#1325 End of Tung-Yen Chou’s Gay Sauna Trilogy with “Traversing the Mist”

Traversing the Mist premiered at IDFA DocLab 2023, and is the conclusion of the Mist trilogy by Taiwanese VR director Tung-Yen CHOU. In the Mist was a 360 video, Gazing, in the Mist was a mixed reality installation, and Traversing the Mist is an interactive, multiplayer 6-DoF VR installation. Here is a synopsis “Step into the body of a young Taiwanese man to roam the steamy rooms and red-lit corridors of a surreal gay sauna—with thin mattresses, shared showers and lockers holding secrets. Everywhere you go, you encounter the same nude men with identical faces. And when you look in the mirror in this animated VR, you see all your clothes—except for your underwear—vanish.

“Walking further into this dimly lit network of corridors—watching, and being watched—you navigate your way through what feels like an erotic underground labyrinth. This concluding part of The Mist Trilogy by director Tung-yen Chou, following In the Mist (2020) and Gazing, In the Mist (2022) is a journey into a hidden world, from the graffiti-covered elevator to the darkrooms where you find the bodies with the help of a flashlight.

“In the real world, meanwhile, you are walking around a large open area, enhancing the physical feeling of being in a real sauna.”

I had a chance to catch up with Yen in Amsterdam at IDFA DocLab after his premiere of the conclusion of his trilogy to talk about his journey in producing these series of immersive experiences exploring the culture of gay saunas in Taiwan.

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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Tung-Yen CHOU: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing my series of looking at a number of different artists across time, This is the second interview that I did with Tung-Yin Cho. This is a piece called Traversing the Mist, where the previous episode we looked at the In the Mist, which was the first of a trilogy, the 360 video looking at a gay sauna within Taiwan. Gazing in the Mist, which was much more of a immersive mixed reality type of experience that put people more into the scene of these different saunas and having different mixed reality pass-through effects. And then Traversing the Mist, which was a CGI experience where you're walking through what starts as the locker room and then the showers, and then you're going into more and more deeper levels of the back rooms of gay sauna culture, where there's explicit gay sex that's happening. And so you see a lot of these different scenes of explicit sex that's happening between these different virtual avatars. And everybody within this experience happens to be wearing the same avatar representation as you go through this piece. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Worcester VR Podcast. So this interview with Yen happened on Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 at IFFA DocLab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:34.827] Kent Bye: Hi, my name is Jodong Yen. and you can call me Yen and I have been working with VR since probably 3-4 years ago but I first got in touch with VR for a theatre work like 12 years ago that was with a panoramic video without knowing the potential of VR and then this time I'm in Idifa with my latest work called Traverse in the Mist which is the finale of a trilogy started with In the Mist which was premiered in 2021 in Venice

[00:02:06.445] Tung-Yen CHOU: Great. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space.

[00:02:10.527] Kent Bye: Yeah. So I have a theater background. I did theater directing. So I've been working with theater space, black box. And so working with inside a box and then with live audience, to always think about where our audience is, I think that influenced me a lot in terms of thinking of where are they? Who are we projecting to? And also theater, there are so many illusion and tricks and then, you know, deals with illusion and reality. I think that's also deeply influenced my work in VR, yeah.

[00:02:47.893] Tung-Yen CHOU: And so how did virtual reality come onto your radar as a medium that you wanted to expand into?

[00:02:53.495] Kent Bye: So as a student in theater school, I have always been, you know, bringing a DV camera with me and I've always been making experimental video. And once in university, I got the chance, the one teacher that was quite new and then he wanted us to make anything with any kind of format. I thought, okay, I'll make a video. and then I actually put this video in the TV set in the rehearsal room and then playing the TV set with the mirror and then the teacher suggest me to continue making film and video so I've been incorporating media I mean in the beginning maybe video projection but later on there are interactive and or real-time engine or even remote control stage I mean it's not really about the trick of using it but then about blending well somehow we call it new technology but theater has always been a place that embrace technology since the Greek time so I have been playing with blending technology with theater as a director and creator So video and making film documentary has always been part of my creation. The starting point of VR is actually because of pandemic. Taiwan in the very first year was kind of safe, but then the theater still closed down. And I had a project in National Taichung Theater where they have to shut down, but they kept the budget. So in the very beginning of the pandemic, I actually got a chance to use the theater. And then so I experimented several of my work that are always in my mind. And then Kaohsiung Film Festival was also in conversation with me of turning one of my collaboration with Danish institution into a VR work. But then I have been working on that work called Chronicle of Light Year for like three, four years, which utilize 3D scanning of space and hologram projection. I mean, it's kind of a perfect fit for VR work, but then it's about the memory with father and childhood, which at that time, I saw a very amazing work, Dear Angelica. I was like, that's gonna be too similar, and I want to make something else. So I actually built a steam room, which is a central scene of In the Mist, and then I... So it's like a set, it was a set of a steam room for like a sauna? Yeah, it's a set of a steam room on the national stage and then with the theater's digital control flying system I can actually transform the set into a like at first the audience would imagine they are in the steam room but then they realize they are actually in a set and then all the men around you will actually go away. So that's kind of my take on using theater and theater technique and illusion, directly experimenting with VR camera in it. So after the tryout, I present it to Kaohsiung Film Festival and then they really like it and then I work with Funic to make the final product.

[00:06:01.720] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I know that there's been a lot of support for virtual reality within Taiwan from the Ministry of Culture there in Taiwan, but also with TAICA, different institutions, to really grow the virtual reality ecosystem. There's been a lot of really amazing projects that have been coming out of Taiwan. So maybe you can speak a little bit about being in this cultural context where there are these various different institutions and government that's really supportive of this type of work.

[00:06:28.385] Kent Bye: I mean, we are in a relatively new era, right? I mean, everybody started sort of 2016, 17. So Kaohsiung Film Festival was also looking for a new thing that they can dive into. So they were actually inviting film directors, like feature film directors. And then they were also slowly exploring, you know, what about talk to Yen, you know, a theater background using digital media or talk to a visual artist who normally show their work in our gallery. And then Taikus is relatively new. If I'm not wrong, it's probably only three, four years. And then, yeah, it's an agency that, from my understanding, that's supported by Ministry of Culture that has, you know, different take on supporting the cultural in Taiwan. As a creator, I kind of got on this boat of finding possibility or, I mean, how do you say that? I got a lot of support, I must say, yeah. For example, I mean, I share Free Your Head in Venice, right? It's about a group of people, you know, moving their head and then using VR as a choreography tool and also engaging a massive crowd. and it was invited by Kaohsiung Film Festival so we presented there the very first version 1.0 but then it didn't got 2.0 support so you know I mean you don't always get the funding I mean Traversing the Mist this time is supported by Ministry of Culture so it's not Taika, it's not Kaohsiung Film Festival It's a founding that has been there for like 13 years, which focus on using new technology in performance originally, but now it's the Technology Art Award founding. It was more focused on performing arts, but now it's more broad.

[00:08:28.144] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I saw the mention of the Ministry of Culture from Taiwan there at the end. So just reflecting on how Taiwan has been a leader when it comes to supporting this type of immersive work. So yeah, maybe we can take some steps back and set some broader context for this trilogy series. Because I know we actually had a chance to have a conversation that I hope to release actually in the context of this. Because I feel like the beginning of In the Mist was like more of a 360 video take of this gay sauna in Taiwan. So maybe you could take me back to the origins of this trilogy of End of the Mist and then the second and then now with Traversing the Mist.

[00:09:05.601] Kent Bye: So the beginning, I was looking for a thing and something that can only be present for the audience to, because by then I've watched several VR films, not a lot. I mean, I was very touched by No Dumb Blindness. I was in the random digital market and suddenly saw this work and I, oh, I sit down and then I was like, wow, this is VR storytelling. So yeah, as I mentioned I was looking for material and then as a gay man in Taiwan and then also like I haven't actually explored what I would consider or people would think that maybe when you are in a younger age you will go to explore the sauna the public space or even hook up. I mean, I didn't do any of that. I was in art school. I was having so much dedication to my work. So I guess I will say I'm a kind of late bloomer or I started to learn this very late and then it became very strong in my mind. Like I didn't know this can happen. However, having said that, I also want to say before I forget like In The Mist is not a documentary of a gay sauna or gay steam room. I was actually in a hot spring that is not a gay hot spring, but then there are a lot of gay people there. And then in the steam room, I got an invitation from Kaohsiung Film Archive. I was looking for something. And then I started to see people approaching each other and touching each other in the steam. And I was like, that's so real. That's real. At the same time, also like VR, like so virtual and not real. Are they really in front of my eyes? Like, if I stretch my hand, I can actually touch them. But then, am I here? Like, am I an observer or am I a participant or like, who am I?

[00:11:06.457] Tung-Yen CHOU: Just to clarify, are you talking about this is an installation, an experience with other people, or is this a film, or is this a VR experience? What is the context you're talking about?

[00:11:14.622] Kent Bye: I'm actually talking about an actual hot spring in Taiwan, Taipei. And then there is a steam room there. And I actually saw people having intimate touch to each other in front of me, but there were a lot of steam. And then as a creator, director, I somehow realized it gave me a visual and also a visceral impact. But then because of the mist, they are also like not real. They are also like virtual. So I started to brew this idea about filming something around the gay sauna. And then In The Mist came out of that. I mean, I made a test filming and I got support and then I made it. It was premiered in Taiwan, then got selected in Venice. And then I continued this journey. Taipei Art Festival, the curator by then, Fu Kun, invited me to... He said that he feels the work is only the beginning, like a Pandora's box just opened. Do I want to say more about it? And then I, of course, received this take, and then I didn't know how many people I can, you know, conduct or work on one performance, but then we kind of say 20. But anyway, it was delayed. But then during the delay because of COVID, Oculus or Meta, I mean Oculus by then, released the developed kit that allows the pass-through function. And then I started to use this black and white rather grainy pass-through for the audience to walk in the rather big space. And then they will eventually sit down in the performing space. I mean, they will see the performance through the VR goggle, blending with pre-recorded video or certain effects, like the black and white image will be actually colorized. So I was playing with this walk-around promenade theater kind of experience, and they also sit down. using this pass-through and then connect it to the VR film. And then also after the VR film, there's a finale of it. I can show you some video for that. And then around the time, I experienced Le Beaux-de-Paris by Blanca Lee at home. So I was not really in this kind of group performance version. But then, you know, there's this section where you can choose a suit or a dress, and then they will randomly give you a skin color. And then I was like, wow, you know, looking down and looking in the mirror, I feel like, oh, well, I actually have boobs. And then, you know, when I turned, the skirt also, you know, swelled. And then I was like, that's probably the first time I feel somehow embodiment. And then, I mean, using someone else's body to enter and experience that very beginning scene make me wonder if I can actually allow the audience to be the protagonist in In the Mist. And that's the beginning. And then I was like, because audience who watch In the Mist share a lot of thing with me, like, whether their sexual orientation they will share they can sense this kind of loneliness or repetition or I feel very touched to hear this feedback from the audience because what I want to do is actually to display or to show present like really direct sex But then, in it, they dissolve, they become different things, and then they disappear. Like, what's behind the desire? What are people doing there? What are we all looking for? And I also play with the different camera angle, because, I mean, talking about camera angle for 360 film, can be quite tricky but then it was actually played on the floor and then went all the way to probably seven meters in the theater so that the audience actually looked down in the very end so anyway the audience you know you always see people when they're watching 360 film they always try to move their head and see if they can see something different but obviously they cannot and I was like so what if all the audience are having the same face. As I was trying to explain or share, I have been always trying to explore something that only VR can do. So this kind of walk around experience, I mean, a very good reference will be Sleep No More in New York, where you have a mask. so you are kind of anonymous and then there are a lot of things for you to see and that will be one of our live theater reference and then so I put on this rather realistic avatar on people and people can see themselves in the mirror then gradually they go into different things and then finally they yeah I don't know how much should I say about this work

[00:16:31.078] Tung-Yen CHOU: Have you experienced it? Okay, so we covered a little bit about In the Mist and then you have Traversing the Mist, which you're talking about the masks and the way that you're embodying the avatar. Did you talk about the second one in the trilogy already? What was that called?

[00:16:44.947] Kent Bye: So the second one was called Gazing in the Mist, which in the first In the Mist, there is a moment where the protagonist look at the audience quite strongly. Well, it's a gaze, like you are not there, you have been shifted several perspective, but then he sits beside you. and then at first people were not noticing you were there and then at some point he turned his head towards you and then there's a big question mark like is he looking at me and then there will be people having like shocked, surprised, not comfortable or people feel like I mean Christopher Davis told me that he could fall in love at that instant but it was more about playing with looking at the audience but then not speaking directly to them because as an audience when I watch certain VR film When they directly talk to me as if I'm a character in it, I got very distracted. I immediately have more distance than the role they want me to be. So that look, that gaze is very important. And then since we use the pass-through function, so we take gazing as a part of the title. So yeah, so that's the second part of the trilogy, Gazing in the Mist.

[00:18:14.854] Tung-Yen CHOU: And that's a mixed reality where there's an installation and like, how many people, is it just for 1% at a time or?

[00:18:22.378] Kent Bye: It's actually for 20 people at a time. And then we had a rather big black box in the newly opened Taipei Performing Arts Center. Yeah.

[00:18:31.043] Tung-Yen CHOU: Okay. And so In The Mist premiered at Venice of 2021. Did Gazing In The Mist get released sometime in 2022 then? Yeah.

[00:18:40.446] Kent Bye: I think we bravely did 20-something performances. I mean, because the festival needed quite an amount of audience. And then this year it got invited by National Theatre to do another presentation. in a more gallery-like space, smaller. So it presented another 12 times this year, early in April. But then, I mean, I actually shared this work with Kaspar in IFA, and then hopefully we get to bring the work to somewhere else. Because it's not just multi-user experience, which is already rather difficult for a film festival to do. But it actually requires a theatre technician, element, performer. But then we would like to bring this work somewhere else.

[00:19:33.251] Tung-Yen CHOU: And so now we're here at DocLab 2023, and we have the Traversing the Mist, which was a little bit more of a sixth off immersive experience that is in a pretty large space. I went through it with three other people. And so walking through these different spaces, and yeah, maybe you could set a little bit more context for Traversing the Mist. You had initially made this connection to Sleep No More, where when you put on a mask and when you go through Sleep No More, you have this level of anonymity. And so just the same when you're in this experience, you have an avatar and actually wearing the same identity, everyone's the same look and feel and so there is the three other people that you're walking through but also the other protagonists or characters in the film are also on the same character. So yeah, I'd love to have you maybe set up a bit more context for this piece.

[00:20:21.309] Kent Bye: I mean, for someone who saw the work like you, I can share that it actually started with a live performer element as an important core. But then we, I mean, the real-time engine newbie trying to make six doves. I mean, at the beginning, I was like, I don't want the backpack because I cannot hold the backpack full. I mean, enjoy the show with the backpack. And then Oculus 2 was there, so why don't we work with Oculus 2 streaming? I mean, we can go for like another seven hours about the technical difficulty we went through. And then we had a tracker on the performer and also the audience. So what I'm trying to share with you is, in the beginning, we always developed with an actor on site. But then it gradually turned into this NPC, pre-recorded with motion capture suit, which we now realize and also think it's a good travel version. But then when we have a chance, I would like to present the live performer version. But the thing is, what can a live performer do that the NPC cannot do if you are watching it with VR? That's also a big question that came up. And I don't really have an answer, but then I know that the live performer can actually play with you which the NPC probably cannot at this time that we are talking and so even though we have the funding but then to install all the equipment in the space and then every month is still challenging so we kind of migrate from space to space like a little residency or we rent this space and rent that space and see what works when what doesn't And so with the VR team, we tested like at least before the final version, I believe we install and set up and test, try out every time, maybe four to five days for 10 times. And that's a lot in terms of energy and also resource, like working with a VR company for 10 times, it's really luxurious, but they were also super supportive. They're also here in IFA. Yeah.

[00:22:46.383] Tung-Yen CHOU: Well, I guess maybe to talk a little bit about my own experience of the piece. So there's the technical aspects and then there's experiential aspects. I'll start with the experiential aspects, which is that this felt like a much more first-person embodied adventure, whereas In the Mist felt like more of a, because it's 360 video, it's got this kind of voyeuristic quality because you are not so much as embodied into the experience. And so it's just something that I'm more passively watching than actively participating in. I didn't see gazing in the mist and so I didn't have an experience of that but in this piece it felt like with three people collectively going through this experience where it felt like we were almost being initiated into some sort of secret society where I'm going through level by level and sometimes I need to find a key and you're teaching us at the very beginning that you can open doors and so you're showing us a mechanic that you need to open doors and grab the objects so you can grab the objects so you have to grab the keys so there's keys that are hidden out through this piece but you're basically walking into the different stages of Asana starting in the locker room going through the shower and then it progressively gets into

[00:23:57.160] Kent Bye: What's that? Like, I don't know if people call it cubicle, like small chambers and also this kind of massive place where you just do whatever. And then the final surrealistic scene. I think one thing, I mean, there are a few things. One is what is live performance in VR that I briefly talk about. And then second will be, I'm creating an experience that use the language of game. I mean, I use the tool of game, but I'm not creating the game. That's the most difficult part for me in the beginning, because the audience somehow need the motivation. And then how do I motivate them with not too much, like if they can play with the key, if they can pick up the soap. I mean, if they can do things, they will try to do everything, which they are not looking or listening or feel the work enough. But then if they don't do anything, why would they walk around, you know? And then so to find the balance was a challenge for me throughout the creation of it, alongside the technical part. And then probably around the middle part of the journey, I realized for 360 film, even though it's so different, but then we have this huge heritage from the film language in terms of lighting and everything. But then, I'm not a gamer. I don't play games. So, for this kind of real time, like, you know, the VR company, they will set up things that if you do this, that would happen. If you do that, that would happen. And then, I spent a long time learning that language and then setting up conditions that change things or don't, you know, that kind of thing. and then I think this work feels very different when you do it alone or when you are like as you say in a secret society and that's the really interesting part I mean I just arrived today so I haven't actually chat with any of the audience member but then in Taiwan we did a few tryouts and then There are something that's probably in our gene or something that people will just wave at each other. People will just wave to the mirror and then they need that time. I'm curious to know what does it feel to be in a secret society. And then also people who share with me to be able to explore something that they probably will never actually go. But there was also an elder senior game man who has a lot of experience in VR, actually shared with me that this work, not in a very negative way, but then he said this work somehow put him in the position that he would never like to be in real life, which is like a voyeur, like, you know, holding up a torch and then look at people and then, you know, invade people's privacy. But then I'm actually quite surprised because in a way, when you have this kind of feedback, it kind of means that you really feel you are in it. You believe you are in it. But then I would imagine I'm in a work. And then, I mean, maybe a spoiler, but then when you are in the torch, in the scene, finally, they actually have action. When your torch is towards them, their action stops. They only have movement in the dark. There are also this kind of language that I want to play with. Yeah, about the key that you will find. How much do I say in it? Like, if there's a word coming up, or if it's just enough with visual that you got a lot of key, they all eventually vanished. But then once you enter a gigantic hollow man, there are a lot of key there and then I guess what's the most important part that I try to work with this time apart from this erotic-ish surreal journey the most important thing is actually about time It's about time, because when you enter the elevator, the elevator also decays. It's about time decaying. And also, nowadays, whether your sexuality, I mean, being young and being active, being energetic, being beautiful is so important with this acceleration of social media. But then in the very end you're after age and you also vanish in the end I think that's probably the most important message or not not really a message but the most important visual that I want to share and I tried to talk about this fairy tale with several people But I don't know if they heard it like the westerner friend that I shared with they don't seem to hear it and It's about a guy who is very young and then he went down to the sea and then see the sea paradise, you know, have a chat with the king of the sea and then also, you know, even have a marriage with the princess of the sea. And then when he came back, he became a very very old guy, but there was just one day in the sea. It's about this kind of It's not even fair tell, it's how do you say that? Fork tell? When we grow up, there are all kind of this story in, not just in Mandarin speaking society, but also other Asian society. And then so you enter somewhere, and then when you are back, you are another person. The world has changed, but then you only go in for one day. And that's something that I want to experiment with Traverse in the Mist this time.

[00:29:53.830] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, and just to share a little bit more of my own experience of the piece is that going in with three other people before we had started, what's that?

[00:30:02.371] Kent Bye: I just wonder, from the outside, I mean, what's their gender?

[00:30:08.395] Tung-Yen CHOU: So I had seen that there were two other women that I was going through. They had male presenting avatars, but I knew they were women on the other side. So there was a little bit of like, I was doing it with two other women, because the scene, I'm essentially walking into a gay sauna. And as I'm walking through, then our clothes that we're wearing on our avatar are slowly becoming less and less and so we're going through the locker going through the showers and then going into these progressive scenes where it's getting more and more explicit and getting into this kind of secret sex club type of environment where there's hidden corners that you're exploring through where these different sexual acts could potentially take place and then there's this finale scene where it's like even more explicit in terms of the types of sexual acts that you could be bearing witness to and so I felt like entering into a secret society because it's something that is often hidden or occluded or it's something that you have to know about or it's something that I've never personally experienced. And so it's like a foreign exotic experience that I'm going through. And so there's this question that I have like, okay, this is getting intense. This is an embodied experience. Like, is there going to be things that are going to be going too far? Just in terms of our boundaries of like what we're comfortable with, there's moments of like, okay, our avatars are suddenly in our underwear. Like, how far is this going to go? Like, how immersive is this experience going to be? I don't know how it would have felt if we were all of a sudden these naked avatars going through this experience together. So there's this kind of weird, like, our boundaries of what we're comfortable with and just our own sexual boundaries. But in the context of a virtual context, then what kind of similar boundaries might we have there wasn't anything that felt like it was transgressing my boundaries, but it felt like the type of experience that was really pushing up against the edge of the types of things that I would consider to be at the edge of comfortability for my own experience. So, you know, I was able to get through it and I was fine, but I could imagine some people that it might be too much for them, or it might be pushing them a little bit too far of this kind of immersion of going into a gay sauna and seeing all these explicit scenes.

[00:32:18.818] Kent Bye: I guess, probably, that's why IFA is the perfect place for this work to have its world premiere. Because, I mean, Amsterdam, or, I mean, maybe it's a cliché stereotype projection on them, but then Dutch people has been incredibly open and then also they have their own conservative part but then I mean back to the first of the trilogy even in the mist I mean it's showing several film festival and then in dock in Leipzig and then there's this lady who take care of this work and then there's long queue to watch in the mist and then so she really had long conversation with people who saw it and then so the curator arranged an online meeting with her so that she actually also share with me there are people in different age and watch it and share so much deep thought with them you know there are a lot of resonance but there are also voice like female audience would feel like an intruder like they were self aware that should I be here like I think to have this kind of reflection is actually the beauty of VR. Because for me, there are sometimes maybe a flick of a second that you are fully immersed. But for me, the beauty is actually somehow you are halfway, you know, you know you are in the exhibition. you know you are now not in a refugee camp you know you are not there you know you are not and then how amazing our sense told us because to also share like during the 10 time of trial i was like i must hide the other audience So they don't see the other until they met in the reality. But then that's another job to do and also hard to collaborate. They really need to be in the same space. So I definitely see your point. And then personally, I will also feel that. I mean, in some work like this, going with a friend or with your partner, with your heterosexual partner or any kind of sex orientation, Yeah, but then I must share that I'm very aware I pay a lot of attention on where does it touch the discomfort zone at the same time I also know that it's not a very easy love is love, you know kind of soothing work and Yeah, but then I never really want to make the audience feel scared or distant. I actually feel it's like a visual point, visual dream. That's something that I'm more interested in. Yeah.

[00:35:05.728] Tung-Yen CHOU: You know, I think as the piece goes on, you're progressing through these levels by going into an elevator and you are able to look at yourself. And so you go into the elevator and you're fully clothed in these suits and you're all essentially the exact same Avatar identity. So you're all triplet clones of each other. And then all the other people that you're watching are also the same identity. So it's also this subtle way of having yourself identify with all of these protagonist characters that are there. then as you go through your clothes are coming off and you see your reflections as your clothes are coming off, but then it's slowly going from Something that's a little bit more realistic in terms of representing like a locker and a shower and these different labyrinth closet areas that you can open the doors and peek into but then when it gets into the final area it gets a lot more symbolic and abstract and a little bit more of this fantasy type of Staging that helps to create a little bit of psychological distance as to like that. You're not actually there It's still kind of in this dreamlike realm that you're bearing witness to I think that also as it goes into the final scene you have this body that starts growing and sometimes I resistant to breaking immersion but it's made clear through the affordances of it growing that there wasn't any other option other than to jump through a wall and then seeing this final scene of this cave-like cavern of the body and the motif of the keys is something that you're collecting the keys and then that is returned there at the end so yeah I'd love to have an opportunity for you to speak a little bit about what the keys mean to you in terms of like in the moment you're unlocking different stages as you're getting initiated into the secret club. But yeah, I'd love to have you explain what the keys mean for you in this piece.

[00:36:48.582] Kent Bye: So to be very honest with you, it's because everybody has a key in the sauna. That's probably the only thing from your bare naked body. And then we also gave our audience in Gazing in the Mist a key to store their stuff so they can walk around. And then when they have the exact same key, when the film starts to play, I mean sometimes we hear the key sound, and then there is this connection from the film to the performance that was there. And then, I mean, key is meaningful. Key is a tool that opens up A lock? A lock can be anything, can be a physical, personal belonging that someone's cigarette, someone's phone, someone's this and that. And then it's like an answer, but it's also like I wouldn't want to give a definition of what that key is, but then it's something we use every day. It's kind of something we are looking for or we accidentally bump into, but then To be honest, this kind of 360 walk around experience, sometimes you do miss things. I don't know if you catch the moment when your body actually vanish. There's a key in you. And then I think maybe there's also something that I want to share that we look for a thing eternally, but then maybe that something is within you and then it goes away. Yeah. So I don't really have a definite meaning that I want to say, oh, the key is blah, blah, blah. But then it's definitely your path to the secret or something that you always chase, that you look for. You thought, I want that. But then as soon as you get it, it's gone. Now that I'm discussing with you, it can also be desire or something.

[00:38:58.187] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I mean, I think it's a universal symbol in a lot of ways in terms of giving access to something or unlocking something. But also, if you're in a gay sauna and that the only physical artifact that you have is a key, then that, I think, within itself is very symbolic in terms of the experience that you're going through. But I did want to mention one thing technically because it had three people going through it and we do a calibration process in the beginning but then at some point one of the people their embodiment gets disconnected to what their virtual representation is in the physical representation and there's a Starting to bump into them. One person was okay, and the other person wasn't but as soon as one person was Disconnected from their representation. I found myself having to look up and constantly peek through the nose gap just to be able to Orient this because the virtual representation wasn't representing the physical representation so it maybe lose trust and the ability to get really embodied in this place and so a little unfortunate just because it did take me out of the experience a little bit to have to navigate this with two other people and running into them and and You know, it's more of a failure of the tracking technology, which I know Oculus has not been the easiest to be able to do multiplayer experiences. I know that the Infinite has had to implement external tracking systems, and I know that Marshmallow Leisure Feast with Evolver also had to create their own tracking. So I know it's not necessarily a solved problem, but that was just part of my own experience of going through the piece and having some of these technical glitches that unfortunately pulled me out of the experience a little bit.

[00:40:27.993] Kent Bye: Definitely. I mean, that's why we also have our VR team here. So when they are here, they can manage to instantly do something very quick to bring the people who is offset back. But then, I mean, they cannot be here, you know, all the exhibition. That's something we have been working on. And then, as I mentioned, in the beginning, we actually have tracker with us. With the tracker, your position will be accurate. But then your body, sometimes when the tracker, like when we are too close, I cover your tracker, then your leg suddenly goes crazy.

[00:41:04.248] Tung-Yen CHOU: It gets occluded because there's multiple people. And then it has your body go all over the place. And it can also break the sense of embodiment at that point as well.

[00:41:12.667] Kent Bye: So I was really looking upon the new sensor that HTC was releasing, but it's not out yet and I have a conversation with them, they are still working on it. But then, already there's a built-in camera sensor for the audience. I mean, that will help a lot. I mean, that's really... What system do we work with? That kind of dilemma. I mean if we put people with a backpack this would be much easier this can be done but then I just didn't want to go back that road using Vive Pro not against Vive Pro but then to me now you know feeling portable and then I mean probably not even do I really need a handle Yeah, I probably do because there are different levels of experience. I mean, for you, you know that when you are bumping someone, you start to know that you should use the side to to check you're OK. But then, you know, there are newbies who would just keep bumping people around or didn't know this kind of thing, how to avoid that. But then it's something that we hope it can be optimized in the future. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:42:25.655] Tung-Yen CHOU: So is there anything else around Traversing the Mist that, as you move forward, where do you want to take it here in the future?

[00:42:31.673] Kent Bye: I mean, now we have our premiere and then we got feedback from all different kind of audience that is in the festival. So there are VR professionals, there are also audience that just heard about this work and come to see it. I mean, the feedback actually will be very helpful for us to, I mean, optimize it in terms of technical way and also narratively to maybe I mean, sometimes there are just a little tweak that can make things a lot easier. For example, this is the first time that we actually have the onboarding of little training of, you know, you can open the door, you can walk, you can do this and that. And I believe there are ways that we can make the experience. I mean, it's an experience. So then to continue list down and work with the team to optimize it will be the current plan. And the other thing is the other project that I shared with you which is Free Your Head and then we would like to have its world premiere next year and these are the two VR work that I'm working on.

[00:43:44.958] Tung-Yen CHOU: Yeah, I had a chance to be at the Venice Production Bridge where they showed about a dozen projects or so that were pitching there and I really enjoyed your pitch that you gave, being able to really show how you could start to do this group coordination through synchronized movements where people are within the experience and having their own experience, but then it's actually almost like more of a performative aspect of people in VR. What would it mean to orchestrate people in a way that gives them different movements that is something that is a dance that's being synchronized in a way that you can watch from the outside? in these big group experiences. So it looked like a lot of fun to both potentially participate and also observe. And so I really look forward to getting a chance to see that once it's ready, because it feels like it's a really cool project that you got going on there. And yeah, I guess as we start to wrap up, I'm curious what you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and these types of immersive performances and immersive theater might be and what it might be able to enable.

[00:44:42.488] Kent Bye: Wow, this I have a... Give me a second. I mean, recently we work on the other work that we actually have a set of team in Taipei and a set of team in Netherlands. So then two audience from Taiwan and two audience from Netherlands being in the same virtual space and walk around at the same time. I mean it's not something super technically amazing I mean VRChat you can walk around with people already in your room but then it's actually you know same technical set of Traverse in the Mist so you actually not just use your controller to walk around but then to be with someone and then I don't know if I'm replying about the potential of it, but then I definitely see for that specific VR performance, we have live performer wearing motion capture suit. So that I'm just intrigued to play with, again, what does live mean? When it's live, it is live. But then the live performance in Taiwan and then you are watching it from maybe your city. What does that mean? I mean, do you feel live interaction with it? And in terms of future potential of VR, this is just crazily big but I will share that we all got the Quest 3 and then when I put it on to one of our composer though everybody's like wow wow like I mean you know Quest Pro has been there but not many people experience it and then now that Quest 3's color see-through and then It does feel kind of weird to see the world through a lens. Because when it was Quest 2, it was black and white. You kind of know that you are watching through a monitor. But now it's colorful and vivid. I'm just amazed by putting it on my personal experience and then also see the other people having a kind of nice surprise. Yeah. I think I'm not giving a very brief reply about the potential, but I mean, people have been anxious about AI, about how will it lead us, and how will it affect learning and everything. People feel this emergency of dealing with it, and then also feel incapable of this huge possibility of huge power that it can bring. I mean, I don't know, maybe in 1996-ish, when we first have access to internet, there aren't that much on internet, but then we collaboratively build a lot of knowledge on it. And I think to reference this, maybe we are in that age of like, there will definitely be a variety of things on this kind of platform. And the thing is, maybe for computer, there are ways to make, I mean, you don't necessarily need to get a Mac or something, you can, you know, DIY your own PC or something. I guess what I'm trying to say is the manufacturer, the hardware company, is also the software company, has a lot of power controlling or what will be produced, what will be used on it. And I think that affects the potential of it, really. But then here we are, looking at all kind of possibility that touch different zone of our society. So I see You know, I think VR is something that constantly exceed or break my boundary, my own boundary or my imagination. I have a very stupid one and I think Felix and this gigantic Canadian company, Felix and Paul, I have this idea that why would I go to a space documentary? Personally, I'm not a sci-fi lover, but then I watched this Felix and Paul documentary about space. I'm so touched. It's so philosophical. There is hardly any trick the trick is space itself is actually the word and their daily life the orientation of how you manage your day and then how I mean, so VR brings us to a place that we could probably never go to and listen to people. I mean, the powerful narrative of VR, there are so many people who still haven't got a chance to see it. I think that's where the potential is. When people start to want to see it, that will be where the power and potential starts, really.

[00:50:00.002] Tung-Yen CHOU: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:50:05.824] Kent Bye: So, as a theatre director, I run a theatre company called Very Theatre. You can find us on Instagram or Facebook and there you can see our latest work and then where is the work going to and hopefully we will be back to Europe and then maybe to the States or to your city in the coming future with our latest work. Thank you.

[00:50:30.848] Tung-Yen CHOU: Awesome. Well, Yen, I really enjoyed the piece of Traversing the Mist. I felt like it was a really quite visceral, embodied experience. I did feel like I was entering into this secret society and this kind of adventure component to it, going with other people. And then, yeah, just a really poetic and beautiful conclusion to it that did feel like I was being taken on this journey in a way that is this interesting fusion between the theatrical background that you have and these other projects. And so, yeah, this kind of experimentation with embodiment and exploring these issues in a way that is quite visceral and bringing about embodied reactions that I think go above and beyond if I were just to watch it as a 2D film. Actually, I saw some of the experience that you had during DocLab Live, where you kind of walk through the experience. And I was just recognizing how little of the experience gets translated by just being projected on a 2D screen and how different it is to actually be embodied in it. And so yeah, there's the type of visceral experience that the piece was able to create with this type of embodiment. So anyway, thanks again for joining me here and to help share a little bit more about your story and your practice and where you want to take things in the future. So thank you.

[00:51:37.913] Kent Bye: Thank you, Kent, and I'm looking forward to see you around and talk to you soon.

[00:51:43.757] Tung-Yen CHOU: So that was Tang-Yen Cho that was traversing the mist that was showing at Ifadak Lab in Amsterdam, Netherlands. So, I've a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, this was the third of a trilogy of exploring what are the different types of experiences when you think about the context of sex and LGBTQ plus I a identity. And so you're in these gay saunas. And I feel like that this is a piece that is trying to recreate the tension that you might feel if you were actually in one of these different situations, starting with 360 video with in the mist and then with pass-through mixed reality More of a immersive theater piece that I have not had a chance to see that was called gazing in the mist and then this was Traversing the mist that was premiering here at if a doc lab. So this was a piece for three different people It was a computer generated experience where you end up embodying everybody's the same avatar including all the NPC characters that you're seeing throughout the piece by the way, so everybody is the exact same look and feel and Which within itself was kind of surreal to be an immersive experience and everybody is the same avatar, which I've had that within VR chat, but to also have like NPC characters that are also engaged into a little bit more explicit sex acts than it just gave an additional edge to this as an experience. So there's a motif of a key that comes out throughout the course of this piece, and Yen was saying that there's a very mundane explanation, which is, in the culture within these gesanas, that sometimes the only thing that you have on you is a key. And so, as you go through this experience, you're collecting more and more keys, and you end up seeing that as you go inside of the body of one of the people near the end, you see this cavern that's just filled with these different keys. So there's a literal interpretation, but also a little bit more of a metaphoric symbol of the key, what it means to unlock this or that. So he wasn't giving the exact delineation of all the different meanings that he had for the key, but it's certainly something that had repeated throughout the course of the piece. And it did feel like this secret society type of feeling of progressively going through different scenes and it getting more and more surreal and also explicit in terms of seeing these different people engaging in these different sex acts. And you do have a flashlight and a torch and so that you could be watching these different sex acts and if you flash your flashlight onto them, then they would stop. And so it's a way of kind of interacting and having this type of voyeuristic component to it as well. And it definitely is continuing on this line of exploring what's it like to use virtual reality medium to take you to places that you normally would not necessarily find yourself in. In this case, it's a gay sauna backrooms where there's a lot of explicit gay sex that's happening. And as I was going through this experience, there was definitely moments where I was like, okay, we are progressively having our clothes that are taking off. Like how far is this going to go? Is there going to be certain moments that it's going to be either too much or feel like it's too immersive in the way that is crossing or transgressing? my personal boundaries. It wasn't going too far for myself, but I can imagine that a piece like this may make some people uncomfortable in a way that is something that they would normally find themselves in these different types of situations. But to me, that's kind of the beauty of VR, but also pushing the edge for what kind of emotions and experiences that you can start to have. Unfortunately, there was a bit of technical difficulties with this piece, at least when I saw it and talking to other people as well. Once you start to bump into people where there's a mismatch between What the physical reality is versus what the virtual representation of that's offset Then you end up losing all trust because there's two other people one person maintain tracking But I didn't know which I could trust within the virtual space and it it's a bit of a safety issue but also just more of a quality of life as I'm going through it you don't want to be bumping into other people that are in the experience and so I It's something that the multiplayer aspect of just using the Oculus technology on their own, I've seen a lot of people that end up resorting to external tracking solutions because the tracking isn't necessarily holding up. So it's still something that I think is going to be working out in this, but it did draw me out of the experience to have to peek beneath my nose to constantly see if I was going to be running into someone else or not. But there is this component of going through this as a group, as a cohort, which is a whole other dimension of not just having this as a single player, but to actually be walking around a physical space with other people as well. So that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a, this is a supported podcast. And so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue bringing this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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