A Virtual Orchestra

 Photo Credit: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai - Wikipedia Commons

Photo Credit: Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai - Wikipedia Commons

The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) has teamed up with Sydney digital media company Mod Productions to produce a new interactive “virtual orchestra” that is breaking down audience barriers in the music world. The resulting audio-visual installation, “ACO Virtual,” has created the means to bring the Orchestra outside the concert hall and into spaces where the ACO may not perform.

The project was born out of the ACO’s demand to perform around the country. Currently, the orchestra performs 85 concerts around Australia and takes two international tours each year. ACO Virtual was devised with the musicians’ busy schedules in mind while maintaining public demand for the orchestra. “ACO Virtual is the perfect way to extend our performances into all schools and community centres,” said Artistic Director Richard Tognetti, who hopes to one day have ACO Virtual installed in schools for use as an educational tool. The project’s first trial in June at Arts Centre Gold Coast attracted over 3,000 visitors. With the transition of moving ACO Virtual from a demo to a completed installation, locations where ACO Virtual is installed are likely to generate even more viewers. Already the installation has proven to be engaging, as some visitors have brought their instruments and played alongside the virtual orchestra.

ACO Virtual works by projecting 2D and 3D images of ACO musicians onto the walls of a large room. Each musician is captured individually on one of thirteen cameras that were used to record both audio and visual tracks of the orchestra as it performed. Those recordings  are then streamed through projectors onto video screens mounted on walls. Visitors gather in the middle of the room where ACO Virtual is installed and can observe the orchestra from all sides. They can also single out performers and instruments through an iPad “music stand” and listen to specific lines and parts, or even play along, since instrumental parts are displayed as well. So far, ACO Virtual’s repertoire includes Bach’s “Brandenberg Concerto,” Grieg’s “String Quartet in G minor,” Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” and Australian composer Roger Smalley’s “Strung Out.”

A four-week rental of ACO Virtual, which includes installation and technical support, is currently priced at $5,000. Display and sound equipment are available for organizations that do not already have the necessary technical materials. The installation requires a room of a certain size for the musician projections to be accurate, although ACO Virtual will work within most spaces. Downloadable Android and iPhone apps are also available as companions to the installation. Compared to the ACO’s touring fee of $120,000, ACO Virtual provides a low-cost method of experiencing classical music while maintaining the quality of orchestral performance and even adding an educational component through the interactive interface.

ACO Virtual will be available at the Sydney Opera House’s contemporary performing arts venue, The Studio, until the end of October as part of the Opera’s 40th anniversary celebration. The initiative seems to be taking off, as it has already been booked by multiple arts organizations for subsequent engagements around Australia.