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Monday 19 Feb 2018

Philharmonia Orchestra VR part of large-scale immersive art programme selected for the official 2018 SXSW conference

Beethoven’s Fifth, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Virtual Reality experience created by director Jessica Brillhart, has been selected for the official programme for the SXSW Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas, in March 2018.

The experience will be presented in a new format at the prestigious interactive media, film and music conference, as part of Future Art and Culture, a large-scale immersive art programme developed by Arts Council England and British Underground.

Shot by Google’s VR team, Beethoven’s Fifth 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.

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. 

In a feature in The Times published on Friday 16 February, Will Hodgkinson describes the experience: “Being in the middle of an orchestra turns out to be very loud, with the sounds crashing all around you rather than arriving in an aligned mass, as they do with the audience. Then, all of a sudden, I’m floating through the outer reaches of the cosmos.”

This SXSW presentation presents Beethoven's Fifth in ambisonic audio (in partnership with Mixed Immersion) in a newly created pod (in partnership with Igloo Vision). The installation will be hosted at JW Marriott (Virtual Cinema) at SXSW from 13 to 15 March 2018.