And that’s sorely needed
Listening to music is one of my favorite activities in this world. Not hearing music, but listening to music. Giving music my full, undivided attention. I’ll often sit on my bedroom floor with my back against the bed, close my eyes, and listen to an album front to back. It’s relaxing and immersive and cathartic. It’s one of a few times when thoughts aren’t wildly ping-ponging around in my brain.
Unfortunately, it feels like those of us who care to do this are a dying breed. It’s not that music has changed, but the perception of music has slowly shifted. For decades now, singles dominate the public consciousness; albums are a collection of piecemeal tracks, 70 percent of them only existing to be skipped over in order to get to the really popular ones. The likes of YouTube and Spotify easing the process, making it so that the “filler” might as well not even exist. All the while, the music that’s playing is a secondary activity — background sounds for driving or working out or partying.
I’m acutely aware of how much of an old fogey I sound like right now. I won’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t consume music the exact way I prefer, but I do feel a tinge of sadness knowing that music is decreasingly appropriately appreciated. I’ve always felt like albums are meant to be collective works, each song meant to be listened to in a specific order. For instance, Miley Cyrus’ Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz was one of my favorite records of last year. The Flaming Lips-like weirdness mixed with her signature crudeness takes that album to some interesting places; still, most people won’t know any of the hour-and-a-half marathon beyond whatever the hell she sang at the VMAs.
Someone at Harmonix feels similarly to me. At a pre-E3 event in Santa Monica where we were shown Music VR, a studio representative told me that the best part of the four-piece package was designed because the project lead lamented that so many people don’t actively listen to music anymore. When trapped within the confines of virtual reality, they wouldn’t have much choice.
You know the Windows Media Player visualization feature? Harmonix basically made one of those for VR. Adapting to whatever song’s playing, the experience glides the listener down a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. None of it’s interactive; it’s just a VR screensaver to keep you listening to music.
It’s a simple and probably-obvious addition to Music VR, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a brilliant one. It’s nothing more than visual stimulation to pair with the already-happening aural stimulation. But, it’ll keep people listening, and not distracted by everything else in the world. According to Harmonix, any song in your PS4’s music library will work with the game. If you own it, it’s ready to go.
The other three-quarters of Music VR are entertaining but nowhere near as neat. A beach setting asks you to look at objects as they transform into vibrant shapes and sounds. A set of art tools lets you draw and craft colorful lines and objects that pulse rhythmically to the beat. A high school gym has a collection of robots that you can manipulate so that they dance and air-hump in time to some MC Hammer. They’re a bunch of activities where you interact alongside the music instead of listening to it.
Sure, that stuff is novel, but those are also the sort of VR experiences that would’ve felt right at home a few years ago. Virtual reality has come a long way since then and that progress has a lot of Music VR feeling dated. Harmonix’s casual foray into virtual reality is a Sony exclusive set to launch alongside PlayStation VR later this year. Most of the package doesn’t feel all that unique, but it does include a legitimately great way to listen to music.