Area 15 is undoubtedly the new hotspot for experiential, location-based entertainment in Las Vegas. I had the great fortune to be invited to experience Omega Mart (created by Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment company founded in 2008) at their pre-opening event and had the pleasure of going back for a second visit on the official opening night.
To be clear Omega Mart is just one of a handful of experiences to be had at Area 15, all of which are noteworthy and bode well for the future of interactive music and sound. My purpose for going was to research and experience it first hand and to share my experience with you.
I know what you’re thinking: How on earth can you be going to an interactive indoor experience smack in the middle of a global pandemic? Rest assured the entire event (like all of Nevada and the entire Las Vegas area) was mask mandatory and the entire venue was operating at reduced capacity and timed entry. Of course, there was plenty of hand sanitizer throughout and the enthusiastic attendants were there to not only greet and interact with us but also to clean and wipe down the surfaces of all the interactive bits & bobs.
Walking into Omega Mart you are immediately greeted with a tongue-in-cheek ode to consumerism with shelves of consumer goods and presumed edibles. The storyline (yes there’s a story to be had here) begins when you are given your Omega Mart card. The objective is to “boop” the card at various stations that give you humorous directives and missions, should you choose to accept them! Each card has its own unique identifier number that tracks your progress throughout the experience. There are no guide books or directions given unless you take the time to ask the attendants questions, and even then the answers can be cagey and require some prodding on your part to get clear directions.
Though subtle at first, there is careful attention taken to the object-specific sound design and ambient sounds that support each of the rooms and many of the environments in Omega Mart.
There are multiple entryways through the “shopping mall” and into the experiential galleries and exhibits. The largest of the entry rooms is dedicated to a looping projection-mapped rock formation that has a multitude of animated Alex Grey and Android Jones art set to ambient music. The projections are psychedelic and mesmerizing to watch. Speakers have been craftily embedded into the plaster surface of the cave-like walls and the audio experience designed to immerse and envelope you.
The storyline, if you’re so inclined to follow it, pushes you through to the various “boop boxes” that each gives you operating or human resource-related tasks to perform. There are many hints to be found throughout that speak to the discovery of “The Source” and the disappearance of Omega Mart founder and CEO Walter Dram.
Apparently, he has disappeared, leaving his daughter Cecelia as the acting CEO. Spoiler alert: This isn’t the main premise of the story but is certainly an influencing factor. I won’t say much more about this however the concept of “The Source” (as seen in The Source Periodic Table of Elements created by The Dramcorp Advanced Research Team) is indeed a driving element to the storyline and the entire experience.
Of course, the installations that drew much of my attention and time are the music and sound-driven ones. Two of our Bay Area heroes in interactive sound creations are well featured here. Moldover and long-time collaborator Rich DDT of SF’s famed LoveTech each have created fabulous installations that offer an opportunity for audiovisual jamming on the next level.
Moldover’s “Music Mill” lent itself particularly well to multi-person “jamming”. The three faceted, quarter-ton, steel-encased, mushroom-shaped creation was co-designed and fabricated by Bay Area designer Brian Sullivan. Moldover’s sleek design concept and seamless integration with his famed “Jambox” delight the user with pads that trigger beefy drum loops, guitar riffs, and synth lines coupled with filters and effects to delight any pad playing aficionado. The experience is taken to the next level with a custom-designed MIDI Light system developed by Turner Kirk and integrated into the surrounding environment by Liza Bender who created the surrounding Infinity Tunnels that synchronize to the music and seemingly represent the energy source emanating from the music Mill that drives the Omega Mart Factory!
“The Music Mill is the result of three years of hard work, the collaboration of dozens of talented people, and the culmination of my instrument-design career. This is the first time I’ve had the support and resources to build one of my “jamboxes” completely from scratch, with very little compromise, and with all the support of the incredible Meow Wolf team.
Now that the whole exhibit is open, my mind is literally blown seeing the contributions of so many amazing artists, and all the beautiful and innovative ways the whole exhibit is tied together. It feels a little hyperbolic to say, but as a lifelong lover of art I believe this is a major inflection point for a new artistic movement. All my gratitude and admiration to Meow Wolf for pulling off the unimaginable on a whole new level!” Moldover
Up a level and just adjacent to the Music Mill is Rich DDT’s Oscillabond Particulizer. Rich has been tinkering and developing cool interactive musical experiences ever since I first met him, close to a decade ago, through his famed LoveTech salon experiences. Much like Moldover’s creation, Rich led a team of creative tech wizards to put this installation together.
The multi-button, knob-twisting interface of the Oscillabond Particulizer drives a multitude of synth patches and samples that are tweaked by a bank of modulation parameters and effects. Each triggers a different visual experience on the screen that responds in enticing visual patterns that range from hammers to butterflies.
Rich credits Omega Mart team members Francesca Searer, Spenser Olsen, Les Stuck and Spec Lee as well as support technicians Alex Stahl, Hrvoje Radnic, Eric Lennartson, ChipperSwitch, Turner Kirk, and Pyramind Alum B1 aka Brad Stroud for helping to bring this marvel of interactive audio ecstasy to life.
Although not as Jam friendly as Moldover’s Music Mill, I had a hard time walking away from the sheer joy I experienced playing and watching the visualizer respond to all the beeps, boops and warbles that gurgled forth from this frothy experience.
Talking with Rich about the development of the Particulizer he said this:
“Although you can operate the Oscillabond Product Particulizer on your own, full activation of product-particulate synthesis requires the collaboration of three to six factory workers on three highly-responsive consoles.
These workers must diligently manipulate the melodically sensitive equipment, adhering to recommended harmonic ratios, and thus orchestrate the polyrhythmic fusing of Additive S and Human Element Particulate into Embryonic Commodity. Pay close attention as you oscillate the controls, as Vision is equal to Vibration, so what you see is indeed what you hear…
DramCorp was an absolute pleasure to do business with, and their Meow Wolf and AOA divisions included many talented artists and imagineers that expedited this operation into hyper-reality.
Oscillabond Musical Mechanics is a ripe new field of Source-Particle Physics, and I felt very fortunate to work side-by-side with colleagues who enthusiastically bounced ideas back and forth, helping focus my designs with factory objectives in mind.”
Not to be left out of my Blog is the very sexy Infrared laser harp room. This sexy beast presents a feast for the eyes, hands and ears as users are enticed to break the laser beams in order to trigger a plethora of samples. By moving your hand back and forth along the distance of the laser you affect different filters and processing. This polyphonic device makes for a lot of fun jamming and triggering with others in the room. The sound can get a bit cacophonic though as those who aren’t tuned in can easily create random sounds that ultimately don’t always work well together.
I could go on and on about all the many rooms and the storyline behind Omega Mart but no more spoilers here as I’m going to leave that to you to experience for yourself.
Stepping out of Omega Mart puts you back into the main hall of Area 15 where you can enjoy a fine cocktail below the luminous digital forest at the center of Oddwood or stroll over to Todd English’s very well executed restaurant, The Beast. I highly recommend the Korean Cauliflower wings but in essence, after eating there over three different nights I found it hard to go wrong with much on this expansive menu.
At the far end of the building is Portal. A 360 projection-mapped lounge that is likely to become quite the party room post-Covid.
Here we settled into a comfy couch, enjoyed a cocktail and a super groovy 360 projection-mapped film experience with music influenced by the origination story of Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd and narrated by none other than Alan Watts. Buckle up as you’re rocketed into a Journey that demands you to “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”. This musical visual journey is the brainchild of Wisdome LA producer Sean Ahearn and was developed in partnership with Devon Padgett and visionary VR producer Glenn Grillo and with music and sound by Bedouin, David Starfire, Guy Laliberte, Nox Vahn & Marsh, and John Lairo.
“Gallery 360’s new Immersive show in the aptly named “Portal Room” at Area 15 represents the elevation to a whole new level of location-based entertainment. The visual story and narrative are now equally important as the music and the experience is taken to an entirely new world of enjoyment and awareness. Exciting times for the future of music!” Sean Ahearn
All in all, there are twenty-one different ways to experience Area 15 and even after three nights there I wasn’t able to get into all of them. If you’re at all intrigued by cutting-edge technology and the arts like I am then it becomes hard not to gush about this feast for the senses.
Area 15 most definitely puts to rest my former distaste for the Las Vegas of old and I have no doubt I’ll be returning to this venue for more interactive fun soon!
Special thanks to Heather “CameraGirl” Gallagher for additional Photography & Video support.