Student Spotlight: Alden Braverman — Creating an AR Music Application
May 04 2020
The XR Development with Unity course from Circuit Stream is a project-based 10-week live online course that is tailor-made to help develop your skills for a career in virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
In the latest installment of our Student Spotlight series, we’ll find out how Alden Braverman discovered the Circuit Stream course, and how it helped him find the belief to pursue a potentially groundbreaking idea in VR.
Alden is an undergrad student at the University of Maryland. He recently interned as an Innovation Catalyst within the Office of Innovation and Economic Development, which promotes the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem across the campus.
“I grew up playing guitar, and I studied a lot of jazz throughout high school and early college,” he explains, “Then I shifted over to recording and production because I became frustrated with having to rely on other people.”
By 2010, Alden was involved in electronic music production and even founded a record label while working for the campus radio station. As an AV specialist, his favorite thing to do is just design sounds.
By tapping into his passion for music and art, Alden impressed his new employers by helping them engage new audiences with community events around the city of College Park. This bright start led to a regular job, and eventually, an introduction to virtual reality.
Alden met the founding director of Mixed, Augmented, Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC), a grant-funded center focused on building up the immersive media ecosystem in the D.C. region. The launch of MAVRIC in 2018 could be partially attributed to the University's connections to Oculus, which was co-founded by Brendan Iribe, as well as UMD's strengths in augmented and virtual reality research.
"Iribe is a Maryland alumnus, so a lot of mixed reality technology is very hip to Maryland's campus culture. We're very curious about the future of it," explains Alden.
Fascinated by the concepts of virtual and augmented reality, Alden was curious to see how it applies to music and audio engineering. From speaking to people at the MAVRIC 2019 Conference, he soon realized that there was a lack of good audio tools in the mixed reality space. And with that, he was intrigued to learn more.
Finding Circuit Stream
Buoyed by the discovery of a potential gap in the market, Alden's curiosity about mixed reality was piqued. While he was researching VR development, he found Circuit Stream and got his hands on a syllabus. Shortly after, he scheduled a call to learn more about the course.
While he was happy to jump on a call to discuss the course, Alden had some doubts about whether this would lead anywhere:
"My big concern was that I essentially wanted to build my own audio engine. So that implies writing plugins in C++ programming and balancing them over to a dynamic library, which would then be used in Unity. It was a little bit beyond the scope of the course."
Going in, Alden had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, and he was adamant that his app had to be done this way. Thankfully, his call with Mike at Circuit Stream helped assuage any fears or doubts.
Mike explained that Circuit Stream does have engineers -- very smart engineers -- on staff that would be able to help him out, even if it’s beyond the scope of the course. It’s possible to shoot ideas at the staff, then get some critique and try to implement different things in Unity.
"I found it very personable to what I was trying to accomplish. It was really nice just to have someone that understood the concepts so I could talk to them, and they could offer very good critical feedback," recalls Alden.
Taking Steps Towards Immersive Audio Creation
On the course, Alden set out to create his app, which is fully-customizable, virtual reality music and audio creation environment where users can choose aspects like the position of speakers, and what sound sources and synthesizers to use.
In essence, he wanted to turn a room into an instrument, where you can choose the layout of the room, and the material of the walls, so you get a type of spatial audio, similar to a stereo recording.
“Whatever you make in this environment is very dynamic like it is a living thing rather than an Ableton set,” claims Alden.
With such an advanced project, there are sure to be some bumps in the road during production.
Alden explains that "problems arise when you go between different hardware if you go on iOS, Android, or a PC standalone, your sample rates are going to change, and that can throw a big wrench into any algorithm you're trying to implement."
Luckily, he was able to find a framework that worked well, which incorporated JUCE audio backend -- a program that Alden had some previous experience with before the course. A recent update added native plugin support for Unity, so Alden was able to build Unity plugins straight from the framework.
The Future Sounds Promising
Alden was impressed by the capabilities of VR on the course, explaining how you can "traverse within an immersive environment, walk around, and depending on where your head is positioned, you can hear the sounds differently. You have this actual physical sensation and perception of depth of sound."
He believes that more people are becoming aware of the possibilities in VR audio tooling, and he is motivated to explore it further so that he can be fully immersed in a physical audio creation environment.
For now, he’s happy to use these tools on personal projects, but in the future, he is open to the idea of something commercial.
“I just want to build this to use it myself and create something with it. When I get to that point where I feel like it's confidently done, then who knows?”
Alden’s Big Takeaway
Today, many premium analog synthesizers sell for thousands of dollars. As mixed reality applications evolve, more cost-effective solutions will surely appear on the market. For now, however, there is a gap where VR audio tooling is concerned.
After completing the course, Alden’s app is not yet finished, but he now has the confidence to move forward and bring his vision into reality, even if it takes him a few years.
He says, “If you have a vision in your head that you'd love to see come true, by the end of the course you will have every single thing you need to do that -- and this is from someone that wanted to get something done that was outside of the scope of the course!”
Even with the advanced techniques and plugin development that his app required, Alden was still able to get the guidance he needed to take major leaps forward. We're excited to hear more about his audio expertise down the line.