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.

An­tiDi­ 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.

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