It should be evident after two years of Moogfest in Durham that experimentation is everything at the festival.
In 2016, it meant pairing Microsoft with Canadian electronic musician Grimes for an exhibit that let attendees remix her music, partnering with Burt’s Bees to create a bee-powered synthesizer and matching Research Triangle Park with a Brooklyn arts collective for an interactive LED light installation.
At last months’ festival, Moogfest started to engage the local tech community in its experiments. And that’ll be a focus for 2018 too. Starting now, Moogfest is on a search for partners to experiment with using technology, art and music.
“We have a very curious audience (…) people’s ears and eyes are wide open,” says festival managing partner Kamran Valanejad (who goes by KamranV). “This isn’t a branding exercise for a company but a positioning of themselves as thought leaders because they are truly innovating.”
Bronto offered an example of this with its The Sound of Commerce installation.
But another local experiment came together in the few weeks before the festival and engaged festival goers in an unexpected way. An American Underground-based mobile development shop called CrossComm invited members of the startup hub to come play with some of the VR equipment it’d been testing and experimenting with.
Festival managing partner Kamran Valanejad took them up on the offer and learned about the firm’s new augmented reality (AR) technology, which activates an AR experience when users hold a phone’s camera over a certain image.
Moogfest had experimented with virtual reality at its 2014 festival, commissioning an experience that let festival attendees roam the streets of Asheville wearing virtual reality headsets and experiencing the city through sound and virtual art attached to its various structures.
But CrossComm offered a more practical way to engage the audience. Because Moogfest live-streamed most presentations and performances over the four day festival (working with another Durham startup Riivet), the technology made it easy to deliver festival content to attendees when they took a break for lunch or wanted to tune into a performance virtually while physically attending another.
CrossComm got to work developing an app called MoogfestAR, and Moogfest printed coasters with a black and white psychedelic looking image. When a user scanned the image, a virtual screen popped up with the Moogfest livestream. The coasters were placed in bars and venues during the festival.
They didn’t do any marketing—they hoped the experience would be as serendipitous as the festival itself.
The festival provided a good case study for CrossComm, which is working to spin the technology into its own platform called Living Pictures.
“It was a perfect moment because we’d done the pre-work and made the technical investment to get the hardware and learn the language of the application,” says CEO Justin Thomas. “Everyone always asks, how much is luck and how much talent? It takes both—making the investment and telling people you’re open for business, experimenting and brainstorming.”
The idea behind Living Pictures is that businesses that would like to use AR but don’t want to spend the money to build a custom app can create a channel of content here instead. Thomas likens it to YouTube for AR. Though only recently available, there’s already a pricing model ($100 to $1,000 per month) based on the number of views expected.
Duke University’s Kunshan program is already using it to help students experience the Chinese campus before they sign up for a semester there. Students can scan an image on a poster and watch it come to life as a video.
Also during Moogfest, American Underground printed postcards with an image that, when viewed in the AR app, showed a video about the startup campus made by a research group called Thriving Cities.
Plans are already taking shape for Moogfest 2018, and Valanejad and his team hope that examples like this one fuel more creativity among the startups and entrepreneurs in downtown Durham and beyond.
“We see ourselves as a platform overall,” Valanejad says. “If it is technological, creative or any sort of sharing of ideas, we see ourselves as a platform for those conversations and ideas.”