Virtual Rihanna is just the beginning
Rihanna, Kevin Drew and Patrick Watson are among the musicians experimenting with immersive technology
For Rihanna, simply announcing a new album isn’t enough. The singer called upon her fans to do nothing less than solve a virtual escape room this week in advance of her eighth album Anti.
AntiDiaRy.com is a site that, when viewed on a mobile device, allows you to explore a 360-degree, cottage-like white bedroom, dubbed #R1, to find clues. Moving your device reveals, for example, a doodled world map. Lifting it above your head reveals an open ceiling that shows the sky.
Created with theatre company Punchdrunk, famous for their work on immersive theatre project Sleep No More, as part of a $25-million deal with Samsung, Twitter users seemed to find the immersive technology more frustrating than futuristic. A vine of a cat pawing at a screen door and captioned “trying to get into the R2 room” (the second AntiDiaRy room) was retweeted over 375 times.
Like Pong before Pac-Man, AntiDiaRy might be remembered not for being fantastic, but for being first. Other early entries in the field of music-themed immersive technology include an onstage P.O.V. of Paul McCartney performing “Live and Let Die” live in San Francisco and, on YouTube, Avicii’s 360-degree video “Waiting for Love” featuring a semicircle of eight doors that open to unleash a troupe of breakdancers.
Montreal-based filmmakers Felix & Paul Studios found that someone’s first experience with virtual reality can be especially powerful.
When they were commissioned by Universal Studios to create a virtual-reality film to accompany Occupied VR, people were “completely overwhelmed,” says Félix Lajeunesse from his studio in Old Montreal.
Lajeunesse and his business partner Paul Raphael believe the experience of music can be just as powerfully repositioned by VR. The filmmakers found early success with “Strangers: A Moment With Patrick Watson.” The five-minute, 360-degree film gives you a fly-on-thewall experience as singer/songwriter Patrick Watson works out a new song on piano in his Montreal loft studio.
“There’s a real sense of intimacy and a relational connection,” Lajeunesse says. “Emotionally the response we’ve gotten from that piece, which is in itself very simple, was pretty extraordinary.”
It was why Fox Searchlight commissioned the studio to create a similarly quiet, emotionally driven virtual-reality experience with Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern to accompany the 2014 drama Wild.
In Toronto, Occupied VR has reinvented the traditional music video with a virtual-reality experience for the Kevin Drew/Andy Kim collaboration “Who Came First.” Co-founders J. Lee Williams and Timur Musabay demoed an early version at June’s Field Trip festival, where concertgoers slid on the ski-masklike Oculus Rift headset, which projected a deserted version of the same Fort York field the festival was taking place in. They then ascend into the clouds.
Depending on where you look, you might see the CN Tower or the Gardiner Expressway in the distance. The video culminates in a rainbow room where you observe Kim and Drew jamming (or not, if you turn around).
Occupied VR also sees untapped potential in virtual-reality’s audio capabilities. “A creature could be flying by you and it could have part of a melody of a song attached to it,” says Fezz Stenton, experience designer at Occupied VR. “It could pass your right ear, and if you turned your left ear towards it, it would sound like it was there. A lot of people overlook audio but it really is half of what makes VR so compelling.”
The video for “Who Came First” will be released on YouTube in December. The team is also working on a video for DJ Grandtheft, which will drop in 2016.
But at Felix & Paul Studios, Lajeunesse feels music videos don’t recognize the technology’s game-shifting nature.
“From our perspective, it’s not straightforward storytelling,” he says. “It’s a combination between storytelling and presence. Sound has a huge part to play in building that sense of presence. That’s one of the objectives we have, is to find that perfect chemistry between music and VR.”
The VR game AntiDiaRy asks users to solve a virtual escape room. The game is tied to Rihanna’s new album, Anti (cover above).
A still from a virtual-reality experience.