Let’s Hear It for AudioVR

Christopher Hegstrom @ CNDY Factory

VR isn’t just about visuals. Creating presence in 3D virtual environments requires novel approaches to audio. While you can get a pretty good idea of how a VR environment looks when it’s displayed onto a 2D screen, it’s harder to demonstrate how much audio plays into an experience without actually being plugged into headphones. For a lot of people, myself included, audio tends to be a secondary consideration in VR.

Thankfully, there are people invested in improving the quality of VR audio. Last night at CNDY Factory, Christopher Hegstrom, co-founder of AudioVR, hosted a meetup for VR pioneers exploring the sonic frontiers of the medium. AudioVR is an organization pursuing nonprofit status, and last night they brought together a diverse array of industry professionals and announced their impressive founding advisory board. [They’re currently updating their board roster on their site, and I’ll post something about it as soon as I hear more.]

After Christopher offered a few words about the organization, AudioVR board member Chanel Summers, who has worked as a game designer, drummer, and Audio Tech Evangelist at Microsoft spoke and showed a clip of a VR experience she worked on that melded tangible props with virtual elements in a sort of nautical adventure setting. I’m not describing that very well. Trust me, it all looked brilliant.

Then a gentleman by the name of Peter Dodds spoke about advances in spatial sound. Most of what he talked about went over my head, but I’ll try to do justice to the spirit of the talk. Dodds works for a design firm called Arup that specializes in, among other things, acoustics and architecture. Understanding how sound operates in certain real-world, physical environments is key to designing audio experiences in virtual environments. Dodds highlighted a number of projects he’s worked on, including the Orbit Pavilion, which tracks the movement of satellites around earth and represents these trajectories via sound.

One of the things that most excites me about VR is how it draws together people who work in seemingly disparate disciplines. Architects, teachers, musicians, medical researchers, filmmakers, game designers. In the confluence of art and science is the recipe for a renaissance.

Imagine how VR as an art form will evolve with injections of knowledge from fields of study like architecture. I can even imagine architecture firms that only work on VR projects, with celebrated architects whose works never get built in the physical world.

AudioVR is just taking its first steps as an organization and what it will accomplish remains to be seen. But so far it looks to be off to a positive start, with the backing of smart people who make shit happen.