Getting High on Virtual Reality

virtual reality

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for bizarre typos in manufacturer graphics

I thought I had a handle on this whole virtual reality thing. After all, I’d experienced a few demos, including a full 360o one from an HTC Vive system in my own home that was pretty darn convincing.


So I thought I was well prepared for a demo from VRPark at the recent New York Photo Plus Expo. Their VRPark Capsule looked like it would provide a pretty realistic VR experience. It had two egg-shaped cockpits for a friend and me to sit in, and it moved around on its base to provide motion simulation. I figured it was a virtual rollercoaster ride.


But before strapping us in and fitting us with VR helmets, the woman working the Capsule asked, “Do you want the nice ‘travel’ demo or the scary demo?”


“Um . . . um . . . let’s go for the scary demo!” I knew it wasn’t real so how scary could it be?


The goggles winked alive to the image of a ride at an amusement park. Yeah, OK, a rollercoaster—but then the “ride” pulled us up and back like a giant swing, up . . . and up . . . and UP! Hundreds, maybe thousands of virtual feet into the air!


I’d neglected to mention that I have a fear of heights—a completely incapacitating fear of heights. I can’t go on my roof to clean the gutters. When I get in glass elevators, I have to look at the floor.


So when we went rocketing into the sky, I was terrified. I had a bird’s-eye view of the virtual amusement park, the surrounding houses, the trees, the whole town rendered in vivid 3D detail. I broke out in a sweat. I grabbed the ride’s handgrips as hard as I could. The motion of the ride and the sounds through the headphones—including people screaming—only added to the intensity.

virtual reality

Yaaahhhh! I kept telling myself, “It’s not real!” Didn’t matter. My primitive reptile brain took over my rational mind. I got dizzy. After just a few seconds, I couldn’t take it and closed my eyes.


Then I told myself, I’ll get used to it. I opened my eyes again. It’s not real . . .


We were now way high up, upside down, facing the sky and looking at clouds! Then the ride dropped precipitously, almost hit the ground, and swung back up like a pendulum! Gggaaaahhhh! At that point, I was screaming along with the people in the headphones.


I had to close my eyes again. But I didn’t want to wimp out through the whole demo so I re-opened them. The virtual ride was now rotating on its axis with the world tumbling end over end. The VR capsule continued to plummet, tumble, spring up, accelerate, and decelerate. I was totally rushing out holy jeezuz H. gawd almighty AAAH! AAAHHH! AAAAAAAHHHHH!


Maybe I shoulda tried a yoga or relaxation video. Finally, the ride stopped. I got out, unsteady, sweating—and more exhilarated than I’d been in years. (Sorry, angioplasty doesn’t count.) Whadda ride! Talk about entertainment!


Suffice to say my perspective on virtual reality has changed.


I’d thought it was a fun way to enhance video gameplay, aid in pilot and astronaut training, and maybe become a stupid novelty for video porn. (Missed that demo at CES.) Now I realize it’s far beyond that, that the line between virtual and actual reality can be readily blurred and not just because of ever-improving technology.


At its best, VR overrides your rational brain and evokes visceral, instinctual, and emotional responses so strongly your mind can’t resist. Your id and body take over.


If virtual reality can provoke that strong a reaction, I would argue that it might as well be reality. Not a new concept, I know (ref. The Matrix or Neuromancer or any number of sci-fi novels and films). But wait till you try it—then tell me how you feel.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Submitted for Your Approval

future entertainment

In my last post, I talked about how the future of entertainment might end up being the polar opposite of the empty, abusive, numbing fodder that’s pretty much pervasive today. To bolster that argument, here are some examples that run counter to the trends, and represent small rays of hope that the soulless mainstream won’t prevail.


EXHIBIT 1: “All Over the World”

Yes, the whole flash mob thing is, thankfully, passé, but the beauty of this video lies elsewhere. By taking disparate footage that runs the gamut from barely acceptable to really shitty and using it to underline the naive (some would say misguided) exuberance of the event it captures, it creates a production number way more satisfying than any Hollywood attempt to just ape old movie-musical conventions. (That there’s something inherently fascist about the whole exercise is a topic for another day.)


EXHIBIT 2: “Rose from Concrete”

I could write a whole post (and more) about this astonishing ad that completely bucks the trends (at least until the actual Rose walks in at the end and it becomes predictably slick), yet has gotten as much, if not more, attention than its more cynical and bellicose brethren. (But let’s be honest: It’s a TV commercial, so in no possible universe could it be a paragon of virtue.)


A pitch-perfect exercise in scene-setting, character development, and storytelling, it uses simple images and actions with deft sophistication, harkening back to the earliest days of filmmaking. More importantly, on every level that matters, it works.


EXHIBIT 3: “MST3K Kickstarter Telethon”

Things got so bad that at one point they had to put up a slide that said, “Please Get Out And Push.” But that’s the whole point: During the course of a 5-hour Webcast, they lost their live feed (for almost a half hour), the sound went out of sync, lav mikes repeatedly broke down, remote segments imploded because of bad signal . . . in other words, just about everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. But watching the talent both in front of and behind the camera rise above the adversity, in real-time, is exactly what makes it so compelling.


The result was the most successful Kickstarter campaign for a media project ever. That the money was essentially wasted and both the telethon and Felicia Day’s livestream (see below) were way more entertaining than the resulting series is something I’ve already covered.


Highlights include Patton Oswalt doing 10 minutes responding to a torrent of tweets about how sublimely awful the event is:


“This is what TV is going to look like after society collapses and there’s just one working mike for
the country, and there’s just going to be Thunderdome battles over who gets to control it.” 


“This is the nerd equivalent of the Chilean mine disaster, where I’m having to get communications
through people’s Twitter accounts.”


“Thanks for watching this on the Dumont Network.”


It’s worth the investment to experience it in real time—jumping around misses the whole point. And hang in there for Dana Gould’s jaw-dropping Dr. Zaius doing William Shatner doing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”


EXHIBIT 4: “Felicia Day MST3K Livestream”

If anything here best represents the future, this is it: Just a person and their cellphone—no lights, no mikes, no crew—not just capturing an event but, by spontaneously both hosting and performing, and acting as the audience’s eyes and ears, turning it, via a kind of high-wire act, into entertainment. Ignore that the often clueless and always supercilious Day is kind of annoying—what she pulls off, through intuitive talent and tapping into the zeitgeist is, if you stand back and look at it for both what it is and what it portends, pretty amazing.


If anybody remains unconvinced, just let me know and I’ll submit more for your approval. I’ve got a million of ‘em.


Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Welcome to the Future

The mainstream media gospel says that people’s attention spans have gotten so short they’ll only tolerate about 6 seconds before you lose them. (Never mind that movies are still about 2 hours long, and most dramatic films run longer than that.) The Church of Hollywood (with branch locations on Madison Ave., in San Francisco, and in media capitals around the world) also says you have to use really fast, aggressive cutting, digital effects whenever possible, relentless orchestral music, and so much image manipulation that even “serious” films look like comic books.


Discuss producing a media project with just about anybody, and they’ll tell you you have to have lots of all of the above or nobody will watch. It’s treated like fact, but it’s actually dogma; and like most dogma, it’s born of ignorance  and meant to create a passive, unthinking audience. It also happens to be incredibly wrong.


There are some pretty strong indicators of entertainment’s future, and they don’t honor any of the above. If people only have 6-second attention spans, why has stuff like 1-hour-or-longer livestreams, 7-minute one-take, no-edits dance videos, and even online telethons racked up view numbers that make network shows look like the creaky, stumbling relics they are? If we can’t live without quick cutting, wall-to-wall effects, pummeling music, and endless manipulation, why do tens of millions of people repeatedly watch basically raw footage with no cuts at all?


There’s more than enough evidence to refute the dogma, and yet it persists, and it persists because producers are too insecure to defy what they think are the audience’s expectations and needs. They’re stuck within the mainstream media bubble, terrified to second-guess unfounded truths, trembling like wet kittens in a storm.

future entertainment

There are tons of examples I could offer up to refute the media gospel, but consider the amateur dance video at the top of this page, which has gotten almost 43 million views.


You can’t spend any amount of time watching videos online without coming across stuff like this. And it shows that amateurism can be a kind of blessing. Knowing they can’t match Hollywood flash, the creators keep it simple. (Conversely, online attempts to ape Hollywood are inevitably painful to watch.) In other words, lack of access to the means of production tends to keep these guys honest. (Relatively speaking.)


This is a complicated argument, but it’s also a really important one because it shows exactly how hollow mainstream entertainment has become. The real pleasure lies elsewhere, outside the realm of Hollywood’s increasingly sadistic shock therapy. I’ll present more evidence in a future post.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Why Should You Care What I Think?–Pt. 2

Nicki Minaj

In Part 1, I related my recent experience at a Rumer concert, where a man came up to me afterward and said, “You can throw that concert in the garbage!” I’ve been thinking through that encounter for weeks now. No matter how I felt or what I thought was right, the individual reality of the situation was totally opposite—I thought the show was good and he thought it was bad. How could two people have such disparate opinions?


I’ve always felt there are objective standards of quality. Would anyone contend that Showgirls is a better movie than Citizen Kane or that Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” is a better song than Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”? But if someone really likes Minaj’s song and thinks Dylan is some boring old wheezer, are they right? In that person’s own mind, they are.


I’m still struggling with this, but for now I’ve reconciled this shock to my belief system by thinking that I have to accept two parallel states of reality, like the wave-particle duality in quantum physics. One: I believe there are standards of quality in music, movies, and art. Two: Some people will have opinions that may be completely opposite these standards.


But there’s a reason I’m going to voice my opinions in the face of all that: When it comes to music and entertainment, I love this stuff.


I mean to share that kind of enthusiasm through my reviewing. I’m moved when I hear a great song. I get emotionally immersed in a good movie. For me, music and entertainment are excitement, solace, relaxation, nirvana, life. I want to let others know about something worth experiencing! I think I’ve been around the block long enough to recognize when something is good, or exceptionally good, or off-the-meter good.


Just my opinion.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Why Should You Care What I Think?-Pt. 1

Rumer singer

My wife sometimes chides me that I think my opinion on what’s good and bad music is the only one that counts. I feebly protest it’s not true, but then opine that I am more qualified than others to judge because I’m a musician and have spent my life playing, listening to, and studying music. Am I right?


I was a music and equipment reviewer for The Absolute Sound in the ‘80s and ‘90s and have written for numerous publications and A/V companies. I’ve been playing guitar professionally for 40-plus years. I bought my first good audio system right after graduating college. I chose “Music Is My Life” as my high school English Regents essay.


But my worldview was shaken to the core recently.


The first time I heard the singer/songwriter Rumer, I was smitten by her sweet voice–she moved me in a way few singers do. But she doesn’t tour the US much, and it took me two years to finally see her live, at a recent concert in Manhattan’s Damrosch Park.


She opened with “The Look of Love,” and I felt an adrenaline rush go through me. She was everything I expected and far more–that beautiful voice against a lush orchestral background, a dream come true seventh-row center. Thrilling! By the time she sang her third song, the heartbreaking “Take Me As I Am,” I was crying.


After the concert, I lingered, mesmerized. Then for whatever reason an older man came up to me and said, “You can throw that concert in the garbage!”




“She had nothing, no soul. Ehhh! She’s not an artist.” Um, I disagreed. After a few minutes, we left each other, amicably. Just another crank in New York City, I thought. Oy, everybody’s a critic. But I was rattled.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

The Death & Rebirth (Maybe) of American Entertainment

Death of American Entertainment

The evidence couldn’t be more obvious that it’s time to storm the entertainment Bastille and create some new ways to be engaged and amused.


The movies have been an exhausted form since the late ‘70s—we now get off not on watching movies but movies about movies, the kind of mental masturbation that’s the working definition of the Wasteland. TV has always been a wasteland, and only gets worse as it dresses itself up in cinematic trappings and indulges in more & more depraved behavior. And we’re now a few generations in to endless legions desensitized by “cartoon” violence and shooter games.


Every current form of mass entertainment pisses on subtleties, on any kind of discerning approach, instead producing bigger & bigger adrenalin jolts and ultimately encouraging us to do nothing but wallow in the mud. It’s like we’re all taking the Milgram Experiment, and failing miserably. It’s like we’re devolving.


People have had good—as in “life & death”—reasons lately to bemoan the state of the culture and wonder how things got so bad. But they seem oblivious to the entertainment choices they make every day that reinforce our blind rush to the bottom.


But there are some promising signs of new mass entertainment out there, forms that aren’t as smartass and soulless, that subordinate all the tech that can create a false sheen of competence and instead let you connect directly with the individuals and groups doing their damnedest to create things that feel true instead of just slick. Most of it derives in some way from street theater and has echoes of minstrels and vaudeville. It doesn’t just mimic the past but feeds from it—something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time.


In my previous post, I talked about the avoidable and kind of wrenching disaster of the Kickstarter/Netflix MST3K reboot but pointed out that from that wreckage emerged some encouraging glimpses of a brighter entertainment future. Next time, I’ll go into specifics.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound &
Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.