LA Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel experiences Beethoven a new way. Vern Evans
If virtual reality can bring us giant flying aliens, why not 19th-century classical music? The Oculus Rift, a VR headset generally associated with action-filled video games and fantastical computerized worlds, will soon bring symphonic strains to the streets of Los Angeles.
The LA Phil will employ the Oculus Rift as part of Van Beethoven, a mobile virtual-reality experience set to turn Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony into an immersive performance accessible to anyone who wants to hop in the customized yellow truck complete with carpeting and concert hall seating.
The virtual-reality orchestra will coincide with the LA Phil’s Immortal Beethoven festival, which will present the composer’s nine symphonies between September 29 and October 13. During that time, Van Beethoven will stop at the Hollywood Bowl, the LA County Fair and other places not typically associated with Beethoven to immerse virtual concertgoers in the first minutes of the composer’s Symphony No. 5. led by Gustavo Dudamel, LA Phil music and artistic director.
“Music is a beautiful symbol of unity, and it is very important to share the joy of music with people from all walks of life and from the many different communities in Los Angeles and beyond,” Dudamel said in a statement. “I have often said music is a fundamental human right, and using this technology helps us to make this mission even stronger.”
Getting cameras set up around and among the LA Phil to record its rendition of Beethoven’s 5th. Vern Evans
The experience was shot onstage at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, with 360-degree 3D cameras placed among and around the orchestra and with audio equipment recording the symphony from a range of vantage points. Once listeners don the head-mounted display, the music will shift to reflect their perspectives — whether they’re in front of or behind the orchestra or standing amid its members.
Oculus VR, one of the largest virtual-reality companies, says it will launch its much-anticipated flagship headset for consumers in the first quarter of next year. The headset will compete with similar upcoming products like the HTC Vive, Microsoft’s HoloLens and the next Samsung Gear VR.
Though Oculus is also working on a pair of Oculus Touch hand controllers designed to bring more-realistic hand motions to virtual-reality worlds, Van Beethoven participants will not, as far as we know, be able to do things like reach out and grab an LA Phil viola player’s bow or crash the percussionist’s cymbals. To play along with world-class symphonies, you’ll need an app.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of a classical composer from centuries ago getting the 21st-century technology treatment.
Earlier this summer, a visual artist created an electronic version of Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier,” synced it to animated lights and turned the whole thing into a mesmerizing animated film. We’ve also heard Bach played on a dot-matrix printer. Then there’s the supercomputer that can write classical music, though its compositions tend to lack the emotional subtlety of a work by Beethoven.
Starting next month, the Van Beethoven experience will also be available as a free app called Orchestra VR in the Oculus and Samsung Gear VR app stores.