Announcing what it’s calling “the only known space of its kind,” Seattle Symphony is detailing plans for a new venue that can morph from traditional concert performances into a 360-degree chamber for shared immersive experiences.
Octave 9, as it will be called, is expected to open as the Symphony’s third performance space inside Benaroya Hall in Seattle in February 2019, with construction beginning this month. The new venue replaces the Soundbridge music education center and classroom that closed in late 2016.
More formally known as Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, the $6.7 million project will be able to seat up to 120 people in 2,500 square feet at the corner of Second Avenue and Union Street in Seattle.
Technology will be either front-and-center or in the background at Octave 9, depending on the performance. The Symphony says a modular surround video screen with 13 movable panels will be combined with 10 ultra-short-throw projectors, motion-capture cameras, and a Meyer Constellation Sound System with 42 speakers and 30 microphones.
“In this time of virtual reality and questions of whether we need physical environments or digital experiences, Octave 9 is both,” said Mark Reddington of LMN Architects in a statement. “It is not just a new performance venue for the Symphony, it is also an exploration into the future of musical performance and education.” LMN is one of ten firms working with the Symphony and Benaroya Hall on everything from the immersive technology to digital acoustics.
In addition to the 360-degree projection capability, audio for the space can be digitally “tuned” to reflect a range of settings, from a church to a large concert hall. Physically, the movable panels allow transformation from performance to meeting room to interactive classroom.
Even the ceiling is part of the tech. Microphones, speakers, motion-capture cameras, projectors and LED lights will be concealed in an asymmetrical honeycomb design.
While full programming for Octave 9 won’t be announced until October, the Symphony says cellist and experimental artist Seth Parker Woods will become Octave 9’s first Artist in Residence for the 2019-2020 season. Woods will premiere new works for “cello and multimedia” in the adaptable space commissioned from a group of composers and visual artists. The Symphony also expects to use Octave 9 as an artistic incubator for non-Symphony projects.
Soundbridge’s emphasis on music education during the 15 years it was open will continue inside Octave 9 as well, including the Symphony’s Sensory Friendly Concerts for people with sensory sensitivities. Even the new name itself is a bit of music education. There are just under eight octaves on a concert grand piano. A nine-octave range, the Symphony said, reflects pushing past boundaries.
“We imagine a space that can amplify the learning and performance experiences beyond the physical space and across our digital platforms into classrooms and homes around the world,” Laura Reynolds, Seattle Symphony vice president of education and community engagement, told GeekWire. “We hope to create a library of immersive experiences that can rotate on ‘exhibition’ within the space – inviting multiple viewings and a catalogue of engaging content.”
Reynolds said it’s possible to envision live streamed or recorded professional development workshops for classroom teachers participating in the Symphony’s school concerts, delivered as distance learning. But for now, Reynolds said, the emphasis is on “developing the live, in-person experience.”
Octave 9 represents perhaps the Symphony’s most overt and ongoing use of technology for performances in a tech-savvy Seattle. The Symphony had earlier performed works for Xbox Kinect and “kinetic instruments,” and used digital projection as part of multi-sensory concerts. It’s worth noting that the description of Octave 9 as a space for immersive, shared virtual experiences is not unlike the vision for the Museum of Pop Culture’s new (and smaller) Holodome.
The Symphony says Octave 9 is funded through a combination of public and private money, including a $2 million matching challenge from Seattle philanthropists James and Sherry Raisbeck. A remaining $775,000 still needs to be raised before it opens next February.