I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of dollars in electronic music equipment. Samplers. Synthesizers. Drums. Maracas. I have almost no idea what I’m doing. Most of this stuff I’ve never tried before. Yet with the flick of my wrist, I can toss another speaker into the air. With the turn of a knob, I can turn a cello riff into a deep echoing baseline. And soon, I’ve composed a new beat worthy of a sub-mediocre early '90s R&B single.
Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.
With my head and hands inside the HTC Vive virtual reality system, I’m trying a $10 beta app called SoundStage. Developed by the one-man-band Logan Olson, who studied VR with pioneer Mark Bolas before spending a few years in the R&D department at Disney, SoundStage allows you to build room-sized music studios, filled with highly customized digital audio equipment. Today, it’s a fun experimental app. Tomorrow, it might be used for serious composition, or in Olson’s wildest dreams, live performance.
A menu floats in midair—you tap on any option you want, and it becomes a physical object in your hand, to be placed anywhere in 3D space. This means you can, say, create electronic drum sets of near-infinite size that you can play with virtual drumsticks (your two Vive controllers). It works surprisingly well, even if there’s a near-imperceptible delay Olson wants to eliminate.
But the real possibilities emerge when you start crossing the streams by connecting each piece with glowing wires—as if you're connecting real audio components in a neon-infused home theater. Plug a sampler into a sequencer, and you can build beats. Run a keyboard into a synthesizer, and you’re playing a Moog-worthy electronic jam. Sometimes, amidst all these options, I’m confused why a black box plugged into something else makes no sound at all. (Assumably, there's nothing going wrong here; the truth is that I have no idea what should plug into what.) Yet the tactility of the system—combined with floating information buttons you can click for more info—allow you to explore specialized musical equipment without the fear of breaking anything, to attack the topic with all the gusto of poking around Photoshop’s menus for the first time.