Classical music exhibit in Canterbury

Universe of Sound in Canterbury
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin is a journalist specialising in training and education.
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I make no secret of being more drawn to classical and choral music than I am, in general, to other genres, although it’s a very personal thing and I do my best to be open-minded and eclectic. Nonetheless I think it’s very good news when an internationally renowned conductor and a top orchestra uses new technologies to introduce the joy of classical music to more people. And even better – it’s coming to Canterbury, which is my neck of the woods. It will then go to Birmingham with plans for other UK cities and an international tour.

The Universe of Sound, created by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia is a high definition interactive immersive experience. It uses giant screens, touch screens, unconventional projecting surfaces, movement-based interaction and planetarium-style full-dome projection. The idea is that installation enables visitors to step inside a symphony orchestra and experience Esa-Pekka Salonen and 105 musicians performing Gustav Holst’s The Planets by taking on the roles of musician, conductor and even composer. The installation also includes a newly commissioned companion work by Joby Talbot: Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity.

The installation was shot in a single day on January 24 2012. It involved 37 cameras and is believed to be the largest classical music film shoot ever undertaken. It was first seen last summer at the Science Museum in London where, in three months, it attracted 67,000 visitors.

And now, I hope, The Universe of Sound will attract a whole lot more in Canterbury between April 27 and May 12 where it will be at Augustine House, on the campus of Canterbury Christ Church University. It is supported by the university and by local bodies including The Marlowe Theatre, Kent Music, Soundhub, the Sounds New Festival, and Canterbury City Council. It is part of the Philharmonia’s regular programme of residencies in the city with concerts at the Marlowe Theatre.

So how does it work? Universe of Sound allows visitors to see the entire orchestra alongside multi-channel surround sound and to experience giant, live 360 degree projections of the orchestra performing The Planets conducted by Salonen who is The Philharmonia’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. Perhaps most innovatively it allows you to enter a series of 10 separate rooms (each representing a section of the orchestra) and connected pods. This means you can join in with the orchestra as a musician, arranger or composer, ultimately creating your own new Planets musical experience. You can also have a go at being a conductor via creative digital technology by moving your hands in front of a conductor simulator.

Live instruments will be available to play in some parts of the installation, so visitors can perform alongside the virtual orchestra and be projected onto screens alongside players. Each room will contain the sheet music for each instrument, and visitors will be invited to bring their instruments and play along. Philharmonia musicians will also be present inside the installation, playing along live and answering questions.

Even better, there is an education programme for local schools too. As well as guided tours of the installation, children will be able to take part in interactive workshops at their schools which introduce them to the music.

The Universe of Sound has National Lottery funding via ACE funding and support from Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and other sponsors. It is free to visitors.