What if music was a physical material? Not just sounds in the air, notes on a page, or numbers in a program, but a 3D structure that can unfold and spring to life?

This year’s 3D Jam VR track first-place winner, Lyra VR is a virtual playground for musicians that makes it possible to compose and interact with music at a whole new structural level. You can create visual symphonies connected by ghostly strings that can be triggered at a touch. Each node of music can be customized, and each string can be slowed or sped up to control the tempo. The demo is available free for download on our Developer Gallery.

Lyra is the creation of Metanaut, an indie studio founded in August 2015 in Taipei. It was inspired in part by synesthesia – a neurological phenomenon where the senses blend into each other. According to artist and designer Andrew Lee:

“We wanted users to feel the music, be inside the music.”

“It all started with experience. We knew that VR was an amplifier of experience, and we knew we were obligated to develop something that would appeal to the senses at a level that only VR can provide. We wanted users to feel the music, be inside the music. There is a tiny portion of the human population that can ‘see’ music, and we thought we could bring that experience to every user. Thus synesthesia became our core attribute.”

Innovation in the field of music creation can be a real challenge due to firmly established assumptions about how digital audio workstations (DAWs) should be designed. Fortunately, the Wild West quality of VR makes it possible to escape the weight of baked-in UI expectations.

“Over the last three decades,” says audio designer and programmer “Moshang” Jean Marais, “PC-based music production software has steadily evolved specifically for use on a 2D display. While it’s possible to create versions of these interaction methods for VR, doing so would mean passing up on the opportunity to experiment with UI paradigms imagined from the ground up for VR.”

This led to the creation of a music sequencing environment precisely tailored for VR. “We didn’t simply bring existing 2D panels of DAWs into VR,” says Andrew, “as that would be a poor use of the much different control paradigm of VR. We instead brought musical structure into the physical world with links and nodes in space, allowing users to see and intuitively read how a song would progress.”

Today’s Lyra is just an alpha experiment, and Metanaut is already expanding on the groundwork they’ve built so far. According to producer Dilun Ho, the team is targeting an early access beta this summer, with a more fully featured experience. You can follow Metanaut for the latest updates on Twitter and Facebook.

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Alex is the head writer and blog editor at Leap Motion, where he stands as the final bulwark against bad grammar. Want to share your Leap Motion project? Email acolgan@leapmotion.com or PM leapmotion_alex on Reddit.

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