Mbryonic Case Study: Play a building as a musical instrument in VR!

The next step in audience interaction: A Building as a Music Composition

Most of us are familiar with the sound of a door knock, but have you ever wondered how an award winning building sounds? For the first time, we can ‘play’ Sage Gateshead, the North’s premier music venue, who commissioned the interactive design to celebrate their 10th anniversary.

Specialists in virtual reality Mbryonic partnered with Atomhawk Design and along with pioneer jazz artists Tinmen & Telephone to invite the audience to an experience of a lifetime. By downloading the interactive application, the user can explore a 3D model of the Sage where they can bash walls, beat floors and use the natural sounds of the building to compose unique tunes and create percussive music tracks. Chimeren Peerbhai, awarded expert on Wearable Technology and founder of VersaStyle Consulting, interviewed Tom Szirtes of Mbryonic and got an insider’s view on this unique project.

“The client wanted a virtual version of the celebration so it can last longer than a typical concert, so we pitched them the idea of having a 3D environment where you can explore, go around and hear the sounds of the building when you literally play it, exactly as you would do with a musical instrument. Apart from creating an interactive application we elevated the project to the next level and offered them an Oculus Rift version as well, which was very exciting for us as we hadn’t worked with Oculus before. What better way to be in the building than virtual reality!”

Virtual viewership driving in-person visits

This is not a project aimed to those who cannot physically visit the building. There are people who have downloaded the application from all over the world, many who have never have been to the venue, which Tom believes drive awareness of the iconic venue and may also motivate users to go see it for themselves in real life.

“The building won an award as a Norman Foster design, so one of the great assets of the venue is actually the architecture and the design, so when you think of the application you see another way that this promotes their brand and their value worldwide. I think that’s another really interesting aspect of the project to kind of save the building in a way that people couldn’t experience it before and perhaps motivates them to visit it in person or for those who have already done so, to come back and go ‘oh, we should really visit that building again!”

Can the Virtual Reality version of Sage Gateshead be even better than the real one?

Tom Szirtes recalls the part of the process that he enjoyed the most.

Tom Szirtes

Tom Szirtes

“I think it really was sort of fun to be able to create your own musical pieces and play around the sounds. With the virtual reality version, I think the most enjoyable part was to actually just experience navigating and moving around the building. We’ve added some places where you could not normally access for safety or other practical reasons. People loved going up there, some of them found it quite scary to climb to the top of the venue and get this sense of vertigo in virtual reality, but I think these feelings were really what they got away of it. The unique experience of being in a place where they know is it entirely different.”

Tom speaks to how the artistic flair the project brought to the building, was more than just art imitating life, but perhaps life imitating art?

“We’ve changed the lighting quite a bit, so it’s much more atmospheric environment than the real one and we have glows going round the edges and made it more ‘sci-fi’, let’s say! It was quite interesting that when we went back to visit, they had changed the lighting of the building to reflect more the virtual version that we build. Probably it wasn’t deliberate, but I like to think that we perhaps influenced the building in a small way!”

Taking a collaborative business approach to gain early wins in uncharted waters

From the client testimonial on Mbryonic’s webpage it is clear that the mission was complete in the most fulfilling way. Adam Kent, Innovations Manager of Sage Gateshead enjoyed the partnership and the combination of Mbryonic’s expertise and creative flair in bringing the building into life. During the shaping and development of the project, it was very important for the client to focus on the artistic rendition. Apart from being technologically innovating, it also had to be artistically interesting and most importantly, educational. In order for venues such as Sage to utilise the governmental funds they receive, all projects have to have a very strong educational aspect, which is very important for the developers as well.

As for the client, it was quite difficult to set expectations from the beginning as it was their first engagement with such a project. The first time the team tried it Tom said

“Some people were laughing with pleasure and other people were screaming of terror, but either way it got a massive reaction and that really excited people. So, I don’t think they knew what to expect, in their head they probably thought they knew, but until you try it, you really don’t know how massive this kind of technology is and how far it’s come. So, that was a lot of fun!”

Apart from the creative part of Playing the Sage, one of the most interesting aspects is the evaluation of the outcome. The client was mainly looking at the number of downloads and activations, but there was not a specific ROI as this is not a commercial project. The PR value of the project is something worth considering for companies who want to up their brand awareness in new markets. The Sage gained further exposure from a wide range of tech publications, where it would normally not have a presence otherwise.

Product extension: Augmenting audience participation to co-create unique experiences

Exploring a facility using cutting-end technology is not only entertaining for the audience, but also enhances the creativity of the artists involved. The Amsterdam-based jazz group Tinmen and The Telephone already uses technology to invite the audience to engage with them to co-create their live concerts. They have developed their own application where the audience takes the place of the ‘maestro’ in order to dictate the speed and the emotion of the performance. When they came to play in the Sage in Gateshead, they saw the “Play the Gateshead” application and asked to use it in their performance.

Mbryonic extended the application so it could be played live by the actual instruments on the spot. When the drummer hits the drum, it triggered one of the sounds of the building, when the piano player was playing the piano, he could actually move and navigate around the building by hitting the keys! A 3D version of the building projected on the big screen behind them reflected the interaction in a really interesting way that not only extended the use of the application, but also challenged the limits of music.

Virtual Reality: Challenging beginnings but a promising future

The main problem with Virtual Reality is that currently, people are not very familiar with it and they don’t know how to use it. At the moment, technology like Oculus Rift, for example, is better for specific events where the user can experience it in a controlled environment. Companies want their audience to engage with them in new ways, as they tell a story through the product they offer. The main responsibility of companies like Mbryonic and of consultants like Chimeren is to illuminate creative ways that brands can harness technology to not only tell a story, but create an immersive experience personalized to the target audience.

Tom believes adoption of VR is growing quickly. “That’s a general challenge for us working in the VR space as a company at the moment, how to deploy these experiences, how to reach the most people possible. Hopefully that will change a lot with popularity. Once people start playing with these innovations and gain experience, it will make a big difference. There are some who get really excited when playing around with virtual reality, but there are others who can’t see the bigger picture. Remember that back in the day at the times of the telegraph it would be impossible for people to familiarise with the possibility that in some years’ time they would have smartphones that would recognise their voices. We are experiencing something similar now with virtual reality and I believe that this will soon change.”

At the moment, this kind of technology is still in its infancy, but in a year or two this might change once these devices become widespread. There is huge potential in the field, as Mbryonic have proved by extending the life of an in-person experience, engaging with audiences in new ways to co-create performances and using a virtual experiences to drive real life visitor traffic. But these are only some of the ways VR can help brands gain loyalty, but companies can’t only stand and watch, they have to get involved to see for themselves!

About the Author

THEO is a multimedia journalist, photographer, and blogger at VersaStyle. When he’s not helping people share their story with the world as a digital consultant, he’s frequently spotted fixing any device with a fruit logo.

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