Visual artist Bill Sebastian is currently giving live performances of a new art form that allows an artist to synthesize immersive 3D environments in real time. The art form might be described as a form of dance but where the artist controls 3D color patterns rather than the movements of their body. The visual musical instrument is called the OVC-3D, which was developed by Visual Music Systems (VMS), a Boston company that began in 2011. It is derived from the original Outerspace Visual Communicator (OVC) on which Sebastian performed with the Sun Ra Arkestra between 1978-1980 and used to produce videos with Sun Ra in the 1980s. The performances are being held on weekend evenings at the VMS studio in downtown Boston. Audience members strap on VR headsets and headphones, recline on sofas and take a journey into a new type of immersive audio/visual experience.
For additional details, contact VMS at 857-324-1149 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About our current, live shows: Brian Coleman reviewed our show on April 18, 2018. He wrote, "To try and really understand everything he is doing wouldn’t necessarily enhance the experience. Just know that each performance is unique, and he is the reason for that.". (Coleman, 2018)
About constructing the OVC-3D: VMS was featured in the Boston Globe on April 2nd, 2013. James Sullivan wrote, "Bill Sebastian built an otherwordly visual synthesizer in the 1970s, and everyone thought he was crazy. Today, he's back at it, this time making it 3-D". (Sullivan, 2013)
About early video research when beginning the OVC-3D: John Bishop, of Video Magazine in 1982, added in that "the emotional energy of the visuals equals and at times surpasses that of the music. The images are not slaves to the sounds but function the way a dancer does; interpreting, harmonizing, and enlarging the space created by the music." Bishop, 1982
About performances on the original OVC: Bob Stewart, of Heavy Metal Magazine in 1980, described the OVC as "Bill Sebastian's towering color organ. Despite the technology involved the main factor here is personal expression. Sebastian's hands glide over four hundred touch sensitive buttons as he does his electronic finger-painting, concentrating on size, symmetry, sharpness, continuity, and other emotionally significant concepts of the changing patterns seen on the eleven-by-ten foot display screen. He's not switching on a gadget. Sebastian really is an artist functioning in a manner similar to a musician and performing on an instrument of great range and flexibility." (Stewart, 1980)
Visit our art gallery for high resolution images from the OVC-3D.
The audio music: The calendar lists the audio ensembles for the performances that feature live bands. For sessions using pre-recorded music, the calendar may specify an artist or genre to be visited. Otherwise, the audio program might include a mix of genres such as jazz, experimental, and world music.
The environment: The audience wears Oculus Rift headsets. The studio currently has headsets only for 11 people, which is further reduced when a live band is using some of the headsets. Seating is on couches and arm chairs.
The format: A show typically consists of 2 sets each about 20 minutes. Refreshments are provided in the reception area where people can participate in discussions with the artist before and after the sets.
Visual Music Systems was established in 2011 at a studio in downtown Boston by Bill Sebastian and Bob Eastwood. Bob had worked on the early OVC-3D development in 1989 and co-founded ICT with Bill and Michael Slygh in 1996. The sale of ICT in 2007 provided funding that was then used to hire other engineers to build the new system. Some details about this team can be found at http://visualmusicsystems.com/aboutus.htm
The OVC-3D is a graphical synthesizer that allows an artist to communicate visually with the same total spontaneous control that an audio musician has over sound. It creates a fully 3D environment than has been used to drive dome projection systems and normal monitors, but currently the main focus is on head mounted displays like the Oculus Rift. The system involves several million lines of original source code written by a team of engineers at VMS between 2011-2018. Different types of input devices can be used - VMS developed and patented several types of hand controllers, but currently the Oculus Touch is being used along with a bank of foot pedals. In addition to supporting the performances, the system provides a graphical programming environment for developing visual synthesizers as well as multi-track editing system for 3D content. More details are provided at http://visualmusicsystems.com/OVC3d.htm
Does the OVC-3D respond to the audio music?
Unlike music 'visualizers', the OVC-3D does not use sound waves in any way to generate the visual environment. It is like a musical instrument in that it allows an artist to create and communicate in real time and to be in total control over their world.
Can multiple visual musicians play together?
Yes. While the upcoming performances are solo, the system allows different artists to control different sections or aspects of the scene. We sometimes do overdubs that allow the creation of more complex scenes in the same way a single musician can record every instrument in an orchestra. We look forward to helping other artists learn to play. The system allows multiple musicians to work in the same scene, so that elaborate orchestrations can be assembled by multiple real-time performers.
Why are you performing using VR headsets for a few people instead of doing projections for bands in front of large audiences?
This is just a personal preference. We can support projections - we have a dome at VMS with 5 meshed theatre quality projectors. Basic issue is that with the projectors, you always have an awareness that you are watching something on Planet Earth. When you strap on the headset, you get launched into a different universe.
Where do you see this heading?
Our next step is to start broadcasting the performances so that people can share the same world at the same time even though they are separated spatially. We would also like to help other artists learn to use this art form.