The Monthly interviews Damian Mills about his Virtual Reality Art and Music project – Part 1

How did the idea for your project come about?

I have been interested in the potential of Virtual Reality for some time, but in 2018 a project called “Performance without Barriers”, based at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queens University in tandem with Drake Music Project Northern Ireland, produced a piece of work called “Immerse”. The project used Virtual Reality musical instruments to create music alongside the Hard Rain Ensemble. They also worked with a group of musicians from Barcelona.

Performance without Barriers

They used a programme called EXA: The Infinite Instrument which was specially designed to be customisable and because of that it could be used for people with special needs and disabilities. That project was performed at the Sonic Arts Research Centre on the 18th November 2018 in their 3 dimensional ampliphonic space and it was a fantastic success.

That is where I started to think about the possibility of a Virtual Reality project which I wanted to work on.

How did things develop from that initial thought process?

I chatted to a friend of mine, Jamie Harper, who was working on creating art in the virtual world. He was based in the Vault Artists’ Studios. Later, I was attending a funeral of a friend, Aisling Reynolds, and I was talking to a mutual acquaintance Adam Wallace, who worked at Digital Catapult, and he suggested that I look at the Arts Council’s Creative Arts Seed Fund to help fund my project.

I moved towards creating a project where I would link the Virtual Reality technology with music and art and the idea was that people would come to an art gallery, put on a headset and be transported to a virtual world where they could layer music and art together.

I wanted this project to be designed to work for, in particular, people with disabilities. The aim would be to create a playground where people could create their own combination of music and art.

That sounds very ambitious?

The project seemed to me to have all sorts of applications. Because we had a virtual space of around 8 square metres to work in, we could have musicians come along and perform in that space, using virtual reality instruments. Again the idea was that participants could interact with that.

The idea was accepted by the Arts Council as an idea worth developing and I was offered a grant through the Creative Seed Fund to proceed with the project, and then, just as we were about to get started, unfortunately, Covid 19 came along.

I had to re-evaluate what was possible given the restrictions to combat the virus.

See more information about Damian’s work at the link below

Part two of this interview is here

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