Jim Simons from AliveIn Technology was showing his latest VR music-making app at Synthfest. I was among the many who donned the VR helmet, grabbed the controllers and pretended I was in Ready-Player-One while slapping at blocks in a virtual world. Could this be ready to go?
We first saw AliveIn Technology a couple of years ago when they had a VR controller for Ableton Live. It was like using a floating Launchpad and you could launch clips and scenes by putting your hands in the right places. VR has come on since then and both the quality and the potential in Tranzient has come on leaps and bounds.
Tranzient is not a MIDI controller. It contains a number of music-making facilities all in the box. There’s a grid step sequencer that floats around a bit like the Ableton Live one did, but this one can be routed to whatever you like; you can record in real-time, loop, quantize, swing and interact as you go. For loop, clip and scene launching the grid of pads has been replaced by rings that glow and bounce as you activate them. You can drop in your own loops or play with the currently included 1.5GB of library. You can immerse yourself in virtual drum kits and play them by flapping your hands around pretty decent latency.
All of these rely on the suspension of the normal sorts of haptic response we expect when interacting with musical controllers. You have these little controllers in each hand and these become laser pointers and triggers for various blocks, rings and virtual buttons. But of course as you flap your hands to try to hit a drum you just have to go with it and forget how ridiculous you must be looking to anyone on the outside. But that’s a common VR conundrum that you just have to get over to have any chance of accessing this technology.
It wasn’t all turning colourful blocks on or off there was also detail and depth in Tranzient. The control panels for audio effects floated in front of you and gave you access to every parameter which, with some practice, you could easily manipulate. A fully working dual oscillator synthesizer is in here and you can dig down to all the parameters and start changing them with the controllers.
With my 5 minute demo it was disorientating and I felt clumsy and a bit silly – but those things would pass. Check out the video below for a better idea of how precise and quickly you can interact with it. The experience was interesting, definitely immersive and I could see how you could get proficient at it with a bit of practice. I could see the appeal of being surrounded by these music-making devices, where I could pull up detailed editors, access controls, browse samples and set things in motion with the minimum of movement – or at least I imagine I could once I got the hang of it.
Is it musically relevant? Of course, no less than any other wearable MIDI controller and this has the potential of offering up ways of making music that no one has thought of. Jim talked about creating a massive modular synthesizer in the environment. VCVRack-VR? Now that would be interesting. It can also be social and collaborative with anyone plugged into the same network being able to exist in your space.
The biggest barrier at the moment is the cost of the VR gear and how it needs to be tethered to a computer. Tether-free systems are becoming available but they need to be sufficiently powerful enough to handle the big demands of interesting software while being light enough to wear for long periods of time. So we might not be there yet exactly but for the intrepid future looking music producer then this could be an interesting place to play.
Tranzient is available now of Steam for £15.49 and supports Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Trazient webpage.