With many music and arts venues closed, St. Louis Park musician Symone Wilson is seeking to help create a virtual venue that’s out of this world.
Wilson is teaming up with Kelsey Jo Geiger, who provides instruction on the music industry business at the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, and St. Louis Park-based virtual lab REM5. The plan is to create a sprawling virtual venue in which visitors will be able to interact with each other through a variety of devices, take in music, wave virtual glow sticks and even try to find a hidden horse room. The Placebo Records Virtual Reality Venue would be named after Wilson’s own record label.
A St. Louis Park Arts and Culture grant and Metropolitan and Regional Arts Council grant are helping to fund the venue, but Wilson is also seeking to raise $20,000 on GoFundMe.com.
The additional funds would help pay staff for graphic design and marketing work, cover the cost of remaining work on the virtual venue and pay artists.
The venue has a cosmic-style sky along with a variety of rooms for participants to virtually gather to chat or watch videos.
“I definitely want to make it feel like a venue you’ve never been to before or probably can’t exist in real life,” said Wilson, who performs under the stage name SYM1 and worked as a staff member at the SLP Nest youth-centered coffeeshop and music venue.
One space could feature a 24-hour music stream to help create the feel of a listening party. A main stage area would be connected to a Twitch account featuring either live performances or pre-recorded music videos. A “green room” would allow artists to gather together virtually to mingle.
“I want to have that interactive feel, for sure, that everyone craves right now,” Wilson said. “There’s more opportunity for that interaction and engagement, which I heavily miss.”
Like a live venue, a merch booth is planned. It would feature digital art and items linking to an artist’s merchandise website or Instagram page to allow participants to view more of their work.
Beyond seeking to reignite the music community, Wilson said she wants to encourage diversity in the music industry. She plans to create a mentorship program with the assistance of Ro Lorenzen, lead vocalist for the Twin Cities funk band Static Panic.
“She’s a person of color and a person of the LGBT community, which I also am, and so we are both joining heads on getting BIPOC, LGBT and youth involved within the space,” Wilson said of the mentorship plans. “We’ll definitely be promoting that as a big part of the venue.”
In the grant applications, Wilson set a goal that half of the artists involved would be Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBT or youth.
“I feel like consistently marginalized communities, especially the ones that I listed, are left out too often, and if they are included there’s like one token to every group or scene,” said Wilson, who referenced the electronic pop scene that she is a part of along with other genres. “It’s not always like that, and I’m definitely seeing there be an improvement. But I want to see that happen on just such a broad scale.”
She indicated that she wants to promote diversity through her record label.
“I want to see Black people in opera,” she said. “I want to see white people in rap. I want to see everybody in everything – just mess it all up, whatever the narrative has normally been. I want to see it completely different on every level so that you never expect to see somebody in a certain place.”
Work on the venue is ongoing, but Wilson hopes to launch next month.
Brian Skalak, director of marketing and events at REM5, commented by email, “REM5 STUDIOS is incredibly excited to work with such an innovative group of artists and musicians here in the Twin Cities to make this virtual venue a reality for them. We’ve spent the last year really diving into the use cases for this WebXR platform and making 3D, social worlds accessible on mobile devices to laptops – and, yes, VR headsets.”
Skalak noted other recent work REM5 has undertaken.
“Music and entertainment executions are a slam dunk, but we’ve also utilized the tech to create a Hall of Fame for the Minnesota Twins and a museum on racial inequity,” Skalak wrote. “The possibilities are endless!”
The idea for the virtual venue came about after Skalak suggested to Wilson that Placebo Records could host a virtual event. That suggestion prompted Wilson to brainstorm about a more far-reaching collaboration.
“I felt like there was a need for community to be built up in an intentional way,” Wilson said.
With City Pages ceasing production and no music venues open for months, Wilson said she felt a lack of connection with the rest of the music community.
“I want to feel excited about my community again,” Wilson said. “I want others to feel excited about their communities again. I want them to feel like they have support, and so I want to be able to provide that support and excitement in a way that’s never been done before and is also safe.”
While geared toward the Minnesota music scene, Wilson hopes to bring in artists from across the country and abroad.
While she suggested the virtual venue team’s work could emerge into the real world eventually, she said she would like the virtual venue to remain for music lovers to visit if the weather is bad or they feel like staying in.
“Going to a venue is, like, a lot of time and energy, and sometimes we want to just support and see music without having to leave our homes,” she said. “We can now.”
To learn more, visit placebo-records.com. The fundraiser page is at gofundme.com/f/virtual-reality-venue-for-music-arts-accessibility.
If you’re like everyone else, the last 12 months have been both one big blur and filled with far too many video conferences. Nearly overnight, Zoom and other video conferencing tools became the norm for displaced workers to still connect and meet in the new COVID normal. Quickly, video became the norm even when the meeting could have easily been handled over email or a quick phone call.
In a recent study by the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, they note that video chat platforms, “have design flaws that exhaust the human mind and body.” They note the four reasons for this exhaustion: Close-up eye contact, seeing yourself in real-time, reduced mobility, and increased cognitive load. Now, amplify this over an entire year, and you can easily see why employees are so drained. Video conferencing is far removed from natural social interaction.
As an innovative alternative, several companies have begun utilizing a new platform, WebXR, that combats many of the factors contributing to “zoom fatigue”. WebXR is an immersive, three dimensional, social experience that runs across devices (mobile, PC, and VR) right out of a web browser.
Think of WebXR like a multiplayer video game that runs online. You control an avatar to move throughout space and talk with others. The really cool features include spatial audio and spatial presence, two things that you don’t get on traditional, 2D video chat.
While WebXR doesn’t look to fully replace video chat, it does provide a unique and alternate option for companies and organizations in any industry. It sits nicely in between video chat and full virtual reality and the fact that it works on mobile and PC makes it just as accessible as your favorite video conference service.
Now besides hosting more immersive, less tasking meetups, meetings, and social hours on the platform, it can also be used as a tool for content delivery in the format of speaker series, museum installations, and brand activations as well.
Recently, Minneapolis-based XR Agency, REM5 STUDIOS, built out an entire Hall of Fame experience for the Minnesota Twins in WebXR. This allowed fans from all over the world to visit and explore together as long as they wanted, whenever they wanted. The 3D modeled space contained multiple clubhouses with shines for each player plus archival photos and video. Fans were even able to select avatars with Twins jerseys from over the years. It was an engaging and immersive brand experience that couldn’t be told any other way.
The Twins and major sports teams are just one example of the unlimited use cases for WebXR. Earlier this year, Sundance Film Festival went all online with an impressive WebXR component for their New Frontiers section of the event.
Another big opportunity is in the education and training space. According to PWC, immersive platforms allow participants to learn quicker and be more emotionally connected to the content. Museums can now deliver immersive content and extend their geography overnight. These types of experiences are just at their infancy and will live long beyond the “end” of COVID as a new tool to reach audiences both internally and externally for years to come.
Virtual reality has been moving mountains across a myriad of verticals. In the past few years, we’ve also been seeing VR as a force for social good. REM5, a Minnesota-based company, is doing just that with a virtual exhibition space called “1 City. 2 Realities.” which is part of their REM5 For Good initiative. It illustrates and educates people on the realities of racial inequity and inequality across the nation.
Tackling Racial Inequity in Virtual RealityThis year on March 21, we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The theme for this year is “Youth standing up against racism.” In the digital era, we’re seeing a new wave of activism and social movements, which rely heavily on technology to promote social, economic, as well as environmental change.
According to REM5 co-founder, Amir Berenjian, they wanted to create a virtual space for sharing different stories about racism and discrimination. Also, they wanted to bring discussions about racial inequity to a meaningful space. Thus, REM5 For Good created “1 City. 2 Realities.”, which highlights the harsh truth about racial discrimination throughout the US.
To make the experience as educational and immersive as a real exhibit, they used VR to power it. The immersive nature of VR makes it highly engaging. Additionally, it enables a forum for social interaction, allowing its users to start those difficult conversations about race and racism.
As you enter the exhibition space, you can view the displays at your own pace. You can also engage with other users. Although you can only hear other users who are close to you in the virtual space, you can engage with anyone regardless of their location.
The “1 City. 2 Realities.” exhibit even comes with a virtual idea board that you can follow using your mobile device.
Virtual Reality as a Tool Against RacismREM5 For Good has two main objectives. They are as passionate about K-12 education and cultural competence as much as emotional intelligence education for large companies. They’ve worked with over 15,000 users and enterprises, such as General Mills, Target, Boston Scientific, and the University of St. Thomas.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Target and General Mills provided their employees with access to “1 City. 2 Realities.” This powerful tool helped raise awareness about racial inequity and racism by sharing real-life stories of racial discrimination. Moreover, it illustrated the impact of racism on communities.
The virtual exhibit provides a safe space for participants to learn and reflect on their actions without fear of judgment. After every session, employees are given a chance to talk about their realizations and listen to others. From there, these institutions can work on addressing racial inequality within their respective systems. They can make positive changes to create fair and inclusive workspaces for their people.
REM5's Co-Founder, Amir Berenjian, joins Coruzant Technologies for the Digital Executive podcast. He shares how his technology is bringing education around social justice, inequality, and even Major League Baseball in an immersive VR space.
Twin Cities musician Lady Midnight is known for powerful stage performances, but like many other artists, she’s pivoted in the pandemic era. Her latest project, “Practice for Relief,” is an immersive virtual reality experience featuring sounds meant to promote calm, peace and healing.
MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talked with Lady Midnight about the project, and how she’s weathering the challenges of the past year. You can find more about “Practice for Relief” at her Instagram.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Virtual interactions have become the norm in these pandemic-affected times, so what better time to engage with a full virtual experience?
The Twins will debut a virtual-reality Hall of Fame experience on Wednesday in partnership with Minneapolis-based REM5 STUDIOS, giving fans the ability to be immersed in a virtual Twins clubhouse in a video game-like setup and explore a 3-D environment that features exhibits for all 34 members of the Twins Hall of Fame.
You're greeted by an enormous spinning Twins logo when you enter the atrium of the wheel-shaped virtual museum, with a hallway to your left leading to a clubhouse room highlighting the faces behind the earliest era of Twins baseball. A hallway in the other direction leads to the most recent club history. There's also a third room highlighting the time in the middle -- featuring both World Series championships.
"We've always wanted to build out a physical Hall of Fame," said Chris Iles, the Twins' senior director of brand experience and innovation. "As you know, Target Field is pretty limited in terms of our footprint in and what we have in downtown Minneapolis. So having a physical space for people to go to, like, let's just build this in the virtual world and see if it works. And I think for everyone who's tried it so far, it works quite well."
The experience will be free to fans and can be accessed on any platform -- mobile, desktop or even with a VR headset. A limited number of fans will be allowed at a time into each of a series of virtual rooms that can be navigated like a real space and will feature text, automated multimedia in theater-like rooms and even 3-D rendered reproductions of memorabilia.
Even the details are well-manicured, from the textured carpets on the floor to the little museum map on a stand in the atrium to the wooden frames that protrude from the walls in the exhibits.
Fans will be able to interact with others near them via voice chat -- mimicking the experience in a real museum -- and communicate with others through a chat functionality. They'll also be able to customize their avatar by selecting from several Twins uniforms. The experience begins with a quick tutorial before fans are allowed to roam the space.
"It's really cool. It's innovation. Keeping up with the digital age, and obviously giving access to fans to these types of virtual venues and experiences, I think, is pretty cool," said Michael Cuddyer, a special guest for Tuesday's sneak peek. "I was talking about somewhere down in the future, this could be like a forum where you could walk into the film room with a group of people and watch a game. The possibilities are endless with this type of format, which I think is really, really special."
"During this pandemic, you've just got to find some kind of creativity," Torii Hunter said. "It's a testament to the Twins, who have a lot of guys in that organization that are really creative. It wouldn't shock me if they continued to advance. This is pretty cool, to give a lot of fans that kind of experience. And for us -- this is a great experience for Cuddyer and me as well."
The project has been in the works for about six months, during which time the Twins were introduced to the technology and chose ways to use the virtual space. The hope is that the Twins can continue to build on unique technological ways to engage with fans, like this one and the physical-digital hybrid BombaLand at TwinsFest 2020.
"The ultimate goal is to build something that fans are going to get really excited about and give fans something fun to do during this time," Iles said. "That's been really challenging as we're kind of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here."
For more information about the experience, visit twinsbaseball.com/xr.
On Tuesday, I got to participate in a really cool event showcasing the Twins Virtual Hall of Fame. Minneapolis-based REM5 Studios have been working for months on this fun, interactive site that Twins fans will truly enjoy.
I'll be the first to acknowledge that I'm not a video game guy anymore. I have very little experience with virtual reality or interactions.
However, when I got to participate in yesterday's VIP/media event showcasing the Twins virtual-reality Hall of Fame experience, I was extremely impressed.
In conjunction with the folks at REM5 Studios, the Twins have worked to put together this great opportunity. It launches today (Wednesday, February 10th). To participate, simply register at www.twinsbaseball.com/xr.
Once in, you will find yourself in a virtual lobby. From there, you are able to move about the virtual area.
Clubhouse #1 highlights the early years of the Twins history. Clubhouse #2 highlights the two World Series championship teams and players. Clubhouse #3 shows the players and personnel from the Target Field years.
In each clubhouse, you will find virtual plaques or lockers highlighting each of the Twins Hall of Famers from that era. It includes pictures and a written biography. There is also a "Film Room" in which you can watch video as if you are in a theatre of that era.
There is trivia, some statistics, photos, and much more throughout the experience.
Another cool thing is its interactivity. You can go into this virtual reality with up to 19 other Twins fans. And, you can talk to each other. The closer your avatar is to others, the better you will be able to hear and communicate. It's like you are walking through the halls of a museum.
This experience is free to fans. You can access the site on mobile devices, desktop, or even with a Virtual Reality headset if you've got one.
Twins Hall of Famers Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter participated in Tuesday's sneak peak.
Michael Cuddyer called this, "really cool. It's innovation, keeping up with the digital age."
Hunter said that the pandemic pushed people and organizations to think differently. "You've just got to find some creativity."
Twins senior director of brand experience and innovation Chris Iles pointed out to the group that this project has been in the works for six months. He noted that it will likely continue to be updated including a midseason refresh.
And, just think of the possibilities of this technology!
I truly enjoyed the opportunity to see this site. I don't know if I would have signed up for it on my own. But once I did, I have to admit. I think I will be in there often. I can see us having small Twins Daily events in a TwinsXR room sometime. Again, the possibilities really are endless.
Again, head to www.TwinsBaseball.com/xr to register and you'll get an e-mail when it becomes available today.
It’s still just a bit chilly for baseball, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an early start on the season virtually. Twins XR: A Virtual Hall of Fame Experience is officially open, and all you need is a web browser (or a slick VR headset) to hop into a virtual clubhouse and take a trip through Twins history.
REM5, a Minneapolis-based virtual reality company, is the mastermind behind the experience. So, we caught up with Amir Berenjian of the VR outfit for a quick Q&A about the Twins, Easter eggs, and how VR can be used for the good of the community.
tech.mn: Walk us through the inception of Twins XR. How did you get connected with Minnesota Twins and what was the collaboration process like?
Amir Berenjian: Since the pandemic slowed our ability to make high-end VR accessible by literally putting VR headsets on folks, we have invested a lot of time in building WebXR experiences that can be accessed on a regular desktop in a web browser. After running several successful WebXR events last year including art exhibitions, presentations, live concerts, conferences, etc. we were ready to move on to the big leagues (pun intended). With our traditional VR business, we’ve had ongoing conversations with most of the pro sports teams in town, so we naturally planted some seeds about how to use WebXR for creatively engaging fans, both locally and around the globe. The Twins were targeting an in-real-life Hall of Fame experience in January that was canceled so the stars really aligned for bringing this Virtual Hall of Fame experience to life.
tech.mn: Is this the first collaboration you’ve done with an organization like the Twins? Do you think REM5 will do more of these types of projects in the future and, if so, what type of virtual experience would be your “dream project”?
Amir Berenjian: Where we really win is when we can help an organization solve a problem with some help from immersive technology so we’re always excited to find new high-value use cases like this. We’ve worked with a wide variety of groups to date but Twins XR is by far the most ambitious with an attendance goal of 10,000 fans over the two-week period. The need for more digital, social experiences is only going to increase in the years to come so we want to keep pushing the limits of this platform.
tech.mn: These virtual experiences seem like the perfect opportunity to include hidden Easter eggs for users to stumble across. Secret rooms, hidden displays… things like that. Have you ever thought about including that type of feature? What fun Easter eggs would you include if you did?
Amir Berenjian: If I just told you that would take all the fun out of it…
tech.mn: Tell us about REM5 For Good. How can VR be used for the overall good of the community?
Amir Berenjian: That is really where the foundation of REM5 is built – how do we use this technology for social good. The two areas we spend most of our time on at REM5 for Good is K-12 education and diversity and inclusion training where immersive technology can be used as a very powerful storytelling medium. One of the first exhibition spaces we built in WebXR is called “1 City. 2 Realities.” and highlights the racial inequalities here in MN through data visualization, photos, and video. We recently partnered with RFTP to bring this experience to the University of St. Thomas as an innovative educational tool for both faculty and students and also partnered with HandsOn Twin Cities to bring it to Target and General Mills employees.
tech.mn: Lastly, this seems to crack open the door for other partnerships with Minnesota sports teams. When can we expect a “VR Date with Ragnar” experience?
Amir Berenjian: You just dream it up, and we’ll make it happen!
Be sure to check out Twins XR: A Virtual Hall of Fame Experience. It’s free and only available for a limited time.