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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

Building an interactive virtual chamber orchestra

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CNET Editor

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra has been converted into a travelling virtual installation, where visitors can interact with the music up close and personal.

Going into ACO Virtual — the "virtual orchestra" created by multimedia company MOD Productions, alongside the Australian Chamber Orchestra and funded by the Commonwealth Bank — one isn't quite sure what to expect. The lights dim, the spotlights fall and one by one, panels on the wall are populated with 15 string instrumentalists sweeping out the first movement of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G".

These aren't, however, the musicians themselves — they're virtual representations being simultaneously streamed from 15 projectors strung from the ceiling. In the middle of the room, MOD Productions director Michela Ledwidge stands in front of an iPad mounted on a stand. As she taps the screen, musicians fade in and out, allowing visitors to hear the music of specific players in focus. Downloadable Android and iPhone apps are available to find out more information about the players, composers, instruments and musical scores.

This is the result of a collaboration that goes back more than five years, creating a means to bring the Australian Chamber Orchestra to anyone with access to the space, allowing them to see and hear the players in focus and, perhaps most excitingly, bring their own instruments and play along, as the score for each instrument scrolls at its player's feet.

Each instrumentalist was filmed at Fox Studios, ACO artistic director and lead violin Richard Tognetti said, using the same "bullet-time" camera equipment used to shoot The Matrix, in both 2D and 3D. Visitors can enjoy the full stereoscopic experience with provided 3D glasses.

At the moment, it features four pieces playing on a half-hour loop: the aforementioned Bach; Australian composer Roger Smalley's "Strung Out"; Grieg's "String Quartet in G Minor: 1st movement"; and Piazzola's "Oblivion". However, ACO Virtual has vast, untapped potential; imagine, Tognetti said, standing with your favourite band.

Ledwidge's ideas are even bigger. Join us as we talk to her about where ACO Virtual has come from, how it was created and where it is going in the future.

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