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Tuesday 5 Sep 2017

Philharmonia celebrates 40th anniversary of Voyager 1 and its 'Golden Record' with new VR release

On Monday 25 September 2017, the Philharmonia Orchestra will release its second exclusive piece of Virtual Reality content, Beethoven’s Fifth. Shot by Google’s VR team, the new film was conceived in partnership with NASA to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, and the Golden Records that they each carried.

40 years ago today, on 5 September 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 as part of a programme to study the outer Solar System. Still travelling today, Voyager 1, which in 2012 became the first human-made object to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space, is the furthest man-made object in space.

Mounted to the spacecraft is a golden-plated phonograph record, with a stylus and instructions on how to play it in binary mathematics. On the record is a suite of images, recorded greetings from earth and 90 minutes of music, including a Philharmonia Orchestra performance of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by Otto Klemperer (recorded for the Columbia label in 1960).

Marking the anniversary, the modern-day Philharmonia Orchestra and Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor Esa-Pekka Salonen worked with Google to film the Orchestra in VR performing the same piece, shot at London’s Henry Wood Hall. The resulting eight-minute film, titled Beethoven’s Fifth, cuts together this footage with scenes from interstellar space, imagining where Voyager 1 is travelling now. 

Beethoven’s Fifth will be released on the Philharmonia’s YouTube channel on Monday 25 September.

Esa-Pekka Salonen said: “The idea that there is a ‘golden record' that was an attempt to sample the best things humankind has achieved is inspiring. What’s exciting about this project is that we’re celebrating something much bigger than the music: we are part of a chain of intergalactic communication. Virtual Reality, which enhances the orchestral music experience, is the perfect vehicle to mark the Voyager 1 anniversary."

Luke Ritchie, Head of Digital Innovation and Partnerships at the Philharmonia Orchestra, said: “I can’t think of a more inspirational project than NASA’s Golden Record to draw from for the Orchestra’s second foray into VR. And on the 40th anniversary of the Orchestra’s music being launched into deep space, this seems a fitting response from the modern-day Philharmonia.”

VR Director Jessica Brillhart said: “This piece is about the impact and importance of music. It serves as both an agent to engage us with our world but also holds the power to propel us mentally and seemingly physically to other ones. I can only hope that our efforts keep true to the original message in 1977 and what the Golden Record continues to represent — how we, a humble species on a distant world, regardless of our abilities or disabilities, can be held together as one through the infinite power of music.”

Beethoven’s Fifth will be the second major content release in Virtual Reality from the Philharmonia. The first film, The Virtual Orchestra, was shot in 3D video and audio at London’s Royal Festival Hall in partnership with Southbank Centre and tech company Inition. It was premiered in an installation at the venue in September 2016 and is now available on the PlayStation VR platform.

A new, longer-format version of this original presentation, which features Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, will again be presented – for free – on 10 PlayStation VR headsets during the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Classical Season at Southbank Centre and as part of the Nordic Music Days festival.

From Thursday 28 September to Sunday 1 October, The Virtual Orchestra: Sibelius 360, can be experienced on Level 2 at Royal Festival Hall.