Robert Estrin - piano expert

Augmented Reality in Concert Halls

Can AR really be applied to concert halls?

In this video, Robert talks about how augmented reality can be and is already being applied to concert halls in very interesting ways.

Released on December 11, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and today's subject is augmented reality in concert halls. It sounds kind of futuristic and a little bit scary. What are we talking about here? Well, it's an interesting fact that concert halls, it's a very tough thing. Why? Because you build a concert hall that's going to have beautiful acoustics for an orchestra, but is it going to have the right acoustics for solo piano? They're bringing a jazz ensemble. Is it going to work for that? What about if you bring in a rock band and they have all their speakers and amplification, they're digital reverb. It's impossible to have a hall that's going to suit all those purposes. And this is a tough thing because of depleting budgets for classical music to have a hall dedicated just to classical music is hard enough. And then the fact is the acoustics in a hall that's designed for orchestra might not be ideal for a string quartet.

Well, there's technologies that have come into play. For example, the symphony hall in Indianapolis. They've actually got technology where the hall itself is dead, but they have built into the hall, a microphone and speaker system that creates the ambiance artificially. Now you might be going, "Oh, this is terrible," until you hear it and they do an absolutely splendid job of creating beautiful acoustics. Well think of the implications of this. You could have a hall where you could dial in the ideal acoustics for whatever ensemble is performing there. For example, if you have some group that comes in and it's a lecture concert, there's nothing worse than having a hall that has beautiful reverb and then people are talking to you and it's a wash of sound and you don't have the distinct speaking. Just imagine a hall where you can dial in the reverb at your will.

Not only that, but there are new types of reverb that use impulses of samples of actual halls. These are convolution reverbs as I referred to. You can take the acoustics of Carnegie Hall if you sample Carnegie and poof, you can create that space acoustically on recordings or any hall for that matter, so you could have a small hall that could sound like a small hall, a medium hall, a large hall. You could dial in whatever hall you want. So this is the future and it's not just the future, this is happening right now. You'd be surprised how many halls out there utilize technology in order to create ideal acoustics in a space that maybe isn't ideal because it's such a challenge creating a great hall. Think about this with the best intentions and all the best scientific data available, some concert halls are created and right after they're made you realize or people realize that they didn't get it right and they rip everything out.

They put new panels with different reflecting patterns and panels and all kinds of movable baffles to try to get the hall acoustics dialed in. Some halls actually have panels that can be moved, mechanical panels that can kind of alter the acoustics of the hall mechanically, opening up baffles of absorption in different parts of the hall. Segrestrom Hall here in Orange County has these sorts of technologies and that's a great situation, but it's a great expense. Also digitally, once you put it in, you're not done, it's just the beginning. You can experiment with a limitless number of acoustical properties.

So that's augmented reality in concert halls. What a fascinating subject. I hope you've enjoyed this and many more videos coming to you. Once again, Robert Estrin here at, your online piano store.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on December 17, 2019 @11:35 am PST
Until somebody or some place tries this experiment with suitably advanced audio equipment, I believe the jury is still out as to whether
such a notion is worth pursuing or not. Anyhow, thanks Robert for letting me put forward my views on this issue.
Have a very good Xmas!
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on December 15, 2019 @12:29 pm PST
Thanks for your reply Robert. However, I wasn' t thinking about
small chamber orchestras, or about musical theatre, but rather about a symphony orchestra
able to play big symphonies, such as works by Beethoven, Brahms,
etc. Of course they would have no trouble with Mozart symphonies.
But for another example, they would sound okay with the Schubert No. 5.
With good audio technology, (i.e., that doesn't distort the sound when achieving high amplification) I think the larger and more massive sounds of a large orchestra could be approached in a suitable
fashion. Of course, if one could afford it, one would prefer a large
traditional sized orchestra. But I'm focusing here on those smaller
cities that just can't afford such an undertaking. It's an experiment worth trying. I'm not aware of any place that has tried to do this.
Robert Estrin on December 16, 2019 @4:01 pm PST
Personally, I would much rather listen to a chamber orchestra play chamber works rather than having a reduced orchestra try to make a work scored for a large ensemble try to bring a satisfying performance to massive orchestral works.

However, when I was in high school, I performed French horn in the Long Island Opera Showcase. The orchestra was skeletal. So, the ensemble was augmented with a piano which made the performances workable. While it was better than nothing having an opportunity to hear great operas in a smaller metropolitan area, it was certainly not ideal.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on December 12, 2019 @11:14 am PST
You mention "depleting budgets for classical music"... for some time...
I've pondered the future of professional symphony orchestras, which are an enormous expense to maintain and run...something I guess many small cities just can't afford or just can't justify. It would be an interesting experiment to create a "small" symphony orchestra, with say 4 first violins, 4 2nd violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos,
1 double bass, similarly cutting down the number of brasses and woodwinds...and then perhaps amplifying the strings to equalize
their volume with that of the stronger sounding woodwinds and brasses. That might bring the cost of creating and maintaining
a symphony orchestra within the budget constraints small cities
operate under. With the help of advanced modern audio technology, the final result might be quite good in comparison with the sound of larger traditional symphony orchestras. Of course, with fewer players, those selected for such a small orchestra would have to be damn good one would be able to hide their deficiencies by playing underneath the sounds of the better players. But budget wise, the cost of such an orchestra would be but a small fraction of the cost of the larger more traditional orchestras.
Robert - host, on December 14, 2019 @2:48 pm PST
There are many chamber orchestras that are doing exactly what you describe. They usually specialize in Classical era music which requires much smaller orchestras.

In musical theater, reduced orchestras are augmented with synthesizers and sample based keyboards to achieve a big sound with small groups. In that context, it can work O.K. But trying to make a Mahler Symphony sound good with reduced orchestra would be a thankless task!
Tony Lockwood * VSM MEMBER * on December 11, 2019 @9:28 am PST
I am not sure, Robert. Will it make poor music sound good and will it tend to negate OUR appreciation of the music played?
I appreciate it is happening but I am not sure it will please everyone. When I go to see my local orchestra I want to hear their efforts, not those of some technician.
I write as person uneducated in music.
Robert - host, on December 14, 2019 @3:06 pm PST
Interestingly, all concert halls are dependent upon technicians for their acoustics. Incredibly complex acoustic algorithms are utilized in order to make a space sound good for acoustic music.

When digital technology is utilized tastefully, you would never be able to tell that the acoustics are electronically enhanced.
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