A Virtual Reality Experience: Courtney Barnett At NMF ’16

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June 2, Ohio University’s Immersive Media Initiative (IMI) faculty and students recorded a virtual reality video experience of Australian rocker Courtney Barnett’s 2016 Nelsonville Music Festival set. The Nelsonville Music Festival is a production of Stuart’s Opera House, a non-profit historic theater in Nelsonville, Ohio.

The resulting videos are unveiled today as a part of a partnership between the Nelsonville Music Festival, the Scripps College of Communication, the Ohio University GRID Lab and WOUB Public Media.

The recordings feature tracks from Barnett’s critically acclaimed 2014 album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, recorded with cutting edge equipment purchased with funds from a major Innovation Grant awarded to the IMI earlier this year for the development of virtual and augmented reality projects. Barnett was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2015 and headlined night one of the Nelsonville Music Festival shortly after her performance on the season finale of Saturday Night Live.

When viewed with a 360-degree enabled browser or commercial VR headsets, a viewer can watch Barnett and her band rip through renditions of “Pedestrian at Best” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Come to The Party” at all angles – including shots taken from directly behind the band. If you don’t have a VR headset or a Cardboard viewer, the video is best viewed on the You Tube app on a smartphone with headphones. The phone can then be moved in all directions to get the stage and/or crowd experience. For laptop viewing, use Google Chrome as your browser to have the ability to look around in 360. If using a Google Cardboard, hit the Cardboard icon on YouTube to enable stereoscopic viewing.

“This project is one of many that the IMI has pitched and is currently working on,” said Josh Antonuccio, a co-director with the Immersive Media Initiative as well as a lecturer at Ohio University’s School of Media Arts and Studies. “As a part of their very first virtual reality class, 12 students were given technology purchased with the innovation grant to shoot this video.” Along with fellow IMI directors Eric Williams and John Bowditch, Antonuccio and the Ohio University team developed a production plan together with Barnett’s management, aiming to capture the energy of a Courtney Barnett performance for her fans to experience in VR.

“Courtney’s performance was incredible,” said Tim Peacock, executive director of Stuart’s Opera House. Peacock said that Antonuccio approached him about recording a virtual reality set at the festival last year, long before Barnett was announced as the headliner for this year’s festival and while the technology obtained by the IMI was still under study by those involved with the program.

“We’ve been talking with other major festivals about doing a virtual reality shoot, and we were honored that we could feature this kind of innovative production at a festival like NMF,” said Antonuccio. “There is an explosion of interest in how virtual reality and immersive tech will shape the interactions of fans and artists and we are now starting to see these kinds of experiences with VR in the music industry taking off.”

“I’m really pleased that Josh and his team were able to film this at Nelsonville,” said Peacock. “Virtual reality technology is something that is really picking up elsewhere so far as music festivals, and I’m excited for it to be associated with our festival. Because Nelsonville really isn’t just a really small, ‘apple pie’ style music festival. We are capable of being frontrunners in certain aspects, and embracing this technology is one of those.”