How do you bring together musicians across the barriers of time and space? Open Orchestra provides an answer through the creation of an virtual simulated rehearsal environment, that allows individual musicians to practice as part of a pre-recorded ensemble. Participants are able to ‘take the place’ of one of the ensemble members play alongside the performers as a result of the combination of state of the art video and audio technology. The virtual sound environment project lead by a team of James McGill Professor Wieslaw Woszczyk (Schulich School of Music), Professor Jeremy Cooperstock (Electrical and Computer Engineering), and John Roston, in co-operation with the University of British Columbia (UBC Telestudios) and Stanford University’s Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, is now used in four musical performance programmes across Canada, including Humber College and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Active since 2009, Open Orchestra is supported by funding from CANARIE, Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network.
When asked about the beginnings of the project, Dr. Woszczyk commented that Open Orchestra was a result of research on the potential uses of ultra-video conferencing. One of the problems facing many young musicians, particularly in isolated areas, is locating practice ensembles and space in which to rehearse. Dr. Woszczyk’s goal with Open Orchestra was to address these problems and enable those in isolated places to have access to the same level of ensemble practice opportunities as those in more populated areas. Beginning with detailed observations of performing ensembles, Dr. Woszczyk and his team created an immersive sensory environment that uses high resolution video and virtual acoustic technology to create a simulated rehearsal space that may be manipulated by the musician to suit their needs.
For instance, using a touch screen command system, they may switch ‘places’ with any member of the ensemble and play their part or they may choose to select which instruments they hear in order to gain new insight into their own part. They may listen to a reference performance usually executed by an accomplished singer or instrumentalist. Performances can also be recorded and sent to instructors in other locations for comments and critique, or can be stored for later re-listening. A scaled down version of the Open Orchestra simulating system is also available for personal use, however, Dr. Woszczyk notes that part of the immersive experience is the result of the complete suite of technology currently used by the full OO system.
Presently, the Open Orchestra team is working on adding more pieces to the repertoire available to musicians, in addition to the expansion of the system itself to allow for large ensembles to be included. Institutions interested in becoming part of the Open Orchestra can visit the blog to find out more about participating and the options available to them.
New developments on the horizon include planned collaboration with DOSIM group (Prof. Denys Bouliane and Félix Baril) at the Schulich School of Music to create a broader range of music repertoire using their synthetic orchestra, and also a collaboration with Professor Michael Vörlander at the Institute of Technical Acoustics of RWTH Aachen University in Germany to employ head tracking in the auralization over headphones and loudspeakers maintaining stable position of auditory image matching the visual image from the perspective of a musician using the system. We are also considering an expansion of OO into CAVE like environments where musicians could practice in a 3D audio and video space of choice with both remote human players and with synthetic or recorded players streamed as data from servers.