Imagine you’re sitting in an intimate, dimly lit club in New York’s Greenwich Village. A jazz band is playing, the audience is clapping along, the woman next to you is sipping a colorful concoction from a long-stemmed martini glass.
It all feels and — above all — sounds so real. But it’s not. You aren’t really in the club. You aren’t in New York. In fact, you never left your house. You’re sitting instead on your own couch, in the comfort of your own living room, watching the show on a virtual-reality headset.
While this might sound like a scene cut from Back to the Future, it’s actually happening: A legendary New York jazz club — Blue Note — is pioneering such virtual events as a new way for jazz fans all over the world to watch concerts and, eventually, other live events.
I stopped by the club to check out how it’s taking performances from the stage to the world of virtual reality — and to see whether that virtual experience holds a candle to watching the real thing, in person with your own eyes.
(What a) virtual world
I met with Blue Note’s Cory Haber one afternoon before the club opened for its evening shows. Boxes of restaurant supplies and liquor still lined the entrance to the venue, ready to be torn open and set up for the evening’s guests.
Haber previously founded a company for which he created 360-degree videos to show off real estate listings. He and his company, Rivet Media, were brought on at the Blue Note to put that expertise to a different use.
The first step in creating virtual-reality content, he explained, is to record and edit it. But you can’t just record the performers on stage and call it a day.
If you want to give people a fully immersive experience, you have to record the entire venue, even the audience, so that viewers at home can point their headsets in whatever direction they want and still see something different within the club.
To do this, Haber set up three 360-degree cameras at the front of the Blue Note’s stage. These cameras record everything happening in the room at once and feed them into the Blue Note’s video-editing studio.
You go to my head
Of course, a jazz performance is nothing without the music. So Haber set up a specialized microphone between the 360-degree cameras to capture the audio from each performance.
That microphone is shaped like a human head; its “ears” record the music as it’s being performed.