Viacom Next + NYC Media Lab Present New VR Projects

Viacom NEXT & NYC Media Lab present the music-driven VR projects of their selected fellowship students at NYC headquarters.
Viacom NEXT & NYC Media Lab are back yet again for their 2nd annual Viacom VR Fellowship program and so are new experimental experiences from some of the brightest students of the technology today. This year the summer program focused on blending music with virtual reality as the six graduates and undergraduates picked from universities in the NYC Media Lab consortium created experiences centered around a particular music track.
The finalists began developing their projects in June and this past Wednesday I had the chance to attend their official presentations at the Viacom HQ in New York City. Over a glass of white wine I listened to each of the student developers elaborate on their visions and delve deeper into their unique perspectives on VR and music. Finally, we entered the demo room where we were given the chance to try each project for ourselves. Here are some first impressions of the musical experiences:

KURU KURU SUSHI VR
Developed by Mikei Huang
Track: “Beach” by Ary Warnaar
“Kuru Kuru Sushi VR” is what I imagine the future of J Pop music videos to be. Mikei Huang of Parsons, MFA, Design & Technology has complimented the upbeat, chiptune style of the track “Beach” with an absurdly colorful world filled to the brim with animated dancing props and beautiful particle explosions. It’s hard to believe that centered in the middle of this eye-candy chaos is an actual game.

KKS VR tasks players with catching and eating as much digital sushi as humanly possible in an effort to rack up a higher final bill than your friends. Colorful sushi of varying sizes and point values constantly circle the player on an intricate system inspired by modern day sushi conveyor belt restaurants. Players use the HTC Vive controller to click on the food and bring it towards their mouth to eat. Eating sushi consistently racks up a combo chain that can garner you serious points, that is until you accidentally munch on an inedible item such as a rubber duck.
So where does the musical element come in? Well along with a cute, colorful style that perfectly matches the marshmallow feeling of the track, the rotating pieces of sushi are also timed to the song. This means players can actually interact with physics-simulated objects to create sound effects that go along with the beat.

10 NE
Developed by Juan Egusquiza
Track: “Red Sky Morning” by Richard O’Hallaron, David John Vanacore
I never enjoyed going to dance clubs, mainly because I can’t stand the idea of being shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the worst people on the planet. Maybe that’s why I love the idea of Juan Egusquiza’s “10 NE” experience so much. The NYU, Telecommunications student has created what is, in a sense, your own personal dance club.

Upon entering the experience you are thrown into a dull, grey room with no distinguishing characteristics. Once the music begins however, the concrete cube begins to explode with an array of stunning red laser lights. The powerful light show pulsates and dances to the beat of the track, moving faster and growing more complex as the progressive electronic track begins to build.
According to Juan his goal was to build a perfect visual representation of the song for listeners to immerse themselves in. The project is reminiscent of other music-based VR programs such as TheWaveVR, but where as that experience hinges on the concept of sharing moments online with friends, 10 NE prides itself in its isolating and solitary intentions.

ECHO
Developed by Corey Bertelsen & Chao Jin
Track: “Dreaming Awake” by Derek Whitacre w/ Bacca Green & Miriya Rayne
Echo, designed by Bertelsen and Jin of the NYU Game Center, is built around the idea that remixing a song shouldn’t be an intimidating process reserved for just experienced and well-equipped musicians. By turning the Vive controllers into digital conductor wands of sorts, I was able to actually draw my own version of the dreamy song provided. Using the controllers touchpad I was able to sort through a variety of different tools, each serving as their own stem (individual musical element of a track).

One tool served as a sort of continuous fabric that I was able to use to draw patterns  that produced a sort of guitar riff. Another option allowed me to dot the sky with small specs, each serving as part of a drum beat. Various other instruments from strings to bass add depth to the song as you continue to fill the virtual space with patterns. By the end of my session I had a Jackson Pollock-esque piece of art in front of me that sounded much better than it looked.

PATH
Developed by Or Fleisher
Track: “Feel Me” by Jamie Alan Christopherson
In one of the more surreal experiences of the afternoon, Path had me following an unknown man through a continually changing scene that blurred the lines between 2D and 3D. Fleisher, a student of NYU’s Telecommunications program, married minimalistic instrumentals with abstract imagery to deliver a surreal, out-of-body experience. At one point I actually began associating myself with the walking figure ahead of me.

As previously stated, the scene deviates several times throughout, constantly changing the mood to keep me fully engaged. About three-quarters the way through an enormous rendition of the unknown man (me?) could be seen strolling besides me. Although simple, it was an overall interesting dive into the abstract musical experiences VR could provide. It was also developed on the WebVR platform, which means others could soon be trying this experience out for themselves thanks to Firefox’s new WebVR support.

ARE ALIGNED
Developed by Danny Dang
Track: “Afternoon Rush Hour” by Stuart Hart & Alexei Misoul
The only multiplayer VR project present at the event, Are Aligned tasks three to five players with working together to realign a planetary system. It goes like this: One player in VR views the incomplete “solar system” while 2-4 other players hold colored orbs, each containing a Vive Tracker. The VR user then instructs those holding orbs on where which color is meant to go within the digital space.

Once the orb is in the correct position, the instrument it represents will begin to play through the computer for all to hear. Every orb in its correct spot results in a completed solar system and therefore the final version of the track. While inconsistent at times, this was easily the most fun I had at the event. Navigating through tangled arms and orbs in an attempt to correctly guide the planets into their correct orbital positions was sort of like playing VR Twister. This combined with a couple of glasses of wine resulted in a couple good laughs.  
So there you have it! Another successful year of Viacom promoting and supporting the next generation of virtual reality developers. Hopefully these projects will continue to develop into more fully developed experiences that others outside this small audience could try out as well.
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