Local Current Blog

Chris Koza releases Minnesota’s first virtual reality music video

With so many artists and videographers collaborating on music videos these days — and with independent musicians’ budgets typically being pretty tight — it can be difficult to come up with new ways to try to reinvent the art form and stand out from the sea of YouTube links. But thanks to a new wave of technology and a new virtual reality company in town, Visual, Chris Koza will go down in the annals of music video history as being the first star of a project shot entirely in 360 and viewable in virtual reality.

“What we created was everyone’s first time — it was kind of a trial,” Koza writes, emailing about his experience making the video from Iceland, where his band Rogue Valley performed several sets at the Iceland Airwaves Festival. “I thought it would be interesting to try a new technology that allegedly could be so easily available to anyone.”

With the development of cheap new hardware and open-access apps, virtual reality, or “VR,” has become the buzzword of the year in the tech world. You may recall the Time magazine cover story on VR from August that became an instant meme; or the story that broke about VR last week when The New York Times shipped out free Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets to its entire base of subscribers, a move that Wired magazine declared “just hooked a generation on VR.”

Here in the Twin Cities, the videographer and journalist Chuck Olsen is leading the VR charge. Olsen has always been an early adopter of emerging media trends — his work livestreaming newsworthy events around town for the citizen journalism site The Uptake was happening years before livestreaming anything was a common practice — and he became smitten with virtual reality as soon as he came across a presentation on it at a tech conference in California. As soon as he returned home he got to work launching Visual, assembled an alien brain-looking 360 camera that’s made up of a handful of Go Pros facing outward in every direction, and started approaching media companies and artists to figure out what he could capture in this format.

“I basically said, ok, this is what we are doing now,” Olsen says, smiling like a kid in a candy store as he shows me his new work.

Watching a virtual reality video using one of these new headsets is an immersive, disorienting, and awe-inspiring experience. Most of the headsets, like Samsung’s $99 Gear VR and Google’s $15-$25 Cardboard option, work by sliding your smartphone into the front of the viewfinder-like goggles and strapping the contraption to your head. Once inside, it no longer feels like you’re merely watching a video — scenery and action are suddenly all around you, and you can turn your head to see what is happening above, behind, and below.

In Chris Koza’s video, Koza appears in every frame like a background character, nonchalantly strumming his guitar and singing “Radio Wave” while two characters text one another and attempt to meet up in real life. You can watch the characters, you can watch Chris, or you can scan the horizon in take in the scenery; in one frame, you’re suddenly in a Minnesota lake on a beautiful summer day, and in the next you’re at the Black Dog Cafe in Lowertown St. Paul, then getting lost in a crowd at CHS Field. Multiple viewings continue to reveal new details, like little Easter eggs, and new nuances to the plot. It’s addicting.

The video was directed by Dallas Currie and Joah Colby, two filmmakers in town who recently became intrigued by the VR trend.

“I was kind of skeptical because this was all new technology, but we were like, let’s go for it,” says Colby. “It feels good to be on that forefront. Music videos have always been a way to explore — it’s very freeing because there’s not the story restraints. You can try new things. That’s one of the cool things that I experienced working with Chris. He was just like, ‘Yeah, go for it! Let’s shoot in every direction and we’ll see what happens.'”

“With a normal video, you’re able to plan for what your frame looks like. For this one, everything’s your frame,” adds Currie.

Reflecting on his new video, Koza adds, “I really love the notion that every action isn’t the focal point for a viewer. It’s far more reflective of real life in that way. There’s always a story happening wherever you look; some are more compelling than others.”

A few tips for watching the “Radio Wave” video: everyone can view it on a laptop or phone without VR by clicking and dragging around to see the whole room, but the best result is to watch it using a VR or Google Cardboard headset on an Android phone. For those using a headset, click the “Cardboard” option on the YouTube video screen when the video is paused. This type of YouTube viewing has not been enabled for iPhones yet, but could be just around the corner.

Chris Koza is throwing a release party for the “Radio Wave” video on Wednesday, November 18, at Gyst (25 E. 26th St., Minneapolis). The event is free and all ages, and begins at 5:30 p.m.