Ableton. Logic. Reason. Pro Tools. Cubase. FL Studio. BitWig. There are almost as many professional digital audio workstations (DAW) as there are genres of music to produce and sounds there are to design. The question hovering at the forefront of many VR-interested producer’s minds is when a proper DAW will make it’s way into the virtual world. When will we be able to engage in full-on music production and sound design in VR? While a fully functional “VRDAW” has yet to emerge, we are taking a gigantic leap forward towards a future of fully immersive music production with the newly announced SoundStage, out on Steam Early Access.
SoundStage, the creation of Logan Olson, is the first real VRDAW-esque performance and music production tool. Unlike other new music VR apps like TheWave and LyraVR, which are unique in their own right by looking to create entirely new methods of music performance and production with audio-reactive environments and psychedelic geometry, SoundStage uses more traditional methods of production in entirely new ways.
Ever wanted to be physically surrounded by more synthesizers than you can count, all connected via a number of powerful modulation options? You can do that. Ever wanted to modulate a maraca using a three dimensional theremin? You can do that too. Ever wanted to envelop yourself in more drum heads than Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead, and bang on them spinning in circles like a madman? You can also do that. Being mindful that you can also do many of these things in the non-virtual world, outside of VR they would take lots of actual physical professional hardware (i.e. lots of money) and years of practice. SoundStage allows you to hop right in and at the very least attempt to do these Olympian-level musical feats right away. Attempt being the key word.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed your first time entering SoundStage, as there is a lot to take in. As a person knowing little to nothing about music production it would certainly be easier than jumping into a complicated professional DAW but it can still be overwhelming. Being suddenly surrounded by gear, albeit very simplified gear, will take some practice, especially given the new environment in which it is being used. Make no mistake, SoundStage is a serious tool in an otherwise not so serious crowd of VR content. Which is not to say it’s not fun – it really, really is. Just don’t expect to be the VR Daft Punk within your first hour.
The current version has 3 demo modes; Rhythm, Synth, and Sequencer “examples”. Each example provides you with a simple pre-programmed set of sounds that you could modify, add new instruments to, or erase all together. The possibilities really are vast in terms of how you want to configure your environment.
Within each example, pushing the trackpad on the Vive controller will spawn a menu with 8 different tools for sound creation. These include a keyboard, sequencer, maracas, “ControlCube” (3D theremin), audio tapes (sample library), splitter, oscillator, speaker, sampler, records, mixer (4 channel), and drum, as well as a metronome to control the tempo. Each tool/instrument has a virtual quarter inch jack that can be combined with other instruments to modify your sound in various ways.
The sequencer and speaker were especially joyous to play with.
Dragging a 21×22 step sequencer into existence out of nothing and into a Stonehenge-like behemoth in front of you is something of an impressive feat. It seems as though the sequencer can be made even larger, but that would have required a step ladder.
The speaker serves to amplify your sound by jacking another instrument in, grabbing the speaker with both triggers on the controllers, and expanding or shrinking the speaker by moving your arms apart or together. Expanding amplifies while shrinking diminishes the sound of the instrument. Creating a massive wall of speakers the wingspan of your body, connected to a deep bass synth while wearing a SubPac makes you feel like a rock god standing on stage as the bass courses through you.
Playing the SoundStage synth definitely takes a bit of getting used to while using Vive controllers since you only really have two “fingers” with which to play the keys. It’s easy to see a day very soon when you could using hand-tracking like Leap Motion to add your actual fingers into the mix. For now, it’s a bit like hunting and pecking on a keyboard while learning to type, but it’s still very cool.
Aesthetically, SoundStage is exactly what you would expect and want from a VRDAW: It’s a digitally modified visual music playground only possible in VR. Psychedelic, yet, understated. Professional, yet, fun. Each cable connecting your instruments and tools pulses gently and undulates to the sound coursing through it. SoundStage can take on something of a TiltBrush effect as you can paint with an instrument’s attached cable as you drag it across the virtual sonic void, watching it slowly snap back into a more organized and less chaotic design. After all, no one likes messy cables.
What can be called the “boomerang effect” is also a neat feature to keep your workspace organized. Done with a maraca or drumstick? Toss it into space only to have it sling back around into the exact place you picked it up.
The real exciting part of SoundStage is yet to come. Now that the app is loose in the wild, only time will tell the feats of musicianship that will be created using this new virtual medium for sound design and performance. For the music producers out there, SoundStage takes a unique approach to sound manipulation in VR that is immediately relatable. As for the layman unfamiliar with music production or sound design, SoundStage allows you to swim in the deep end with real practice and adjustment to the learning curve.
The vision here is clear and beautiful. Music creation in VR can allow experienced musicians or those dabbling for the first time to make music that surrounds them using tools we can all understand. SoundStage is music for all of us, and all around us.
Article contributed by Zach Jaffe. Zach is the head of Business Development and VR Dev Relations at SubPac. Follow him on Twitter: @.