On Saturday, the Hubble Cantata saw audience members explore the Orion Nebula the latest in a series of experiments between VR technology and classical music
Virtual reality technology has allowed people to relive weddings, scale Mount Everest and visit Olympic venues from their living rooms. At Brooklyns Prospect Park on Saturday, the emerging technology took New Yorkers inside the Orion Nebula, the gaseous cloud of dust and evolving stars some 1,500 light years away. The VR installation was part of the Hubble Cantata, an hour-long composition for orchestra, 100-voice chorus, soloists and narration, by composer Paola Prestini and librettist Royce Vavrek.
Staged at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn concert series, the cantatas climatic moment came in its last five minutes, when audience members were cued to slip their phones into free cardboard VR headsets that were distributed at the gates. As the narrator, astrophysicist Mario Livio, poetically described the life and death of stars, attendees shifted in their seats, craned their necks and even stood to view the three-dimensional renderings of Hubble photographs, directed by Eliza McNitt.
The free performance, which also included three-dimensional sound piped over 20 loudspeakers, wasnt entirely glitch-free. With 6,182 attendees (6,000 were expected), the venue ran short on VR headsets, and the Wi-Fi was halted by the rush of last-minute app downloads (people were encouraged to download it in advance). But the event also demonstrated that classical musicians arent content with sitting on the sidelines as more pop and rock artists get involved with VR videos.
A lot of opera companies are starting to think in technological ways but VR hasnt been done in this way yet, said Prestini, who studied composition at the Juilliard School in New York and is the executive director of Brooklyns National Sawdust arts space. On Sunday, the musicians recorded the score for a planned app re-release as well as a commercial recording. Prestini is also talking with other venues including the Sydney Opera House and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.
At least a half-dozen professional orchestras have created 360-degree films for use with VR headsets, among them, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Most aim to replicate a concert hall experience, whether on stage so the viewer can hover over a violin section or an oboe soloist or in the audience, where the 360-degree view also includes rows of empty seats.
Last year the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in Australia hired Jumpgate, an Australian VR studio, to create a stage-view, 360-degree performance video of Sibeliuss Finlandia. Created using a rig of 16 GoPro cameras in front of conductor Guy Noble, the video has been distributed through YouTube and Facebook (it can be viewed using a headset or on a desktop computer). Vincent Ciccarello, the symphonys managing director, says the goal is to build awareness for the orchestra, but he also envisions educational applications. The new augmented reality possibilities are mind boggling, he says, referring to the technology that fuses the digital world with the real world. Imagine being able to play alongside professional musicians.
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