How will we experience music in 2050?
From shared virtual events to neural implants, we may exist in a new 'world' within 30 years
So it's a rainy day in 2050 and you and your friends decide you'd like to see a concert.
You log into a special account with a wave of your hand, and suddenly you and your friends are together, in a venue, as your favourite band takes the stage. It looks real. Your friends look real. The wall of sound is fantastic, so you get up to dance.
All from the comfort of your own living room — and your friends are in theirs. No headset required, because your neural implants have taken control of your senses.
This is not only possible, but probable, if current trends in the development of audio technology progress at the pace they have been.
"Those kinds of things are absolutely possible," David Usher, the frontman of the band Moist and a solo artist, told Spark host Nora Young. And he should know, as he's also the founder of ReImagine AI, a Montreal-based company that develops AI systems that aim, in part, to stream your personality online.
"I think that there will be a big segment of the market. But then it's hard to know," said Usher.
"It depends when it comes, how it comes, how it's delivered. Google Glass, when it first came out, everyone was so skeptical. But now we're seeing the resurgence of lots of different kinds of AR glasses and different kinds of technologies."
John LaGrou, a pioneering audio engineer and founder of Millennia Media, which produces high-end studio equipment used by many of the world's most famous musicians, agreed.
"We're integrating audio and video and head tracking into a single package that will eventually mimic a real-world, three-dimensional experience," he said. "We'll get much higher resolution of extreme, lightweight, and physically ultra-transparent devices, almost to the point where we forget we're wearing anything at all.
"If we're going to share entertainment media with others, we need to be able to hear them and see them — and feel like they're sharing the entertainment space with us. So I think this whole head-worn experience 20 to 30 years from now, will feel like wearing nothing on our head, and will be with a group of people having a shared experience."
But Emmy Parker, a cultural futurist and former brand manager for synthesizer maker Moog Music, said that the future could also allow us to experience music and sound in a very profound way, the way families have shared music for thousands of years, and long before "music" became a commodity.
"How can we expand that simple idea, which has been on planet Earth probably for 150,000 years, that we play music together to, number one, connect with each other?" said Parker.
All three guests were on the latest episode of Spark's Next Big Thing series, which explores how technology in various guises might affect humanity in the far future.
And all of them see the metaverse — the virtual world we increasingly inhabit alongside the real one — as the key to a shared sonic experience. And if having a virtual body and shared experiences online seem weird, Usher argues that many younger people are already there.
"First adopters of this kind of technology are obviously gamers, and people have been living there for a long time already. What you lack in the ability to experience in terms of person-to-person life, you gain in the experience of visualization that goes well beyond what you're able to experience with just your eyes," he said.
Parker said the possibilities for audio as a healing tool open up within the metaverse as well. "Let's say we're doing a sound healing, and that sound healing is happening somewhere in Iceland, but you also have people participating in Africa. And because of that, you have a very different collision or have the ability for sound to connect us to something that's far beyond, beyond ourselves."
LaGrou added that the metaverse and virtual technologies could also aid in the production of music, by placing the recording studio in a virtual space.
"So you look around and you're seeing the entire studio with your headset. And now that the tracking you have for your gloves, and things are becoming quite good, to where you can actually take your finger in virtual space, and press a button, or turn a knob, a switch, or you can see a light on the console.
"By 2050 maybe we'll see studios that are entirely virtual, you put on your headset, your goggles, your headphones, you put on your gloves, or something like that. And now you're mixing, you're in a completely emulated studio, doing your work."
Parker said we are poised on the brink of a great opportunity in sound.
"We have to try to get our imaginations out of this prison that we are currently in. And I do believe that music will be a huge part of that. I think the metaverse is going to be a huge part of that. [So] are we going to create the metaverse in our current image? Or are we going to be able to actually shake it up and create a completely different reality in the metaverse? We shall see."
Written and produced by Adam Killick