When I was first recommended for this trip, I admittedly saw the subject line and almost immediately deleted it without giving it a thorough read. Not out of disinterest, but because I was intimidated as it was so vastly outside of my comfort zone. What place could there be for a conservatory student like me in Silicon Valley?
After much pondering, I arrived at the answer: I don’t know, but let’s find out. After taking classes at the college in film/video game scoring and music production, my mind had been cracked open wide enough for these sorts of thoughts to take root and grow. Thus far in my Berklee endeavors my classical training had served me well; though I often felt unequipped to tackle obstacles of technology, I enjoyed the challenge of seeing how I could make it work with what I had—how to make things uniquely me and embrace what set me apart, instead of being ashamed of being perceived as “old-fashioned.” I wanted to master all of the skills the modern Berklee musician possesses, but I wanted to do so using my own voice. Through this experience I have discovered passions and interests I never knew I had, giving me the chance to immerse myself in this other half of my education.
A central theme ran through all of our visits: what appeal do all musical genres share, whether it be opera or EDM? While content of songs is important, context is equally as vital. Audiences want to be immersed—they want to feel connected to the art and be able to interact with it. The more actively engaged the listener is with a listening experience, the greater its impact. They want to be able to transported emotionally, whether it’s inspiring them to dance in joy or to sympathize with their pain in order to excise it. This is what connects all of the companies we visited.
Audiences want to be able to experience all of these benefits wherever they go with ease and speed, and these companies enable them to do so. Nothing beats the feeling of being completely enveloped by a piece that already brings so much joy merely played on a phone, now expanded beyond its usual dimensions and heard as if for the first time (Dolby can do magical things with Elton John). For me, it was reimagining the way sound and music is employed to achieve this euphoria that was the focus of the trip. From the simplicity of listening to playlists on Spotify while working to experiencing a beloved movie in the glory of Dolby Atmos, innovations happening in the music and sound industry create new heights of wonderment and pleasure. Perhaps the greatest feeling of awe over the week was from trying the Oculus Rift for the first time at Facebook. Attempting to envision the manifold possibilities for the future applications of music in AR after the demonstration was overwhelming. It suggested a whole new approach of musical composition to which I was not accustomed, not limited solely to VR: composing in 360° instead of mixing to it later, treating each separate line or stem its own interactive object moving within the surroundings.
The trip not only gives artists a bunch of shiny new toys for their toolboxes, but provides them with more ways to engage with their audience and offers ways to heighten the musical experience, whether it be reconsidering live performance spaces (Group Delphi/Stanford d.school), constructing a carefully-crafted theater experience (Dolby/Skywalker Sound), or making the world an interactive musical environment with VR/AR (Oculus/PlayStation). It was satisfying to take concepts presented to us day one and pile each subsequent visit on top of each other in order to create one grand picture. But while the trip gave us a tantalizing glimpse into the future of music in tech, we were also envisioning our place in it, and sometimes this meant considering the next biggest innovation to be born in Silicon Valley—not of technology, but the diversity of the workplaces themselves.