The world’s largest classical music festival embraces virtual reality.
For the first time this summer, the BBC Proms is holding an event entirely in VR. Produced by BBC VR Hub, Nothing to be Written commemorates the centenary of the First World War and was created by composer Anna Meredith with 59 Productions – the Tony Award-winning company of artists behind the video design of the Opening Ceremony during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The experience conveys the atmosphere of hallways across the United Kingdom during that time, when families and friends patiently waited for any news from loved ones while violence raged in the trenches. The hope of the project is to help shed a light on some of the lesser-known stories of “the war to end all wars,” as well as the various forms of communication that kept soldiers in touch with their loved ones throughout the grueling campaign.
The music featured in this 25-minute VR experience was recorded live on the First Night of the Proms, and captured in 360° sound with high quality ambisonics. This new work for orchestra, choir and projections explores the varied forms of communication from the front lines. Its second movement, entitled ‘Field Postcard’, forms the basis of the VR experience, drawing on the talents of both the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of their chief conductor, Sakari Oramo.
“To me, it mirrors the music I wrote by allowing you to experience the texture both at a distance or really zooming into the detail of the Field Postcards and the stories they tell beyond the prescribed text,” says Composers Anna Meredith.
Broken into two parts, Nothing to be Written is a seven minute experience highlighting the incredible importance of field postcards, the primary form of communication for soldiers during the war, and a 25-minute musical experience showcasing Anna Meredith’s full score of Five Telegrams.
As the music plays, the walls and geometry of the building morph and change. “You find yourself alone in this spectacular space. There is a reverent hush alive with possibility. The space feels real, but heightened. As the music begins, the hall begins to transform in response to the music,” comments Lysander Ashton, Director of 59 Productions. “The architecture around you shifts and changes, becoming a canvas on which the music is painted.”
Five Telegrams has already been seen by thousands of people at live events in London and Edinburgh and hundreds of thousands more on television and online. I am delighted that this latest VR incarnation will reach even wider audiences and add further ground-breaking development to the project,” says BBC Proms Director David Pickard.
“Virtual Reality is the most exciting new technology in media today, and we’re using it to give viewers a new perspective on music and art with the BBC Proms. The experience helps the viewer understand the terrible gap between families at home and soldiers on the front line by putting them right at the heart of it. Anna’s beautiful, haunting music accompanies the viewers as they gain a greater understanding of the stark realities of life on the front line a century ago, and the painful pragmatism of the field postcard forcing interactions with loved ones into an expedient but heart-breaking tick box exercise,” says Zillah Watson, Commissioning Editor, BBC VR Hub.
“It’s always fascinating exploring the possibilities of VR, as a nascent medium, which seems to invite a mixture of film and theatrical approaches,” adds Ashton.
Nothing to be Written will have its world premiere at the BBC Proms on Tuesday 21st August. It then travels to 14-18 NOW (the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary) – linked events throughout the Autumn, followed by an international premiere at Raindance Film Festival.
The full experience was designed specifically for the Oculus Go, but will see a release on other VR and BBC platforms later this year.
Image Credit: BBC