Conductor Eimear Noone and composer Craig Stuart Garfinkle imagine a future where anyone can make music and collaborate on songs with friends all over the world with the help of virtual reality. Strap on your guitar and virtual reality headset, call up your friend from Korea who plays violin, maybe buy a drum track from an in-game storefront, and start recording.
The first phase of this ambitious project, Muso-VR, is Conductrix, A View from the Podium, which successfully hit its Kickstarter goal and has so far has raised over $16,000. Conductrix is a series of 3D and virtual reality conducting tutorials, but it's just a larger part of Muso-VR, a future for music lessons, learning, and gaming in virtual reality. The plan is to use Conductrix to gather support and funding to build a working model for Muso-VR.
"There are two things that are really important to everything we do: Music and people," Noone said.
Noone—who started the Dublin International Game Music Festival, was the principal conductor for Blizzard's World of Warcraft, and a regular conductor at Skywalker Ranch, knows a thing or two about conducting and video games.
Garfinkle is an Emmy nominated composer and music producer whose credits include The Office, The Sopranos, Balder's Gate, and Fallout, A Brotherhood of Steel. The pair is also currently working on breaking the Guinness World Record for a crowd created video game performance.
The concept for Conductrix came from Noone's constant touring, where she met people all over the world who studied music before moving into other fields, but still held a love for conducting.
"I heard it so many times that it just got the cogs moving," Noone said. "And I thought, what if you could create a virtual experience where people could experience what I feel and see on the podium, the high I get when the main theme from Zelda kicks in?"
And with the recent advances in virtual reality, that's just what Noone and Garfinkle are setting out to create.
"Everyone's really trying to figure out what [virtual reality] is right now," Garfinkle said. "And that's the other thing that's exciting about it. We're going to try to define in some ways—at least in terms of what virtual reality means for music."
Conductrix will include tutorials on basic beat patterns and gestures; how to communicate articulations, cuing, dynamics, and tempo changes; and other tools and information to assist people in figuring out their own conducting style.
Image: Derek Brad
"The physical language of conducting is often something that's shrouded in mystery and is shrouded in difficulty" Noon said. "But a physical vocabulary should never be difficult to learn. It's what you do with that vocabulary, the way you use the language, that's where the magic is."
That physical language is something Noone think shouldn't be kept hidden.
"I'm absolutely opposed to elitism and keeping people out," Noone said. "I think that enabling people to express their musical spirits, lets them be their best selves."
The hope is that Conductrix's VR will be a much better teaching tool than current conducting teaching videos because it will put people in the shoes of the conductor instead of the audience.
"Conducting videos are ridiculous, because you are looking at everything in reverse," Noone said. "That's something that's always frustrated me," Noone said.
Conductrix is just the beginning. The idea is to use the lessons and tutorials in Conductrix to teach people how to conduct, and then in the later sections of Muso-VR actually create a virtual-reality orchestra that players will be able to lead.
"It's going to be more like a game in that you control the experience, rather than the experience controlling you," Garfinkle said. "That's our ultimate goal."
Once Conductrix is completed, the duo can then move on to funding and development for Muso-VR. Garfinkle and Noone estimate they'll need around two to three hundred thousand to get a working demo going, and then plan to use that demo to raise an additional two to three million to build the rest of the game.
"We'd love for Muso-VR to be the musical equivalent of Facebook combined with World of Warcraft in five years time," Garfinkle said. "That's a big statement, but that's really what we want."
The pair imagines a future where they hold Conductrix competitions in the lobby before shows, with the winner joining the orchestra on-stage to conduct live, similar to what Video Games Live concerts do now with Guitar Hero.
"Guitar Hero is an awesome game, but it doesn't teach you how to play guitar," Noone said. "This will be the real deal."