Artistry meets circuitry inside 'The Lab,' HP's trippy tech-art playground

Which acts are performing? For the most part, that’s all the information necessary to decide if you are willing to bake under the naked sun for a 10-hour music festival.

But Coachella-organizer Goldenvoice decided to differentiate the inaugural three-day Panorama Music Festival, which was held at Randall’s Island Park last weekend in New York City, with The Lab. It’s an exhibit space enclosed in a 70-foot dome, housing seven immersive tech installations.

Where every movement plays an instrument, the commotion of the festival was overpowered by a whirlwind of bell chimes.

The Lab was designed by visual design company, which also picked the New York City artists that worked on the installations. The installations range from the mindlessly fun, such as an inflatable structure that emits sound every time a person bounces on it, to the dazzling, including an immersive film shown on the surface of a 70-foot dome.

Debuting at a music festival was a bold choice for The Lab. It easily could’ve been lost in the commotion and noise. Instead, the exhibit defined itself as a star attraction, proving once again that art and technology belong together.

A spectacular entry

Making it into The Lab, with its line that stretched half a football field, was all about preparation.  You needed plenty of water to combat the dehydration endured while standing in line under the hot summer sun. When you finally entered the windowless Lab you were met with a poster-sized board explaining how the Lab intersects music and technology.

The minute you made a short left around that wall, you could see at least six installations without moving an inch. With exhibits in close proximity, and some involving physical activity that bled into the walking lanes, The Lab mimicked the hectic feel of the festival outside.

Visual artist Beau Burrows’ installation Visceral Recess was an inflatable bounce house that played music with each bounce, and shone a brilliant array of colors. “It was the most interactive and fun, because I became a composer with my body,” said Tat WZA, co-host of Hot 97’s Hot in Tech web series.

People were literally bouncing out of Visceral Recess and into the crowd awaiting a chance to create shadowy letters on a video screen as part of Zachary Lieberman’s Reflection Studies installation. Liberman’s exhibit would let you play with an assortment of letters scattered across a table emitting light, with the letter arrangements appearing on in front of you, on a large screen, in real-time.

Beside Visceral, and out of bouncing range, you could see multimedia artists Dave Rife and Gabe Liberti’s Hyperthread, a cocoon of seven silk sheets which act as music instruments upon touch.  In a room where every movement plays an instrument, the commotion of the festival was instantly overpowered by a whirlwind of bell chimes.

HP Ad Exhibit

While innovation was the proposed theme, The Lab often felt like a pop-up shop to sell products from HP, the event sponsor. Under each video board displaying the name and description of the installation was a list of the HP products used in its creation. From a far, and in quick passing, you could often make out the names of the HP products clearer than anything else.

One of the first, and largest, exhibits was the Spectre x360 Interactive Experience, where people sat down in front of a panoply of glowing balloons and played with HP’s Spectre X360. Sharing photos taken with the x360 on social media was the main draw, and that stuck out like a sore thumb among the other, more creative installations. Still, it attracted a large crowd.

Gabriel Pulecio’s work, Infinite Wall, was one of the smallest in terms of floor space, but the interactive glass mirror walls were equipped with motion sensors, so every movement spurred colorful lights that zipped across the walls in real time.

“The idea with this is you enter and you need to walk around the piece to discover what it does.” Pulecio told Digital Trends. “In that sense it’s trying to live in that moment, in that space, and trying to find yourself in a different level of reality.” Pulecio says it took two months to create Infinite Wall, mostly using HP’s Z840 workstation to run the LED panels and render the graphics in real-time.

Virtual reality without a headset

The Lab greeted visitors with a sign that claimed “nothing stands out quite as much as The Dome.” You’d find that an understatement. The Dome was an immersive group experience where dozens of people were encouraged to lay on their back and gaze up at colorful abstract shapes, all projected on the massive 70-foot dome. The film’s video was handled by creative studio Invisible Light Network and experiential production company Dirt Empire, with the atmospheric audio handled by creative audio studio Antfood.

Though the exhibit was incredibly crowded, the discomfort would fade, as you’d be too busy trying to keep up with the massive screen to worry about someone’s knee being in your thigh. People yelled in unison when the film showed orbs of light quickly descending. A group of strangers willfully packed together to get the best experience possible, even if it meant laying on dirty surfaces hundreds of people walked on that day.

This was the only exhibit you could experience without the names of the HP products put in your face once you enter. The information was still available on the far left side of the space, and ILN founder Elliott Kealoha Blanchard told us HP’s computers made easier the arduous task of making a film for a 70-foot screen.

“We used A LOT of HP high-end computers,” Blanchard said. “The thing about this film is, because it’s in a dome, we had to render it at extremely high resolution, 4K specifically, just to get something that looks good.” Blanchard stated ILN completed the project in roughly two months, and used computer animation software Maya, Cinema 4D, and After Effects to make the video for The Dome.

A group of strangers packed together for the experience, even if it meant laying on dirt hundreds of people had trod through.

If you were a skeptic, you might argue the dome wasn’t the “virtual reality theater” festival goers were promised. But founder and creative director Justin Bolognino explained why The Dome is a close, and better cousin of virtual reality.

“I’m not knocking VR, but you don’t hang a picture frame on the side of a building 20 stories up,” Bolognino said. “Just like you don’t put on a VR headset in public.” For him, hundreds of people laying around, jumping and yelling at videos of orbs descending, mimics the corporeal feeling virtual reality delivers. Whether you’d agree is up to you, but the crowd certainly seemed enthused.

The Lab had lines long enough to deem it a success. With Goldenvoice chief and Coachella creator Paul Tollett intimating The Lab could make an appearance at Coachella, you can expect it to become a festival mainstay.


These shoes let me stroll through ‘Skyrim,’ and I desperately want to go back

After being funded in just two hours on Kickstarter back in October 2018, Cybershoes has earned itself a place among the coolest VR walking and running tech. At CES 2019, we got to try them out and they live up to the hype.

Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 Music adds Spotify support for tunes while you tone

After releasing Spotify for the Fenix 5 Plus series and Forerunner 645 Music last year, Garmin made good on its promise to bring the music streaming service to its Vivoactive 3 Music fitness watch.

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Movies & TV

Bill and Ted 3 celebrates the franchise's 30th birthday with excellent teaser

As the Bill and Ted franchise turns 30, a third installment that the cast and creative team call Bill and Ted Face the Music is officially in preproduction, though there are big hurdles to overcome.

The best new music this week: Robert Ellis, Golden Daze, and more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week: Brand-new music from Robert Ellis, Broken Social Scene, and Golden Daze.

These are the coolest virtual and augmented reality gadgets from CES 2019

CES 2019 had plenty of VR and AR gadgets on display, including headsets that completely change how you experience virtual reality, and some that don't even require a PC or a phone to run.

The Teslasuit could turn Black Mirror’s terrifying ‘Playtest’ into a reality

We spoke with Teslasuit co-founder Dimitri Mikhalchuk about VR gaming at CES 2019. With all its features, the future of the Teslasuit and virtual reality look bright. And it also sounds a bit like a Black Mirror episode.

Could the next Microsoft HoloLens be announced at MWC 2019?

After not having a presence at Mobile World Congress for three years, Microsoft is now sending out media invites for a press conference on February 24 during the annual event in Barcelona. Could a next-generation HoloLens be on the way?

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Virtual Reality

Is the Vive Pro better than the original Vive? Our answer might surprise you

HTC Vive vs. Vive Pro, which comes out on top? That's the subject of our latest comparison, which looks at everything from tracking solutions, to controllers, and the brand new headset that could set a new standard for VR.

Samsung files a VR patent featuring a curved OLED display

Doubling down on its emphasis on curved displays, Samsung recently filed a design patent for a new virtual reality headset that could feature a curved OLED display, which would be an interesting development in VR.

Bringing realism to VR is complex, but these developers found a way in holograms

Making virtual reality feel real is the hardest job of all VR developers. For Awake: Episode One, StartVR used volumetric recording, rather than motion capture, to bring its characters to life like never before.