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  • 23 May 2012

Philharmonia Orchestra presents Universe of Sound at the Science Museum

The Philharmonia Orchestra’s ‘Universe of Sound’, a virtual interactive performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, opened on 22 May at the Science Museum in London. The free digital installation will be open until 27 August and forms part of the London 2012 Festival.

Art and science combine in the Universe of Sound
Art and science combine in the Universe of Sound

The aim of the project is to combine music with technology to engage new audiences with classical music. Visitors to the attraction are able to experience 360-degree projections of the orchestra performing The Planets in multi-channel surround sound, whilst themselves participating as musicians, conductors and composers.

The installation uses touch screens, giant displays and movement-based interaction to allow people to take part in the virtual orchestra. Members of the Philharmonia orchestra will be present each day to play live and answer questions from the public.

There are ten separate rooms to explore, representing the orchestra’s sections, with some areas including real and virtual instruments to enable visitors to play along. With the use of projection, players can appear alongside the musicians on the screen. Digital technology also allows people to simulate the experience of conducting the orchestra. Visitors are able to record their performances and access the content they create through the Universe of Sound website.

Universe of Sound is the successor to Re-Rite: Be the Orchestra, a previous PHF-backed Philharmonia production, which recreated a recording of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on London’s South Bank. Re-Rite has since toured nationally and internationally.

Richard Slaney, Philharmonia Orchestra’s Head of Digital, said: “This project is the perfect fusion of science and the arts. We learnt through Re-Rite that far from being an elitist art form, there is a colossal public enthusiasm for experiencing classical music and for stepping inside a real, live orchestra. This project is five times as ambitious and ten times as exciting. We can’t wait to show people how thrilling a live orchestra really is.”

Principal Conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, commented: “This project offers everyone, from the very young1205 to the very old, from the absolute novice to the experienced musician, the chance to step right into the heart of one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras.”

Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen
Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen

In 2011 the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Arts programme awarded Philharmonia Orchestra a grant of £100,000 over 18 months for the development of Universe of Sound. The project is also supported by Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. The installation will tour to other UK cities including Birmingham and Canterbury in 2013.