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César Hidalgo and his rock version in the metaverse

On May 18, the Chilean physicist published his latest undertaking: a project he developed together with fellow physicist Jorge Forero, which consists of publishing unpublished songs and music videos in virtual reality.

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César Hidalgo says that his latest endeavor combines two of his passions . “Music and technology”, relates the physicist from his home in Toulouse, where he has lived since 2020. A year earlier he began directing the Center for Collective Learning of the Institute of Artificial and Natural Intelligence (ANITI) of the University of that city.In the background is a white wall with classic European moldings, a window showing the landscape, and an electric guitar. His somewhat rocker look -he wears a short-sleeved black shirt that at times reveals the tattoo on his right arm, and his loose hair reaches his shoulder-, is in tune with the project that he details here and that he unveiled on May 18 through a tweet.

“Welcome to my Metaverse (welcome to my metaverse)! (…) Following my nostalgia for the ’90s, I started this virtual reality music project,” Hidalgo explained through the message.

MTVerse

César Hidalgo (42) and Jorge Forero (41) have known each other since college. “In 2001, while we were Physics students at UC, we had to go home together by subway and bus and so we started talking, making friends, we got together to play the guitar,” recalls Hidalgo.The thesis was carried out with Professor Francisco Claro, who, according to his former students, also had a musical side and an interest in science and music. “If you were interested in interactive science and digital media, there weren’t many alternatives for academic specialization at that time. He helped me to follow that path”, says Forero.In 2004, Hidalgo moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Notre Dame – he then worked at Harvard University School of Medicine and the Kennedy School of Government at the same university, and was an assistant and associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), directing the collective learning group at the MIT Media Lab- while his friend worked at the Mirador Interactive Museum (MIM) and was doing a master’s degree in Art, in order to deepen the link between science , technological means and creative and artistic production. They kept in touch. In 2017, Hidalgo found out that his former partner had a company, 

Ludique, that specialized in multimedia work and interactive software. The company, which started with a focus on education, moved into advertising and marketing.“I found what he was doing very interesting. I used to work at MIT, and I knew a lot of people who did that work. At that time I had begun to experiment with virtual reality issues, I was interested in the medium, I had been passionate about it since the ’90s when there was a first wave, and since I knew that Jorge also liked music (he studied violin and classical guitar at the Modern School, Digital Audio at DGM and electroacoustic music at Arcis), I told him my idea: to make music videos in virtual reality inspired by that nostalgia we had watching Saturday Box Office, Extra Young, MTV and other similar programs that showed music videos ” .He is passionate about the subject: as he explains it he talks fast and laughs at her twenty-something memories of him. “Do you get the flashback?” Hidalgo asks his partner, inviting him to participate in the conversation. “Listening to you Foti (nickname for Hidalgo) 

I get a flashback of many youthful moments playing music,” says Forero.Both have favorite music groups – 

Congreso and Frank Zappa, by Forero; Pink Floyd, Los Jaivas and Daft Punk, in the case of Hidalgo -, but, they clarify, “more than playing songs by others, which we also did, we invented songs, there were nights in the Physics faculty that we dedicated to this”, he relates. Forero, who is a doctoral student in Digital Media at the University of Porto, Portugal.They defined roles: 

Jorge would be the audiovisual creator, and César, the producer who would contact the artists and coordinate -through his company Datawheel- the production of the project, which he colloquially calls “MTVerso”.

Unpublished songs

“We found the first song, one by Breaking Forms, a band made up of two Chileans -Nicole L’Huillier and Juan Necochea-, and in a few weeks Jorge sent the first video, in black and white, which begins with a setting in a lunar space with some gorillas. , you fall through a tunnel into a spaceship… quite a psychedelic trip. It has a very ’90s look,” says Hidalgo.Forero adds: “The artists composed with a semi-spatial inspiration, and I tried to reflect it in the design. 

I had Kubrick’s movie in my head, that’s why you see some monkeys dancing while listening to the melody of the song I keep learning , I keep falling”. The other song, Running Away -a quieter ballad-, was composed by Katy Snax, whom Hidalgo met in the US.“We used to host music nights at the Datawheel, and she would come play,” he recalls. The third melody, Music is the language, “with a funkier vibe”, is by Danny Magnani, audio editor for movies and TV series.

“There are three different stories, one associated with each theme, which, in turn, consist of 100% original musical creations, created for this project. We did not want to make videos for songs that everyone knows, but rather that they were unknown to the world and we would make them known, “says Hidalgo.“Besides 

, the issue of copyrights is very expensive , it’s not coming and having Roger Waters in a project like this. And the songs that we have are very good”, he adds.

The business model and Covid

Together with Datawheel they analyzed the business model. “Putting on a helmet for 2 hours is just for the fans, not the general public,” he explains. A three to five minute experience, they concluded, would be interesting and memorable for audiences.

Hidalgo cites the video game Richie’s Plank Experience as an example, which simulates that one is on a plank in the middle of skyscrapers . “It’s very deep, it’s a case study, the stimulus is so close that it makes people panic and they don’t want to fall into the void,” adds Forero.

The idea of ​​the musical project had as a requirement that it be easy to use , that consumers wear the helmet, without much explanation involved. “A few weeks ago we had a party at the house and the children were fascinated to put on the helmets, they took turns with each other and the adults never had to push any buttons,” he relates.But buying the equipment is expensive -specialized helmets are required, although it can still be seen in 2D-, the idea was to sell the experience to groups in squares, beaches, outside nightclubs, for 1 or 2 euros.Hidalgo says that 

Datawheel agreed to finance the project, which cost $20,000 for the three videos. in a first stage. They were ready to launch when Covid hit the world in February 2020. “This model is impossible to execute, nobody is going to want to put on their face a helmet that someone else recently used,” says the physicist.“What do we do?” they asked. They gave it a spin and developed a free model. “We assumed the loss, the work was already done, we think the content is very good, so we launched it,” they say. Thus, this May 18, the project became available on Steam, a platform for downloading video games.“Perhaps we did not reach the port we thought, but we did reach an end, we reached a product, which is important in the journey of an entrepreneur. 

Scientists publish papers with nothing in return, this is similar” , says Hidalgo.And he concludes: “ 

I would like to continue learning.Here in France I met a drummer and we get together from time to time to compose. As one grows in life one realizes that there is a need to express oneself, and if one does not develop those skills, beyond singing in the shower, there can be frustration. I’m bad on the guitar, but I have 22 years of experience and I can express myself”.

life in france

After almost a decade at the MIT Media Lab –the only Latino on its faculty–, in 2019 Hidalgo arrived at the University of Toulouse where he continues his research in collective learning and Big Data, which has earned him worldwide recognition, as well as as with his venture Datawheel, a company dedicated to the creation of data integration, distribution and visualization tools, founded in Boston nine years ago and that today has offices in the United States and Chile.