On February 13 and 14, music, dance, and technology blend into a one-of-a-kind experience for Music Illustrated: Virtual Reality in Concert. This groundbreaking event combines classical favorites such as Clair de Lune and Carnival of the Animals, performed by members of the Houston Symphony, together with mesmerizing visual art created by Topher Sipes. During the concert, Topher makes life-sized visual imagery using Google’s innovative Tilt Brush virtual reality technology in real time with the music, creating an experience one must see (and hear!) to believe. Ahead of the concert, we had the chance to ask Topher a bit more about the creative experience of bringing Music Illustrated to life.
Houston Symphony: How did you first get involved in Music Illustrated: Virtual Reality in Concert?
Topher Sipes: I used to art direct ARTheism, an immersive dance company where I projected touchscreen-controlled animation onto my dance partner, Samantha Beasley. This eventually led to me performing onstage as a “VRtist” with the Tilt Brush software. Around the same time, Lesley Sabol [Houston Symphony Director of Popular Programming] tried Tilt Brush and knew combining it with the orchestra would be potent. She was referred to me as I had since performed live using Tilt Brush with live music, spoken word, art competitions, and publicly interactive installations.
HS: For the concert, you are creating images with Google’s amazing virtual reality technology, Tilt Brush. Tell us about working in that medium and why it connects so well with music?
TS: Creating with Tilt Brush is like painting with light that floats in place—it’s as if the artist is inside the painting themselves! I love to dance to music, particularly instrumental music. I’ll treat the virtual canvas like a dance floor upon which to express 3D artifacts of my hand’s movement. As a child, I learned how to play the piano and keyboard, performing classical music at recitals. I’ve also been drawing for as long as I can remember and it’s the foundation for my visual art practice. This performance synthesizes two foundational elements of my early exposure to the creative arts in novel ways beyond my childhood’s wildest dreams.
HS: What drives your inspiration for connecting these famous classical pieces to imagery? Why do you think Tilt Brush is better suited to this as opposed to a traditional 2D canvas?
TS: Though I don’t currently play musical instruments anymore, I approach visual art tools as “visual instruments” where my ear’s sensitivity to rhythm and melody is integral to the creative process. Jean Michel Basquiat is known to have said “art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time.” If time is seen as an additional dimension outside of the three spatial ones, then in this case the synthesis of art and music is like a four-dimensional, instrumental sculpture. Tilt Brush enables greater degrees of expression by documenting an artist’s embodied movements spatially while featuring animated brushes that bring additional vitality to the artwork.
HS: What pieces are you particularly excited about creating imagery for?
TS: The two I’m really excited about are Sicilienne from Gabriel Fauré’s Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande and Danse bacchanale from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns.
The Houston Symphony presents Music Illustrated: Virtual Reality in Concert on February 13 & 14. In-person and livestream tickets are available now.