We all love the enormous potential of Virtual Reality. It makes games more immersive, porn more…. startling, but has anyone come up with a decent musical application yet? Planeta may have just done that with Drops, a physics-based virtual world of interactive percussion that alleges to push the boundaries of experimental music, interaction and the whole VR experience.
You may have seen some wonderfully compelling computerised animations of what appear to be marbles rattling through a virtual musical environment striking drums and keys and producing music by gravity. Wintergatan tried to do this for real with their Marble Machine. Drops takes the idea of a marble falling and striking something as the basis for an elaborate drum machine. But rather than being an animation you watch or a machine you set in motion it uses VR (virtual reality) to place you inside the machine, manipulating it, setting surfaces and positions in order to cause more strikes as the marbles fall.
The result can be polyphonic and polyrhythmic and all possible by people with “no formal training”. What an odd thing to say. But Planeta see Drops as an exercise in mindfulness, a creative tool that’s restorative and a nice way to spend time. Designer Dan Brewster described it as:
We believe that the act of composing with Drops is inherently meditative. We don’t ship with guided visualization tracks or breath timers, but watching balls bounce and flow through your composition, sitting back, tweaking, adjusting, listening, all those things grab something deep in your brain, giving you a little space to let go. The environment amplifies that effect, enclosing you while still allowing you to see open sky and hear the sounds of the natural world.
In many ways they see it as a rejection of many of the overstimulated VR experiences where studios try to pack in as much sensory information as possible. With Drops you fiddle with simple things and produce pleasingly organic results.
There’s a background soundscape consisting of natural outdoors sound. Water, grass, wind, birds and crickets all help to create an atmosphere of calm serenity. And then with the objects they wanted to keep things simple and familiar, blocks, planks, drums and the odd musical instrument like flutes and chimes. They worked with composer Patrick Higgins and DJ Patrick Russel to come up with the sounds that matched the shapes.
Drops has a built-in camera and microphone for recording your compositions and they are looking at ways people can publish their own compositions for people to play in.
The video below gives you an idea of what it’s all about although it does seem to start with a pooing egg – but it gets better quickly.
It actually sounds like an interesting experience and a creative use of this never-quite-useful VR technology. It costs only £3.99 from the Oculus Rift store. Or a cheeky £3.89 on Steam for Oculus or the HTC Vive. Obviously, you’ll need that VR technology and an up-to-spec computer to run it. It certainly beats flapping your arms around trying to trigger loops in VR Ableton. Although I notice there are no images of any idiots actually using this app.