Ludwig van Beethoven provided a perfect name for the big yellow VAN Beethoven, which is really more of a trailer. Organizers parked the mobile virtual reality experience at the L.A. County Fair recently, across from the bungee jump and the stand selling deep-fried Klondike bars.
The L.A. Phil's VAN Beethoven VR experience was parked at the L.A. County Fair recently (Credit: Collin Friesen)
Inside are six cushioned seats, each with its own headphones and virtual reality helmet. After self-calibrating the device by lining up one thing with another thing, the concert of Beethoven’s Fifth starts.
Inside the L.A. Phil's VAN Beethoven VR experience.
Unless you’re a conductor or someone who rushes the stage at classical music concerts, you’ve never seen anything like this.
You see the performance from various angles, including conductor Gustavo Dudamel’s point of view which makes you want to conduct a little yourself, and from the perspective of a fly inches away from his baton — which makes you want to duck.
There are also some cool whiz-bang lighting effects, the sound changes ever so slightly when you look from the violins to the cellos, and before you know it, the four minutes are up and it’s time to wave your hand around so a trained professional can remove the rig.
The intent of this high-tech experience is, as you might have guessed, to get more people interested in classical music.
“My goal is to peak people’s curiosity,” says David Bohnett, a former tech guy who runs his own foundation that put money into the project. He says finding new ways to market your product is just how groups like the Phil need to keep up.
“We have product I think is fantastic — classical music — and we have to market. We can’t sit back and open the doors to this concert hall and just expect people to come,” Bohnett says.
A VAN Beethoven participant dons a VR headset (Credit: Collin Friesen).
Amy Seidenwurm is the editor of digital media for the L.A. Phil, but calls herself the “in-house nerd.” Seidenwurm says the Philharmonic’s musicians were all excited to take part in the experiment, at least at first.
“With each camera shot we had to move the camera out of the way,” says Seidenwurm. “We had to do it one at a time.” She says they ran through the piece 16 times and admits with a laugh, “They were done with me at the end.”
The 360-degree camera used in the making of the L.A. Phil's VAN Beethoven VR experience (Photo courtesy L.A. Phil).
The VAN Beethoven van will travel all over Los Angeles County. You can look up the locations on the orchestra’s website. And if you have virtual reality equipment at home, there’s a free app you can download on your Android device.
Of course, all the tech bells and whistles won’t do much if people don’t enjoy what they’re experiencing.
Thirteen-year-old Juliana Macias, an alto saxophone player in her school band, left her aunt and younger sister outside while she took in the show.
“It was amazing, like looking at a private concert, which I thought was awesome,” says Macias. “My music teacher told us what it was like to be in a band, and that gave me inspiration, and this also gave me inspiration.”
For an orchestra looking to hook the next generation of classical music fans, that might be the most important review of all.
To find out where you can catch up with the VAN Beethoven van next, check out the L.A. Phil's website.