google and Facebook heavily invest in the field – you can guess that finally the scene is ripe for something great to happen.

Virtual Reality is all about experiencing content in a totally immersive way. It creates worlds where users can see, listen and touch virtual things as they were in a real world – and companies are rushing to deliver “better than real” content to take full advantage of this incredible capabilities.

It is a change rapidly coming across multiple industries – Games, Cinema, Media … and of course, Music.

Some new key concepts:

“Spacial audio” – Audio is always enjoyed through space, but in a virtual world we need to create a real immersive sound experience, simulating all the interactions between time, space and objects in the area surrounding us. Google has a whole SDK dedicated to the subject, explaining lots of concepts.

“Sound animation” – Producers will need to animate sounds in order to create the effect of objects moving through space, approaching and getting further from you – and to help users pinpoint sounds that are not on the visible field, but need attention.

“Ambisonics” – A quite old surround technique that allows music to be “speaker independent”, allowing producers to design sound as it comes from a certain direction rather than from a certain speaker. Ambisonics has been chosen by Google as the standard audio format for its VR applications.

Ambix is a list of multi platform plugins allowing Ambisonics encoded sounds to be created from “traditional” DAW software

HRTFs (head-related transfer functions) – If a phone rings to your left, the sound waves enter your left ear a fraction of a second before your right, then bounce off your shoulders and head in various ways, allowing your brain to localize the sound and instinctively rotate your head to face the source.
This behaviour is simulated though a series of highly specialised algorithms allowing real 3D sound to be emulated with standard headsets.
Sweden’s Dirac is at the forefront of this technology and it licences it to big names in the gaming, automotive and tech industries.

As you can see, things are getting complex – and this is just an introduction that barely scratches the surface of VR audio.

As we’re waiting for future products that will reduce complexity, turning all this work into simple, musician-level creative tools that will let us concentrate more on expressiveness and less on tech, I’m already imagining what creating music for VR will be like.

In the meantime, you can enjoy some samples of the very near future with VRTIFY – a Virtual and Mixed Reality Music platform that already has a significant library.

VR Music is not only meant to be listened – it is meant to be enjoyed and lived in a full immersive 3D world with the person at the center of it. This changes everything: music making, creativity, production, distribution, commercial platform. Everything, once again.


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