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Google's New Tilt Brush App Makes You Feel Like A Synesthete

The best virtual reality drawing app just got extra trippy.

Google’s Tilt Brush app articulates the potential of virtual reality better than any explainer can. It lets you draw neon scribbles, flames, and rainbows in midair, inspiring a sense of childlike wonder. My dad walked through his room-scale painting of shimmering stars like he was Yayoi Kusama—and in that moment, he sort of was.

Which is why Tilt Brush’s latest update is such a perfect complement to what the app is doing already: It adds a synesthetic collection of audio reactive brushes, so as you play music on your desktop, it pipes into your ears and into your paintings—which blink and pulse in acknowledgement of the beat.

The brushes include neon tubes, LED-esque equalizers, electrical wave forms—and of course, acid rock mainstays like smoke and fire. In Google’s own press video, these elements come together into wildly intricate, large-scale music installations. In my own experience on the HTC Vive virtual reality system, with Adele blasting through my ears (I don’t have music on my PC, okay?—and it’s the only CD my family has bought in forever*), I drew glowing, bouncing speakers in every inch of my periphery—swirls, rainbows, and electricity shooting from a miniature storm cloud over my head.

It'd be wrong to call my quick sketches true "music visualizations," but that barely matters as 1.) I could have never created any of these things in a pre-Tilt Brush world, and 2.) music just makes Tilt Brush that much more fun.

This wave of updates is only scratching the surface of Tilt Brush’s potential. For it to be a workable tool for serious graphic, product, or interior design, it needs to evolve from the 3D version of Microsoft’s Paintbrush it is today into something with Adobe-style logic, in which lines can snap together perfectly, and a door or wall I draw can be treated with some level of physics rather than a weightless, phantom presence.

Until then, however, I’m happy to crank up the volume and let my puerile pencilings fly.

* Technically since Taylor Swift’s 1989

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