#1161: The Many Immersive Documentary Innovations of “In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats:” Winner of IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction

In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is a landmark immersive documentary that seamlessly integrates so many different immersive storytelling techniques and XR modalities earning it the IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction. You’re transported back into the 1989 Underground Acid Rave Scene in Coventry and West Midlands where you go on an epic journey retracing the convoluted steps to avoid detection by the police in order to make it to a warehouse of dancing bodies. Director Darren Emerson from East City Films gives us a masterclass of techniques including impeccable set design of filled with media artifacts of that era, hybrid drone shots, projection mapping, 6DoF interactions, Haptic suit design, volumetric capture, wind effects, a well-considered 4m x 6m location-based entertainment design space with streamlined onboarding and offboarding, multi-modal media integration from diegetic archival video footage, fliers, and photos, a climatic psychedelic and vaporwave dance scene, and innovative integration of interviews that projected as silkscreen projections on fliers. Not only were they able to cover everything you’d want and expect within a 2D documentary covering the topic, but this piece managed to recreate the key components of the visceral an embodied experience of going on a musical adventure. All while using the medium of VR to provide additional historical context every step of the way.

Here’s the jury statement about In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats for winning the top XR prize of the IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction

This year, the jury chose a project that was an arrival for the immersive creative community. This project is a clear manifestation of this unique medium that uses VR, touch, sound, and lived experience to honor the human need for community and a collective desire to be free, together.  Through documentary, we remember those who are policed, are reckless, are alive, are unlimited and demand to be free, even if for a night. This jury, blindfolded in light, walked through a corridor to experience this story and found ourselves transported, arms raised, with euphoric beats in our chest, and delighted to announce this winner of the IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction is In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats by Darren Emerson.

Jury Statement for IDFA DocLab Award for Immersive Non-Fiction

I had a chance to catch up with Emmerson at IDFA DocLab to hear about his journey into VR, and the process of creating this project. There are some really amazing behind the scenes videos that show the technical achievements and overall love and effort that went into producing this piece (Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3).

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. So today's episode is what ended up being my favorite experience at Ifa Duck Lab, as well as the winner for the Ifa Duck Lab Award for Immersive Nonfiction. It's like one of the top prizes there. So this piece is called In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats by Darren Emerson and his East City Films. And this is an immersive documentary that takes you back to Coventry in the West Midlands rave scene back in 1989. and you're in pursuit of repetitive beats. So it's the journey of you getting into the warehouse where there's a big rave that's going on. But along the way, you go through a number of different scenes that immerse you into the experience as if you were to go through all the different underground communication networks, through telephones, into the cars, and the police are trying to chase you and to prevent the party from happening. But throughout the entire course of this, they create a number of different scenes that have you immersed into like say the beginning you're in a room filled with your friends and The walls are plastered with all these posters you start to play a record and eventually you kind of go into this whole car scene where you're driving down the road and Just so many different elements with it is capturing different cultural aspects of that moment but also creating these documentary interviews as you pick up these different flyers and you have a people who are both on the organizers and the people who are putting all this together as well as the police. And you get this whole fusion between the traditional forms of what we know as documentary with all these other immersive techniques from photogrammetry and volumetric capture and to like the CGI and to like the projection mapping and the drone shot. I mean, it's just kind of a fusion of all these different techniques and really quite a masterclass of what the potentials for immersive storytelling are. into giving this feeling of going to a rave and the anticipation of going into a rave in Coventry in the Midlands in the UK back in 1989. So, that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Wastes of VR podcast. So, this interview with Darren happened on Monday, November 14th, 2022 at IFA Duck Lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So, with that, let's go ahead and

[00:02:27.643] Darren Emerson: Dive right in. My name is Darren Emerson. I run a company in London called East City Films, and I've been making VR as a writer, director, creator since 2015. So my first piece was here at IDFA in 2015 called Witness 36077. I had a piece here in 2019 as well called Common Ground, which was also at Tribeca and at different places. And I'm here this year with a project called In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats.

[00:02:56.995] Kent Bye: Nice. Yeah, and maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space.

[00:03:04.396] Darren Emerson: Yeah well I actually studied film gosh so long ago now but you know I graduated from film school in 98 which is a weird thing to say now and then I did lots of different jobs in the sort of film industry and then eventually found a home actually at MTV in the UK MTV Europe where we were like interns and then I eventually I became like a producer really so my expertise Before this was kind of line producing, but in the music sphere, producing multi-camera events, large events and stuff like that. So I started my own company in about 2006 with a friend called Ashley Cowan, and really we just wanted to make music videos, we wanted to make concert films and do our own thing, and we did that for a while. And I think, you know, it was around 2014 that I was starting to get a little bit fatigued with all of that. it wasn't really what I wanted to do and I wasn't making films I was producing stuff for other people and 360 video came along and we were asked to make something using 360 cameras we'd never done it before so we just kind of bought the gear because we had our company so we could invest in a little bit of R&D ourselves and went out and I decided at that point that this was a kind of now or never moment for me in a sense of like if I was really wanted to write, create, direct why don't I use this as that sort of segue and I think in a way at the time I probably thought this is a segue for me to be able to direct films without the pressure of like kind of directing films because everyone knew me as a producer in the UK so that's kind of where it started I was just intrigued by the freedom of it really and the lack of pressure and I love the experimentation so that first piece, Witness 360, was very homemade, doing really small effects, in-camera effects and stuff like that, and I just loved it. I loved the experimentation and it just kind of snowballed from there because it got into IDFA, as I mentioned, and then I won a commission from Sheffield Dockfest the next year to make a piece called Indefinite, which was about indefinite detention in the UK asylum system. And that was then licensed by the New York Times. And then I went on to do Common Ground. And it's just kind of snowboard. And so now I'm like full-time direct VR. Like, that's what we do. And my company is involved in XR. Like, that's what we do all the time. We don't do anything else now.

[00:05:26.841] Kent Bye: So yeah, maybe you could talk a bit about how this project of In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats came about.

[00:05:32.825] Darren Emerson: Well, this is a project that I had sort of in my head for a long time, and it was kind of always there in the background, especially as I'd started kind of doing VR. And, you know, and I come from a background where this scene meant quite a lot to me. It comes from the heart, and I had always felt that kind of VR, as I was getting used to VR and developing my practice, and actually this was a really kind of ripe subject matter for VR, and that I wanted to be able to transport people into the feeling of being at a rave or the feeling of being out on an adventure with your friends for the first time so really It's something I was kind of thinking of doing. I'm based in London so I guess my initial feeling was that I was going to do it about like the M25 rave. So M25 is the orbital ring road around London. It's like the motorway around London and it's quite famous for raves at that period in 88, 89 because people could get out of London really easily and they'd go around and then they would find like raves in the countryside. But I was at Sheffield Dockfest, and I met a guy called Tony Gillan, who was the commissioner of Coventry City of Culture. And he had seen Common Ground, and he really loved Common Ground. And then he spoke to my producer, Dan Tucker, about what he was doing at Coventry. And Dan mentioned that I was really interested in rave. And then as the serendipitous kind of world works, he was like, hey, well, Coventry have this really rich history. of rave music and illegal acid house parties in the late 80s, like, why don't we talk? And then it kind of went in that direction, really. But in many ways, what we've ended up making, you know, if it had been about M25, if it had been about Manchester, if it had been about all sorts of different places in the UK, it kind of would have been a very similar experience. You know, the documentary elements are very focused on Coventry, but the experience of it is very resonant for the whole of the UK. And also in Europe, you know, we're finding, you know, that people have their own scene. It's like, you know, it might be slightly different music or it might be a slightly different style, different kind of references here and there in terms of like the pop culture references that we kind of seed into the experience. But at its heart, it's about youth. It's about adventure. And those nights that you go on with people that change your life. When the sun comes up in the morning, you are forever changed and the people that you were with become like your family, you know? They know you better than your mom and dad know you at that point.

[00:08:05.584] Kent Bye: And so, were you a part of the scene when you were growing up?

[00:08:08.855] Darren Emerson: Not in 1989, so I'm 45, so I first went to a club properly and like this kind of stuff when I was at university. So I was at university in 95 and I think that first term, you know, you meet new friends and somebody suggested we've got to go to this place and it was called Club UK and it was in Wandsworth and we all piled into a red Peugeot. And if you've seen the experience, there's a red Persia in the experience. And we went off. And for me, it was one of those seminal nights, you know, it was like I lost my friends and they were worried about me, but then they found me in this place called the Cosmic Cave. with my shirt off dancing to a DJ called Billy Nasty who was playing Acid Techno, and I was just kind of in it, you know? And I think when I was growing up, I was actually quite shy in terms of dancing. Like, I found it very difficult to let go. And this scene and all the things that are wrapped up in that scene allowed me to connect, I guess, with the person that I always knew I was, but I wasn't able to express. And it made me able to connect to other people much more easily. And I think that was kind of the gift of it, really.

[00:09:15.947] Kent Bye: Well, I really love this experience and I feel like it really uses a lot of the different affordances of VR in a very effective way that feels like I've been taken on a spatialized journey, but that the journey also has all these points of people giving context to different scenes and different aspects of the scenes from different perspectives. There's a kind of an oral history component or a documentary component to this piece as well that I think is in a lot of ways the backbone to the spatial journey that we're being taken on because it's really rooted into these communities and cultures that are based specifically in Coventry in these different geographic locations, but also have these different communities of people that are doing all these things. So maybe you can talk a bit about how you went from this initial serendipitous connection into cultivating relationships to all these different characters or players that are in this community that you're featuring within this piece.

[00:10:09.175] Darren Emerson: Well, yeah, I mean, I think very much, you know, it is a documentary project, but I wanted it to be a documentary, an experience as well that you go on as almost like a character within it. And so the idea was kind of how do I see documentary within the environment? How is it in the things that you pick up? the cards are in the phone box, like the things in the car, and finding like, you know, I knew, I kind of knew what the story was, but it was finding the right people to articulate that story and do it with authenticity. You know, even in the UK, like coming from London and then going to Coventry and trying to tell Coventry's story, often there's a little bit resistance to that. You know, people in Coventry had already started to document this scene in a more traditional way in terms of film and video and podcasts and stuff like that. And so I definitely had to kind of gain trust, find some connections that then lead me to new connections to be able to kind of really, for me, feel comfortable telling those elements of their story. So I was aware that, you know, this guy from London is coming up and trying to tell the Coventry story, like, you know, who's he? But, you know, I spent a lot of time up there, I travelled around in the car with old promoters showing me all these different places, some real characters and, you know, it was, I mean, it was fascinating. And just lovely people. And you'll find that, obviously, people just really want, in Coventry, certainly, they really want this story to be told. Often, in terms of the historical context of rave music and acid house music, certainly in the UK, London celebrated, Manchester celebrated, even maybe a place like Blackburn is celebrated in terms of being a cultural centre for acid house music and the birth of modern dance music, but actually It was like little pockets in all of these different cities. And Coventry, because it's in the Midlands, because it's not Birmingham, it's a much smaller city, it feels like it gets left behind in that cultural discussion. And so there was so many people that really wanted to kind of actually make a testimony to say, actually, Coventry was this place. This is like at the forefront of it. And what was really interesting, as you kind of touch on, is that Coventry as a place in the late 80s, was a very divided city. It's a city, an industrial city known for car making. It's known as like the Detroit of like the UK and so a lot of the car industry in the 80s is falling apart, you know, there's no investment, things are moving, the kind of Thatcher's kind of de-industrialization of the UK is in full effect so you've got a lot of communities and like poorer working-class communities that are kind of lost really and they don't really know what to do with themselves and within Coventry itself it's divided around racial lines as well. So what was really interesting to put together, and there's a scene in Implicit for Repetitive Beats where you're in a police station in the Acid House squad, which is a real police squad that they started to try and stop Acid House parties. And in that, you're kind of picking up and putting on like a kind of intel board, if you like, the different elements of the scene that make the scene work. And they are the football hooligans. So the football firms, football culture in the UK was a culture of violence. And it wasn't really about soccer at all. It was just about the terraces and the tribal kind of warfare. So you've got those guys who are maybe kind of getting tired of that and looking for something else to do. You've got the wannabe DJs and MCs who are guys who are always going to be into music. And then you've got like the Jamaican area of Coventry which is called Hillfields. And that's where the Jamaican sound systems were, and Jamaican sound systems are, you know, homemade amplifiers and speakers that they do, like, sound clashes with, you know, and sound clashes is where, like, who's got the biggest noise and who's got the best bass and all this kind of stuff. And those guys did not mix with the white guys from areas like Belgreen and stuff like that. But suddenly you see this cross-pollination of ideas, resources, people helping each other to get these parties off the ground and also avoid the police. And it actually becomes very, very complicated. And what you see is a real sort of DIY entrepreneurial cleverness that is remarkable. You know, you ask yourself now, without the internet, without mobile phones, you know, without all the things that we take for granted now, like, how do you find a venue? And maybe it's an illegal venue, so you change the locks. How do you produce a fake contract to say it's like a private party so it gets around licensing laws? You've got to find the drugs. Ecstasy and MDMA are an integral part of this. and you've got to get the speakers there and you've got to do it all under the nose of the police. So that's why in the VR piece you go on a bit of a convoy with all the people. There's a thing called meat points and it's basically a distraction tactic to send everybody in the wrong direction, including the people going to the rave. all around the city so at the very last moment you reveal where the rave's going to be but the speakers are already in at that point and if they can get enough people into the party then the party goes ahead and the police can't stop it, they're just kind of, you know, they're powerless. So it's just a really fascinating look at how, again, community, how a community can evolve itself when there is a lack from the, I guess, from the government of of an opportunity to do it yourself. People get on with it, and they make their own communities, and that's what's so beautiful about it, I think.

[00:15:44.958] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's the conceit of having the police, like you said, if it starts, it goes ahead. So I guess the whole idea is that they're trying to prevent it from starting, but why can't they stop it, or is it just too many people? That was something I didn't quite understand, because I've seen police break up stuff before, so once it starts, they're powerless, and so there's this kind of, I guess, narrative tension in the piece, where you're kind of racing to get there, get it started and you have this kind of dual storylines of you going into the rave but also the police that are tracking and so you have these two parties that are colliding into this space and one is trying to get there first to get things going.

[00:16:17.286] Darren Emerson: Yeah, I mean, all the people that we interviewed said, like, the police back then were slightly more benevolent, as in, like, they ended up being, like, car parking attendants in the end in a field because they were just like, well, this is happening now, there's a few thousand people in this rave, like, what's the path of least resistance for the police at that point? It's just to help people find their cars or, like, wave people in the right direction. So we have this scene where basically you're outside this warehouse And it's a true story. And they say, look, we put on this rave. All these people were coming to this warehouse. They're parking everywhere. And the police just kind of give up. And the helicopter that's got the light is, like, shining a light, going, like, you need to go this way. Like, let's just get you in safely. The distinction at this time with the police is that, you know, people say this is an illegal rave. It wasn't illegal. It was unlicensed. And licensing laws in the UK are very complex. And so it wasn't so much that they wanted to break it up because it was illegal. It's just that they didn't really know how to deal with it because there was no law in place to say that really this couldn't happen. So they would have to find other ways of like making it, trying to make it illegal. So that might be more about like fire safety or like not adequate toilets or water because you're in a barn on like some field. So they were playing catch-up. They didn't really know what was going on and they were listening to like pirate radio like everybody else was listening to pirate radio. So they were just kind of chasing everybody and in a way that's the way it should be like you know the police shouldn't know what the youth are doing especially when it's something really new and something that people hadn't seen before. And you forget, like, 88, 89, 90, like, this is, like, brand new in the UK. It's, like, something that has come from nowhere, and it's just suddenly, like, boom, there it is. And it comes with the usual right-wing tabloid sort of scaremongering. And, you know, we were interviewing the police, and, you know, the music's called Acid House, and it comes from Chicago and Detroit and places like that. And it was called Acid House because of the sound. the use of 303s and 808s, but the police are convinced that it means LSD. And so you get a lot of scaremongering in the papers about like, everyone's like going to jump off a building, try and fly and all that kind of nonsense. And interviewing the police today, they're still convinced that everyone was on LSD. And it's just like, but they weren't, you know, it's just like,

[00:18:40.912] Kent Bye: It's just MDMA and ecstasy, right?

[00:18:43.173] Darren Emerson: Ecstasy, yeah. Ecstasy came into the country at that point and it just took over like a wildfire of everyone and they couldn't understand what was going on. And the other thing about policing is one of the byproducts of ecstasy is that everyone's sort of loved up. You know, we mentioned the football hooligans, you know, they're all, like, all these rival firms are all just hugging each other and, like, everyone's exchanging good vibes. There's no violence. There's no sexual violence as well. Like, I mention that because, like, a lot of people say in Coventry, before Acid House, you would go to bars and clubs and because of the licensing laws then, you know, they would finish at 11. 11.30 and everyone would be drunk and they would come out and there'd be lots of fights. There would be a lot of, I would say now, by today's standards, kind of like sexual violence against women. And for women in this scene, it was a very safe scene, you know, because no one's feeling like that. Everyone's feeling connected and wanting to dance. So I think for a lot of people, it was like the tonic that they needed, you know, to get out of that decade and to see like a different way of life, really.

[00:19:52.591] Kent Bye: Yeah, well I think that helps set the broader context of this piece and I'd love to dig into both the technical aspects but also the experiential design aspects. So in your piece you have a number of different things in terms of first of all everybody's wearing like a sub-pack haptic suit so you're getting a visceral experience of the bass throughout the experience of this piece. Obviously you have headphones but then do you have two different ways of experiencing this. One is through the location-based free-roaming large space that you can walk around in. And the other is that you're sitting and you're in one location that's more teleporting around the spaces rather than walking around. And that seems to be probably a constraint of space. I mean, imagine if you had enough space, you'd much prefer to have everybody be able to do the free-roaming. Or maybe for accessibility reasons, maybe some people would prefer the ones that are just sitting there. Maybe you could talk about that dynamic because I saw the free-roaming version, but the sitting version I guess would be a little bit more constrained and less embodied. But I felt a deep sense of embodied presence throughout this piece because I was able to walk around in such a large space. But yeah, maybe you could talk about that in terms of a constraint as you were designing this piece to have different modes that people could experience even.

[00:20:59.040] Darren Emerson: Yeah, I mean initially it was designed to be free-roaming, so each person has six metres by four metres and so all the play spaces within it which are linked are designed for that sort of space. So that sort of allows within those a sense of kind of moving around different spaces and triggering different things and then the transitions then work to kind of pull you back towards different parts of that six metres by four metres and then we've got like a fan in there as well. at certain points in the experience, kind of blow some kind of cold air on you. But, you know, we did a lot of work around accessibility, actually. We did an accessibility workshop and invested some time and money into accessibility. And we invited a visually impaired user down, a hearing impaired and a wheelchair user, just to kind of test it and run through it, see what was going to work, what didn't. And through that process, we created lots of Versions of it that could be enjoyed essentially so we have like a caption version So on our we have something called showrunner which runs all the headsets synced but within the build we just have to tick a box when we start to toggle on captions and They're linked to all the things you pick up and everything is captioned. So that's really really good and We have a seated version, but that also lowers elements in the scenes, like automatically, so at the beginning when you pick up the record and you put it on the deck, like the deck, you know, the table's lower and stuff like that. And we thought about, even in the, there's a scene in a motorway service station where you go to a phone box, and even that phone box is a 1980s phone box, but it is the wheelchair accessible 1980s phone box from the UK, so that that all felt reachable and stuff like that. a lot around that and the big one with Visually Impaired is like we looked at how we could do guided experiences and also doing maybe a touch tour before our installation in Coventry where Visually Impaired could touch vinyl or like a record deck or flyers and actually get a sense of it and we have a scene-by-scene description for people so that basically they could put the headphones on, the sub-pack walk around the space and kind of be guided. So we looked at different ways of making that accessible and that has actually paid off. Like in London we had somebody in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy who didn't have the motor skills to do the teleport but actually could move the chair around the space. We put them in the 6x4 space and then we watched as they went around the clave and all this kind of stuff and it was a really gratifying moment actually to know that if you put the work in on that it really can pay off. But it's interesting, even at IFA, we've been looking at people doing it. So we've got the four free roaming and the four seated. And actually, unless you can't walk around, the accessibility barrier is actually higher for the seated, I would say, because we have time slots. And this is around sort of exhibiting VR. We have time slots. We've got to get people in. We've got like a five to 10 minute onboarding. And for a lot of people, teaching somebody how to teleport in VR, who's never teleported in VR before, is actually much more challenging than just saying, putting on a backpack and say, pull these triggers and then walk around. So it's funny that, you know, you make something to be accessible, but actually for some people it becomes more of a barrier. So that was quite interesting. Also, like, we timed everything so that all the interactions in the experience work even if you don't pick them up. So if 20 seconds and you haven't like gone to, we have an attractor state for every sort of interactive element. If you don't go there, it will start playing. And say like in the police station, if you're holding it, you don't put it on the board, it will fly to the board. So we've tried to think like, okay, if we have somebody come in and just stand still, and it's just like, you know, and doesn't want to move around, they can still get something out of it. And I think that's really important.

[00:24:38.490] Kent Bye: In terms of the actual experience of this piece, I really appreciated the type of environmental design that you're doing. It felt like you were doing a lot of deep research into these flyers and kind of recreating a whole vibe of a certain moment in time. of people that may have gone to a lot of these different events with posters on their walls with all the older technologies, cassette players and the vinyl that they're playing and you know the characters are pretty static. So you're starting off in this room and you are transported into the Acid House dance culture and you're putting on a record and then you have this conceit of Going around and picking up these flyers when you pick up a flyer then you have Almost like a video recording that's being projected onto the flyer and then as you're holding it You're hearing it and you can also look around and you had like video footage happening on the TV So I'd pick up the flyer go watch the TV It was a nice conceit to hold this flyer that had someone's face like a frame that was like a documentary that was playing out on this flyer that had these different people that were talking and with the audio source coming from there, but also to be able to roam around and watch other media artifacts that were integrated all into this space. So I'd love to hear about your process of digging into the archives of this culture and then finding the different video archives and having this kind of multi-modal fusion of all these different other media within the context of this immersive experience.

[00:25:56.034] Darren Emerson: Yeah well I mean actually that scene that you're describing was probably one of the most complicated scenes to devise in many ways because there's a lot going on in that scene especially for the quest as well because it's a quest project in terms of performance and what you can do in the quest in that scene because Obviously got the art design of the space itself and all the different artifacts in there and you know I was very much geeking out on all these different things you know lots of stuff I remember from my youth so you know we'd spend a lot of time like what's the stereo gonna be it's got to be this Technic stereo that you know what are the shoes well the shoes are gonna be Reebok classics. So within this space, it's also like a period of time is moving. So there's a bedside clock, and as you pick up the different flyers, the time moves on as they're getting ready to kind of go out. And so we have these characters that we captured in a volumetric studio, and I just captured them as stills in different kind of poses. And the idea around that was really like, I wanted it to feel like pictures that people would have taken when they were younger of people in their house. If you go up into your loft and you get out the old pictures of you and your friends from university or when you were like 16, you know, hanging out at your friend's bedroom. I wanted it to feel like that. And so that's why they're kind of in those frozen tableaus, basically. But they're doing things in that night. You can recognize that the night's getting kind of progressively more fun. I even had, like, at one point they're playing a game called Shithead, which is a card game that we play a lot in the UK. I don't know if you play it in the US. It's a classic game. People play it, they call it different things in Europe. And I've had people come up to me afterwards and go like, oh my god, I can't believe they were playing. And it's right at a very crucial moment in the game, where someone's about to lose. And so things like that, I really enjoy. I really enjoy doing those things. So that was fun. But what I wanted with the flyers, every time you pick up a fight, it's on a slightly different subject matter. So the first flyer was about, like, where would we go? We'd go to someone's house. So it's kind of explaining the location you're in. We'd all go around to my mate's house. And it was like a shrine to Acid House, posters on the wall. The next flyer is about fashion and, like, the look of Acid House. And then the next flyer is about flyers themselves, but also convoys and getting in the car. And then the last one's about pirate radio. So it moves you around the space to these different elements. And when you pick up a flyer, we have archive that I cut together on the TV screen so that you can pick it up and you can if you want to look at the TV screen and see sort of like essentially in a documentary way like a cutaways you know cutaways that you can look at or not or you can look out the window if you want you know so it just kind of brings you very much into that space and adds that kind of context that historical context which I think is really important in the documentary format it's trying to play with like some of the conceits of documentary and and put them into that spatial medium but place them around so that's always kind of like something I like to play with like you know and I kind of started doing that with Common Ground and this is much more kind of an advanced version of that really and the archive you know I love working with archive anyway so I spent a lot of time with different archive houses and finding different pieces that I thought would really work and I like cutting that stuff anyway so that was really good fun but even stuff like there's a scene the next scene once you've kind of triggered the high fire you go into a radio tuner scene and you walk up and down a radio tuner and all of the radio stations are stations from 1989 so if you stop and listen to some of the news reports it's all about Acid House and people complaining about it the football results are from a Saturday in 1989 The shipping news, you won't probably know the shipping news in the US, but the shipping news is like basically for all the sailors around the UK and the Netherlands and these different places, it's like a kind of weather report. And when you're a kid you're like, what is this? Because it's like in code basically, but it's always on the dial somewhere. So we have that from 1989 and then finally you get to a pirate radio station, which we recreated but we found an original Pirate Radio DJ from Birmingham Starlight FM. So there's online, there's this website called pirateradio.org and it's just real recordings of Pirate Radio sessions from all of this time and I found one that was closest to Coventry and I was in touch with the DJ and so I transcribed his set and what he would say and the things that they would say on Pirate Radio were hilarious. They were like, people would message in, it was like a message board. So it'd be like me going, like, tell Kent not to forget to pick up the Siggy's from the shop. They'd be like, so yeah, message for Kent, don't forget the Siggy's while the music's playing. So I rewrote it for this piece to make it feel authentic, really. So a lot of work has gone into that research. All of those things, even the attractor state is like a riff from an Acid House tune, you know? So it's, yeah, I like to deep dive into that stuff. I feel like if I go really, really far with all that stuff, even if you don't know it or recognize it specifically, you'll feel it. It will be kind of intertwined into the experience itself and you'll come out feeling like, wow, OK, there was a lot there and you might have missed some of it, but you'll get a lot. And I mean, I think that's the goal for me, really.

[00:31:02.245] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's really transportive in a way that it transports you into a very specific time and place in a culture with all these artifacts across all these modalities of media that you're immersed in and have different access into. And so I felt like that first scene, you're really entering into that culture from more of a first person perspective, I'd say, from like if you were part of that culture. And what I found interesting is that after you go to the pirate radio, then you cut to the police station that gives you another excuse in some ways to have a first-person perspective for the police who are trying to Prevent and stop a lot of these events from happening, but they're tracking the organizers And so it's an opportunity for you to introduce these organizers who may be the people who are going to the event may not care who's actually the person behind it, but The police are certainly trying to understand who's behind all this, but that gives you an environmental context to then walk around this police station, but then also at the same time introduce these organizers of this movement. I thought that was also a really interesting way to have this conspiracy board with pictures with red strings that are connecting the relational dynamics of all the people that are trying to kind of map out this network of people. But for you as a documentary filmmaker, allowing you to talk to the organizers and give even broader context to this movement.

[00:32:18.064] Darren Emerson: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the contents of that board is, you know, as you put the pictures, the video, so kind of mug shots, if you like, of the people on the board, it reveals more detail of the scene, more pictures, more like archive and stuff like that. So what I wanted with that scene was that you as the user, you might go into it not knowing anything, but then you come out of it and you kind of by fetching these different things and putting them on the board and observing everything, that you are piecing together, just like the police were piecing together, what the scene was about and who was involved in it and where things might be coming from and where the speaker's coming from, all this kind of stuff. Because they were very much on the back foot. And when you go into VR, often audiences feel a little bit on the back foot. So it was definitely a scene where it was like, if I can give you context, in a way that kind of surprises you and really gets you lost in the detail of it, that when we start to actually get to the kind of more cosmic sort of like bit of dancing and moving through like, you know, that space, you've got all that within you now, you kind of know where everyone's coming from and why actually the fact that you're going to this rave, the fact that this rave is important, it needs to go on. You don't want it to be stopped. You know, I didn't want to pay the police, and the police in Coventry were involved in this, in a sense that they gave permission for me to interview people and stuff like that. And they were very happy when they came and watched it in Coventry, and they were really happy. And they came to me and said, oh, the booking informs, they loved that sort of kind of thing, you know. And all the posters on there are from that time, you know, the kind of stop thieves, like community posters about Acid House and robbery and stuff like that.

[00:33:57.548] Kent Bye: This is in the police station where you have a lot of authentic archival pieces that are from what you would actually see in a police station. So they were seeing that and appreciating that.

[00:34:05.856] Darren Emerson: Yeah, yeah, they loved it. They loved that. And so they were happy with the portrayal. And I told them that I wasn't going to sugarcoat it, but I don't think it's a portrayal where I feel like I'm painting the police as just kind of normal people who were just a little bit behind the curve, didn't really know what to do. And it's not like the government, it's just the police that have got a job to do and they're trying to do their job. So it's a really kind of interesting way to get people To see Coventry as a map as well, like a location, to see all these different areas and to understand these different elements that have to come together successfully to put on an amazing night for all the people that are driving up the M6 to try and find it. So that was really what that was about.

[00:34:48.888] Kent Bye: And I guess this piece is split into the three parts of the introductory prologue that's trying to introduce a larger context of both the people that are going to it, but also the police and the larger city of Coventry and the organizers to these events. And then there's the getting to the rave and then finally ending at the rave. But the name of the piece is In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats. And so you're sort of guided from the beginning that you are going to be attending a rave, but how to get there is a bit encoded. It's a bit of a puzzle in some ways, but there's nothing specifically from the user's perspective that you have to solve a puzzle because it's a narrative that you want people to get there. They don't want to have an escape room type of thing where you fail to solve the puzzles and you don't get to go to the party. So people get to go to the party, but there's this journey that people are at this meeting point, getting information. And so it feels like all contextually relevant to this anticipation that I really felt of like, that I just didn't get teleported directly to the rave, there was the journey of getting to the rave, which I really appreciated how you were breaking that up into different beats, both the photorealistic beats with all the cars, but also this more poetic interpretation in terms of like you're kind of in this cosmic realm and you're moving your hands around and seeing particle effects coming off of your hands and like you're walking around a spatial area but then you flip into what is kind of like more of a cinematic cut where as you walk around things stop moving and I think that's to get people to stop walking around so they can be in a specific physical location that has a fan so that they can feel the wind blowing on them as they're in the car but also as they're going into this cosmic space and dancing with these electricity things you know there's a lot of poetic interpretations of what i felt in terms of the dance experience is some of the most amazing rave moments that i felt like really into the music but yeah maybe you could talk about this middle section of the journey and what you were trying to do of Both at the same time creating this tension of anticipation of like, there is a bit of a question as to whether or not you're going to get there and whether or not it's going to happen or not. And all these other elements of the journey of getting people feeling like they were on a path of going somewhere that was really exciting. They didn't know what was going to be on the other end, but it was like this peak experience in some ways.

[00:36:55.064] Darren Emerson: Yeah, well, I mean, I think you're absolutely right about the cinematic element to that and locking some of it into a 180-degree viewpoint. And that was a lot about making sure that you were in front of the fan for that scene. It was also, in terms of filming, the scene that you're talking about we call the convoy scene. And it was the last scene that I came up with, because it was a struggle for me. I'd kind of mapped out the whole journey. And there's a scene before, you're in the services, you know, the motorway services, and you're waiting for a phone call to tell you where the meet point is, and then you're all going to jump in your cars. And for me, there was a question about, well, how do I get from there to where the rave's going to be? That's actually quite difficult. And at times, it was sort of, do we get into a car? Am I holding a map in the passenger seat? All these different things. And I was struggling to find it, actually. And normally, a lot of my ideas come from music. I'll be listening to music and I was listening to a track by an electronic artist called Max Cooper which is the track that we ended up using and I kind of just dreamt it up and what I saw was like in my mind's eye what I saw was like kind of underpasses like deserted telephone boxes at night like foxes running across the road like just basically like being out somewhere where you're not sure where you're going to go and have that kind of mystery to it, like car parks at night and stuff like that. So we wanted to shoot that and have that all knit together, but we wanted to shoot it at night and actually 360 cameras, as you know, are not great at shooting at night. So we wanted to shoot on like a large sort of kind of wide lenses, but using cameras that could handle like low light conditions. So that's part of the reason it's kind of in 180. It's kind of dark and we just keep it very focused. And that fits the element of that track. And then we go into this kind of very cosmic sort of journey. And this whole scene at that point turns into a really a sort of homage to rave art. So it's about flyers. And flyers for Acid House and Raze and stuff like that were very much around science fiction imagery, fantasy imagery, a lot of new age imagery as well. So I kind of take you into that, you know, it's based on real flyers. And in our exhibition, we've got the original flyers that you can see that inspired that scene. There's a flyby, a promoter called Dreamscape that's really famous, kind of a green grid, you're flying down that and you're flying through like celestial kind of bodies that are coming through you and stuff like that. The purpose of that scene, and it's my favourite scene, like, when I do it, I'm like, oh, I still, yeah, I like it, I'm really loving it, and the sound design's great and stuff like that. It's about getting you into that high, it's about that build-up. People have asked me, Lyle, there's no, like, you know, ecstasy or drug-taking in the actual experience. But then people come to me and said, but that scene is, you've taken it and you're getting there, and it kind of rises and rises and rises. And that's really the response of people, you know, people really into it. And it gives you that rush, it gives you that feeling. And, you know, I wanted people to have that emotional reaction to it, where they're like, oh, why? Okay, wow. Here we go. We're getting there now. So that was really exciting. It was really exciting thing to do also, you know from my perspective to combine the cinematic the filmed with the very sort of visually animated kind of science fiction style world You know and have all these elements coming in through the sound and and also the interactions and having that playful interaction as well where it's just like giving people After doing all the police station stuff and all the context, having a moment where you can just play and have like particles and play with like the kind of almost, call it space wind. I don't know if that's the right description, but like elements coming through your fingers and like we have like these kind of lightning that is coming out of your hands that is actually just the waveform of the music you're listening to. And when you squeeze the triggers, you see it. And so it's just fun. And the music's great. So it's like everyone is dancing and everyone is feeling connected at that point. And so, yeah, that was the purpose of the scene, really, you know?

[00:40:56.733] Kent Bye: Yeah, like I said, it was definitely a peak moment in the experience in terms of, like, using the affordances of VR to take you into another world and another realm, because then after that, you go back into actually entering into the rave scene, and with posters on the wall, and you get a little bit more last-minute context setting from the different people that are participating in these, organizing in the playing, and, you know, from their perspective, at the threshold, I guess, where You've been on this journey, you're about to enter into the actual warehouse where all the music and the dance scene is. I have to say, in terms of being able to create a sense of spatial presence with lots of other people, especially on the Quest, I imagine there's certainly a lot of restrictions in terms of how many polygons you can have. give you the sense of being in a warehouse full of other people dancing. I thought that was good use of 2D billboarding in a way that gives you the impression of the scene without having like the full photorealistic. You take more of an abstract, you know, necessarily more of an abstract approach there. But also there's a kind of a networking component where you have a sense of being present with other people who are also co-experiencing this experience with you. To a certain extent, I imagine that there's certain interactive components. And so this is not an experience that is the linear time where everybody's going to have the exact same amount of time. And so I guess there's probably some variation for who's going to be in this networked scene together at the same moment. But there is kind of a nice additional element of bringing the physical exhibition back into the virtual scene. But yeah, maybe you could talk about that, how to create this

[00:42:22.287] Darren Emerson: Climax of actually arriving at this with all the constraints of the oculus technology kind of recreate the whole scene of a rave within a warehouse Yeah, well you're very much correct about the limitations of the quest in terms of this scene But luckily kind of creatively I wanted it to be a very sort of kind of low-lit scene My memories of being in these sorts of clubs is that you don't really see very much of people you see you're in your own sort of kind of zone and the lighting is such that you see like I like the idea of like seeing glimpses of bits of arm or like you know people's faces you don't see everything all the time and often I feel like with VR it's like the more realistic you try and make it the less real it feels and so often I try and aim for something that feels more like the memory of how you remember it to being instead of how it actually was. It's like that classic thing in a club, like, you know, when the lights come on at the end, you go, oh my god, like, everyone looks terrible all of a sudden. So it was like, how do we make this scene feel real? How do we make it feel claustrophobic, intense, but still sort of kind of fun? And I think that's, for us, like, we did a lot of motion capture, so we filled the warehouse, as it were, with models. and we did dance loops. So we had a female dancer and a male dancer doing motion capture and we did dance loops. So the idea with the dance loops was that we did intensity 1 to 10 asymmetrical and intensity 1 to 10 symmetrical. And we did that for both the female and the male dancer. So, obviously, Intensity 1 is, you know, the people in the club that are just kind of bobbing around or a little bit tired or wasted or whatever. And then you've got the people that are really going for it, like, you know, Intensity 10. From that, I then selected, like, my favorites of those dance loops, and all of them had to kind of start and finish in the same position so that we could then create a playlist that would then have the models access those dance loops in a random pattern. so that when you go in there, it doesn't feel like everyone's doing the same thing. You know, we tested it, actually. We put, like, a very early test, we put some sort of Pond5 footage, which is like a silhouette, a party silhouette, and into 360. And immediately, you could see the repeat and the fakeness of it, regardless of the fact that it was a hack together test. So that gave me a feeling of what I didn't want to do. And so we worked very hard to figure out what we did want to do. The fact that we could do it very low light meant that the models themselves didn't have to have a lot of fidelity, a lot of polygons, and all that kind of stuff. And we saved that stuff for our hero characters, the characters that you see all the way through. and we had specific dance moves for them which were like quite expressive and then we kind of skinned the models to have them on it and for them it's like they're hugging you know they're kind of blissed out or they're really dancing and we have like this you know effect where you see the movement in some clarity and then it kind of dissipates and dissolves in terms of particles so it's like momentary and that again was a creative solution to like limitations on the quest like not being able to just go like full-on you know like photo real like people dancing everywhere and in a way you know that that very much works so we're like really happy with that scene and you know it was the scene I was most worried about no it was always knowing that you know you're making this you're going we've got to get to the rave and it was kind of like it was in the back of everyone's head like how are we gonna make this like satisfying Another element that makes it satisfying is the sub-pack, and there's the bass and the sound design. The sound design was done by a guy called Gareth Fry, who does a lot of work in the West End and for the National Theatre in terms of, like, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and he's amazing. And having that kind of really bass-y, sort of echo-y feel in there. And then also, when you go into the exhibition, you're given, in real life, you're given a wristband, a glowstick-style wristband, and that then features in the networking that you were referring to earlier. So what we do is that we have a photon server so that everyone is networked in that last scene. And you're right in terms of like some people will interact at different paces, but we have something that will kind of make it if you go in there and there's no one in there, we'll have something that makes it feel like there is people in there. But if you are in there with other people, you can dance with them. I wanted to spread the wristbands out amongst the whole sort of warehouse. So it felt like, oh, like, you know, if me and you, Kent, went together as if we'd gone to a rave together, you know, often when I was doing that, I would lose my friends for a bit, but I would see them over in the distance and they're talking to some random person who they're suddenly best friends with that night. And I'd be up here and we'd be like kind of like raving together and we could see each other. So it was kind of like that. I fell for that communal experience of audiences coming in, like we've had a lot of audiences in Amsterdam coming in in groups, groups of four. And they're all excited, we're going to the rave, you know. And so to have that moment where they might actually see each other in the rave and to think to themselves, oh, they made it as well. And that's kind of a nice feeling because I think that makes the journey sort of really satisfying. So that's what we wanted to do. And I mean, I guess in the future, the idea is to see how far we can go with that. Like, can we increase the throughput to have a rave scene that is really populated by a lot of people all at the same time in the same venue? That would be really cool.

[00:47:44.853] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that I would have liked to have seen in that scene was, I guess it is the pursuit of repetitive beats, and there was a bit of a repetitiveness to the song where, you know, sometimes when I go to a dance club, there's sort of a building and releasing of that tension where there's a beat that drops. And so what I was hoping to see was that there would be a synchrony that would happen where everybody's slowly building up, and then when the beat drops, then it kind of explodes up to like the most expressive moment. because there was a certain amount of asynchrony amongst everybody that was moving to give a sense of movement but sometimes I think what makes scenes like that so powerful is that when everybody is moving in exact synchrony to the beat and there's a big release of tension that all happens at the same time and so that was something I was hoping to see at some point but also another thing that just a comment in that scene was that there is the three other people that you're traveling with you have more of a one-on-one interactions with them where you can kind of dance with them because there's a bit of an abstraction when you're there you kind of feel a little lonely because you're Dancing amongst all these other ghostly like entities But you do have the friends that you're traveling there with to have different interactions And they're kind of like blipping in and out I guess kind of phasing in and out I guess is how I saw it and having different particle effects there, but yeah I don't know if that's something in the future if there's a way of having a synchronous building and releasing of that beat drop moment within that rave scene

[00:49:03.561] Darren Emerson: Yeah, I know what you mean. I mean, I think, I mean, the first thing to say about that is like, I mean, I used to love that as well. That sort of kind of build up. And when I used to go raving in 95, there was like acid techno and acid, you know, trance and stuff that would really build like that. But in 89, like the music's not quite doing that at that point. So that track that's playing is Joey Beltram, Energy Flash, which was released around that time. And it's a very hard track for the time. It's like very acidy, it's like... And it's like, it's one of the hardest tracks that you've got for that sort of period. As the music sort of evolves into the 90s, it gets a little bit more sort of like the build up and the drop and stuff like that. And I totally know you mean, because that used to be my favorite bit, you know, you just put your hands in the air and go mad.

[00:49:47.815] Kent Bye: But that was sort of, I guess, accurate to that time, I guess.

[00:49:50.536] Darren Emerson: It was accurate to the time. And, you know, part of the scene is that feeling of, like, also everybody in the zone, where, I mean, if you see, like, the footage of, the archive footage of people around that time dancing, it is actually less sort of kind of, as you might see now with, like, EDM and, like, everyone's going crazy and the hand's in the air, that kind of thing. It's like, it's a little bit more like everyone's locked in. into a kind of pattern and I remember doing that as well where I would just be in this pattern and I would be lost in it and you know like an hour would go by and so I mean it was kind of a homage to that but I totally get what you mean and I think there is What I thought about that scene, and lots of people have come up to me and said, I wanted to stay for much longer in the race scene, but we do this thing where we kind of, the sun sort of rises and everyone puts their hands in the air and it's kind of like this spiritual kind of moment. You know, some of that stuff is, by design and some of it's also sort of like around also the exhibition of this piece and having to make it a certain length for audiences and stuff like that and when we were delivering it we were kind of right up against it in terms of delivering to Coventry you know and I was being told well it can't be longer than this sort of time because you know You know, and that is an interesting part of the production element of like, okay, you're making it for an LBE audience. So there's a ticketing system and like you have to start to think about all these things as you get to the end of the project going, okay, do I need to make that scene a little bit shorter? Is this going to work, you know, in terms of throughput, which is as a creator is kind of like a bit of a bummer to start having to think about that. But of course, as my producer hat is put on, I'm like, oh, okay, of course I need to really think about that. But that aside, having now been in that rave scene a lot and thinking like, what could we do in that? Like, how could we extend it? Could we create, you know, as they do on VRChat, you know, like a club or a club that's set in that time and have people come in and do old school sort of like DJ sets or if we can increase the throughput or have like an element online if, you know, we've made a kind of app lab version of it. you know, which we haven't released, but, you know, could we create something instead of just a network scene in the LBE sense? Could we have a scene where there is this rave and it's going on and we have, like, guest DJs? You know, we talked about getting Carl Cox to be the DJ in it. You don't see the DJ in the warehouse. He's kind of at the back. And actually, at this time, the DJ was not really on a pedestal with all the lights and stuff. He was kind of at the back by the speakers. It wasn't so much God is DJ kind of vibe. We thought about doing that. Could we do something to create something that you could kind of dip in and out if you wanted to? So I think there's a lot of scope there.

[00:52:37.243] Kent Bye: There's certainly a large underground music and dance clubbing scene within VRChat, so in some ways what you're doing is kind of recreating that, more of a documentary style in terms of showing the context of this moment in time, but you are recreating a certain moment in time, and so I imagine that as we move forward we'll see more recreations of different moments of the music history that are replicating the music of that era. Yeah, it's a kind of an exciting potential for to see where this kind of music archive is happening because you're kind of documenting all of these different cultural elements not I guess there's the question that had come up by Benedict Evans who was critiquing this ad from Meta that was saying that you were able to time travel in history and so there's this question of like as a creator and author you're creating a reconstruction of a history and so to what degree are you able to really time travel so to speak but in some ways you're creating an artifact of this moment but yeah to what degree is this process of time travel or what degree is this a process of historical archiving and representation in a way an immersive experience that is able to give you a Simulation of different aspects, but there's always going to be differences there so yeah I don't know if you have any thoughts in terms of the role of immersive media and the role of documentary in history and To be in the future looking backwards and kind of reconstructing different moments of that yeah, it's a really interesting question because I

[00:54:02.788] Darren Emerson: I mean, obviously, you know, in terms of the archive, we did painstakingly work on all the historical elements of this, so that they felt thoroughly researched, the music's right, although actually some of the music's modern music in some of the scenes, because I didn't want to be slavishly like, it has to be released in 1989, because actually there are cinematic elements to this. And so this is where it crosses over for me, it's like, I want to make something that feels really authentic and speaks of that time, but also for me the most important thing, probably the number one important thing is the reconnection to emotion and feeling. So people come into this or come out of it and they feel like, oh I've been back there. because it made them feel that. And it's a combination of like abstraction and cinema and music and haptics and all these different things that brings them to that space. And I think in a sense, that's worthwhile in itself, you know, to say to people like, I can give you that feeling for like half an hour that you missed from 30 years ago. That's really rewarding for me. And in a sense of time travel, It's a personal time travel, it's not necessarily like I'm time traveling to, like, and I'm in history. You're time traveling back to your own subjective past, your narrative that is part of your story. And I think, like, VR is really good at creating kind of those sorts of environments, but also what I try and do is create enough space within the experience for people to also connect to that. to see in their own minds like their own friends in the rave and stuff like that you know and you know because I didn't rave in 1989 so if you're historically accurate you know I wouldn't have been there with my friends but when I'm there I feel like I'm there with my friends and that's the most important thing. Yeah, so I feel like VR is really important in that way, in an emotional way. And I feel like after COVID, you know, we had a lot of people that coming after COVID that, you know, and I don't like going on about COVID because everyone talks about COVID the whole time. But, you know, there was a desire for people to reconnect with being with people, even though you're doing it in a headset in your own six by four meter space. And I do like to kind of recontextualize the past, the both kind of lived and observed past. And for me, it's like, with Common Ground, it was about that. It was about like looking at social housing and how it's portrayed in the media in the UK and what is the truth and what have I been told and what is really there. And for Acid House music, it's the same. You know, I remember it. I was too young to actually go and do it, but I remember it. Feeling kind of almost frustrated that I was too young to do it. This looks really good, but you know, I'm living at my parents' house. I'm like 13. So, you know, it's not something I'm going to do. But also being aware at the time of how it was being portrayed within the media, how the drugs were being portrayed, how the organizers were being portrayed, and how the music was being portrayed. And to kind of use VR to look back historically with a lens, a documentary lens, to kind of reveal more truth from it, but then also connect you to the emotional resonance of the time.

[00:57:13.941] Kent Bye: Yeah, the word that comes to mind is this kind of nostalgia or that you're using the spatial medium to have a stimulation of the embodied and emotional experiences that transport people back to their own memories of another place in time, of maybe the moments that they've gone to a dance, you know, and so you're creating like the larger archetypal aspects of the experience of going on an adventure or journey with your friends to an event. And you're creating those elements of that, but that one of the critiques that Benedict Evidence was having is that the process of making history is that there's all this other more written aspects and looking at the larger dynamics for why things were happening, the causes. And so looking at the causal chains of the economic and the larger aspects that really take looking at the process of making history through an interpretation of all those relational dynamics that can't be just replicated by going into a spatial experience that maybe in some ways that's better for a book or other media that can dive into some of those but each of these media have their affordances but you can have different aspects of writing into an immersive experience but that At the end of the day, you're really trying to get into this sense of embodied and emotional presence into this experience. And that it doesn't always necessarily reflect on some of the more higher level abstractions of the process of making history that are integrated in there. So that was some of the debates that are coming up. But the point that you're making is that connection to your own personal memories and that nostalgia that you're able to kind of use the medium to evoke these experiences. And it's more of that embodied and emotional experiences there.

[00:58:44.223] Darren Emerson: Yeah, in a sense you're kind of art directing the space in which people can kind of move through an experience and connect with that. You know, we've had people coming out here in Amsterdam, you know, Dutch people that weren't in the UK in 89 and stuff like that, but like in tears because they feel overwhelmed by the sense of reconnection. We had lots of people in the UK saying, I'm going to go out and I'm going to go call those people that I hadn't spoken to for a while that you lose track of, you know, and stuff like that. So I think that's really nice. I mean, I think the issue of calling it history is very difficult because, you know, in a way it's too abstract. to be called something, you know, I feel like history is kind of almost like a rigid concept. It's like a truth that's kind of black and white. Like, you know, you have different sources and, you know, it's getting more kind of murky in terms of how you track history and how you decide what a primary and a secondary source is on a subject matter. And for this, there'd be lots of different stories that could be told. And we have, you know, look, from a documentary perspective, we have gone to a great deal of time and effort to make it, for those that know, like very historically accurate. And that then sort of resonates into the creative choices. but I think in VR at the moment you can only go so far and I'm not necessarily interested in just replicating historical sort of kind of moments from an academic perspective. I think for me it's about the lived experience of those and that's very personal as well. It was the same with like Witness 360 77 which was the first piece I had at IDFA and it was a 360 piece and it was about the 7-7 bombings and like many 360 pieces especially at that time it was led by one contributor but really it was a look into this one woman's experience of being on this tube that was blown up and from a very personal perspective To try and get away from how an event like that is normally sort of portrayed, you know, and normally we observe an event like that through 24-hour news and like radio phone-ins and what people are tweeting about and all this, so there's all this noise. And actually, as a cultural observer, we have to kind of decide what we're going to accept as the truth from all of that. But then there's something fairly undeniable about one person saying, well, I was on the train and this is what happened, you know, and describing it in such sort of kind of, she's a very poetic person in a sense of like she was really able to articulate it emotionally. And I think that's really, really interesting because that then pulls you into a world that is a perspective that you wouldn't normally get, and I think VR is so good at that. Really, really good at that. And that's what's important to me, I think.

[01:01:28.952] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm thinking of the 9-11 piece that Targo Stories did as well, that had that same type of vibe. Well, just to kind of wrap up the parts of this experience, it was after I did the rave, where you kind of go into a gym that was an actual rave space, and then you have this kind of ending scene where I don't know if it's an actual drone shot or a CGI drone shot flying over a space and people reflecting on their desires or aspirations to want to be able to go back to these moments in time. And so there's a kind of a longing of that nostalgia of wanting to relive some of those feelings of being connected and to have those types of experiences again. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear about after the dance scene, how you wrap up this piece.

[01:02:11.100] Darren Emerson: Yeah, again, I think I looked at doing lots of different things for that, and we were looking for real locations around Coventry where, like, historically raves had been held. And so actually the warehouse that you're in in the rave scene is based on a real warehouse that we actually went to, but it's being used now to store, like, roof sheeting or something like that and at one point they were up for us filming in there but then they decided not to in the end. So the drone shot's a real drone shot and it's in the sunrise but we replaced the sky so it becomes quite a magical sort of kind of sunrise because actually when we filmed it it was like really cold and the sunrise lasted for about like five minutes and it was like and then it was gone so we were like oh you know and it wasn't It just wasn't magical enough and then we're going through some woods and that was the scene, that's a scout, you know like the scouts, you have those in the US, like kind of like a scout camp where people do like summer camp type thing, right? But there's one outside commentary and there was, and it's called Rough Close and it's in the papers, it's called the Battle of Rough Close where like the police try to break up this rave and stuff. So you're going down the woods there Not that people would know that, you know. And for me, that's something, but it doesn't really matter, I guess, for the audience. And then you approach a warehouse, which is where the first ever Amnesia House rave was in Coventry. And then you go through the door and you're in a gym. And the gym is called the Sports Connection in Coventry, where they had this residency for, like, the whole summer in 1990. And that's where we project archive onto the walls as you're moving through it. So these are all, like, spaces that have a historical relevance. And only a few people will know what those spaces are. But we tried to make it the dreamlike kind of feeling. So again, we replaced the sky in the woods, completely replaced the sky. So I wanted it to feel like when you do come out of a night like that, and you know, maybe you've taken something, but you're coming out and the sun rises and everything looks magical and crystal clear and just kind of hyper real. And so I wanted to have a little bit of a hyper real feel to it that last little bit. And then finally you end up back in the car and as the sun's rising you're driving away and the friends that you've been with all the way through this are in the car as well. And like the guy is kind of like driving trying to concentrate. There's another guy in the back seat who's obviously feeling the effects of what he's been doing. He did a good piece of acting that guy, Eto his name was. And you've got the girl in the front who's a little bit more still sort of bubbly and And we put the credits in there, so you keep you in that space all the way to the end. But yeah, it was about feeling like you're in a new dawn, really, and that you've renewed. The whole thing is about going on this adventure and life changing when you wake up the next day or when you move the next day. So that's what that was really about.

[01:04:53.805] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of these immersive media are and what they might be able to enable?

[01:05:00.817] Darren Emerson: Well, I mean, it's hard to say. I mean, sometimes I feel like is VR like a stepping stone to something else? You know, like where will it go? In my journey with it over the last seven years, my work's become way more complex, way more ambitious, and often it's about the opportunity to make stuff. The last piece was 2019, Common Ground. Although we make stuff all the time within the company, my own sort of practice, stuff, you know, my own art practice, you have to get the funding. So it's often like a couple of years before you can then move to the next stage. That's a problem, obviously, with the industry. I'm not sure where the future is, but my immediate future with, I'm going to change the question and say that my immediate future In Pursuit of Repetitive Beats is to have made something that people want to go and see outside of the VR sphere, outside of the festival circuit. And we've found that with all the different pieces we've made, this is the one piece where people are tweeting, messaging, how can I see it, when is it going to be on? So we have to do some work with my producer, Dan Tucker, and my business colleague, Ashley Cowan. How can we get this into venues long term? have word of mouth press and actually prove that we can install a VR piece that will sell and then sort of as we say economically sort of wash its own face because it costs money to put in but if we get the right price point and the right throughput we know that it will sustain itself and that for us is in the UK especially I think is a very important thing because we need to be able to prove that we can do that for the longevity of this medium and the funding that we're getting at the moment. We need to prove that it's not always going to have to be art funding. So that's our goal with this piece, really.

[01:06:43.772] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, it's an amazing experience. I really enjoyed it. It's one of my favorite pieces from the IFA DocLab 2022. And yeah, I really enjoyed seeing it. And thanks for joining me today on the podcast to help break it all down. So thank you.

[01:06:55.943] Darren Emerson: I think you can and you know, I love your podcast and and look forward to hearing more from you anyway So that was Darren Emerson.

[01:07:03.068] Kent Bye: He created in pursuit of repetitive beats that was the winner of the if a doc lab award for immersive nonfiction and Yeah, my favorite experience that I saw at if a doc lab this year just a real masterful piece that I think is fusing so many different aspects of immersive storytelling and I went back, actually, just now and watched is Witness 360 7-7, which is the July 7th, 2005 bombing. And it's a 360 video that's actually available on YouTube. You can go back and watch it. And this is a first-person narrative and using 360 video to recount the experience of being in the train during the explosion on July 7th of 2005. And, yeah, just really, really well produced. Back in 2015, this is very early phases of exploring the structures and forms of immersive storytelling with 360 video, and it showed at IFADocLab back in 2015, very, very early on. I talked to Kasper Sonnen, and he had mentioned it as one of the pieces that he had remembered and still was one of his favorite pieces. And then you move on to Common Ground, which showed at Tribeca 2019. I actually have an unpublished interview with Darren that I hope to get out here at some point. I'm not sure if Common Ground is widely available anywhere. It's a 360 video that is exploring public housing within the United Kingdom and it's also blending different techniques and so there's a fusion of interactivity and you kind of spray paint cans and certain parts of CGI sixed off but then you have 360 video and drone shots and then you have all these really amazing techniques of doing like projection mapping onto buildings and also more CGI rendered living room scenes. kind of a fusion of different techniques. And so you look at all the different stuff that he did back in 2019 at Tribeca, with the common ground documentary that was part of the immersive storytelling competition there, Tribeca immersive, and then in pursuit of repetitive beats is like taking it all to the next level of using all these different storytelling techniques together from the spatialized sound to the recreation of these different scenes and to the more imaginal fantastic otherworldly as you're driving into the warehouse you have this big psychedelic inspired dance where you're kind of getting ramped up on the drugs and ecstasy and as things start to come up you see this kind of exalted vision of this dance part but there's other integrations of like winds you have this haptic experience as you you You know, we're in this car and this wind is blowing on you. And there's actually a three-part documentary series that has a whole behind the scenes that goes into the production and the different techniques as well as some of the different exhibition aspect that it did in Coventry since it was produced by their Department of Culture to start to go back into the acid house scene in Coventry in the West Midlands back in the late 80s and to document this as part of the cultural history. And to think about this as a way for you to have a direct embodied experience that captures the spirit and the essence of what that music scene was all about, I really feel like they were able to recreate that sense of anticipation. Because as it's constructed, you don't necessarily know that you're going to make it to the rave. I mean, you kind of assume that you are, but there's this whole Other threat of the police that is trying to prevent this from happening And so you're tracking them and as you go into the police scene then it gives them an opportunity to track who all the different Organizers are and how they're trying to figure out how to make sense of what's happening here But that gives an opportunity to cut to the organizers with these interviews of all these different people characters that are a large part of the community that's putting this together. And so, yeah, I thought it was a brilliant technique to have these pieces of paper that you're holding and that there's these videos that are kind of like a black and white projection. So kind of a silkscreen vibe that is like this filter. So it has a kind of a dual tone black and white feel to it, but like animated interviews. And as you hold this flyer, you're getting the information about whatever they're saying. and it gives you an opportunity to still be embedded into the spatial context of whatever room you're in, and to be able to look around and look at some of the video archival footage that's playing on the television, or yeah, just so many different moments and techniques, and there's a whole realm where you're changing the dial of the radio, but you change the dial by walking. I should say that this is a 4x6m piece where you have a lot of space to move around, and they have a version where you're just sitting in one space because they have eight people sing at the same time, four people had the free-roaming version, and then four other people had more of a constrained version where you had to teleport around. That probably is not nearly as immersive as the ability to walk around this large four meter by six meter space. I mean, if you ever get a chance to see it, definitely that's the way to go, just because it's so much more immersive as you forget yourself as you're walking in through all these different scenes. But there are some scenes when you're in a car in the behind scenes video, they showed like how they were like recreating and shooting and fusing all these different aspects of the volumetric capture, but it's like CGI. And so they have all the lighting that's going on, but they have this whole scene where you're in the car driving down the highway, and you're able to kind of stick your head up out of the sunroof and feel the wind in your face. And just to have that haptic connection at that moment in time also was very visceral. And yeah, just all the different ways that they were able to create the anticipation and to tell the story and to give you all this deeper context. Yeah, it felt like a time travel piece where you're kind of going back in time and getting to experience the essence of the culture of that moment and to have people reflecting upon it as well. In talking to Kasper Sonnen, one of his comments was, in five or ten years, this is a piece that he'll still want to go back and experience again. It'll stand up and hold up because it'll kind of remind him of how visceral of an experience this was. I think the distribution of a piece like this is probably the biggest challenge. They were able to get around 650 people through the week at Ifadak Lab. Yeah, I mean, I guess the throughput is always a concern when you have a project like this, but it's the type of project that immediately sold out. Just because there's so many different communities of people, whether or not they were from Coventry, UK or not, you know, there's people who have been a part of their own rave culture scenes, this underground illegal scene that they're able to create. The archetypal experience of that journey and that experience and kind of nail it down all together. Yeah, just a really amazing experience and certainly a highlight from my IFADOC lab. And I really hope that they'll find a way to get this out into the world, because I really do feel like this is an amazing example of what's possible with, as you fuse together all these different techniques of immersive storytelling. And Darren Emerson and East City Films has been at the forefront of really pushing forward all these different techniques. And I feel like they reached a whole other level with this piece. And yeah, highly, highly recommend it if you had a chance to check it out. Yeah. So hopefully folks listening to this, they can bring it to different places around the world. Cause I think it's, it's definitely one of those pieces that I'll remember and the integration of documentary along with this immersive experience, I think gives all these other layers of context into the history, but also is still able to tap into the essence of that embodied experience. And it's kind of like tapping in and thinking about these pieces as this memory or a nostalgia that we have in our own lives. and how going through an experience like this can give us a new novel experience in the context of this virtual mediated experience, but it's also calling back and associating us into other memories that we have when we've gone on these adventures with our friends. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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