Connecting with musicians and listeners: virtual reality and the concert hall

Posted on: March 4, 2021

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra uses Ted, a mannequin head outfitted with binaural microphones and hi-def cameras, which “hears” and transmits immersive audio and video. Photo by Sarah Smarch

“I look up and behold the ornately ornamented ceiling of Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, a place I’ve never actually been,” writes Michael Andor Brodeur in Tuesday’s (3/2) Washington Post. “Onstage in front of me, I see the 19 socially distanced members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra tuning their instruments in complete silence—that is, until I pop in my ear buds. Such are the dissonances [of experiencing] the DSO through virtual reality. I’m ‘here’ to virtually attend a rehearsal of ‘Stride’ [by] Anna Clyne. And Clyne is ‘here’ with me as well, watching along through the eyes and ears of Ted—a standard-issue mannequin head … outfitted with a 360-degree camera and an array of microphones by creator, audio engineer and Clyne’s husband, Jody Elff. Ted offers a live panoramic view of the hall and a crisp stereo audio signal, and, most important, allows Clyne to connect with the musicians playing her music in a way that the pandemic has rendered next to impossible…. Ted takes up only one seat, but could one day serve as a proxy for thousands of listeners.” Also covered are virtual-reality offerings by the Houston Symphony and several opera companies and festivals.