Is This Virtual/Augmented Reality Album The Future of Streaming?

Not too long ago we questioned where music fits into virtual reality, and it seems like one creative artist has found the answer. Anglo-American singer-songwriter Beatie Wolfe is currently streaming an augmented virtual reality album experience on YouTube that is a mouthful to describe, but quite possibly our first glimpse into the future of music – and the only way you’ll catch it is if you tune in.

Here’s how it works. Wolfe’s newest album, Raw Space, is currently streaming from the world’s oldest anechoic chamber at Nokia Bell Labs. An anechoic chamber is a specially-engineered room that absorbs absolutely all sound; it’s completely sonically isolated from the outside world, and essentially dead silent. So silent, in fact, that spending too long in it can make hearing your own heartbeat drive you mad. And inside that chamber, a Raw Space vinyl is spinning in front of a 360-degree camera. All around that camera vibrant landscapes, moving figures, floating lyrics and imaginative animations are all unfolding in time with the music – but they’re not real. They’re actually examples of augmented reality: computer-generated images that expand on the reality you’re already seeing. Created by interactive company Design I/O with Beatie Wolfe’s album in mind, the Raw Space project is streaming right now on YouTube. And of course, if you’ve got a VR headset, you can digitally step into the room using the 360 camera. Don’t worry if you haven’t, though – pretty much any screen can make it work.

The installation is a groundbreaking way to experience music, which is all in a day’s work for Beatie Wolfe. She’s known as an imaginative artist who uses technology to bring tangible, interactive experiences to her music. Take her debut album 8ight, for instance. It was actually released as a 3D interactive iPhone app in 2013, rather than a simple CD or mp3 download. Or her second album Montagu Square, which was disseminated through a pack of printed cards implanted with computer chips that beamed the music to a companion app on your phone. Or finally, the single “Take Me Home” from Montagu Square, which was available by tapping your phone on a special musical jacket Wolfe wore with chips woven into the fabric.

All this to say the AR/VR experience of Raw Space isn’t the first technological innovation Beatie Wolfe has tied into her music, and surely won’t be the last. The stream is only live for a week, so if you’re curious to see what it’s like (or are a Wolfe fan and want to hear the album) be sure to tune in right away. The experience is different depending on when you watch/listen so check back often. In the meantime, we’ll just marvel at the exclusive digital destination listening Wolfe has created – and wonder where technology will take music next.

Mathew Kahansky

Once upon a time, Mat studied journalism. That's how he became Alan's one-time intern and current-time contributor, and the rest is ongoing history - get it? Mat also studied biology and music, so he has a strangely specific knowledge set that doesn't really apply anywhere other than useless fun facts. He currently works for a music tech start-up in Halifax, and is a big fan of the em dash.

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