Symphony. A virtual journey into the heart of music

What is Symphony?

Symphony is an immersive audiovisual experience that takes spectators on a journey through the emotions and music with the aim of bringing classical music to all audiences. Spectators are able to experience and truly understand classical music, feeling like musicians in an orchestra.

Thanks to this unique experience, the visitors enjoy compositions by Beethoven, Mahler and Bernstein performed by the great conductor Gustavo Dudamel and over 100 musicians from the prestigious Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

The Symphony experience takes place in two areas. In the first room, an audiovisual is projected onto a large screen with a surround sound system, offering the chance to immerse ourselves in a universe of images and sounds as a prelude to the subsequent VR experience. The second room is dedicated to the immersive experience using Virtual Reality equipment and viewers.

The visual concept of this virtual reality experience combines real images filmed in 360° with computer-generated images and visual effects. For the music, a state-of-the-art recording system has been used to provide a 360° sound experience. A complete approach that combines the latest technology with visual and musical sensitivity and creativity.

Entering inside an instrument or travelling to the soul of music are just some of the possibilities that Symphony offers.

Symphony is a pioneering and innovative technological project linked to the field of education, culture and, specifically, in the classical music sector, where sound and music drive the story.

What Symphony wants to accomplish?

Symphony aims to spread classical music among the general public, with special attention to the scholar public. The audience will be able to live and understand classical music as they have never experienced before, through an immersive cultural experience that will facilitate the access to new technologies, another important goal for Symphony to reach.

To accomplish this, Symphony will illustrate how the deconstruction of the orchestra shows its simplicity in contrast to the infinite range of resources it offers to composers to express ideas and emotions. For this reason, the journey of Symphony is about the power of music that lies in its delocalized, timeless and universal nature.

History of Symphony

The original idea of the project came five years ago from the Music Department of ”la Caixa” Foundation, which commissioned its artistic direction to Igor Cortadellas, musician and creative. He carried out the script development and a search for the right technology. The musical direction fell to the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who was in charge of rounding off this ambitious project. From then on, a competition was called to develop the technical part, which was won by the Barcelona post-production, visual effects and digital animation generator company Glassworks.

Once this company joined the project, it chose Visualise studio, based in London, to complete the execution of works related to virtual reality, thanks to its experience in the sector. Both companies, under the direction of Igor Cortadellas and his team, oversaw production planning and created tools to improve pre-production and process production.

The VR live action scenes were filmed at the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona in August 2019 with a Meta One camera prototype created for the occasion, which allowed recording scenes in low light and with a greater dynamic range than any other existing 360 degrees camera.

After post-production work, Symphony was scheduled for launch in April 2020. Nevertheless, with all adversities caused by the global pandemic, the project had to postpone the premiere, which finally took place on September 15th 2020 at CosmoCaixa, our science outreach centre in Barcelona, with a great reception from the press, the media and the public, and, in less than 24 hours, the sold-out sign was posted. Nowadays is travelling through Spain.

Location and dates of Symphony

The virtual reality experience Symphony takes place in an itinerant installation (two trucks whose containers are deployed offering 200 m2 of surface) that will tour different cities of Spain in the next ten years, offering the general public the possibility to enjoy this unusual experience that aims to disseminate classical music and to make it available to everyone.

The itinerant installation stays for approximately a month in all cities and is located on the main public roads (in collaboration with the respective municipalities).

Symphony has been in the following cities:

– CosmoCaixa Barcelona (our science outreach centre), from September 15th until October 8th 2020.

– Santander, from October 15th until November 11th 2020.

– Valladolid, from November 19th until December 13th 2020.

– Madrid, from December 21st 2020 until January 19th 2021.

– Granada, from January 28th to February 25th 2021.

– Málaga, from March 5th to April 5th 2021.

After Málaga, cities like Toledo or Castellón de la Plana are already scheduled.

Also, there will be a permanent installation of the Symphony experience at our cultural centre, CaixaForum Barcelona, from April 8th 2021 onwards.

Plus, we are also currently planning to install the exhibition in our others CaixaForums centers in Madrid, Sevilla, Zaragoza and Valencia (CaixaForum Valencia is currently under construction).

Platform

Classical music is a musical genre that needs to be disseminated to more audiences than those who are used to listening to it and, in this sense, bringing the orchestra closer through new technologies is an opportunity that can make this goal so longed for by many a reality. Symphony is itself a platform for disseminating classical music through technology, linking two seemingly separate concepts and worlds, to build a new universe of sensations and emotions for all types of audiences.

Is for this reason that we created a dedicated Symphony website, inside our culture centers website (https://caixaforum.org/es/symphony), where the viewers are invited to visit the Symphony experience and where they can check in which city is possible to do so and book the tickets. Also, the viewers will find different interactive resources, playlists, and more information related to the project that allow them to enter the world of classical music from an informative and accessible perspective, to facilitate the approach of classical music to everybody.

We have also created a dedicated Symphony website inside our educational platform, EduCaixa (https://educaixa.org/es/). On this Symphony website at EduCaixa, school teachers find all the information about the experience specifically related to education: knowledge area, competences, goals of the activity, educational level, etc. Teachers can also book passes through the EduCaixa website to visit the experience with their students.

EduCaixa platform is specially designed to provide teachers with the means to prepare and organize their classes on the following topics: science, culture, social values and financial education, and depending on the different educational levels. That is why part of the interactive resources of Symphony are on EduCaixa website. With these interactive resources (https://educaixa.org/es/resultados?q=symphony), school teachers have more information and material to work with the students before or after the visit to the experience. They will be able to learn and understand the history of classical music, the balance of the orchestra on stage and how an orchestra is conducted, among other resources.

Technical specifications

Filming the VR

We recorded the live action scenes with the prototype of the Meta One camera, nearly entirely 3D printed at the time. This camera allowed us to record scenes in lower light, with a far higher dynamic range than any other existing 360 degrees camera.

One of the other big advantages of the Meta One camera is the single stitch line, as it is made up of two back-to-back lenses. This meant we could get much closer and be on a more intimate level with the orchestra, without having to be concerned about having so many ugly ‘stitch’ lines, where one lens overlaps another.

Sound recording for the VR

The microphone setup for recording the sound for Symphony used state-of-the-art 3D recording techniques. The main microphone rig was the Ambeo cube by Sennheiser. It is made up of nine Sennheiser MKH800 twin microphones that provided us the basis for the spatial sound mix.

Furthermore, all the instrumental groups were meticulously recorded with a mix of high-quality digital microphones by Neumann and additional analogue microphones by Sennheiser and Neumann. With this recording setup, the Orchestra was transformed into Virtual Reality with all of its details and highly accurate timbre.

This sound recording technique allowed us to carefully craft and recreate any camera position within the Orchestra to give an accurate and precise experience from any perspective.

VR Headset

We use HP Reverb G2 VR headsets which have a generous field of view and good resolution.

Sound setup for the VR experience

The experience is provided on half open over-ear Sennheiser HD-25 headphones with a broad frequency and dynamic range and a good bass response in combination with additional TW B14T sub-woofer. This ensures that the full frequency spectrum can be covered to get across the full momentum and power of the Orchestra as part of this shared experience, not just for the listener’s ears but also for the listener’s body.

Seats

We use custom built rotating seats, specially designed for this experience, which house the VR PCs and the cabling, ensuring the most comfortable experience for the visitors.

Computers

We use HP Z Backpack VR computers, which are specially built to power VR experiences. Moreover, the slim design of the computers allows us to have them inside our custom built seats.

Net

In order to have a synchronised experience for all users, all the PCs are connected using a large net of LAN cables and switches, from a control PC (where the experience is commanded) to all the seats.

Control software

We designed a control software specially for the experience. It is installed in the control PC and allows for a very straight forward management of the process.

Symphony – Making of: