Listening to the Proms - the important bits
Gabriel Gilson, interactive editor for the Proms and Radio 3 websites, on a technical improvement that might be music to your ears...
A day out with the kids is usually a mixture of treats and tantrums (not necessarily in that order). But last week we were stopped in our tracks by some digital magic. On a day trip to London's Natural History Museum with my two boys, we dallied with butterflies then found our way to the new Darwin Centre. It houses specimens, and the scientists who work on them. In a neat bit of theatricality, you can observe both through big plate glass windows. Amid the usual exhibits, we came across a set of drawers designed to show how they store collections for posterity. Open the top drawer and you see a standard tray of bugs skewered by pins. Open the bottom drawer and you get not a tray but a computer screen with a picture of a set of archived bugs. Close the drawer and open it again and you see a different set of creatures. And that's when the drawer came to life. As we looked, a bee rose up and buzzed around the virtual tray. Close and open again and this time a set of plants ripple to an imaginary summer breeze. Children and dad transfixed. Magic Draws!
Visiting the Royal Albert Hall over the summer has had a similar feel. You never quite know what you'll get when you round the corner. What age of audience, what smell of perfume? Inside, the conductor raises a baton and the music comes to life. Ranks of string players rippling like corn, percussion punctuating via ears and stomach.
Part of the challenge of running the Proms website is how to take all that and capture it on a computer screen. Luckily for us we have sound as well as pictures. And this week's small step in the evolution of radio is an experimental extra high quality audio stream available via the site for the remaining live proms this year. We've increased the amount of digital information used to deliver the sound ('bits', to be technical...). To my humble ears, it does an even better job of bringing you in to the concert. The sound of the Hall, so intrinsic to the Proms, is more tangible. There's a better sense of space and clarity around each instrument. There's more music. But don't just take my word for it. If you haven't tried plugging your computer into your Hi-Fi yet, or plugging a nice pair of headphones in, give it a go during the final week of the Proms.
Technical bugs permitting, we'll be adding more ways of bringing the music to life over the coming months. In the meantime, give this a go and tell us what you think. We'd love to hear if it adds to the magic.
- You can access the experimental extra high quality audio stream by visiting the BBC Proms website
- You can read a technical blog about the project by Rupert Brun, Head of Technology for BBC Audio & Music, by clicking this link.
- Technical FAQs are available by clicking this link.
- To join the conversation about this story on Twitter include the hashtag #PromsXHQ in your tweets.