'Visualisation' isn't the
most attractive word in the dictionary but it's the best shorthand we've come
up with to describe the experiments in filming concerts for the web which we've
carried out in recent years.
Visual radio' is another
strange concept which is much discussed in media circles. Our favourite saying
is that 'Radio beats TV because the pictures are better...' Well, I wouldn't want
to dilute the idea that the listener's imagination can in any way be improved upon,
but visual radio - and its offshoot, 'visualisation' - are all part of the
drawing together the main 'broadcast' platforms: TV and
Over the past couple of
years, we've been testing ourselves, with the expert guidance and assistance of our colleagues in Classical Music Television, in what we can deliver to Radio 3
listeners, through the website, in the way of an enhanced concert experience
for those who aren't present in the venue, or who would like to listen again.
The BBC iPlayer is a hugely popular medium for this, and the technology which
drives it can also be used to deliver pictures - hence the development of
visualisations such as the recent Midsummer
Night's Dream production from the Middle Temple which you can still see on the
website and the
concert of choral and orchestral music by Haydn, with the BBC Philharmonic.
The key to visualisation is
to develop a cost-effective recording system which delivers a quality video
experience commensurate with the lower bandwith of the online video offering.
To all intents and purposes it's a full-function outside broadcast recording,
but on a vastly reduced scale. As the director of the Haydn concert, let me
describe what's involved.
Two weeks before the concert
I began preparing a camera script for the five Haydn pieces in the programme,
using scores identical to the ones prepared for the conductor, Gianandrea
Noseda. A week later, I passed the marked-up scores to production assistant Anna,
who added shot numbers and printed the cards which the camera operators use to
line up their shots in sequence, with instructions on where to focus, and when
to pan or zoom.
The day before the concert,
I travelled to Manchester to attend the choir and orchestra rehearsals, which
took place in the 1825 Greek-style church of St Philip, Salford. This was
useful because it gave me an opportunity to rehearse the camera script (in web
visualisations the director acts as vision mixer) and to check the orchestra
layout: as the position of the vocal soloists on the platform had changed since
I prepared the camera script, I had time to alter it and communicate the
changes to Anna.
While I was at the church,
the technical team (a manager and some of the staff who double up as camera
operators: Chris, Gregory, Luke and Roberto) had arrived - some 30 boxes of
technical equipment had been conveyed to Manchester by BBC van, or sourced
locally. The following morning - concert day - the team was joined by the
remaining camera operators (Di and Errol) and by Anna: the team spent the
morning doing their own rigging at the venue, Bridgewater Hall, and testing the
equipment. In this high-tech world, it's comforting to find that you still need
some low-tech solutions to make things happen - to get cables from the
technical booths at the back of the auditorium through to the stage they're
pulled through big drain pipes using blue nylon ropes!
When you introduce cameras
and yards of cabling into a concert hall, safety for staff and the public is
paramount and a great deal of attention is paid both to preventing 'trip
hazards' and also making sure the public's enjoyment of the event is not
spoiled by the necessary intrusions of people and kit.
By now it's 1230 -
everyone's arrived and over lunch I make further adjustments to the camera
script with Anna. We go over to the hall and spend the hour before the final
rehearsal at 230 testing the cameras, the vision mixer (it's no bigger than a
briefcase), checking the camera angles, and going through the moves. At 2.30
conductor Gianandrea Noseda arrives on the platform and the final music rehearsal
begins. Among the works being performed is Haydn's Symphony No.90; the formal
structures of Haydn's music are full of repeats - these are known hazards for
broadcasters because they're not prescriptive, ie conductors have latitude to
include or exclude them. When the library prepares our working scores, they
always copy the repeats in so that we never have to 'flip back' during the
performance. Sometimes conductors change their minds about repeats between
rehearsal and performance, so you always have to check and double-check: on
concert day, conductors don't always rehearse every note of a score, so a nasty
moment for us is avoided when Anna finds out from a viola player that Noseda
isn't observing a big repeat at the end of one of the movements.
After the rehearsal, during
which we discover that some shots don't work (it could be a microphone stand in
the way, or insufficient time to reset cameras between cues) we call the
operators together for a final briefing and amend their scripts. Then it's a
break and the concert goes out live at 7 on Radio 3, with presenter Martin
Handley on stage. During the show, I sit with Anna, who calls the shots via
open talkback, priming the camera operators for their next cues; she follows
the score with her finger, marking every beat: I call for adjustments as
necessary and operate the vision mixer to provide all the cuts and cross-fades
according to the precise musical cues in the score. In a nutshell, the vocabulary
of a camera script for music is all about making sure, that the viewer is
looking at who's playing or singing, in groups or individually, with cutaways
to the conductor. In the case of Noseda, 'ConductorCam' is always a rewarding
shot because his facial expressions are fascinating to watch and you see him
from a much more interesting angle than just broad shoulders and flailing arms!
After the concert, we
de-rig, pack the 30 boxes of kit and head back to the hotel. But
it's not over yet. When you're filming, even the most rigorously planned live
event throws up the unexpected, like someone coming on to the platform from the
'wrong' side, or a simple scripting error, or a technical blip. We're committed
to posting the concert videos on the website by 6pm on the day after the
concert: so Gregory, who doubles as camera operator but whose day job is that
of a senior interactive producer, stays up part of the night making the (fortunately)
small number of edits, and continues editing on his laptop on the train back to
London the following morning. Back at base, processing the files, building their
host page and uploading them to the web takes the rest of the day.
The statistics suggest that
concert visualisations are popular with web users and we aim to do more of them
during the Proms, and in future with Radio 3's Discovering Music series, where
there is great potential to archive the material as an educational resource. We
are refining our skills all the time and using the technology creatively to
push the boundaries of what we can offer licence-payers at minimum cost. We
think visualisation - ugly word though it is - is good value-for-money!
Graeme Kay is a Classical Music Producer for BBC Radio 3 Interactive