Aalto University: Inside the Quartet takes the audience to the virtual world of string quartets

Inside the Quartet, viewed with VR headsets, allows the audience to experience music from the point of view of a Kamus Quartet player of their choice. The unique experience combines Finland’s best-known composer, Jean Sibelius, with one of Finland’s most notable string ensembles, the Kamus Quartet, and the top technical expertise of Aalto University.

‘Inside the Quartet was driven by a collective desire to try out VR technology as a form of encounter between a string quartet and its audience, which was a new experience for all involved,’ says Sebastian Schlecht, Professor of Practice and Project Director of the working group at Aalto University.

The greatest challenge of the project was to envision how to make the listener feel that they are one of the players. This was achieved by envisioning a few options with musicians and engineers. The quadrangular seating arrangement of the quartet and setting up a camera behind each player was selected as the best way to implement the work.

‘With room acoustics and 3D design, we managed to create a feeling that the listener is one of the players of the string quartet with their own instrument in their hand,’ Schlecht rejoices.

The work experienced with VR headsets takes the audience to Aino and Jean Sibelius’s home, Ainola, where the work was filmed in the summer of 2020. The music of the work consists of the first two movements of Sibelius’s Voces Intimae quartet. The project brought together Aalto University’s acoustics and Media Lab students and researchers. Doctoral student Nils Meyer-Kahlen has been responsible for the sound design of the work. Master’s student Eero Tiainen and doctoral student Gautam Vishwanath have been responsible for the design and pre-production of the VR experience, and doctoral student Petri Juntunen has designed the lighting. In addition, Professor Tapio Lokki acted as an acoustical consultant.

The work viewed with Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets has already been on display in Hanover at the Classical:NEXT event and is visiting Helsinki Central Library Oodi on Wednesday, 25 May. The work is part of Our Festival’s 2022 programme in Järvenpää and Tuusula in July. During the Our Festival week, Inside the Quartet also visits the Hyrylä and Jokela libraries and Kallio-Kuninkala. The work is also part of the programme of Konserttikeskus (Concert Centre Finland). Through Konserttikeskus, the work can be booked to schools all over Finland. The work can be viewed and listened to simultaneously by four listeners, just like there are four players in the string quartet.