Bishi live VR performance with Volta XR

Artist, producer and WITCiH founder Bishi put together an amazing live stream performance with the Volta XR team, for Amazon Music on Twitch. It stunned viewers, who were responding on live chat, and was created using cutting edge code and technology. We spoke to Bishi and to Volta XR’s Alex Kane and Yuli Levtov about how the collaboration worked, and asked for their advice for artists wanting to use VR. There’s also info on how you can become a Volta beta tester!

Bishi - by Frederic Aranda

Bishi and Volta XR - Live VR streaming performance


Had you been planning to work in VR for a while, or was it something new because of restrictions on live music

Both Volta and I are a part of a digital collective called The Rattle, stationed in between East London and LA. I’d seen one of Alex Kane’s demonstrations at an online members roundtable and immediately spotted the potential for collaboration.

What was your vision for the performance on Amazon Music

If I’m really honest, we had less than a week to put this together, so it was a case of thinking on our feet and working with exactly what we had at our technological disposal. It’s a really important lesson for all artists, to work with what you have. It creates a lot of magic. It’s a way to retain an authentic vision and remain true to your art.

What was the process for making the show happen

The main thing was understanding the functionality of the Volta universe and how the physicality of the environment worked and would interact with my performance. I had already been developing my live music presentation, midi mapping my Sitar and improvising with my voice.

Bishi and Volta XR - VR live stream, Amazon Music

Did you use new or unique methods or gear

Volta used a new iPad LightPro that has a body scanner, which was projecting code by Kejiro Takahashi.

How did it all work together for live

We were flying by the seat of our pants, mostly because of the timing constraints. There was a big onus on us to take care of all the hardcore technicalities of the live broadcast, so it was an education for myself and Volta. We all remained incredibly calm under pressure and this ended up in us really bonding.

What was it like performing a VR version of your new single, the Tony Visconti produced Don’t Shoot The Messenger

I began the performance with a live improvisation with voice, electronics, and Sitar, which included stems from the single. I built up the improvisation and then I broke into the actual song itself. The whole thing is such a first - Me, performing in VR, with a Sitar to my Tony Visconti produced single. It was SO epic, I’m just so proud we pulled it off. I have nothing but praise for Alex, Yuli and Owen of Volta.

Bishi and Volta XR - VR live stream, Amazon Music

What did you learn from doing this live stream VR that stunned the audience

I have formed solid respect for those who dare to do something this far out as a live stream! There were about 5 systems of code and about 3 platforms all talking to each other. I had a big education in exactly how VR is made and how global live streams are produced. Alex really educated me in how VR is actually coded and created, so I’m really excited to develop more collaborations together.

Should all artists be trying to work in VR

I think if it appeals to an artist’s sensibilities, then absolutely. I have a relationship between performance, technology, and immersive environments so it was a perfect vehicle for me.

What’s your advice for artists who want to try this technology

Be patient. The more you educate yourself on the capabilities of the technology and immerse yourself into the performance, the more effectively it will translate and complement the VR.

Will you be doing more VR work, and what are you doing next

Absolutely. Both Volta and I feel that this collaboration was one of the most important moments of our year in 2020, so I’m looking forward to producing more collaborations.

I’m launching the new WITCiH Patreon in the new year. I’ll be shooting an official music video to ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger,’ and putting out a run of vinyl. There’s some really exciting new music coming out in 2021. Watch this space!

Bishi - by Frederic Aranda

Alex Kane and Yuli Levtov - Volta XR

We also spoke to Alex Kane and Yuli Levtov from Volta XR, which is an experience creation tool, to find out more about their creative work and their technology.

What kinds of artists are you working with at Volta and on what kinds of projects

We are working with a handful of artists across various genres. There are a few very exciting projects - we did a performance with Imogen Heap, there is another very special one on January 16th, and we are of course planning on doing more projects with Bishi!

That being said, our mission is to advance experience as an art form. The way in which we are doing that is by simplifying and democratizing the tools needed to create and broadcast immersive, mixed reality experiences. We are currently doing a very slow roll out of our beta but plan on making the artist-side creation and broadcasting tools publicly available for free toward the beginning of Q2 2021.

What was different about the collaboration with Bishi

We tend to build a major new feature into the platform for every new performance. We developed our server and broadcasting infrastructure for the previous event - a creative technology party/showcase that was being held in a decommissioned subterranean nuclear reactor in Stockholm. I DJ’d, VJ’d (and Volta’d?) from London and it was broadcast in real time to our desktop application in the reactor hall in Stockholm.

The performance with Bishi was our first use of LiDAR. We used Rcam, a piece of Unity wizardry from developer Kejiro Takahashi, to capture and effect a volumetric scan of Bishi, and place it into our virtual world. Rcam also doubles as a virtual camera, so the scanning and all of the movement around the virtual space was captured via an iPad by our CTO, Yuli Levtov.

Bishi and Volta XR - behind the scenes VR work in progress clip

What was your creative vision for the live stream

The ambition for the stream kept getting elevated as we discussed possible ways to use this as an opportunity to enhance our platform. At first, it was really just supposed to be a way to generate visuals for Bishi but then Keijiro came out with his LiDAR program and we hustled to integrate it. Once it became clear that it would be feasible to put a 3D Bishi in Volta we had to make it happen.

The result was stunning. How did you make it happen

Thank you!

Yuli Levtov our CTO and Owen Hindley our lead developer are wizards. Add a splash of Keijiro magic and you get yourself a 3D Bishi in tronscape metaverse.

In addition to the LiDAR, Owen developed a system for mapping 2D video to 3D objects, which makes it extremely easy to customize immersive 3D environments. All of the visual content on the surfaces of the 3D objects in the scene were just VJ loops on a Creative Commons license by Beeple (aka Mike Winklemann) running through resolume into Volta.

Were there particular challenges

COVID restrictions made this a bit trickier as all of the tech support from the streaming hosts had to be done remotely, but in the end that all went well. Funnily enough the depth capture software we used worked a little too well, in that it (correctly) identified Bishi’s sitar as an object that was not part of her body, which means there’s often a large gap across her chest! We’ve since tweaked the software to be more robust against these kinds of things.

Bishi and Volta XR - VR live stream, Amazon Music

What are you planning for 2021

We’re looking to make Volta into a platform that’s accessible to any artist who wants to make mixed reality experiences. Eventually we’d like artists to be able to create performances like Bishi’s without our direct assistance, but just by using our tools. It’ll take some time to realise that vision, but in the meantime we’re looking to work directly with artists to facilitate exciting new XR livestreaming concepts, and at the same time building up the capabilities of Volta as a platform.

What are your tips for musicians wanting to work in VR/XR

Get in touch with us! If they want to join the waitlist for our public launch or are interested in getting involved and beta testing an early version of it they can sign up here:

  • Volta XR have recently also worked with Imogen Heap, and have a special show with her coming up on 23rd January.
  • Bishi is taking part in the Saffron 7 Days of Sound digital to connect, empower and inspire a global community of women and non-binary people in music tech. It runs 23-29 January and she will be holding a workshop on 23rd January.
  • You can read our interview with Bishi about her album Let My Country Awake, here.