cyberdelic-media

carl-h-smith
Carl H Smith‘s work is at the intersection of VR, psychedelics, and esoteric contemplative practices. He’s the director of the Learning Technology Research Center at the Ravensbourne University London, co-founder of The Cyberdelic Society, co-founder of The London Experimental Psychonautics Club, and founder of Holotechnica Academy as well as Technomancy.club. Smith has been researching different experiences of Double Consciousness, including lucid dreaming as well other liminal states of consciousness, as he’s trying to explore the extent of our consciousness through the combination of immersive tech, psychoactive substances, and ancient wisdom traditions.

I had a chance to read a pre-print of a paper on Double Consciousness that Smith wrote, and talk to him about his idea, how these approaches could help us move from an individualistic frame to a more collective orientation, and we talk about some of the larger technological trends towards this “New Screen Deal” and living through technologically mediated mediums, and how we can preserve our nature as social creatures who are connected to each other and the planet.

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Music: Fatality

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kaleidoscope-cannesxr

Cannes XR is a part of the Cannes Marché du Film, which is the business side of the Cannes Film Festival. For the past two years, they’ve collaborated with Kaleidoscope VR to curate a development showcase featuring the creators of immersive stories who are in the early phases of fundraising for their projects. They had already selected over 20 projects in February for their 2020 edition, but they needed to look to alternatives to a co-located event when the global pandemic was announced in March. They had just two short months to convert their gathering to an online, virtual event, and they ended up collaborating with Tribeca Film Festival Virtual Arcade, VeeR, and Positron in putting on a virtual exhibition of over 50 different projects within the Museum of Other Realities.

Elie-LevasseurI had a chance to see all of the experiences, which I talked about in a previous episode with VR critic Pola Weiß, but I also wanted to touch base with Elie Levasseur, XR Program Lead for Cannes XR, to get more context on the event and process of pivoting online. Cannes XR considers itself to be more of a funding accelerator and incubator than market or exhibition of completed works, but these circumstances catalyzed them to collaborate with Tribeca Film Festival, VeeR, and Positron on putting on a more robust exhibition of completed immersive narrative projects ranging from 6 degree-of-freedom experiences that would have normally premiered at Tribeca, to VeeR’s curation of 360 videos from the festival circuit over the past couple of years, to experiences that could work within Positron’s rotating chair, which would normally be a part of a location-based entertainment installation.

This collaboration that Cannes XR catalyzed resulted in what I see as the closest online, virtual exhibition that I’ve seen that matches the caliber of work that you would normally see when attending a major film festival, and it was all available for free through the Museum of Other Realities.

In talking with Levasseur, I got a lot more context as to just how unique this collaboration has been, and it was a short, two months of development time in order to pull together so many different things. He talks about the evolution of Cannes XR in the past three years as something that came out of VR projects appearing in previous years in the Cannes Next portion of the Marché du Film, but it eventually merited the creation of it’s own event. Levasseur explains that a main difference between Cannes XR and other festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest, and Venice is that they’re focused on the early stages of funding where these other festivals are exhibiting completed projects.

Cannes XR is also collaborating with René Pinnell’s Kaleidoscope VR again as he’s been cultivating a robust community of immersive artists and storytellers. As the exclusive event coordinator for the Museum of Other Realities, Kaleidoscope took charge of collaborating with the MOR, gathering the project builds, and organizing the pitch sessions on Zoom. Cannes XR has been cultivating relationships with funders and distributors, and helped to set up over 200 one-on-one meetings for the group of 20+ projects in development.

Pinnell started Kaleidoscope after his own experiences of going through the the labyrinthian process of fundaising for immersive narratives, and decided to build a social network to reduce the friction and make this process more accessible to more artists and creators. Cannes XR collaborated with Kaleidoscope on the open call for projects, and a lot of the infrastructure that Pinnell has been building happens to be perfectly suited to virtualizing this process that normally has happened face-to-face at a series of International Film Festivals from around the world. If you’re an immersive artist or storyteller, then be sure to check out what else Kaleidoscope has been doing with their monthly, community-funded grants.

This whole Cannes XR event was a bit of a miracle that they were able to pull it off on such short notice. As a result, there were a number of rough edges and bugs within the Museum of Other Realities that I’m sure will be sorted out in future iterations, but the whole event was a pretty remarkable collaboration between the MOR, Cannes XR, Kaleidoscope, Tribeca, VeeR, and Positron. It’s shows that it is possible to replicate aspects of an immersive exhibition virtually, and moving forward I hope that the other immersive festival exhibitions continue to experiment with remote and virtual distribution, and dedicate themselves to doing hybrid events with a physical and co-located exhibition as well as an online and virtual exhibition. Both the Virtual Hamberg (VRHAM) and Cannes XR festivals showed that it’s not only possible, but in some ways more streamlined and a better overall experience avoiding lots of lines and hassles of travel.

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Music: Fatality

Tempest
Tender Claws continues to be one of the most innovative studios pushing forward what’s possible for immersive storytelling in VR by launching a Tempest, which is a live, immersive theater show within The Under Presents. It’s a show that blends the ambitions of live theater with the ambitions of gaming, with some embodied live action role playing in order to tell the story of Shakespeare’s Tempest.

samantha-gormanThe Under Presents has been employing live immersive theater actors since it’s original launch in November 2019, and they’re taking the lessons learned and putting on a 40-minute, one-man show for $14.99. It’s a unique fusion that seamlessly blends the affordances of theater and VR to create something truly unique that yields new innovations for the future of immersive storytelling.

Genevieve-FlatiI had a chance to talk with Tender Claws co-founder Samantha Gorman, who also wrote the Tempest, as well as Genevieve Flati who is one of the dozen immersive theater actors from The Under Presents who will also be taking on the role of Prospero in the Tempest. We talked about the lessons learned from The Under Presents, the process of fusing theater and gaming with inspirations from Journey, how to deal with different audience temperaments, how to make the audience feel seen and connected, and the three guidelines for adding in the “live” element of an experience of setting parameters and boundaries, engaging activity and responsiveness, and assigning roles and permissions.

The Tempest is one of the most innovative experiments of immersive storytelling that I’ve seen so far that starts to create unique group dynamics that will be different every time. Gorman expects to see quite a lot of different variations from performer to performer, and Flati expects that even from show to show that she plans on mixing it up quite a bit. (UPDATE: July 6, 2020, See the text below for more details on pricing.) If you’re interested in the future of immersive storytelling within XR, then this is must-see performance that will give you a really great idea for how to successfully blend together the ambitions of immersive theater and the affordances of VR.

How does pricing work for all this?

  • Tempest will be available for $14.99 (US) per ticket as an in-app purchase and includes permanent access to The Under multiplayer space.
  • The Timeboat single player experience will be available as an in-app purchase for $11.99 (US) and also grants permanent access to The Under multiplayer space.
  • The intro to The Under Presents (about 45 min of gameplay) will be free of charge as a demo of the experience.

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Here’s a teaser trailer for the experience:

Tickets to the Tempest show are an in-app purchase for Oculus platforms only (Quest or Rift), and Alex Coulombe walks through the process in this video:

https://twitter.com/iBrews/status/1280196311392927744

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Music: Fatality

violence

shola-amoo

Shola Amoo’s Violence is a provocative virtual reality experience that “re-contextualizes the notions of violence by examining it through the lens of state oppression against marginalized groups.” It’s difficult to say too much about my experience of this piece without giving too much away, and so I highly recommend trying to find a way to see this experience before reading too much more or listening to this conversation exploring all aspects of the experience and it’s design.

Violence was originally set to premiere as a part of the Tribeca Virtual Arcade in April, but due to the global pandemic the premiere was delayed until June 24 to July 3rd as a part of the Tribeca showcase at Cannes XR within the Museum of Other Realities. There are a lot of very timely themes around the ethics of violence in protest that have been a big topic of discussion the wake of the range of riots and non-violent and peaceful Black Lives Matters protests that happened in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Amoo is a filmmaker who directed The Last Tree, and it was from the film festival circuit that he was able to see some of his first VR experiences at Sundance and Encounters with pieces from African creators produced by the Electric South that provided a lot of inspiration for what could done with the medium. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to explore the issues of race, perception, bias, and agency within the more passive and flat medium and film, and so he set out to create a piece that contrasted the sonic refrains of compliance and the futility of protest by Margaret Thatcher and the more revolutionary and liberation rhetoric from Malcolm X.

There’s a lot of really well-considered design intention put into this piece with the use of a lot of symbolic and metaphoric imagery and embodied dance performances, as well as a number of challenging provocations that merit some further discussion and conversations. There’s a lot of really inspired innovations around the immersive power of virtual reality as a medium, and how to set up and debrief an experience through the innovative use of surveys that are conducting a scientific study in collaboration with Royal Holloway.

There’s a lot of provocative polarities explored in this piece, and after debuting it in a virtual reality world of the Museum of Other Realities, then Amoo says that he’d love to be able to screen Violence within a larger context of talks, seminars, discussions with historians, artists, and educators to be able to provide additional context and statistics about the role that violence has to play in tandem with non-violent resistance in order to bring about revolutionary change. It’s hard to encapsulate everything within a singular experience, but Violence provides an experiential context to have further and deeper discussions exploring these issues. I’d highly recommend keeping an eye out for Violence, and to check it out and carry on this conversation.

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Music: Fatality

MinimumMass_ImagesOnly_Page_04
Raqi_SquareRaqi Syed and Areito Echevarria’s Minimum Mass is an emotional, immersive narrative that explores grief of miscarriage. They apply their visual effects knowledge gained from working at WETA Digital in New Zealand to push the real-time game engine to go beyond the cartoony, flat shader look. Syed is interested in exploring more photorealistic lighting in VR with a film noir style inspired by Todd Hido and dynamic lighting inspired by Lumia artist Thomas Wilfred.

AreitoEchevarria is also interested in researching how the proximity to characters in VR is correlated to the emotional impact of a story, and they’re experimenting with a rotation mechanic to rotate these table-top scale scenes within the experience. Having a table top scale allows a lot more agency for the viewer to walk around and act as a sort of cinematographer choosing the perspective that is the most appealing to them.

Minimum Mass was a part of the Tribeca Showcase at CannesXR 2020, and I had a chance to catch up with Echevarria and Syed to talk about their experiential design process, exploring metaphoric embodiment of grief through a sort of tentacle smoke, how they worked within the limitations of a real-time game engine of Unreal Engine, their process of working with actors in VR, their experimentation with using the world rotation mechanic to get the best perspective, the philosophy behind their lighting and fragmented black hole world to invoke a personal dream-like quality, and how they took inspiration from Jungian psychology and the alchemical principles of the reconciling third to resolve the tension of opposites.

It has one of the most distinctive styles that I’ve seen in VR, and it’s a powerful personal story about the trauma and grief of experiencing a miscarriage. Syed said that it’s the process is both retraumatizing, but also cathartic to be able to create a piece of art that becomes a point of conversation in something that is otherwise a pretty taboo topic. She says that good art requires that you have skin in the game, and that this work is a result of putting themselves out there to be public and vulnerable about a very difficult experience. Given that they were an independent production, then they were also freed from the overplanning that can happen in big film productions and they were able to follow their artistic intuitions in an iterative fashion. They described their process as a sort of deep, intuitive listening of what the piece was telling them what it wanted to be.

Minimum Mass is still available to see for free until July 3rd as a part of the Tribeca Showcase within the Museum of Other Realities.

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Music: Fatality

cannesxr-MOR-lobby

The CannesXR Showcase features over 50 different immersive narrative experiences in the Museum of Other Realities from June 24 to July 3rd, with showcases featuring 12 experiences from Tribeca Film Festival, 12 360 video curated by VeeR, 6 experiences for the Positron chair, and over 20 projects in development curated by Kaleidoscope VR. Usually these types of narrative experiences are shown at film festivals, but with the global pandemic, then there’s an opportunity to actually see some of the content from the film festival circuit that’s normally not widely available.

pola-weiss
I had a chance to see all of the content, and then talk with VR critic Pola Weiß, who writes the VRStories.blog focusing on the evolution of immersive narrative. We talk about all 12 of the 6DoF experiences form Tribeca, and then our highlights from the rest of the showcases. I’d recommend checking out as much as you can before it ends on Friday, July 3rd, and then have a listen to this episode where we unpack our takeaways from CannesXR.

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Here’s a thread with more context information about the festival, where to download the content, and some of the logistical feedback on the social dynamics and experience of using the MOR.

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Music: Fatality

Tetris-Effect

Tetris Effect is one of the most surprising VR games I’ve played in so far. It’s taken a classic 2D puzzler, and re-imagined it into a multi-modal experience in VR with dynamic difficulty synchronized to music, three layers of haptics, and immersive virtual environments that change progress through a sequential journey. Enhance’s Tetris Effect was originally released for the PlayStation VR on November 9, 2018, and a version for the Oculus Quest was released on May 14, 2020. I’ve played it each day since the Quest release, and I’m really impressed with the range of difficulty within the various effects modes, especially with the Master Level, which apparently has only ever had one person in the world ever complete before.

I had a chance to sit down to sit down with Enhance’s Mark MacDonald to unpack the experiential design and backstory for how Tetris Effect came about. He’s the Vice President of Production & Biz Dev of Enhance in Tokyo, Japan, and so he helped to oversee many aspects of the development process. He confesses that it’s not an intuitive leap that Tetris would make an amazingly compelling VR title, but despite not checking off many of the normal boxes, it’s managed to create a very compelling multi-modal experience that fuses visuals, sound, and haptics inspired by the concept of synesthesia. He talks about the experiential design process, some of the deeper intentions of the game, and how Tetris is a very difficult game to try to tune. After sinking more than 70 hours into the game over the past month, then I can attest that they’ve been able to create a surprisingly compelling immersive experience that has some new twists and turns into one of the best-selling games of all time.

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Here’s a Twitter Thread where I shared some of my first impressions:

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Music: Fatality

making-a-new-reality

kamal-sinclair

The Ford Foundation’s JustFilms program with supplemental support from the Sundance Institute commissioned Kamal Sinclair to do an intensive research project called “Making a New Reality.” She looked at a number of questions including: “What is emerging media? What are the concerns related to equality and equity in emerging media? What interventions can mitigate inequality and inequity in emerging media?” She published a series of articles on Immersed between November 2017 and May 2018 that can be seen here in this summary.

She covered topics such as “The High Stakes of Limited Inclusion,” “Silos, Groupthink and Knowledge Ghettos,” and “Design for Justice, Well-Being, and Prosperity.” She also goes into “Categories of Emerging Media” as well as the challenges, interventions, and a framework for action.

At Sundance 2019, I had a chance to talk to Kamal Sinclair, who at the time was the Director of Sundance’s New Frontier Lab Programs. We talk about the role of independent film festivals to support underrepresented minorities, the evolution of Traveling While Black, some of her work towards diversity, inclusion, equity, and equality in emerging media, and the challenges around privacy and ethics.

She shared a story of Sundance founder Robert Redford telling her and Shari Frilot that he’s got many scars and bruises from 40 years in independent film in trying to push back market forces long enough for artists to find their voices and their creativity. He said that the challenge for emerging media is that you don’t have to just face these pressures from the film industry, but also the technology industry and commerce itself. He predicted a long and hard journey for independent artists to be able to create sustainable living, but that if there is action taken earlier in the development of the industry, then it’ll be easier for underrepresented voices to find representation.

We also have an intense discussion about Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s artwork of using found DNA to recreate people’s faces. Sinclair says that Dewey-Hagborg’s that we’re entering a new phase of post-privacy, and I was really resistant to this as an underlying premise. But Sinclair said that “artists interrogate the world around us so that we can define what we want to be in that future.” So there is a provocation embedded into these types of art projects that cause us to reflect on our technological trajectory, and how to organize the required ethical frameworks to respond to it. This conversation was certainly a catalyst for me to continue to do some foundational work in different XR ethical frameworks to help make sense of the landscape of moral dilemmas that come up in emerging technology. See the following thread for a culmination of some of those interviews, panel discussions, keynotes, and ultimately an XR Ethics Manifesto.

Sinclair also comes from a performance background, and so she had some really fascinating closing thoughts around how emerging technologies will start to integrate more and more aspects of live performance, theater, the visceral power of real-time, ephemeral moments, the power of ritual and the sacred, and the uncovering the ghost of place.

There’s a lot more of Sinclair’s Making a New Reality research that we did not get a chance to dive into here. We merely had a chance to skim the surface, but I’d encourage you to take a look at the summary article, which links off to the different essays and reflections. Sinclair is now the executive director of Guild of Future Architects, which is a continuation of this intersectional work to become “a home, refuge and resource for people collaboratively shaping a kind, just, inclusive, and prosperous world.”

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Music: Fatality

lews-gordon-1920x

lewis-gordon

lewis-gordon
I had a conversation with philosopher Lewis Gordon at the American Philosophical Association Eastern Meeting in January 2019 that really stuck with me. He writes about the philosophy of racism, and takes a very holistic and systemic approach in looking at this issue. He says that racism requires people to identify groups of human beings, and then deny their humanity. He says it’s a very rich philosophically topic to unpack how and why this type of oppression happens.

Gordon takes a relational metaphysics approach meaning that he rejects approaches that try to look at things as an “isolated substance that is a reality completely on it’s own outside of relationship to anything else.” This type of relational metaphysics is similar to a process-relational metaphysics of process philosophy that is in stark contrast to the dominant perspective in Western philosophy of substance metaphysics, which tends to views things as “static entities such as substances, objects, states of affairs, or instantaneous stages.”

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on entry on process philosophy has a succinct summary of substance metaphysics:

Process philosophy opposes ‘substance metaphysics,’ the dominant research paradigm in the history of Western philosophy since Aristotle. Substance metaphysics proceeds from the intuition—first formulated by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides—that being should be thought of as simple, hence as internally undifferentiated and unchangeable. Substance metaphysicians recast this intuition as the claim that the primary units of reality (called “substances”) must be static—they must be what they are at any instant in time.

Gordon says that basing our understanding of reality on these types of static, fixed entities is a form of “non-relational metaphysics” that he rejects. This type of thinking makes us susceptible to what he calls “epistemic closure,” which is when someone presumes complete knowledge about something from incomplete information. As an example, he says, “That person is black. I have everything I need to know.”

He says that we tend to see humans as some sort of fixed forumla rather than an open category of relationships that’s dynamically evolving and so there’s always more to learn. He says, “The mistake we often make is that we tend to think of humans beings or the worlds we live in as compartments instead of relationships that open up other relationships.” He says that “each relationship creates a reality that work like keys that unlock or disclose different modes of reality.”

This relational approach is a pretty fundamental paradigm shift, but I think it’s a pretty foundational shift in order to look at the full context and history of institutional racism. I found that I really resonated with the process-relational oriented philosophers at the American Philosophical Association because it does try to take a more holistic look at reality in terms of these patterns of relationships.

With all that’s happening in the world right now with the Black Lives Matter protests, then I wanted to dive into this conversation with Gordon as I think he provides a deep context for thinking about this issue in a holistic and relational way.

The impacts of institutional racism run far and deep into the US culture, economy, political systems, and network of institutions.

Gordon makes some differentiations between moral and political responsibility when it comes to racism as he tends to frame it primarily through a political lens. While I appreciate his points, I also think it’s valuable to look at it through both lenses because there is a moral responsibility to listen, learn, and educate ourselves. Bridging the gap between what each of us can do as individuals can do, and what types of institutional changes need to be made on a collective level is one of the biggest open questions right now.

But we can start by listening to the experiences and stories of black Americans. Here’s a sampling of Voices of VR interviews I’ve done that explore issues of race and diversity:

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Music: Fatality

educators-in-vr-international-summit-template-altspace-world-art

danieldbryantBack in November 2018, Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Lorelle VanFossen started a regular meetup of Educators in VR within AltSpaceVR. They’ve been meeting consistently for the past year and a half, and they’re currently hosting 5-8 gatherings per week. They held an International Educators in VR Summit across five different VR platforms on February 17 to 22, 2020 where they had over 170 different speakers in a conference that ran 24/7 for 6 straight days.

lorelle-vanfossenVanFossen wrote up a comprehensive “Lessons Learned from Hosting a VR Conference” post that documented their process for running a virtual conference, and their pioneering effort has helped to shape and influence the first wave of virtual conferences.

I had a chance to catch up with Dyboski-Bryant and VanFossen to talk about their journey of cultivating the Educators in VR, how they’re using immersive technologies for teaching, and the frontiers of using VR for education and learning. They’re available for hire in order to help consult or run virtual conferences.

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Music: Fatality