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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Virtual Reality brings technology to music composition

By Nadia Beidas

     The software application, solsticeVR, is a way for professional and amateur musicians to compose music using original samples they create via virtual reality and Unity.

     Dr. Mike McFerron, chair of the Department of Music, is using solsticeVR to compose an electronic piece of music intended to be nine to 11 minutes in length.

      McFerron said there are a number of ways to compose a piece of music, such as writing notes down via paper and pencil, sitting at a piano to improvise and singing the melody and writing it down. He said solsticeVR offers another composition method.

      The software solsticeVR was developed by Dr. Roy Magnuson, assistant professor of music theory and composition at Illinois State University. Students who are interested in using the software on their own systems can contact Magnuson. For further information, please visit https://www.solsticevr.net/.

Dr. Mike McFerron uses solsticeVR for electronic music composition.

          Some of the features of solsticeVR include recording in sound settings such as rain, snow or a cave. McFerron has used the cave setting for the acoustic effect. He also said he would like to possibly build another space setting this summer, a metal room, where the environment would be composed of metal.

     There are also global effects, which change the settings for all the music in the software, or local effects, which will only change a portion. The composer can adjust several settings, such as pitch, delay and modulation. The composer can also bring in their own recordings, such as on the piano, and utilize the recording in a composition.

     According to the solsticeVR website, users can import their own audio samples, such as .wav and .ogg, process audio via sliders and presets, assign their audio samples to specific colors and draw them for a 3D mix and record audio live to add to the composition. Additionally, to use the system one should have an Oculus Rift VR headset as well a computer with a discrete graphics card. Users should also have a Leap Motion Controller to track the movement of the hand.

Dr. Mike McFerron gives a demonstration showing different effects in solsticeVR.

     Minimum system requirements include Windows PC, Windows 10 operating system and a GPU [graphics processing unit] Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon R9 290 equivalent or higher, according to the solsticeVR website. Recommended system requirements include a GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, AMD RX 580 or higher.

     McFerron said he is excited about exploring this technology further, and said as an artist he is always looking for ways to change and adapt. He said he always looks for the best way to express what he wishes to express.

     McFerron said interested faculty and students can stop by his office and try the software. McFerron added computer science students interested in expanding the software are welcome.

     Lewis University offers a Computer Science + Music Bachelor of Arts degree program, which requires 27 credit hours of computer science courses, 4 credit hours of a mathematics course and 30 credit hours of music courses. For more information about this degree and the requirements, visit https://www.lewisu.edu/academics/compsci-music/index.htm and http://lewisu.smartcatalogiq.com/en/Undergrad-2019-2020/Undergraduate-Catalog/College-of-Aviation-Science-and-Technology/Computer-Science/CS-X-Programs.

     McFerron said the program is a great way for students to hold onto their interest in music during their college studies. He added students sometimes minor in music to find a way to keep music in their lives, “but the CS + Music program is a degree that fully integrates computer science, technology and music.” McFerron also said there has been a lot of interest in this major expressed by prospective students. 

     McFerron said the degree program is “One of the most direct paths to a sustained career that we have.” He said the career paths open to students with this degree include sound design, web technology and virtual reality technology. He added that if he was a college student today, then he would be pursuing the Computer Science + Music degree.

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