Royal College of Music and The Innovation Consultancy develop new virtual reality environment for musicians and audiences to experience favourite venues from home

A new partnership between the Royal College of Music (RCM) and The Innovation Consultancy Ltd, funded by InnovateUK, will enable users to rehearse, perform and be in the audience virtually in a range of major UK venues, experiencing the sound, space and atmosphere of famous stages as though they were there in person.

The new technology combines high-quality visual 3D models with accurate acoustic rendering of real performance spaces. The mapping will give users real-time feedback of what they would see and hear, such as walking the width of a stage, or trying out the acoustics at different points in the room.

Initially conceived to help students bridge the gap between performing at home or in a practice room and performing on stage, the project took on a new significance during lockdown. Not only will this technology allow musicians to practice stage performance, but there is scope for audience members too, who could virtually ‘attend’ a concert at their favourite venue. In the near future, such technology could provide extraordinary opportunities for anyone who struggles to experience live performance due to a range of barriers, from coronavirus to financial difficulty or disability.

The research team has currently mapped the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the RCM’s iconic South Kensington home, with their initial aim of allowing students to rehearse and perform in the Hall remotely, with plans to map other venues across the UK in 2021. The technology is scheduled for release later in December on an open-access platform, making it readily available to anyone with a laptop and headphones or VR headset.

Project partner Dr Terry Clark, a Research Fellow in Performance Science, says: ‘We are very excited about the chance to develop this tool, as it will provide musicians with the opportunity to practice coping with and responding to the visual and auditory features of performance spaces while still in an environment that is safe. As such, this project stands to make a significant contribution to how we teach and train musicians, in the future as well as in the current Corvid-19 response.

Dr Vali Lalioti, Director of The Innovation Consultancy and project leader, comments: ‘Musicians and performing artists are now training in home spaces, visually and acoustically poor in comparison to real venues and with their livelihoods in peril. This highly competitive Innovate UK Covid-19 funding enables us to fast-track our research and design of the VR Rehearse and Perform platformThis fits with The Innovation Consultancy’s purpose of creating societal impact from innovation, supporting the recovery of creative sectors and performing venues at most challenging times.’

This project, which has been in the works for one and a half years, could enrich live music events in the UK forever, creating an enhanced training tool for musicians.

Mutong Shao is an RCM student who has been working on the project with Dr Terry Clark. He adds: ‘My experience of working on this project has been truly phenomenal! With the prototype software running on our laptops and a pair of headphones, we were able to practice and perform within simulated acoustics that resemble a concert environment. This greatly increased my practice efficiency as I was able to estimate how the musical ideas would be shaped within the performance venue. Adjusting the parameters also gave me a more comprehensive understanding of the acoustics of my practice and performance. It was like a step into the future of music learning.

Though still in development, the open-source technology is due for release in December, and will be available to any user for free, for use with a VR headset or through a laptop and headphones.

Further details of the project, pictures and videos are available here.