Art and Tech: A Classical Experience in a Virtual World

At SXSW, Saurab Bhargava (VP at Isobar) sat down with Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra Conductor Allen Tinkham and Tilt Brush Artist Teek Mach to talk about what emerging technology means for the future of classic art.  To do this, they spoke about their joint project, the Tilt Brush Concerto.  At its core, this project has always been about taking people into the experience of sound in a new way.

The panelists shared the common view that digital solutions should equally service both commercial endeavors as well as the community.  There is a shared passion and duty to promote the arts and humanities through compelling digital capabilities.

So, what exactly is the Tilt Brush Concerto?  It was a live performance piece in which Teek painted in virtual reality to music being played by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.  The audience could observe the musicians and conductor executing the music, as well as the artist’s live movements and the results of her Tilt Brush art.  This fusion of art and technology was effective in the end, but was not an easy process from the start.  Allen and Teek had to think through the way these themes interact and Allen alone had to figure out the best way to describe the music to a non-musician, eliminating jargon.  How would the timing and tempo of the piece translate to art?

Artists painting to live music is not a new idea.  However, no matter how large the canvas, the art is still confined to one place that is relatively far away from the audience and hard to see.  With VR you can go into the artwork, move around it, look at it from different perspectives.  It allows an opportunity to bring the audience closer to the art itself.

Teek has always painted to songs and likes to use a method by which she blindfolds people as has them draw what a song feels like to them.  In per performance for the Tilt Brush Concerto, Teek engaged ethereal body movements to convey what the song felt like for her.  Teek explained to the audience that it was tricky to navigate the best way to convey a crescendo and a buildup.  Do you use harder strokes?  How do you use your body to evoke that?  When asked what Teek loves about designing in VR, she noted, “I can jump off the page now.  Every artist wants to be able to step inside their own painting.”

The audience is able to see her viewpoint, to be inside her head, and to watch her perform.  The power of creating to a live concert is that the artist can feel the vibrations and airwaves.  The performance was a unique merging of Allen’s language of sound and Teek’s language of color.  She was able to evoke movement with saturation and hue, and painting with light.  VR painting allows you to think non-linearly and changes your perception of space and time.  VR allows the audience to look at music from different angles and become more intimately connected with it.

So, what’s next for projects like the Tilt Brush Concerto?  Allen Tinkham thinks the artistic influence should be bidirectional.  “The drama Teek is creating visually should be able to influence my approach musically” – with him responding more immediately to the visual aspects she is creating.

A shared experience makes the beautiful intersection of art and music even more compelling and immersive for the audience.  The session left the audience inspired and curious about what the future holds for the next iteration of art and technology.  Experiencing technology and art in a shared environment is fascinating and opens our minds to another level of creativity.  I personally cannot wait to see what they come up with next.