Last night I hung out in the back room of an industrial sign fabrication plant in Ballard to watch four musicians jam–Steve Turnidge on guitar, Jamie Simmonds on a turntable, Nate Omdal on bass, and Greg Reid on drums. Despite having never played together before, they quickly found various grooves and sounded great. I sat back and enjoyed their improvisations. A long time ago I played in bands and this experience brought back pleasant memories of making noise with friends in windowless practice pads, albeit ones without cool lights and a smoke machine.
Nate, it turns out, works up at Sky Muse Studios, the recording facility in Stanwood that I visited the day after Trump was elected. After the session we got to talking about VR and Nate told me that his “tribe” is keen on finding new ways to experience music with immersive media. The challenge is to connect music people and tech people and square what’s artistically imaginable with what’s technically possible.
A few days ago I wrote that this year I want collaborations to be one of the themes I explore on this blog this year. When I think of collaborations, I typically think of two individuals or two companies working together. Maybe that’s too limited in scope. Maybe we also need to think of larger-scale collaborations between entire disciplines.
This has already happened to a large degree in the local VR/AR community. Right before I sat down to write this post I got a message from Greg Howes, the builder who has been one of the minds behind the AEC and VR hackathons in Seattle, and who is currently in Scandinavia promoting partnerships with European VR pioneers. Architects and engineers were among the first to embrace VR and AR as game-changing tools for their industries. The world of medicine and cinema has, too. It only makes sense that we will experience music in entirely new ways with VR.
I’m fascinated by how VR/AR is knitting together various of Seattle’s tribes. Last night after watching these dudes play I went home and watched a documentary on Netflix about Jimi Hendrix. It still startles me to see footage of the majestic power of his playing. Seattle has always been quick to claim him for our own, even though he made his name abroad, particularly in London. Bootsy Collins read from Hendrix’s journals as the source of narration, and at one point he conveyed the guitarist’s love of science fiction as the source of many of his lyrics.
I imagined Hendrix growing up in the CD on Yesler, his sky crossed with jets manufactured by Boeing. As a guitar-obsessed Garfield student he roamed a city put on the map by the aerospace industry. Decades later, his legacy would be the inspiration behind Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, the Frank Gehry designed museum sitting at the feet of the Space Needle. The EMP, as those who live in Seattle well know, has rebranded itself as MoPop, the Museum of Popular Culture. My kids and I have always loved the place and I just renewed my family membership. Part of what I appreciate about it is how comfortably it exists in an intersection between art and technology. Founded by a music-loving Microsoft founder, it serves as an laboratory for how these disciplines can cross-pollinate.
My mind is spinning on more ways to bring music and immersive technology together. Game developers Evie Powell and Gus McManus have done some killer stuff with music in their VR experiences. Chris Hegstrom, Chanel Summers, and a passionate community of audiophiles has been making and seeking new opportunities. What’s excellent about these connections between musicians and technologists is that musicians are temperamentally predisposed to collaboration. Musicians have a lot to teach us all about how to work together. It’s called jamming.