Open Orchestra serves as the musical equivalent of an aircraft simulator, providing musicians with the virtual experience of playing with an orchestra. Due to the project’s exploratory beginning, a quick ethnographic model was employed during the early stages of the project. This involved field research work within the context of a real orchestra and building a quick prototype of a mock-up system that allowed the musicians to rehearse with a playback of a recording from a previous rehearsal session.
The field study was carried out over three months during a full academic term with the McGill Jazz Band I; an ensemble of 18 musicians. The notes from the fly-on-the-wall observation sessions were transformed into a presentation to a music user group in order to solicit their feedback. This stage was valuable in providing a general understanding of the orchestra rehearsal process at the outset of this study. Observations clarified initial judgments towards the importance of audio and visual cues and helped to design the Open Orchestra experience. These observations were validated with another round of experiments testing various audio environments. The following diagram presents the synthesis of a mental model that was built based on our early observations, interviews and experiments. This mental model then evolved into the content architecture and structure for the Open Orchestra system.
Through our early prototype we identified interesting design opportunities to explore within Open Orchestra. One of them is related to the feasibility of providing dedicated feedback to a musician in an asynchronous manner. Through Open Orchestra, a musician can record his performance and send it to the conductor along with any question(s) he might have. This allows the conductor to “zoom” into his performance, listening either just to the musician's solo track on its own, or in context with the full orchestra. Because of time and space constraints, this capability is normally not feasible in an actual orchestral rehearsal setting, allowing the conductor to provide more dedicated feedback in the context of Open Orchestra.
My role in this project was as a design researcher and interface designer. This project was developed at McGill University as a collaboration between CIRMMT (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology), the Shared Reality Lab, and other partners across Canada (the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the Banff Centre and at the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning). This project was funded by CANARIE (Canada's Advanced Research and Innovation Network). Grant awarded to John Roston, Wieslaw Woszczyk and Jeremy R. Cooperstock.