How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk
And Other Stories on How to Design for Classical Music Experiences
TABLE OF CONTENTS | 1. Introduction | 2. Weaving Audience Engagement | 3. Creating Visual Design and Meaningful Audience Experiences | 4. Teddy in Space | 5. Shadow Play | 6. The World Online Orchestra | 7. Joystick | 8. A Concert with Striking Force | 9. Lots of Brass, Lots of Colors | 10. Opus Lux | 11. Epilogue
CHAPTER 6. This text was originally published on pages 56–61 in the book ‘How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk’, which summarizes the Designing Classical Music Experiences project.
The World Orchestra: Online, Offline, and On-site
Launch worldonlineorchestra.com and you will meet more than 50 members of Copenhagen Phil performing their individual parts of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. You’ll meet Gunvor Sihm playing the violin in front of a huge aquarium, and Tage Christensen playing the clarinet in his biking gear at Copenhagen Central Station. You’ll also meet Richard Krug playing the cello in his attic, and Viveca löfgren playing the flute in a park that really makes her proud of living in Copenhagen. They are all part of World Online Orchestra, an experiment where Copenhagen Phil brings classical music to the people in a new way.
An invitation into the machine room of classical music
World Online Orchestra (WOO) is an interactive platform where you can watch and listen to the members of Copenhagen Phil playing their individual parts of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. You can play them all together or create your own ensembles. In its current state, WOO is a classical-music remix tool, but the future will bring in musicians from all over the world.
The spirit of WOO was set free in 2010 when Copenhagen Phil began to rethink what a philharmonic orchestra is – and how you can reach audiences beyond the concert hall. Through workshops where all parts of the organization were involved, hundreds of ideas emerged about how to make Copenhagen Phil relevant in the 21st century.
After successfully pulling off two flashmobs in the Copenhagen Metro and at Copenhagen Central Station, the orchestra embarked on a journey of recreating themselves through a new vision, a new image, and a new orchestra culture. This was a ‘new’ Copenhagen Phil that decided to be provocative and challenge the traditional idea of quality, but who always made sure to be in dialogue with the musicians – to listen to their fears of losing control over the artistic quality of a performance.
Every orchestra member was onboard and their individual parts were to be video recorded during spring 2013. This is when doubts began to surface. Some musicians were suddenly not keen on the idea of performing alone since this was the opposite of how you make a great performance: You perform best when you play together with others, when you hear how much pressure they put on the strings, how much vibrato they use, how they breathe. The need to discuss alternative ways of measuring quality was evident.
The quality of WOO is not about artistic perfection, but rather about inviting users into the ‘machine room’ of classical music. This new take on what quality may be was accepted. The musicians were recorded in settings they chose themselves – at coffeehouses, in an amusement park, on a boat, or at home. The ambience sounds (or background noise as some would call it) was not filtered out but was rather a fundamental part of the performance. Also, through the musician’s choice of location for the recording, the user gets an impression of the individual musician’s personality and how different the musicians actually are to each other.
Building new versions of a symphonic piece is enlightening
Voices about WOO have been mostly positive. People think it is exciting and enlightening to step into the ‘machine room’ of a philharmonic orchestra and to be able to build new versions of a symphonic piece. It is fun to create an ensemble where you, for example, only hear the percussionists and double-bass players perform, or to listen just to the string section.
Reactions from musicians have been more diverse. They think it is interesting, but they tend to listen to details such as how well an individual instrumentalist performs, or how well the musicians play together. They measure WOO according to the traditional notion of quality. Non-musicians, on the other hand, haven’t had any comments on how well different voices are performed.
The fact that WOO is performed online through an experimental interface also explains why ‘normal’ listeners’ expectations on the performance quality is lower than it would have been in the concert hall: An ‘Internet performance’ doesn’t need to be perfect in the traditional sense of perfection.
The online orchestra goes offline and on-site
In its current form, World Online Orchestra is based on individual recordings made by professional musicians performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The next step is to open it for musical contributions from other musicians, both professionals and amateurs. The original Beethoven recording will be built upon by others, who might just as well play an improvised kazoo or electric-guitar solo instead of following the score. With more and more user contributions, the Symphony No. 7 will take on a new character. A few of these new versions will also be transcribed, put into a score, and performed live. And, more symphonies will be recorded by both Copenhagen Phil and other philharmonic orchestras and uploaded to the platform.
Another potential development of WOO is a physical installation where users can experience and tinker with music in a more physical manner. The idea to this installation is inspired by work made by Malmö University students who experimented with ways people together can play and reinterpret parts of a symphonic piece by regulating the volume of five sound pipes. The development of an installation is currently carried out by students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design.
There are also ideas about creating an application for mobile devices where the user can situate the orchestra at a specific location, such as a schoolyard or the town square. This World Orchestra thus aims to be both an Online, Offline, and On-site orchestra.
Copenhagen Phil, Makropol, Helios Design Labs, researchers and students at Malmö University, and researchers and students at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design.
This text is based on an interview with Uffe Savery (CEO) and Stine Thomas Larsen (head of communications), Copenhagen Phil.