#1082 Roman Rappak’s Mixed Reality Live Music Performance & an Art History Perspective on XR + music

Roman Rappak‘s Miro Shot band had a unique mixed reality performance of a single song at SXSW to an audience of 50 people who were wearing GearVR headsets. The experience was live mixed by Rappak, who was switching between a monoscopic VR passthrough scene and a fully-immersive, stereoscopic VR explorations of a variety of virtual world scenes. It was an ambitious production that attempts to blend the physical with the digital in the context of a live musical performance, and continues long tradition of music experimenting with the latest emerging technologies to push the boundaries of musical experiences.

Rappak & co-founder Anne McKinnon also recently launched the Ristband platform, which translates some of the insights from his mixed reality experimentations into a pixel-streamed online immersive platform bootstrapped by an Epic Games Mega Grant.

I had a chance to catch up with Rappak at SXSW on March 16th, 2022, which happened to be exactly 6 years after he originally reached out to me via email after listening to a number of Voices of VR podcast episodes. We talk about his journey into music and VR, the art history perspective on XR & music, how the music industry fails to serve the basic needs of most musicians, the experiential design of his mixed reality performance, and how he hopes the Ristband Platform he co-founded with McKinnon can help provide new opportunities for musicians to create XR and immersive experiences for their audiences.


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. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So today's episode is with Roman Rapak, who is the lead singer of Mirror Shot and also the CEO of co-founder of a platform called Wristband. So I got an email from Roman back on March 16th, 2016, where he was starting to talk about some of his visions about how to merge different aspects of virtual reality with what he was doing as a musician. And then six years later to the day, I ended up interviewing him at South by Southwest after I got to see some of the different things that he had been able to manifest since that original email that I got back six years ago. So the experience that I was able to see at South by Southwest with Roman was of his band mirror shot performing one song and he brought in around 50 or so people with 50 gear VRS that were using the mixed reality pass-through to be able to have a Vision of what was happening with the band on the stage doing a live performance. They had a shader That was an edge detection shader and flipping back and forth into different virtual reality scenes. And so when you went into the virtual reality scene, you'd be able to see these icons of all the other people that were in that room. But in the context of this specific piece, there's this exploration of like how to blend together different aspects of the virtual reality technology within the context of a music performance. We start to break that down, but also talk about these broader themes of the relationship between technology and music and how the music industry is not really working very well for a lot of the different musicians. Roman is just trying to look at the overall context of art history and to see how there might be some ways of innovating and trying to push the medium of virtual reality forward, but also to explore different aspects of experiential creation in the context of music. And what's that mean for the future of performance and independent artists and the future of the metaverse, I guess you could say. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Roman happened on Wednesday, March 16th, 2022 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:20.575] Roman Rappak: Hi, I'm Roman I am the lead singer of a band called mirror shot and Also the CEO and co-founder of a platform called wristband So maybe could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:02:34.811] Kent Bye: I

[00:02:36.817] Roman Rappak: So my journey into VR is actually completely based around listening to this podcast. And the first time I ever listened to this podcast, I was... I don't want to make it too... I don't know how personal we want to go, but I was going through a kind of... the sort of thing that a lot of people in the music industry have gone through. which is wondering why the entire music industry system and structure just seems to not serve the thing that's supposed to be most important, which is looking after artists and nurturing people who want to make music and create, I'm going to say, music experiences because it kind of leads into what happened next. But yeah, the short story is 2017, wondering why none of the things that we were doing in music, none of the album cycles, touring cycles made any sense and thinking that there must be a new way of doing this. There must be a new way that we could evolve what the role of a musician is. And just at that point, two things happened. First thing was I met Ash Kusher, who's an incredibly talented dude, who'd started doing concerts in The Wave, which was called The Wave VR, I think, at the time. He's a musician who, I mean, everyone who's listening should follow him, because whatever he ends up doing, it always ends up being one of the most interesting things you'll hear that week. My mind was opened by the fact that he'd put together a small team, had built VR experiences, was playing concerts where he would be in VR, he'd built instruments. It was just like, listening to that sounded like someone who'd just stepped in from like 2029 and was telling me about the world. And then I look back at what was happening in the music industry and I look back at all my friends who are artists and musicians and it just felt like we were living the same loop of what being in a band was in like the 60s. We're like reliving what our dads think of as music. And what excited me about what Ash was doing was like, well maybe the whole point of being an artist and a musician should be that we embrace whatever weird technological paradigm shifts are happening and we try and take a snapshot of the world in doing that. And like if you look at the history of music, it's punctuated by those moments like, If you think of tech and music, and it's interesting being at this festival because people are all talking about, well, how much tech should we have on our music? Music and tech, they're inseparable. The Stratocaster is a piece of technology, but you needed a Jimi Hendrix to use it properly. Even recording itself is a form of tech. and you wouldn't have a craft work without synths being invented. So I think the history of music and music culture is always punctuated by these people who've embraced new technologies and they've done something that, first of all, upsets the old guard. You know, like all the traditional acoustic artists go, this is outrageous why they're using electricity. Then you move forward and you have sampling that's, this is outrageous, you're just sampling someone else's track. So what the question was what is the next paradigm shift that will enable a new form of musical expression?

[00:05:35.631] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background in music and your journey into music leading into your fusing the music with technology

[00:05:43.697] Roman Rappak: Yeah, so my journey into music is a sort of very unglamorous, clunky story of just playing in bands in tiny places in front of nearly no one with my friends. So, you know, I'd love to say, oh, well, we did two shows and then suddenly, like, we didn't. We just played this sort of grind circuit. We toured internationally with my last band, Breton. And one of the things I took from that was the strange sort of magic that happens, that even if you just have some speakers that aren't very good and people are excited because they've planned to come to this thing, you almost create an atmosphere where people are willing themselves to get lost in something. And I kind of go to another point, which is like, The idea of immersive in music is like, it's not something new, like great art by definition is immersive. If you stand in front of a painting and you connect with it emotionally, your reality of being in front of a painting is fractured for a moment, right? Like, if you look at a photo and it just moves you and you have no idea why, for a minute, the room you're in falls away. For a minute, you're having an emotional connection with a person you've never seen. You start to ask questions about what that photographer was, what their intent was. And I think that that's probably the thing that I try and keep hold of as much as possible, is to think of the fact that Creating immersive experiences sounds like a buzzword, especially at South by where you look there's a NFT this and there's AI that and whatever. But all an artist is is someone who creates a simulation, right? An experience that you can explore. A person with an acoustic guitar who sings you a love song. is immersing you in a world where it makes me think about when I fell in love or the person I met and I think that that's probably been the most useful thing that I've learned from this is that it hasn't been a descent into technology and this abstract, cold, black mirror world. It's actually almost been like getting to the core of what I care about with music and what I think is magical about people arriving in a room and someone presenting an idea or an emotional context for a piece of music.

[00:07:45.341] Kent Bye: I started the Voices of Air podcast in May of 2014 and I've been going to a lot of different events and talking to people over the last nearly eight years now and I remember getting an email from you at some point just kind of out of the blue and telling me your story as a musician but what was the point at which that either you Heard about VR or heard about the podcast? You said that the podcast was a part of your own journey, but what was that moment where you're like, oh, well, maybe I should start to think about how to blend these two things together of your music and what was happening in VR?

[00:08:15.636] Roman Rappak: Yeah. Well, I almost don't want to understate how important the Voices of VR was in this project and in my life. And this isn't like just me coming on being like, great podcast, Kent, big fan of the show. It's actually the approach that you took was to say, what is this space? Like who's doing different things? And it would be me listening in and hearing, oh, an architect wants to use it like this. Like a musician wants to use it like this. So my mum's an art historian and I've got sisters and they all are very like academic and they all, my dad's a coder and they all went, my older sister does like a masters in linguistics, my younger sister's like contract lawyer, it's like super talented academic people. And I was kind of like the runt of the litter that got sent to art school because it was like, well, at least your mom went to art school and my mom's an art historian, so she has an encyclopedic knowledge of what the history of art, right? And that always the exciting points in the history of art, or for me at least, were the moments that art got redefined. There's tons of them where like from Florence in the 16th century to like impressionism to even photography, like all of these things turned up and they were all, again, because of tech. they completely disrupted everything and I was always brought up on these ideas of these like important moments, you know, like Andy Warhol like Surrealism Breton Dali, whatever and I often thought like where's our moment for that? Like what like is it almost like, you know, everything's been done and And I think everything has been done with the existing mediums. So the gift of finding out that there's a new medium that's completely undefined, that is upsetting some people because they're like, this is claustrophobic, it's dystopian, other people saying this is going to change the world. I've never lived through a moment that's been that vibrant and exciting. So like, as I said, not to understate how much having all these questions about what was happening in the music industry, like putting on my headphones going for a walk and listening to like you would meet some like nurse who's trying to explore how VR works or some like super experienced game designer and also not only that they were like all happy positive stories that were like pro tech utopian stuff I remember one specifically where I mean you can blank out the names of the brands But it was when, I remember you being at a conference, and the guy from, it was one of the big game engine companies, was basically obviously super happy to be interviewed by you, and he was like, yeah, we're gonna promote the product. And you asked him really deep, cutting questions about privacy, and the guy was just like, if anything, that exposed more about the responsibility that we all have as creatives in the XR space, or even people who are interested in it. because it felt like this thing is so powerful that we're almost sleepwalking into catastrophe. And that's what really changed it. So I was like, OK, well, what's the bit I can do with this? Because I'm not going to be able to get a AAA experience out and have 20 million people see it. But then I was like, well, the thing I do is I do music. I create concerts. Concerts are an experience. And how can we augment what's great about a concert? Which is the thing you came to two nights ago, the first ever US VR show that Mirror Shot did.

[00:11:22.260] Kent Bye: Yeah, I remember, I think in that first email you sent me, you said that you were referring to me amongst your friends as the Vasari of VR, and at that point I had never heard of Vasari, and I looked him up and I was like, maybe you could explain who Vasari was, and it sounds like there's a connection there maybe to your mother who's an art historian, but yeah.

[00:11:40.708] Roman Rappak: So yeah, the Vasari VR thing, which is like how now a few people start to refer to you, is a compliment because Vasari was... The idea is that our notion of what popular culture and art history is, I'm talking about like Caravaggio, like Da Vinci, like... If we think about the West, which is the dominant culture in where we live, everything we think of as art, like the way buildings are made, what makes a nice composition, a photo, all of these things, arguably, was defined in Florence, where there was this explosion of creativity in the 16th century. And no one knows why. It's literally, imagine an area smaller than Austin, where 20 of the most important artists of the entire human race were all just working together. And it's kind of puzzled historians, and it's puzzled everyone for centuries. Why was it that suddenly in human history there was this explosion of it? And actually, and probably more than this, my mom could explain this a lot better, but like, it's because of certain factors. Number one, there was the patron system, which is that rather than an artist needing to sell individual tiny things, wealthy patrons said, like the Medici family would say, tell you what, we'll just look after you, you just create your art, it's gonna exist forever. And the other thing was this idea of a competitive nature of saying if you make a petri dish of all these talented people trying to do things, they really push themselves and they do the best work they've ever done. And then the last thing was there was a technological reason because it was about paint, it was about the way that pigment worked, it was that suddenly you could mix paints easier, that it was more accessible. It was almost like open sourcing elements of art. And I think the thing that I take away from that is, well, how do we know about this? And it's because of this author called Vasari. So Vasari was a painter and an architect as well. Like, if you ever watch any documentaries about him, all the, like, art dealers who talk about him are quite snooty about him, saying, you know, he wasn't a very good painter, he wasn't. He's actually brilliant, a super talented guy. But the thing he did was he was a brilliant writer. And he was brilliant at speaking to all these artists. So the argument was that the reason we think of those people as the masters was because he just captured them. He was like a great journalist in the 16th century that captured it in this book, and that was taught in all schools and everything. And so it was what was the perceived version of what reality was in art. And I started to think, well, that's probably how we remember these things, right? And so who's doing that in VR? Like, I can go onto all these sites, and you know, I write articles sometimes for VR Scout and XR Master, I kind of try and be as balanced as I can, but I also realize it's their business and it's difficult. There's very few people who are doing what you're doing, who are just like roaming the land, exploring this strange world and speaking to its inhabitants.

[00:14:14.922] Kent Bye: Yeah, well I wanted to just thank you for sending me that email and just appreciate you receiving the work that I've been doing. And for my own artistic impulse, like there is a historical moment that I just felt the need to be out there capturing. And also I just have an insatiable curiosity and I'm just really curious about how all these things are coming together. And VR is like the thing that allows me to explore all these other different disciplines and domains and see how they're all tying together. Yeah, just also to be, I guess, a witness to what's happening in the space and try to contextualize it with what is happening in other domains and how things are coming together and to try to come here to South by Southwest and I was invited to be on the jury for the first time and a big festival like this to be able to see all the work and to be a part of the dialogue and to get into that criticism of like what's the quote-unquote best experience in this little lot. So there's been a lot of me just trying to see not only the immersive experiences but also what's happening in mostly the non-gaming. I think there's a lot of people covering what's happening in gaming that that seems to be pretty well covered that I don't, for me personally, need to be covering that. Although I do think it's important, I'll probably start to pick that up more. But just really interested in what's happening in the wider industry, and I think music is something that's a theme that I'll probably end up doing a series on just from what I've seen over the last couple of years of different interviews that I just haven't had a chance to publish yet. And I think what you're doing is something that I haven't seen very many people try to attempt, which is to take a band, like you're a musician, so you have a band, but also to try to integrate some of these immersive technologies in the context of a performance. And so maybe you could take me back to the seeds of that idea of what you were debuting on the US debut here at South by Southwest with the mirror shot performance that we saw the other night. And yeah, where did that idea begin to take virtual reality headset and mixed reality context and do a live performance musically?

[00:16:09.840] Roman Rappak: maybe for the listeners it's probably helpful if I describe what that is because it's one of the things I realized is like we go yeah it's a VR show it's this and going into a place and there's a VR headset on a table and you try it is a VR experience but what the concert that you went to and that you know like I mean, there's so many people to shout out that I'm just wondering if it's just gonna be a list of names, but Blake Camadino is another person who completely changed our lives by coming to London, meeting up with us, saying, you know, we didn't have a record out, we didn't have a record deal at that point, we didn't have anything, and he was like, you guys have to do this at South By. Everyone in the music industry was saying, like, you're not going to play South By because you don't have a record out and that's the way the music industry works. And we had this amazing supporter in Blake who just said, no, I'm getting you here and you're going to do it. You get to not live by the rules of the music industry for a little bit. But to describe what the show is, the audience come in, they're seated, and it's a cinema type experience, right? They're put into VR headsets. The VR headsets, we kind of hacked them so that we can switch to pass-through camera, which probably most of your listeners will know, but it means that you're seeing reality as if you're seeing the world through your own eyes. On stage, we have connected up all those headsets in a multiplayer experience. That means that from one button on the stage, I can say, OK, at the moment they can see reality. I can press another button and they're all flying over some mountains or through a building. Or in the context of the show the other day, it was the last memories of a friend of ours who passed away sadly. And there was a train journey he went on, there was things he did as a kid, whatever. And so the process of what the show is, is effectively, it's like an immersive live music video, or it's like a live concert where instead of the visuals on the wall going, hey, showing you some trees or showing you some colors, I can take away reality for a moment. For a chorus, you can be flying through space or whatever. So that's kind of the actual way the show works. In terms of what we wanted to do with it, it was kind of trying to strip away everything that is a cliche about what a band is and all these things that are kind of taken from a pretty broken music industry, that it doesn't work. Literally, trying to upload a track to Spotify when 80,000 songs are uploaded every day, no one's going to care about your song. You want to try and play a live circuit, that's all collapsing. There aren't small venues that are doing it. If you're British, you want to try and tour now with Brexit? It's a nightmare. So many things are acting against it and so many things are preventing us from hearing the most incredible music that is being made right now because it doesn't fit into this complex 70-year-old broken structure. So the idea was all this stuff that's happening in the immersive space, all this exciting stuff that's happening, maybe we could just take what being a band is, which is just playing concerts, also recording songs, and put it into something where we augment it with XR. And that was always the thing, it was not to say, here's a VR experience, it's to say, live concerts are the most incredible things, like in my life, that's the most incredible thing to go and do, is just to watch an incredible band playing some stuff. augmenting that with this insane game engine just felt like, well, that's our responsibility, isn't it? We should be exploring what's the new synth, what's the new paradigm shift, what's the new sense of meaning that is in the world that we can try and express. And it's actually, it's interesting doing it in America for the first time, because I think that was the other thing I took from your podcast, was that traditionally, and this is, I don't want to speak for everyone, but like, the perception from countries outside the U.S. If you say American tech, the only image they have is Zook looking like a robot while horrible things are happening on this platform that's being used in all these terrible ways. You think of Google ads, you think of data breaches, you think of horrible, horrible things, and you think of all these super rich, powerful people that don't care about people, they don't care about art, they don't care about anything. And you can see us tumbling towards this horrible dystopian landscape. But what I think I learned from, not only from your podcast, but from reading books and from watching things like Adam Curtis all watched over by Machines of Loving Grace and the Declaration of Independence in cyberspace and all these things, is that if you turn the clock back to certain points, like early 90s Silicon Valley, or even further, like, sort of Damocles, what you find is that the tech culture has this undertone, especially in America, of, for me, kind of my favorite part of American culture and my favorite aspect of American culture, which is this counterculture, kind of almost like a hippie, positive approach, which is almost completely lost in the noise of tech is bad, erroneous screens, Zook and Musk are going to kill us, and all this kind of thing. But actually, that's what I encountered in those podcasts, and that's what I've met here, is that the first tech company, the thing that started all of this off, In a way, you could argue it was Atari, right? It was Nolan Bushnell. It was sort of slacker, hippie culture, people kind of being counterculture. And they weren't suits, and they were talking about the enjoyment of a game, or they were talking about movements in art. And I kind of feel like that's sort of the bit of it that has been the most heartwarming, is to see that there's these incredible people who are really positive, who are really fighting hard to do something important. And their voice does get lost, because mostly the headline is, kids are on Roblox, and everything's dystopian, and no one's going to concerts. So this is going to be a protest against it to say, elevate this idea of tech being used in a social moment, where the whole reason that that show worked. And by the way, I don't want to be English and apologize for everything, but we've got to work so much on the visuals, like we're doing on a tiny budget. We could make it so much better, but because of the fact that everyone's excited and they're in a room, they kind of forgive that the graphics are a bit crap in places. They kind of forgive the fact that, you know, we've got a team of three people running around back and forth for headsets, and it isn't the most professional, well-executed operation. I'm sure Google could make a more well-executed version of that, but I don't think it would mean as much.

[00:21:59.798] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think it's, I've seen a lot of different types of exploration of music and a lot of it, like say the WaveXR is probably one of the first in terms of like having a platform to do what I'd see what they were doing is really trying to create a social VR platform that was having these spatial music videos, which I thought were really interesting So it was in a virtual context, but having people play music, I've seen some stuff with like, there's a Sugar Roast piece on Magic Leap, which was a much more interactive piece where you're moving your body, and it becomes more about creating a probability space of different musical stems that can be triggered based upon your movement, or just more of a generative approach of music. And so I think what you're doing is taking this aspect of the live embodied performance, the liveness of the live, of actually being in a physical location and a live performance. I haven't been to Coachella or any of these other places, but you know, I'd imagine trying to use augmented reality first with people with their phones. I mean, people when they're seeing a concert already, oftentimes they're having kind of an augmented experience. So sometimes they're like experiencing the entire concert by Looking at their phones and so they're there physically, but they're visually looking at it through a 2d screen And so they're trying to capture it. I don't even know if people watch those later. I know what I've done that I don't really necessarily even watch it. So I just try to be there and present for the moment. So I

[00:23:20.942] Roman Rappak: I think that's an exciting thing about it is because the reason they're doing that, I think, and I'm sure other people could probably articulate this a lot better, is because they're aware of the fact that it's a concert and it's fleeting, right? They're aware of the first time you can't play this back, it's real, like you can't be like, oh, I'll just watch it later or I'll pause it. And I think that's what they're doing. I think they're capturing it because they're like aware of the fact that You know, it's one of the most magical things about a concert is that it's gonna end and you have to go home. And so you're like, that's why it's magical when your favorite band plays its favorite song. It's because you're like, we're right here right now. And then when the last notes die out, you're like, oh, like it's finished. Like we don't actually have very much of that. Like everything's so infinite and endlessly replayable. That's the one thing a concert has over anything else is, is the fact that it's so fleeting.

[00:24:05.199] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so when I saw the Mirror Shot performance, it was like being embodied in a place, like, because there's other virtual concerts that I've been to where you don't get the same physicality of feeling the music in a way, like the bass and everything else, and just hearing it through the reflections of the room as well in terms of just the spatialization of that audio that's being amplified. And there's different concerts like the Travis Scott concert and other concerts that have been happening in platforms like Fortnite. And I went to the Lil Nas X Roblox concert. So that's kind of mediated through a 2D screen. And then there's more, it's more about the spatial design of those environments. And actually before I saw this mirror shot piece, there was another experiment that you had done on one of these other platforms that was a virtual platform that was more about kind of moving around a space. And I actually had like an audio glitch where I wasn't hearing some of the audio narratives that were happening. So I heard the music, but there was some part of that experience that I missed. But maybe before we dive into what you did here at South By, what were some of the other experiences that you were doing to kind of experiment with this idea of the virtual concert?

[00:25:12.865] Roman Rappak: Yeah, I guess the evolution then, to pick up the story from disenfranchisement, the way music was existing in the music industry, listen to your podcast, Facebook acquisition happens, I meet Ash Kutcher, we build this incredible VR experience, the one that you saw the other night. The Dutch government gave us a grant, we took it to the Institute of Contemporary Art, we took it to the BAFTA cinema in London, we took it to the Barbican, we took it to Paris, we took it to Hamburg. going really well, put together this record, booked to play 2020 here, the first debut show of what you saw the other night. Pandemic happens and everything's cancelled. And so I'm actually interested to hear when you're talking about virtual concerts, is basically what we're talking about, right? Or the idea of the virtual and music. I would love if, when you post this on Twitter, to hear people's ideas of what the definition of a virtual concert should be. Because I feel like that's the biggest problem, is that we don't have a unified language of what, first of all, I know what a concert isn't, right? If it's pre-recorded, if it's uninteractive, If it's something that only exists as a huge sort of rerun of something that's been done in a motion capture studio in Hollywood that took three weeks, I don't think that's a concept. I think it's amazing. I think it's like no one watches a music video and goes, oh, it's not as good as the concert. It's like there's a completely different medium. But there are so many things that you think How would you approach a concert with things like Fortnite? Or how do you watch it on a laptop? It's never going to be as good. So you have to think of it as like, when I watch Coachella on TV, and I've never been to Coachella, my experience of that festival exists in this surreal drone camera shot of this thing. Like, going to Coachella would be completely different. But that's not to say that me watching it is that all I'm thinking about is this isn't like a concert. Like it's just it's a language that's evolving, you know. So that kind of brings us to what we've been building, what we were here at South by. We were invited to pitch because we in the pandemic, we realized we still wanted to do these VR shows, but people wanted to join remotely. So we started to build, originally in Unity, we built a city, very simple, kind of low poly city. And at the end of it, there was a concert hall. Then we started having different things you could do in this world. And we realized that we thought the pandemic had completely destroyed this project, because the two things you don't want to do in a pandemic is A, be around people, and B, put a piece of plastic on your face, which was the two core parts of what our shows are. So we got to work on building what would eventually become Wristband. And Wristband is a platform that is built in Unreal. You can access it on Mac, PC, mobile, VR. And the aim was to say, well, we're aware of the fact that there's all these huge platforms that have got billions of dollars put into it. But I think I argue that I wonder how many of them are being made creator-first. Like, how many of these platforms are being done in the model of what works for Roblox, you know, in terms of get loads of people in, in-app purchase, do all this thing. And how many of them are like, well, potentially the metaverse is, and VR and all this technology, is one of the most incredible tools artists have ever had to share experiences, to be unmediated by labels and studios. And I completely know how naive that sounds, but that was the dream of what the internet was supposed to be, and it was robbed from us. And so for me, I'm like, this is our ultimate second chance. that if there was the right platform, which obviously I believe wristband is and it's what I'm fighting for it to become, then that's something that any artist can go into and get discovered and not in a way that an algorithm on Spotify says, hey, did you like that? Here's something that's generally kind of the same. Like I'm talking about being able to walk through a virtual city and you walk past like we can see what is that? the front works barbecue place and if I was to hear the greatest acoustic guitarist who's playing in his venue in Japan, I could go in there and I would have the exact feeling you have at South by when you go and you discover someone. It wasn't because an article told you, it wasn't because an influencer told you, you had this organic visceral reaction to hearing some music going into a space that someone has created an immersive experience with their music. And the sense of ownership you feel over that discovery is so much more powerful than, hey, I've been listening to this new band because Spotify robots told me.

[00:29:17.497] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm really a huge fan of this dialectical concept of history, like Hegel with his philosophy of history. We've been talking about the existing state of the music industry and how it's like really not serving the interest of artists and especially independent artists. and that everything's into this hyper-algorithmically driven world where things are being fed to us by artificial intelligence. And it's a lot different than the kind of more embodied serendipitous collision of discovering something or being able to go to a place like South by Southwest where there's a bunch of concerts and bands and to actually physically go and see those experiences and to have a bunch of immersive experiences within the context of the physical reality. And so it sounds like you did the mirror shot demo and then the pandemic had happened. And then maybe that's when you started to do some of the other experiments within a virtual world. And then now we're in 2022, we're back at South by Southwest with this experience that you created a number of years ago. But what was the experience that I saw? Like, cause I went into some world and it was on another platform and like,

[00:30:19.352] Roman Rappak: I went into a world and some stuff was there, what was that about? But it basically was the genesis of what then later became Wristband. So just as you went to this concert two days ago, in reality, it was the first time we opened the Wristband platform. I mean, I don't want to turn it into a podcast full of shoutouts, but at Epic, Ben Lumsden, Alistair Thompson, two guys at Epic who found out what we were doing and said, look, you should apply for the Epic Mega Grant. They have been absolutely incredible, and it's meant that we could stop all the conversations we're having with VCs, which, I don't know if you've ever had 50 VC calls in a few weeks, but there's some great ones, but also, it's really soul-destroying. You stop building the thing that you care about, and you start to turn into someone who's like an actor who's reeling out lines. And thanks to Epic, we were able to have this huge runway to build the thing. So the concert you were at two nights ago also took place on our platform, on the Wristband platform, that meant that someone could send you a link, almost like a Zoom call, no install, no downloaded Steam, no nothing, and it just opens in browser, running on a cloud GPU, because of Epic being able to enable pixel streaming now. And for me, that was us proving an important point, which was that people that were attending that show virtually, they were an audience, a live audience at a live event. And from the people that we spoke to who experienced that, it was a completely different feeling to watching a rerun of a 90-foot Travis Scott playing a thing. They all met before. It was a simulation, in a way, of what happens at a concert. You meet before, you have a chat before, you see someone wearing the same t-shirt, you're like, hey, are you here? All those strange things that happen in reality were having a kind of a digital twin that were happening on our platform. So yeah, that's kind of, we're here for the Mirror Shot show and for the wristband activation, so it's quite a big moment for us.

[00:32:03.075] Kent Bye: Okay, so I haven't had a chance to have any embodied experiences in Wristband. I saw that it had launched the Alpha, but I've been here at my hotel and covering South By for the last four days, so I'm looking forward to checking out when I get back. So you're right in the sense that I went to the hideout theater, the show was going to start at 8, it was a little late, starting at 8.30 or so, and so we're kind of waiting outside with this anticipation. I was in the wrong line at first, and I was like, oh wait, I think I'm a VIP, so then I got into the VIP line, and so all these things of just the journey of getting into the concert was a part of the experience. So I go into the theater and then there's a number of different people carrying out gear VR headsets filled up on both arms that they distribute amongst all the different people in this tiny little theater with about 50 people or so and it's got these red chairs that are setting up like a theater and then the stage and then you're playing and then So I put on the VR headset and initially it's like a monoscopic mixed reality pass-through that is able to see the world around me and it's like with a black and white shader edge detection so it's like these outlines of everything and it was the thing that's also worth mentioning for me at least was that pass-through that it was monoscopic and not stereoscopic and also in the Gear VR and the Gear VR is what you had and what you could afford from many years ago but like the latency on that thing is like pretty bad so that whenever I would turn my head it would be a little bit of a delay and I knew that if I kept my eyes open when I turned my head it was going to make me motion sick so I whenever I would turn my head I would close my eyes because I knew that it was just going to be nauseating if I did that so I was looking around but because it was monoscopic pass through that it sort of flattened it in a way that felt like you know how you like go to a concert and look at your your phone it felt like i was looking my phone but i couldn't see anything else it was like that was like occluding the entire experience and then when i actually went through the concert you had a button that you could push on stage and it was able to kind of cut between Floating through these different virtual world scenes and I saw a lot of these other circles with the mirror shot logo Which I imagine where maybe either other people in the room with me or the other people there they're virtually and so I'm sort of cutting back in between this mixed reality edge detection filter with this virtual world and You guys played one song and for mine at least the center was in behind me so I had to like turn around and see the so there was no way to globally do a recentering or positioning and

[00:34:37.124] Roman Rappak: I've got buttons I can press to do that.

[00:34:39.185] Kent Bye: You had it, but you didn't want to mess everybody else's up.

[00:34:42.666] Roman Rappak: Re-centering. I'm so intrigued by your description of it as well, because there are some complicated things happening, but also the caveat is things like, why Gear VR? Why does that not work? If there's anyone out there that wants to say, OK, I'll endorse this whole thing and get us another $100,000, we'd do it all on quests. We'll do it for Unreal. There's something kind of punk about the show, and I don't know, I hope it came across, because there's an intention. Because we're competing against AAA companies, like Valve or whatever. If that's what the standard of VR is, we'll never be able to do it. But then going back to Kraftwerk, if you listen to the earliest synths that Kraftwerk used, if you try and use those, and there's a studio I work in in Paris where they have them, they are impossible to use. They are like scientific equipment. They're clunky. The limitations are horrendous. And that's exactly what we have with this. You know, we're doing a Google Cardboard app because that's the only thing that works on it. We have to fly 50 headsets across borders. So just being able to have phones just makes a lot of sense. There's all these things that we have to embrace the limitations because there's something we're trying to say, you know. And it is that. It is that fact that you were looking at a concept through your phone, like you were watching it through a screen. You were having a mediated perspective on reality, which for me, that's a statement about kind of what all of us are doing. And if people listening to this podcast are doing right now. And so I kind of felt like that's a hook that I can kind of get behind and I can write music around that and I can feel confident to, you know, bring the band out here and do all this stuff because it's a lot of work. And if we don't have anything to say, I don't think we should bother doing it, you know, just for the sake of it.

[00:36:19.022] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, as I've gone to these other virtual concerts, I have the exact same reaction you do, which is like, is this really a concert? Or what do you define as a concert? Is a concert the spatial experience of the concert, or is the concert that it was the liveness of that moment? And I feel like this experience was really amplifying the liveness of that moment, but also having, because of the older technology and the monoscopic and sort of more of the limitations and the lack of budget, it almost collapsed the embodiment and almost It became more of a 2D experience rather than a three-dimensional experience.

[00:36:52.221] Roman Rappak: That's the thing I feel like when it works the best is it's about this idea of what is a concert. It's a moment where you go into a place, and this is assuming that you like the artist and that you get what they're trying to do, where they're fracturing reality. The kind of thing I talked about before with paintings or whatever. And in a way, that's kind of a metaphor for everything that's happening now. You know, we have this layer of when I got the Uber, I looked at a picture of a car and I watched it drive up. And I was like, I mean, that's a video game. But then the real car arrived. So technically, this is just a fake thing and it's a fake map. But in another way, in the realm of the Uber servers, I had an avatar of a car that drove to the avatar of me. I was existing in that realm for that. And I think the concert's in a fascinating moment to do that because when you really lose yourself in a piece of music, then reality has been pulled away. And so the idea of the show is, if I've got a button that can say, one button and you're back in reality, albeit a mediated, distorted, lo-fi version of reality, then it's almost like hammering home that point of when the chorus hits and you flew over those buildings, or I hope you were facing the right way, if the thing worked. then it's almost like a celebration of the sense of being transported that you feel at an amazing concert, but just in a small theater with like 50 broken headsets.

[00:38:09.911] Kent Bye: Yeah, well the way that I start to break it down are these different qualities of presence and I think it might be helpful to talk about this experience as to contrast it with some of these other online Fortnite type of concerts because there is a sense of embodied presence where my body is physically there and just the whole journey to get there has this real physicality to that but the virtual embodiment I'd say was there was no avatar representation of myself when I'm in these experiences I'm a ghost and I'm flying around But also because like I was saying the 2d nature of the single camera for the monoscopic pass-through Flattened my embodiment so that in that sense it felt like kind of a compressed embodiment But it would go and flip into more of the virtual embodiment which then was more spatialized and so it regained that type of specialism you're in the fake world, but in the real world you're 2d and Right, so because the way it was constructed, the pass-through was 2D and the virtual world was 3D. So in terms of the embodied presence, there was kind of a juxtaposition there. In terms of the active presence and agency, there's nothing that I can do to actually impact the experience other than to just look around and decide where to look.

[00:39:13.068] Roman Rappak: basically with the only mechanic we put in for interaction is that when you look in a direction you fly towards it and The reason for that is number one. It's still supposed to be a concept. So I didn't want to give everyone controllers I don't want necessarily everyone to be like having to jump or do some stuff whatever the second thing is and it's actually hearing your description makes me realize that sometimes we play and there are people like you who are you know, you're one of the most informed people on earth about VR and In a way, the show isn't, it's not that it isn't aimed at you, but in a way, the majority of people who come, they've almost never done VR before. So they're people who are just like, I have no idea what I'm doing, and they put on a VR headset, and their first experience of VR, rather than it being someone showing them a rollercoaster at Christmas or whatever, is this quite, I feel like there's quite a ritualistic approach to what we're trying to do with the show. It's like, VR and XR and whatever, I think it should be kind of elevated in the way that you do it, to the same way that we treat theater, and the same way, you know what I mean? Like, you get dressed up, You walk to a place, you sit in a thing, a bell goes that says, OK, it's starting. You sit down, the lights come down. You're already buying into it before even an actor has walked on stage or a model has walked down a catwalk or the trailers have started. And I feel like that was one of the things I realised when I first came to the US. That was the first time I physically met you, actually. I was like, I'm going to see the big VR scene, the American VR scene. And I got there, and it was VRLA, which I don't think happens anymore, does it? And it was like a conference center. And I was like, this is the most magical, important art form that's ever been in humanity. And it's like, I'm walking up to a table, and someone's going, here, try this on. It's like you're climbing a mountain. I climb a mountain. I'm like, all right, sweet. I was like, there's so much more reverence, I think, that should be put to these people. People like Nonny de la Pena and all these people who are doing incredible, meaningful stuff. It shouldn't be on a trestle table in a place that had a furniture exhibition the week before, you know?

[00:41:01.203] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, the exhibition aspect of VR, when we have the different festivals and stuff, there's a whole range of having installations and having the proper context. But you're right in the sense of the enter in this magic circle. And there is a ritual, like say when we go see a movie, that you go in and you You sit down, maybe get some popcorn, you see some trailers, the lights go down, and then you see the opening credits sequence, and then eventually by the time the movie starts, you've really suspended your disbelief and you're really immersed into the experience. And I think of that as the sort of possibility illusion within VR, but also this idea of the mental presence, that you really are surrendering and believing what's happening is real. and along with the mental presence is the social presence. And so I'm there socially with other people and I see some sort of virtual representation of this other people, maybe other icons. I couldn't quite make out who they were. And so the mental and social presence, I feel that there's people around me because of me walking in, but actually once I'm in the immersive experience, I have very little way of actually seeing the people around me at that moment. And so the social experience of that has actually cut off to the point where I actually at that moment feel like I'm alone. in the world because I can't see anybody else or see their presence other than these iconic representations within the virtual world. But going back to the active presence, another part of this kind of fire element of agency and activity is the liveness, the liveness of the live, which I think is distinctly different than, say, the virtual concert that is all pre-recorded and there's no opportunities to make mistakes because it's all been recorded and it's produced in a certain way that has a lot of the messiness erased. And then I guess the final element is this emotional presence, you know, really being immersed in the experience. And I think in that respect, it was like one song and over. And that sense, usually when you go to a concert, you have an expectation that you're going to go on this whole arc and the journey. And then like having just one song, I didn't know it was going to be just one song. And so then it was like, oh, that's it. That's over. And it was just sort of like this.

[00:43:00.934] Roman Rappak: Yeah, I mean there's two reasons for that. Number one is, well three probably, number one is Blake said, look, you were going to play this concert thing, why don't you just take the theatre for the whole day? And we were just overwhelmed by the opportunity to be able to do it. But then, and it held 99 people, that theatre, and we had 2000 people apply for places. So I was thinking, as well as it being amazing and flattering, I was like, this is going to be a nightmare of people not getting in, of everyone getting annoyed at us that we didn't get in, etc. So the decision was to make the shows shorter. The other thing is, you have your VR legs, right? You understand the difference between a stereoscopic and whatever, like past year. People who haven't done VR before, if you put them in VR for like 10 minutes, it's nauseating. Like, they can't do it. And I think that kind of goes to...

[00:43:42.629] Kent Bye: Well, I think there's a part of VR that is performing well, but because I think of the pass-through has low latency, it is... Your experience can be nauseating. I wouldn't say all experiences generally are always nauseating because you can design good VR, but because of the low latency of the pass-through, it is motion sickness inducing.

[00:44:00.556] Roman Rappak: I'll rephrase it, so... If you have lots of money and you have talented people, VR is wonderful for 10 minutes. In our experience, we've got wonderful people, we haven't got loads of money. So, yes, it is difficult with the tools we have and the resources we have to put someone in that experience for too long. That's the thing. And especially because a lot of people have never done VR, then we figured, look, what is a concert? Like, that's kind of what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be a distillation of all these different things that a concert has with these exciting things happening with game engines and tech and pass-through and a sense of self. And I'm interested that all of those things came through for you in that very short thing, because that's the whole point of it. It's not meant to answer all these questions, but it's definitely meant to help us ask them. And so for us, it was the logistical thing of saying that we want to get as many of these 2,000 people through in this very short space of time with this very small team of underpaid, passionate people. And that was what we were trying to do. So trying to get people in and hearing one song, I felt like that made sense because it meant more people could see it. And then kind of zooming out a bit for it, it's like, well, I kind of feel like this is, and I don't want to preempt the VR and what it might be able to enable question, but like, I feel like For me, this is the bit where a musician has always been someone who works with technology. Like you work with a great producer because they know how to use the desk. You work with a great guitarist because the technology of a guitar, they understand. And I feel like that's the big shift that's coming, is that we now can bring game developers and 3D designers and all that into this group that we've made. And the coder is just as important as the drummer. The 3D artist is just as important as the photographer who took the pictures for the press shot or whatever. And that all of us together can make this new package of, it's an experience but it works in 3D, but it's virtual, but it's physical. And for me, this is our first baby step towards it. We don't have a huge budget to do it as well. So I think that's something, I feel like maybe one thing we need to work on is describing to people what they're about to see. Maybe that would have helped better.

[00:45:59.873] Kent Bye: Well, I think part of it also is that I see what's happening in the overall VR industry as this dialectical process. And in some ways, as a musician trying to apply VR in your context, you're in a lot of ways starting from a blank slate. And so you put something out there. And so it's easy to go in and say, OK, this is what I thought didn't work about that experience. But it's a lot harder to say, OK, well, starting from nothing, not knowing anything, this is what you can do with the technology. And so I think that's, in that sense, it's a valuable first provocation that then, for whoever was there, there's a lot of people from the music industry that saw it, and then see, okay, well, what are the elements that really worked about this type of experience, you know, and what didn't work as well? And so when I think about this, I think about, okay, we're here with other people, we're in a concert, and then what is it about the spatial medium that, like, there's a Foo Fighters concert that happened, and there's a 360 video, and they had a 2D version and they had a 3D version, and they were actually starting to do, like, a lot of particle effects that were composited on top of the 360 video that were kind of like these holographic effects that were happening above the band. that were coming down, and it was a 360 video, monoscopic, and so you're seeing the band spatially, you're able to look around, but when you look up, you have this volumetric particle effects that I felt like, okay, well, this is starting to get to the point where, okay, I could see, like, maybe you're wearing these augmented reality glasses, and you're at a concert, and you see overlays like that. Because part of the thing that I thought was taking away from the emotional presence was the fact that I couldn't see your facial expressions, or I couldn't see the band. Every time I was seeing the band, it was through this edge detection filter, meaning that you were kind of like... When you were in the cinema scene... That was at the very beginning that I saw the cinema scene.

[00:47:43.922] Roman Rappak: So when I saw... I'm improvising what scenes. I have a rule, but I mean, I'm not gonna... So each experience is different? And sometimes I made mistakes, like we did one in Paris, where there's a button to make you guys blink.

[00:47:58.575] Kent Bye: Yeah, I saw the blinking and it was blinking and then going in between the scenes. But I think that what I remember were the edge of detection every time I was seeing the band that was on throughout the entire experience.

[00:48:09.018] Roman Rappak: Were you at the first one? Yeah. We should have put everyone else. We should have just brought our friends in to do it in a broken way. But you know, that's the whole point of a concert, right? I don't necessarily sing the line the same way each time. And in this context, we don't necessarily send people to the same places each time. And that, again, adds to the fact that this isn't on rails. You're not at home, and there's this thing that you're just going to consume that everyone else has consumed. It has that element of variety, which kind of is a celebration of what improvising and what music is. But also, it's kind of a celebration about gaming culture and about the fact that your experience should be different to the person who just went in, you know? Because bands have never been able to do that. Like, we've never had a tool that can do this. And I know these are like quite baby steps towards it, but I think that it's actually a way that I can see that musicians can be paid fairly and that artists can survive, whatever it is. Why do we count music Why do we measure it in this old metric that's like 70 years old of a song is worth that, you put it onto a thing, you sell that for $10, that's how everyone gets paid. There's this construct of IP about songs that comes from a copyright law from books that would get written in 1700s. That's such a terrible system. Artists are people who create experiences. We now have a way of packaging experiences in all these different ways. And all those people who came yesterday, obviously we didn't charge, but if we did a tour of that, all of us in the band could be supported, which is a thing that's unheard of. Touring is you just lose money. Putting out music is you lose money. And then it's like a scratch card. You hear about one person out of 10,000 that can just about afford their rent, and then you have 999 people who've got, talented people who've got sad stories of where the system underserved them.

[00:49:48.749] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, and it sounds like that you have like a live mixing thing kind of like you're a video DJ But virtual reality DJ that's sort of live mixing these immersive experiences And is that platform that you were controlling that is that part of the wristband platform? Or is that some other platform that is more of the live performative context?

[00:50:06.983] Roman Rappak: Yeah, I mean, so, like, to just cover Wristband slightly, the idea of Wristband was us using all this tech and using all this VR, game engines, working with the real world, real concerts, etc. and to say, well, this should be something that we can share with other artists, like, it actually enriches the platform that we've built if there are hundreds of artists and musicians and DJs and everyone going in there and creating their own thing in the same way that when you walk down the street in Austin you can discover all these different things. And for that to happen, we need to not take the approach that The Wave or Roblox or whatever has, which is, we've raised all this money, we need to get this many people in, we'll do the weekend, we'll do one event, or we'll do Ariana Grande, we'll spend six months, ten million dollars to make a 25-minute experience. It shouldn't be that. There's all these artists that deserve recognition, they deserve a platform. There's all these venues that are closing down. So this was where we were bridging the gap between the two is that that event was happening in wristband. So it wasn't the idea of the virtual concert is going to replace the concert. It's actually the virtual concert should reinforce the physical concert and the grassroots venues and the emerging artists and stuff like that. So that's kind of the thing behind it. I'd love to do an experiment actually again because it's our platform and we don't, at the moment we haven't, we've been able to have the luxury of not bringing any investors in. We've been able to have on our own terms. And we were talking to the community yesterday because we made it live, and people at first were just like, hey, I'm trying to get in and trying to thinking we were like Valve or a big company. I just literally wrote back to them. I was like, look, we're doing this all ourselves. We would love your help. And as soon as I said that, they totally got it. So I'd love to do an experiment, which is when, maybe perhaps when you post this article, we'll make the servers live and just see how many people go and see if we can crash the server. We'll have a Voices of VR special.

[00:51:41.862] Kent Bye: Great. So what's next for you? You had a whole concert demo. Lots of people from the industry saw it. You have this launching of the new Alpha version of the wristband. And so where do you go from here in terms of what's next?

[00:51:55.388] Roman Rappak: What's next is we're kind of doing what we were about to do before the pandemic struck, which is we were booked to play the Cannes Film Festival. We were booked to do a US tour. And, you know, the pandemic reset a lot of things and, as you know full well, kind of shifted digital habits. And we found that people understand what we're doing a lot better now, weirdly. It's less of a strange art project where a band does some stuff, and it's more about, well, potentially this is how the music industry is going to evolve. The music industry is so excited by the fact that traditionally 2.8 billion gamers always represented people moving away from buying records, people who weren't going to concerts. And so the idea that that enormous demographic, which is twice the size of the film industry and the music industry combined, that they're no longer the older brother who gets everything. That demographic is starting to go to film festivals in a game engine or go to concerts. It's huge, but then where is the path to do that in an ethical way? So for us, the VR show that you saw, we've been booked to play it in four or five countries, mostly in Europe. And we're going to tour that, so bringing VR and game engines to groups of people like you saw the other day. Making sure that as many people can see it as possible rather than it being a queue in a convention center to try I think like making it as exciting as possible and it's accessible as possible and then at the same time the wristband platform which we've been building We're hosting events and we're literally just exploring how human beings react with it There's no agenda of we're going to do this activation and this like every time we make the service live we find it's fascinating user behavior that we never predicted and And there's a really amazing GDC talk which talks about let the game teach you what it wants to be. And I think that's what we're doing, we're just learning from it.

[00:53:31.674] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you really are on the bleeding edge of a lot of this technology and trying to fuse these things. And so one of my impressions and takeaways from watching it was just the amount of logistics to pull something like this off is no small feat. And so just to be able to actually do it and all the lessons learned is certainly, for me at least, I was just really in awe of all of what has to go on behind the scenes to be able to actually make this happen.

[00:53:55.360] Roman Rappak: Thank you. Yeah, that really means a lot because it is really complicated and it isn't seamless at the moment. But if there's anyone out there who would like to experience live music, like VR, where in a concert setting you are transported to different worlds, then definitely reach out to us because we'd love to take it around the country and take it around America. And I think it's a very difficult thing to describe, but once you've seen it, it makes sense in a way.

[00:54:20.574] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and the future of music might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:54:29.263] Roman Rappak: Whenever I hear people answer this question, I always think that it's such a huge question, a deliberately huge question. that it almost feels like you don't know where to start with it, with an answer. But I kind of feel like, zooming out from it, from all of this, is that this is the big opportunity to right a lot of the wrongs about the way that art works and the way that music is listened to and the way that a structure that is underserving almost everybody. If you look statistically speaking, most people's experience of releasing music or trying to do it is a crushing experience of not being able to play the game properly or whatever. And I think that this represents the biggest disruption we've ever seen. And I'm not saying the music industry is bad or whatever. I'm saying that that is a system that was invented to move lumps of vinyl around a country and boxes and copyright. It's a system that was the only thing that we had then and it served us well in some senses. But now it's broken and now we've got this new opportunity and those things are converging at the same time. I'd encourage anyone, if you're making music or if you're exploring these things, to think about how all of these things are converging. And if you're someone who's a Unity developer or Unreal developer, team up with a friend of yours who's a musician and explore what that can be. And if you're a musician, find some talented coders because they are defining this era.

[00:55:51.161] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:55:55.598] Roman Rappak: I just want to thank you for this podcast, because it genuinely changed my life. But I also want to shout out a few people who have been with us from when we were this scrappy band playing in a weird squat in London. One of the most beautiful things about the VR community is that if this was the gaming community, they would be like, you're never going to speak to the head of Valve, head of Rockstar, you're never going to speak to Hauser Brothers. It's an old boy mafia. Whereas in the VR community, we've been lucky enough to work with people like Mike Salmon, Amy Lamea, like all these people who are super high up in the industry and really you'd think, oh well they're not going to care about small projects, they're not going to care about the ethical side of things. And then when you meet them and they intro you to people and they help you, you realise These are people who are at the peak of this whole industry, but super passionate, wonderful people, who actually, like, their heart is in the right place. And that honestly gives me hope, because a thousand scrappy underground projects angrily saying stuff is one thing, but having people who are at the top of it, looking out for us and helping us, means that I think we have a chance.

[00:57:00.550] Kent Bye: Well Roman, I'm really glad to have a chance to see, I think this is the first time I've seen a live performance that you've been on my radar since you sent me an email back in 2016. But yeah, thanks again for sitting down and it feels like a conversation long overdue and I'm glad that I had a chance to have the experience and then hear your thoughts because I think what you're talking about in terms of this broader discussion around the role of art and technology and these moments of these paradigm shifts and change, I mean, that's certainly a big part of my own journey of recognizing that and trying to capture what I see and share it out. And yeah, and just to see what your, at the very early phases, and who knows where it's going to go. But I'm very curious to see where this goes in the future, because I think your heart's in the right place, and it's just getting the right resources and technicality and everything to actually execute it and make it happen. So I'm really excited to see where this goes and how this is going to continue to shape and evolve culture.

[00:57:54.642] Roman Rappak: Yeah. Well, we can maybe meet up in the wristband platform with some of the Voices of VR listeners when you drop the episode, and then we can talk to them, find out where it's going.

[00:58:03.347] Kent Bye: All right. That sounds great. So that was Roman Rapek. He is the lead singer of the Mirror Shot band, as well as the CEO of co-founder of a platform called Wristband. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, well, I had a chance to meet Roman back in 2018, and we had started emailing back in 2016. He'd reached out, and obviously, the Voices of VR podcast has been a big part of him getting into the VR industry. And so it was great to be able to finally see some of the stuff that he's been working on for a number of years. He was supposed to have the premiere back in 2020. That didn't work out because of the pandemic. So just a two year delay. But in the meantime, he also started to work with in McKinnon to create this whole platform called wristband, which I'll have a separate interview with and to be able to dive into a little bit more details. And hopefully I'll actually have A bit more opportunity to dive in and check it out a little bit more before I air that podcast because it just launched at South by Southwest So it's yeah brand new and the pixel streaming looks really great within it really impressed with how high fidelity of an experience it is But some of the other takeaways I guess from this conversation was that you know, one of the things that Roman had said said a number of years ago back in 2016 is that he had thought of me as the Vasari of VR and that actually was a part of a reflection of my own identity and Helped me make sense of what I was doing with the voices of your podcast is just to go around and travel to all these different events and locations and talk to people from across the industry and just trying to document the different stories and also the different insights from many different perspectives and so I Yeah, I guess that's an aspiration living into that name of Asari VR. And so I'm just grateful for Roman to be able to give me that. In terms of the actual experience of how to blend together different aspects of the virtual reality technology within the context of a music performance. Because it was from the Gear VR and it was monoscopic, it was technically not at the same level that you would expect in terms of a super high-end VR experience. But I do think that there's something interesting about the intersection of what type of immersive experiences make sense when you're co-located at a live performance, and you see the liveness of the live, of actually feeling the haptic experience of the sound, but also when you're actually co-located with a bunch of people as well. So there's something about the onboarding and going into this experience, and then what is it about the virtual reality that is adding something? Because I think once you actually are at a physical location, then when you start to go into another virtual world, then what is the virtual world that's adding on top of things that are gonna be better than what you would see if you were actually physically co-located there? But also just what's new and different that you can start to do with VR as a medium to start to explore the potentials of what kind of ways that you're going to start to communicate. So I think it is an early iteration and there's certain aspects that didn't quite work for me and the other aspects that I think that There may be something that is still there that I think is going to be worth bringing everybody together to have all the logistics and all this stuff together You know the pain of trying to like get together just to even to pull off a demo like this with 50 gear VR is all synced up during this live performance and there's a live mixing station that he has up front that is controlling everything as well and There's a part of me that thinks about virtual reality as this really private medium that you're in the comfort of your own home, and you're able to be transported into another context. But when you're already in a context, and then when you are going into virtual reality, then it's sort of dissociative in a certain way. It takes you out of certain aspects of being. in a live moment. So when you're in a live moment and seeing a band perform, but then you can't see their faces exactly, or you kind of looking at it through a monoscopic rather than a stereoscopic, then it starts to kind of flatten it in a way that makes me feel like I'm having a mediated experience rather than seeing the experience live in that moment. So that was my first gut initial perspectives is that I really wanted to have like a stereo pass-through I wanted it to be not as high latency as it was with the gear VR But also just thinking about like what is it about? Being together in a group of people and what type of stuff can you do knowing that people are actually there? rather than when you're at home and you're in a virtual experience and it's you don't have quite the same type of social presence with everybody as a group experience and so I Just even getting into the whole experience is a little bit of a ritual within itself. It reminds me of what was happening also at the SXSW, which is the Welcome to the Hottiverse, which is the Megan Thee Stallion VR experience that was being done by AmazeVR. They had photos of 100 people within a theater, but then, in this context, they were all seeing a virtual concert. In the virtual concert, you see this really high-fidelity type of experience that was really high-produced. In this experience, It was much more like you were there seeing the band perform, and then the VR experiences were kind of going into these different spaces, and it was doing these different context switches, but I didn't pick up on any specific themes within the different worlds that I was going in. It almost felt like a little bit of a live, random mix of going into those different worlds. I'm still trying to sense if this is something that is going to be a path forward in terms of trying to figure out what is the most compelling thing. I actually think that the wristband platform, where people can start to have a virtual experience of something that's a live performance, is going to be something that Maybe makes a little bit more sense for the strength of the medium for what it's actually adding, you know, just because the logistics and everything, you know, how much can you actually scale up having that many different VR headsets within a live performance? So I think there's actually probably a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of the different types of music visualization and other pushing forward with. music video to really understand what is it about being co-located in a space and then going off into a virtual space to really Give it a little bit more coherence or maybe an experience that is really transported of really kind of blending all these things in a new way That I haven't seen before so I guess the cohesion of that is something that I'm still not quite settled upon but what I do see is that this is really ambitious and you know the maybe a Leading to some of these other things within the wristband platform that is going to be informing them as they move forward But I do think it's worth continuing to experiment with these different things It doesn't it's not easy to be able to like pull something this off But I think you know having either resources or artists to kind of bring up the both the fidelity of the experiences but also the creation for how to do a really truly mixed reality type of experiences that is going to start to play with being co-located and physical there at the same time versus what you're experiencing within the virtual world space that's kind of being blended together there as well. So yeah, definitely worth checking out. And I hope that it's going to be able to catalyze some ideas as to what comes next, because it's certainly a provocation to see what is even possible with having all these different things together. 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 enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a less-supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing you this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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