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Houston Symphony and VR Technology Come Together in an Unprecedented Live Event

Houston Symphony, the iconic orchestra, is bringing virtual reality into the concert hall to present a unique experience to the audience. In this concert, the audience will be able to see music in a way that surpasses their imagination.

Virtual Reality in Concert

During the “Music Illustrated: Virtual Reality in Concert,” the orchestra headed by guest conductor Mink Lunge, will play light classics such as Saint-Saëns’s “Carnival of the Animals” and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, while Topher Sipes, an Austin based artist will translate the sprightly music into life-sized, realistic works of art via structured improvisation of body movements using Tilt Brush—Google’s latest VR painting app. Google has announced that Tilt Brush has transitioned to become an open-source project very recently.

Throughout the concert, a video team will continuously share the behind-the-scenes actions from within the virtual world, allowing the audience to have an insightful glance at the artist’s process and thus welcoming them to the intimate creative space. The insight, combined with the orchestra playing nearby and the live footage of Sipes performing downstage, will then be projected onto the screens set on either side of the main stage. This will reportedly mimic an alternate reality experience for the audience. The hour-long concert will open its doors to the audience in two social-distanced events at Jones Hall, as well as via live streaming for Saturday evening.

Fantasia in real life

Lesley Sabol, Houston Symphony’s director of popular programming expressed her excitement by stating that this project feels like fantasia in real life. When she was introduced to this new VR technology, she instantly decided to combine the immersive virtual reality experience with the orchestra, hoping this will captivate a larger audience. While looking for an ideal collaborator, she came across Sipes in 2016. The artist came into the limelight by winning the Tilt Brush competition organized by the Originator Studios the same year. He was widely facilitated by several Tilt Brush installations and performances, including Smartcar during South by Southwest.


Immersive music

For a long time, Sipes has approached digital visual media from the perspective of a musician. Having learned to play the keyboard and piano as a child, he started to visualize melody and rhythm and translated them onto a piece of paper. Even today, while listening to music, he lets his hand move along on a page, thus creating an abstract, improvisational visual on paper with a colored pencil. Following his passion, he co-founded ARTheism, an immersive dance company for which he drew using a multi-touch screen or a digital drawing tablet and projected motion graphics on the performers.

In the “Music Illustrated: Virtual Reality in Concert,” Sipes will reportedly create several art pieces inspired by various great pieces of music, followed by repositioning them into an entirely new composition to the “Perpetuum Mobile, Op. 257” by Johann Strauss II by the end of the concert. After the performance, all his artworks will be available online for people to explore at their convenience.

Reflecting upon the years leading to the event and his effort in humanizing technology, Sipes mentions a quote by the notable artist Jean Michael Basquiat and says that this has strongly affirmed his philosophy: “Art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time.”

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