FEATURE: The Future Is Now: Virtual-Reality Startup Magic Leap and a New Way of Experiencing Music



The Future Is Now:



Virtual-Reality Startup Magic Leap and a New Way of Experiencing Music


I was reading an article…

Magic Leap One's Lightpack (left), Lightwear (center) and Control (right) Magic Leap.jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Magic Leap One's Lightpack, Lightwear and Controller/PHOTO CREDIT: Magic Leap

on Pitchfork that highlighted a new technology that is getting people excited. A billion-dollar company, Magic Leap, is looking to replace Alexa and Siri in the new wave of virtual-reality interactivity. This would allow people to interact and experience music in a new way. The company has already raised $2 billion and has backing from the likes of Google. The glasses/goggles project virtual objects that are just like real-life scenes/images. It is not a reality at the moment – merely a prototype – and has yet to get past the stage of testing and conception. It does, however, raise questions on both sides of the argument. Is it going to be the way music is heading? Is this how people will listen to music in years to come? The article highlights what the scene involves:

Turbo-boosted by machine learning, and with their power of illusion limited only by the human imagination, these new devices could herald a major cultural and economic shift. According to tech giants, the not-so distant future will include holographic droids clanking around our homes, and a baby elephant in the palm of every child…Silicon Valley’s big players are currently betting heavily on glasses that could replace Siri or Alexa with a digital assistant that looks and sounds as present as another person in the room.


PHOTO CREDIT: Magic Leap/Getty Images

Turbo-boosted by machine learning, and with their power of illusion limited only by the human imagination, these new devices could herald a major cultural and economic shift. According to tech giants, the not-so distant future will include holographic droids clanking around our homes, and a baby elephant in the palm of every child”.

There are issues with any form of augmented/virtual-reality. We all know the infamous Google Glass and how well that did! It was launched as a hugely innovative and revolutionary concept by the bods at Google but ended up being an expensive and over-hyped experiment. I am not sure whether anyone benefited from the product – or what it actually did – but there have been technologies launched that look to replace human contact and traditional modes of interaction with machinery. There are watches that are an all-in-one Smartphone/watch etc. and, every year, inventors and progressive thinkers are pushing the boundaries and limitations of what is possible. That is exciting but I wonder whether, like Google Glass, there are too many flaws! The fact I posed no question in the header suggests I am more positive regarding Magic Leap and what they can produce. Even if the glasses are flawless in their execution and promise; they cannot block out everything around them. Actual reality seeps in at the sides and you cannot realistic wrap the glasses around the head so you erase any light and outside world.



There are, as writer Marc Hogan proffered, some other problems:

There are a few widely documented problems with augmented reality devices in general. They look silly. They have a narrow field of vision, so while what you see through the goggles looks amazing, you can still see unmixed reality in your peripheral vision. And they require so much energy that, for the foreseeable future, they’ll need to be connected to a battery pack. Once, after I try to grab a tónandi while using the app, I briefly see an error message. It tells me that the tónandi will interact with you, but you can’t control them. There’s something humbling about this. It’s almost a sacred ceremony, in secular form. Or a strangely vivid hallucination. If nothing else, it’s surreal”.

If we rely on technology to interact and experience life around us then are we encouraging the disintegration of human contact?! Is it healthy and wise leaning on machines and the un-physical in order to see more of the world?! It sounds counterintuitive to take this approach but I guess this is the way technology is advancing. Music is becoming less physical and more of our music is being streamed and bought digitally. It is only natural a technology firm would pitch something that immerses the listener into music using machinery – a gadget that provides depth and dynamics the naked eye cannot perceive. It is almost like the electric car in many ways. It has taken years for a viable and workable model to come onto the market.



There are drawbacks to the electric car – having to recharge frequently; charging stations not overly-common and available; how costly and inconvenient it might be – but it is coming to a point where there is no real option. Global-warming means fossil fuels are doing more damage than we can imagine. It might be the only way we can have vehicles without the consequences being dire and planet-destroying. The electric car is still not completely there yet but it is a lot more advanced and realistic than years ago. The same cannot be said of music-related virtual-reality. The motives are different but the issues, one feels, are similar. One would need a battery-pack when using the new goggles. There is no suggested price for these goggles so you can only imagine how pricey they would be. This will be straightened out and, as with many of these ambitious projects, the price comes down eventually. It is a case of gauging the market and seeing what the demand is; modulating and redefining pricing so that the company makes a healthy profit without alienating the market – there is always going to be greed but, if the consumer cannot afford it, that would be a very costly and embarrassing failure. Hopefully, lessons have been learned from the fellow mixed-reality projects of old and how they have fared.



Looking at an article by Business Insider; they look at the other possibilities with regards the Magic Leap project:

As the Magic Leap website says, the headset merges, "environment mapping, precision tracking and soundfield audio." What that means in practice is whatever you see in the world through the glasses can be interacted with.

In the example above (from Magic Leap), a user has our solar system projected in the world in front of them. The glasses have sensors and cameras that see the user's hands interacting with the projection.

It's not actually clear if the Lightwear headset can track hands, but this example certainly gives that impression”.

One would be able to watch a basketball game with others in a living-room – the game would project life-like scenes in front of them. Not only would it be a new way of perceiving T.V., film and the arts: it would open up science, art and technology; help make it more appealing and engaging. There are sketchy details regarding the full capabilities but, when it comes to music, I am quite excited. It is early days regarding pricing, logistics and practicality: when it comes to the capabilities and possibilities; it will help take music to new audiences. Returning to the Pitchfork article – as I will finish up – and the journalist was able to hear various drum sounds and notes in surroundings.

Various parts of the image gave off different sounds – music coming to life in a much more evocative and tangible way. I would fear for the industry if this was trying to erase traditional formats and hardware. Streaming services are not trying to replace vinyl and C.D. but there is a sense things are going more in a digital direction. I have been worried about the dependence on streaming sites but know, with regards vinyl sale, there is evidence people are not willing to abandon traditional and purity. The launch of a virtual-reality will supplement what is already out there and help bring videos, scenes and songs to parts of the brain that are not usually stimulated. If it is something as simple as taking an existing video and making it larger, clearer and more cinematic; that is something to get excited about. My doubts remain but there are ways we can help various people connect with music in new ways. If a person is deaf and, therefore, they cannot engage with music in ways most of us can – can the visual components and ways Magic Leap are proposing help them enjoy music in ways as yet undiscovered?! Others, with dementia and memory problems, may be able to have parts of their brain stimulated that stores memories. Children are always reluctant to sit down and patiently listen to music but, if there was a more film-like, robotic way of connecting with music – that has to be a good thing, surely?!

Rolling Stone were afforded a unique experience and meeting with those behind the project. They spoke with Magic Leap founder (the company was founded in 2011), Rory Abovitz, who (first) talked about a special musical benefit of the virtual-reality glasses:

“…Finally, I went to a separate room to see an experience that I can talk about in full detail. Iceland experimental rock band Sigur Ros has been quietly working with some folks at Magic Leap to create an experience that they like to call a soundscape. For this particular demo, the team had me put on earbuds plugged into the goggles. “What you are about to see is a project called Tonandi,” Mike Tucker, technical lead on the project, tells me. “What you’re going to see is not a recorded piece of music but an interactive soundscape. That’s how they like to describe it.”

Those worried the new technology would be cumbersome and unwieldy have little to be worried about when it comes to possible strain and physical stress:

The Lightwear and Lightpack are almost toy-like in their design, not because they feel cheap – they don’t – but because they’re so light and there seems to be so little to them. (Ronni) Abovitz, though, is quick to point out just how much is packed into that small space. “This is a self-contained computer,” he says. “Think about something close to like a MacBook Pro or an Alienware PC. It's got a powerful CPU and GPU. It's got a drive, WiFi, all kinds of electronics, so it's like a computer folded up onto itself...”

magic leap.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: Magic Leap/Getty Images

One of the fundamental problems that Abovitz and his team at Magic Leap were hoping to solve was the discomfort that some experience while using virtual reality headsets and nearly everyone finds in the prolonged use of screens of any type. “So our goal is to ultimately build spatial computing into something that a lot of people in the world can use all day every day all the time everywhere,” Abovtiz tells me. “That’s the ambitious goal; it'll take time to get there. But part of all day is that you need something that is light and comfortable. It has to fit you like socks and shoes have to fit you. It has to be really well tuned for your face, well tuned for your body. And I think a fundamental part of all day is the signal has to be very compatible with you.”

I have seen videos and interviews where Magic Leap is explained and to what extent it can change the world around us. In a way; it is bringing the world into closer focus and allowing us to see things we have previously not been able to. Before I conclude with my hopes – and why it will be good for music – that Pitchfork piece posed concerns regarding privacy and personal security:



Aside from questions about whether technology like Magic Leap’s really will catch on as the tech industry predicts, the coming of mixed reality would bring other concerns. If the internet is always there, then it’s always watching us. The corporate behemoths that currently treat user data like it’s the new oil—not to mention governments—would know much more when they could apply facial recognition software to each face we see, record details from our real-world conversations, monitor our eye gestures. For now, though, the existence of an app like Tónandi points a potential way forward for artists under siege from the Muzak economics of streaming an opportunity to survive in that incipient world. And, perhaps, a forum to speak out about it too”.

There are always going to be problems and teething concerns but, if they can be smoothed in the coming weeks; there will be fewer risks and downsides compared to, say, Google Glass. The company was founded six years ago so one would imagine they have been working on the nuts-and-bolts of the design. Worries about security, weight and price will be explained but there are many in the music world that are getting excited. I feel it will be beneficial to musicians and listeners alike. For those disadvantaged and ill – who would be prohibited from hearing and experiencing music in a conventional manner – have the chance to see (literally) it in a new way. Music videos are great but I have always hankered after a way of connecting film/visuals and music in a modern impactful and magical way. Magic Leap might be that solution that means we can unearth more and create new genres; find ways of helping new musicians get their music to people; change music videos and help bring issues like sexism, racism and inequality to life – fighting them in a very bold and unforgettable way. We cannot judge the concept before it is fully rolled-out and realised. I am optimistic – always a fatal sign! – but there are signs to suggest something…



WONDERFUL is on its way.