Although the HTC Vive is primarily a gaming device at this point, its most acclaimed piece of software isn’t a game at all. Tilt Brush, a painting tool that lets you create and walk around 3D works of art in virtual reality, comes with the Vive and is one of the most surefire ways to get anyone on board with the device’s potential.
What Tilt Brush is to Adobe Illustrator, SoundStage is to GarageBand. It’s a VR music application that lets you arrange synthesizers, drums, speakers, and other equipment within the boundaries of your room, so you have a custom-built studio to make your own tunes. The concept is best understood by watching the video above.
SoundStage’s visuals are simple but attractive, with retro low-polygon instruments connected by glowing, colorful cables. The interface is easy to understand, too, though you’ll need at least some intuitive knowledge of how to chain electronic music equipment together. Beyond that, it’s pretty much just a matter of using the Vive controllers to pick up drumsticks, insert sample "cassettes," play the instruments, and so on.
SoundStage feels like a visionary application
SoundStage’s developer, Logan Olson, recently released the app on Steam in Early Access and has delivered two major updates so far, adding new instruments and features like the ability to import and export sounds. But even in its early, limited form, SoundStage is a polished piece of software with a lot of scope for fun. There are things you can do with the SoundStage interface that you just couldn’t any other way. Even if you could somehow manipulate a real 3D theremin that’s been fed through multiple synthesizers to modify a drum pad being played in real time, the setup wouldn’t float in the air and you’d have a whole lot of cable mess to deal with. And your maracas wouldn't glow as you shook them.
I’m not really the right person to judge SoundStage’s efficacy as a serious music-making tool; the feature set and sound library is limited right now, though, and I did notice the odd flaw like slight latency in the drum effects. But I can say that I’m already sold on the concept alone. It honestly feels like a visionary application, with a core idea that has the potential to make electronic music production and performance as tactile and physical as playing traditional instruments.
SoundStage is out now on Steam Early Access for $9.99.