This summer, across four continents and eight time zones, artists have gone beyond just playing in virtual reality. They’ve been making their own new instruments and worlds there.
Patch, in development on Oculus Quest and PC, takes VR music-making in a wildly imaginative new direction. We’ve seen music creation VR apps and virtual studios and synths before, but Patch is more than that. It’s a complete, evolving modular toolkit for creating your own worlds. There are building blocks as you’d expect in Reaktor or Max – oscillators, sequencers, filters, effects, modulation, and whatnot – but all reimagined so that you wire together creations and play natively in VR. And to that, there are tons of additional objects and abstractions that let you produce custom interactions and visuals. You make your inventions with the VR headset on, then you play the same way.
Disclosure: I’ve been working with the PatchXR team as a consultant and documentation developer. And last summer and this summer, I co-facilitated the first two Patchathons, an open laboratory for artists to experiment with pre-release builds of Patch and see what they can make together.
It’s all fantastically ambitious, and there’s nothing else quite like it. (The handful of you who saw MuX – yeah, Patch started with the same team and has grown out of that experiment. They created Patch to the vision MuX proposed, and then some.)
One big barrier to entry for all VR, of course, is having a headset. But we were fortunate to have the support of Oculus to provide some Quest 2 hardware to selected artists – one shipped all the way from Denmark to Argentina. (Quest 2 also works standalone and untethered, so artists could work with it directly – no expensive, advanced gaming PC required.)
What blows me away is how much these artists did in such a short time. With just a week, some hands-on advice from us, and crucially, workshops and feedback from the developers themselves, the artists worked together with one another to produce dazzling performances. Watch:
This gorgeous project features the music of MOWUKIS aka France’s multi-talented Louis-Louise Kay. They’ve put out this achingly lovely track as a single, too, post-Patchathon:
Louis-Louise worked with Ted Pallas – the dazzling 3D animation and backgrounds you see show off the ways in which you can use Patch as part of your production pipeline. It’s a playful environment, but also one that can be populated by skilled 3D modelers.
With a team including returning artists CNDSD + Iván Abreu, one group even added live-coded additions (you can see the Tidal code displaying). That’s possible because Patch also includes an OSC object (plus forthcoming Ableton Link support) for interoperations with the outside world. (See, previously on that duo; they spoke to CDM about the combination and what VR means to them.)
It’s a perfect example of collaboration. Also on the team are Laura Luna Castillo, a Mexican-born interactive artist and researcher now based in Seattle, plus Francesco Corvi (aka Nesso), sound designer, multimedia artist, and creative coder. And these environments are really ideal for that kind of team effort, as it can provide a multi-layered end result – Nesso and Laura also being deeply multidisciplinary artists in their own individual practice, bringing that experience to bear on the combined work.
Playlist of all the projects – plenty more gems there.
And not to leave out the other artists; it’s worth digging through all their creations, which span approaches from documentary media to Russian poetry.
Full presentation, hosted by yours truly: (not me in the thumbnail there, but you’ll see…)
It’s all part of the incredible Berlin (and hybrid online) “international games and playful media festival”:
Check out the full lineup of artists and more on their work on Patch’s blog:
The software is still in closed beta, but you can learn more – and sign-up to be one of the first testers – on the Patch site:
You can also come chat with the team and community (including the Patchathon artists) on Patch’s Discord.
Pelle and team have been making tutorials on how it all works – and all the stuff you see/hear from the Patchathon was built from scratch using these tools. It’s stuff that rivals tools like Pure Data, but operates natively in a VR world.
See the full playlist. As a taste: