Virtuoso preview: A virtual music-making sandbox for your inner child

Virtuoso is a music-making VR app that transports your creative soul to the metaverse, even if you’ve never used an analog instrument before. Cumbersome bongos are finally a thing of the past and the music of tomorrow has never been so sparkling. I mean, just take a look at the glare of this trailer preview.

By definition, a virtuoso is someone who excels in artistic technique, but that doesn’t really explain what this VR app is capable of. Developed by Stockholm-based Fast Travel Games (makers of Wraith: Oblivion – Afterlife), Virtuoso is set to officially launch on March 10 for $20 for Meta Quest and SteamVR users. The company describes Virtuoso as “a virtual music-making sandbox that lets anyone bring melodic creations to life in virtual reality.” Color me intrigued.

Although I hardly consider myself a musician in any way, I am certainly a giant child who likes to march to the beat of his own drum – virtual or otherwise – so it was no surprise when Kim Gideon asked me to take Virtuoso for a ride on the Quest 2. Let’s dive into it.

Virtuoso — Futuristic environment

Despite what the video above may lead us to believe, you don’t actually need your own vacant parking lot to find yourself in the Metaverse. However, you need some room to swing your arms. The musical instruments available to you in Virtuoso may look slightly different from those gathering dust in the back of your parents’ garage, and they’re much more compact. (Read: mobile.)

You can select one of four environments in Virtuoso: futuristic islands, a magic forest, a plain (for zero distractions) and a passage, which integrates your current reality into virtual reality by allowing you to play in your environment in time real (e.g. your living room) as opposed to a simulated backdrop. VR apps like Supernatural spoiled me when it comes to eye-catching surrounding landscapes, but Virtuoso’s backgrounds take second place to the tunes you create in the middle of them. Still, everyone has a different creative process, and it’s good to see some interesting soundstages to choose from. My favorite so far is the passthrough mode. It instantly turns my home office into a recording studio – augmented reality style.

Now about those instruments. Forget boring old pianos, guitars or drum kits. Say hello to your new creative tools.

Virtuoso — Instruments

Once you’ve found the right vibe, it’s time to create your own custom soundstage with Virtuoso’s range of unique virtual instruments:

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Body: Each button plays a different note which changes as you move your hand along a certain axis. For example, left-right for the trigger and up-down for the X and A buttons. Once you get the hang of it, holding down multiple buttons allows you to play harmonious chords.

Empad: Use your virtual drumsticks to create a great rhythm. Tempo Sync helps you keep the beat; you can even isolate individual drum pads to create a unique setup.

Wavemin: Press a button with your hand inside the Wavemin to play a note. Then, sweep your hand up and down to change the pitch; pushing your hand further into the Wavemin provides additional resonance. (Perfect for risers, low-pitched growls, and whale sounds.)

harp: Slide your hands over the wHarp to generate sound. The higher you play on the strings, the louder the notes.

Cluster: Tap the blocks with any button to play a chord; tilt your hand to raise and lower the chord. (The further up you play on each block, the more the notes are spaced out.) Playing down generates a tight group; at the top, it creates a wide-open agreement.

Plank: Insert both your hands and press the cubes to generate sound. You can hold one note with one button, then move your hand to play a second note with a different button. Doing this with the arpeggiator enabled will cause the notes to play in sequence.

Microphone: As the name of this tool suggests, the full version will also allow you to add your own voice. (Presumably with cool sound effects and auto-tuning…?) Lucky for you, dear reader, this feature was disabled during my testing.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Note: The preview version of Virtuoso only gave me access to Empads, Board and wHarp. Stay tuned for full impressions when it officially releases next month.

Virtuoso — Staging (sound)

Once I got familiar with the basic commands and menu selections, it was time to put together my own one-man-band situation. This ended up being my favorite part. You can adjust the exact size and angle of each floating instrument (along with other tools) to your heart’s desire, whether you want to sit or stand in the process. And while I may not be a musician, I know a thing or two about setting up creative workstations, so here’s what I found.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

In passthrough mode, I feel like I’m in the middle of my own music studio. Literally. In a way, it’s actually a bit more immersive. Can you put your head inside a piano while you play it? Because you can totally do that with the Board, I found out by chance.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OK, now that all my musical tools are assembled and at hand, it’s time to see what kind of songs I can create from scratch. I spent about an hour experimenting with the types of sounds each instrument produces and how to manipulate those sounds. (Which is a fun exercise in itself, by the way; it really brought out my inner child as I played with these instruments from the future.) The controls are more intuitive than I imagined, and even though I don’t know my musical scales, I could hobble to an ad-hoc melody with some good old trial and error. (Read: playing by ear.)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Virtuoso — Laying the Tracks

For music noobs like me, it was nice to see some tutorials to get me started. These short videos were definitely helpful in getting familiar with the UI, so hopefully there will be more with the full version. (One or two for each instrument would be fine.)

Once I got the hang of using the looper, I was able to sync the tempo of each individual sound I added, and then put it all together for my metaverse masterpiece. Treat your ears to my music from the future:

Honestly, I’m pretty proud of my new art, imperfect as it is. The full version of the app comes with community sharing options; it will be interesting to see how these features are implemented down the line. Give me a few months of occasional practice, and I bet I could find some pretty solid tunes.

Outlook

Part of Virtuoso’s elevator pitch is that virtually any human can enjoy it, no matter your fondness for music, rhythm, or rhyme. As promised, it didn’t take me long to figure out the platform as a whole.

In its current form, I probably wouldn’t spend $20 on this app, but when Virtuoso officially releases on the Meta Quest and SteamVR app stores, you’ll get double the instruments, a few more soundscapes, and the ability to add voices and share your creations with others. All in all, I’d say it gives you enough bang for your buck, especially if you’re a musician in any capacity. But even if you’re not, Virtuoso is a pretty fun way to create unique art in the metaverse no matter when you feel like logging on.

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