SPHERES is a three-chapter space experience from Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures and writer/director Eliza McNitt that takes you on a trip through a universe filled with sound. Once featured at film festivals the world over, including Sundance and the Venice Film Festival where it won the Grand Prize in VR, the experience is now available on Oculus Rift for $10.
You’re taken on a breathtaking journey through the universe where you’ll play with the full gamut of electromagnetic waves, start the big bang with a tap on the center of the universe, and witness a visual feast of the planets as they sing out in a choral reverberation. Simply put, SPHERES is a gorgeous example of attention to visual detail mashed up with poetic voice overs that illustrate how our solar system, while seemingly devoid of life outside the confines of our planet, is not a silent or still place.
While not only a visual and audio treat, haptics play a big part too, as your Touch controllers oscillate from different vibrational pithces when you point them towards planets which reveal their magnetospheres, or when you play with the beginnings of the universe’s cosmic microwave background, displayed as undulating red light.
The Oculus Store page for SPHERES rates it as a ‘comfortable’ experience, although that advisory isn’t wholly true for the entire 40-minute duration of the three chapters done all at once. A few times I had to shut my eyes so I could find my footing again, as I was taken close to black holes that whip dying stars into a fast-paced light show, and flew through the universe in a largely black void without a strong point of near-field visual reference to keep me surefooted. Most of the twisty turn bits on your tour through the solar system are fairly slow and deliberate though, so it stands to reason that most people will be fine for a single 10 – 12 minute chapter in a single session. That said, I never felt the dreaded sim sickness sweats, only a slight disorientation from the experience’s sweeping gallivant through space.
While it’s an awesome feat of sound engineering and VR development prowess, I found it wasn’t entirely adapted to the home user. Each chapter comes with a lengthy intro and credits roll that seem more at home in an expo demo space rather than in your living room or home office. At moments I just wanted to stop, sit and listen to the universe sing, but SPHERES pushes you along at its own pace, presumably to get you in and out of each chapter under the 15 minute mark. That’s ultimately my only gripe with SPHERES.
Here’s a quick summary of each chapter:
- Chapter I: Chorus of the Cosmos – Planet Earth sings. Our solar system becomes a musical instrument as we discover the Universe through sound. Narrated by Millie Bobby Brown.
- Chapter II: Songs of Spacetime – Dive into the heart of a black hole to uncover the breakthrough discovery of gravitational waves. Fall into the darkness, and you will find the light. Narrated by Jessica Chastain.
- Chapter III: Pale Blue Dot – The Big Bang was silent. Then came sound. Travel from the edge of the cosmos to uncover the strangest song of all. Narrated by Patti Smith.
SPHERES was one of five Oculus-funded experiences to debut at Sundance this year, and while it celebrated success there among festival-goers, the experience was ultimately purchased in a staggering “seven-figure deal” by distribution firm CityLights.
The experience is said to launch on other platforms besides Rift at some point. Check out the trailer below from the second chapter, Songs of Spacetime.