FORM Arcosanti, which took place last weekend, is easily the most unique music festival I’ve ever been to. It turned me on to tons of new music and experiences I never would have otherwise sought out, so I was shocked to find the most memorable experience of the weekend took place in virtual reality. Enter TheWaveVR, a company that officially formed (all puns intended) exactly one year ago at the festival when the founders, core developer, and art director all met each other for the first time in person and received news that their long sought after investment was finally coming through.
For our interview, co-founders Adam Arrigo and Aaron Lemke and so-called product evangelist Clarke Nordhauser (the artist also known as Grimecraft) insisted on taking me to the roof of one of Arcosanti’s iconic buildings above the room where their new product’s demo was taking place. The waiting list to try it out became so long it was impossible to get everyone in, luckily I checked it out on day 1 and got to experience my first interstellar music festival as a cat before most everyone else. Yes, you read that sentence correctly.
“We were here one year ago on our first sort of company retreat,” Adam explained. “This was still a passion project then but we had quit our jobs and started working on it full time. It was still sort an idea, we didn’t have funding but we did have a vision for this VR music/social platform. We were standing right here when we got a text [from one of their investors] that said, ‘We’re in’.”
The concept of the experience is simple – you strap on a VR headset, headphones, and Sub-Pac for the added effects of feeling the music and you’re immediately transported to the interstellar music festival. “So I’m basically a cat giving myself or anyone else who’s interested a light show?” I asked Aaron before I went in. He smiled and replied with a laugh, “Basically.” Easy enough.
Once inside immersion was instant – using the controllers I formed a galaxy between my hands, which I could expand or contract by moving my them back and forth. Each user is connected by a band of energy so when you look down it’s going right into your heart and connecting the hearts of everyone in the game. I started drawing hearts around myself with the multi-colored lights coming out of the controllers and these hearts would bubble and float up in a swirl around me, then I’d watch them blow away. I was totally enthralled with the experience in spite of its relative simplicity, then I realized it’s because the way the music compliments the game’s aesthetic is nothing short of perfect. It’s moody and lush, totally enthralling without being completely in your face and changing enough to keep me interested without seeming ADD.
“The demo we’re doing out here is a 15 minute concert experience, we do live shows every Wednesday but this is something that can live on the platform all the time. This piece we developed with our art director Strangeloop, who we actually met here last year. What a long, strange loop it’s been,” Aaron mused as Clarke chimed in, “This is a FORM success story right here!”
The demo is designed to show everything that’s possible on the platform, if there’s not a show going on users can hang out in what’s known as the Social Lobby, which Clarke explains is a, “Burning Man-esque experience. It’s dark then you look in the distance and there’s some glowing lights, you go towards it and it’s a crazy music installation. There’s a floating serpent that goes by and shits money, the lobby is full of little 3D art installations and interactive things – there’s always something to do.”
The social element of the platform is particularly interesting to me because it negates the isolation factor of virtual reality. You can interact with fellow users in the Lobby or go to a private space and hold your own parties, DJ and VJ with your friends. “We’re also developing ways for users to create their own content on the platform. We want to have bigger artists play the ‘mainstage’ but we want users to be able to create their own content and be DJs themselves. In addition to letting people experience this content anytime from anywhere, we also want to let artists emerge,” Adam said. “We’re excited to build out a tool kit that lets them express themselves in the way that Strangeloop did for this piece he’s debuting here.”
The existing demographic is a crossover between gamers and music fans, but as a total noob I didn’t feel like any part of the user experience or technology being used was over my head. The accessibility and ease of platform use creates the unique possibility of TheWave potentially being a place for new talent to emerge. When YouTube was on the rise the users who gained the biggest followings the quickest were the ones most familiar with the platform – an entirely new generation of creators emerged because there was a space to express themselves and share that content in a new way.
“For a long time it felt like all of us developers and enthusiasts were in on this same secret, but now it’s gotten to a point where it’s getting into the mainstream. The wave is starting to break,” explained Aaron with the second A+ pun of this story. All three are quick to remind me that they’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible within the medium and are currently focused on creating user experiences only possible in VR. If you or anyone you know who’s cooler than you has a VR setup (specifically available for HTC Vive or Oculus Rift), go to Steam and download the app for free so you can tune in to live performances every Wednesday at 7 pm PST and follow TheWaveVR for updates.