The first ever Virtual Reality Prom

I'm totally delighted with 59 Productions' beautiful story telling in Nothing to be WrittenAnna Meredith
Date: 08.08.2018     Last updated: 08.08.2018 at 00.01
The BBC Proms are holding a Prom in virtual reality for the first time ever.
  • For the first time ever, virtual reality will be seen at the BBC Proms in a new work by Anna Meredith and 59 Productions.
  • Commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War, the project helps to bring some of the lesser known stories and history of the Great War to life, while enabling viewers to see and hear the BBC Proms in a completely new way.
  • The project comes in two iterations: Nothing to be Written - a seven-minute immersive experience inspired by one of the First World War’s primary communication modes, the ‘field postcard’; and a 25-minute experience from ‘within’ the Royal Albert Hall featuring Anna Meredith’s recently premiered full score of Five Telegrams, co-commissioned by the BBC Proms, Edinburgh International Festival, and 14-18 NOW.
  • Nothing to be Written has been developed for Oculus Go and will be available on other major VR and BBC platforms later this year. A 360 trailer will be available soon to give audiences an insight into this pioneering commission.
  • The project marks a pioneering enterprise for three BBC brands, as the BBC Proms, BBC VR Hub and BBC Research & Development Audio Team come together as never before.

Produced by BBC VR Hub, Nothing to be Written has been created jointly by one of today’s most exciting, contemporary composers, Anna Meredith, and the multi award-winning company of artists 59 Productions. The first ever VR Prom receives its world premiere on Tuesday 21 August.

Bringing the BBC Proms to life as never before, this seven-minute experience is a contemporary response to the First War World and takes the ‘field postcard’ as its inspiration. As one of the primary modes of communication used at this time, the piece marks the festival’s continued commitment to bringing lesser-known stories and the history of the Great War to life in this important centenary year.

The VR Prom is a further iteration of the Five Telegrams project which formally launched the BBC Proms 2018 season. A co-commission for Anna Meredith and 59 Productions by the BBC Proms, Edinburgh International Festival and 14-18 NOW (the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary), this major new work for orchestra, choir and projections explores the varied forms of communication from the front lines. Its second movement, entitled Field Postcard, forms the basis of the VR experience, drawing on the talents of both the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of their chief conductor, Sakari Oramo.

Nothing to be Written takes the viewer on a highly emotive journey, positioning them as the main protagonist in the narrative: civilians transported on the same journey fared by their loved-ones during World War I. The piece merges two worlds - the hallways across the country with families and friends waiting quietly for news, with the unrestrained violence of the trenches. Throughout the piece, an image of a field postcard remains the central thread.

Set to Meredith’s dramatic and haunting choral score for Five Telegrams, the experience is a powerful and emotive exploration of the human stories beyond the edges of the postcards. Recorded live on the First Night of the Proms, Five Telegrams has been captured in cutting-edge spatialised sound with very high quality ambisonics, offering audiences the opportunity to experience the composition in its entirety in maximum quality.

Produced by the BBC’s VR Hub and 59 Productions and featuring spatial sound recording and mix by the BBC’s Audio Research & Development team, Nothing to be Written receives its world premiere at the BBC Proms on Tuesday 21 August. It then travels to 14-18 NOW-linked events throughout the Autumn, followed by an international premiere at Raindance Film Festival. The experience has been developed for Oculus Go and will be available on public release to other major VR and BBC platforms later this year.

Over 300,000 censored letters were sent each day from the front lines during the height of World War 1. During the war, censorship of mail meant that soldiers had few ways to regularly correspond with their loved ones at home. Field postcards, for example, offered soldiers the chance to quickly communicate their status, but at the cost of detail. “I am quite well”, “I have been admitted into hospital”, “I have received no letter from you” - for many, these stock phrases were their only regular link between families at home and soldiers on the frontline.

To accompany Nothing to be Written, a full 25-minute, immersive experience has been developed to be previewed at the BBC Proms. Shaped entirely around the full score for Five Telegrams, the first four movements of the experience will place the user in the centre of the Royal Albert Hall. As the music plays, the walls and geometry of the building morph and change.

Lysander Ashton, Director of 59 Productions, says: “You find yourself alone in this spectacular space. There is a reverent hush alive with possibility. The space feels real, but heightened. As the music begins, the hall begins to transform in response to the music. The architecture around you shifts and changes, becoming a canvas on which the music is painted.”

Nothing to be Written is a BBC virtual reality experience by 59 Productions and Anna Meredith, produced by BBC VR Hub, and presented by BBC Proms and 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions.

Anna Meredith says: "I'm totally delighted with 59 Productions' beautiful story telling in Nothing to be Written - to me it mirrors the music I wrote by allowing you to experience the texture both at a distance or really zooming into the detail of the Field Postcards and the stories they tell beyond the prescribed text."

Lysander Ashton says: “Nothing to be Written has been such an exciting artistic commission from the BBC. It’s always fascinating exploring the possibilities of VR, as a nascent medium, which seems to invite a mixture of filmic and theatrical approaches. Anna Meredith, whose extraordinary music forms the backbone of the piece introduced me to the fascinating and, I think, little known objects of the Field Postcards which provide an interesting insight of the surprisingly rapid communication taking place between the soldiers at the front and their loved ones.”

Zillah Watson, Commissioning Editor, BBC VR Hub, says: “This extraordinary piece is a brilliant example of the BBC’s cutting-edge work in virtual reality. It’s the most exciting new technology in media today, and we’re using it to give viewers a new perspective on music and art with the BBC Proms. The experience helps the viewer understand the terrible gap between families at home and soldiers on the front line by putting them right at the heart of it. Anna’s beautiful, haunting music accompanies the viewers as they gain a greater understanding of the stark realities of life on the front line a century ago, and the painful pragmatism of the field postcard forcing interactions with loved ones into an expedient but heart-breaking tick box exercise.”

David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms, says: “The BBC Proms broke new ground on the opening night of the Proms this year when we presented our first ever new commission combining both music and visual projections. Five Telegrams has already been seen by thousands of people at live events in London and Edinburgh and (hundreds of) thousands more on television and online. I am delighted that this latest VR incarnation will reach even wider audiences and add a further ground-breaking development to the project”.

The VR Prom experience will take place at Beit Venues Imperial College Union, in the Metric Bar on Tuesday 21 August. Sessions will run from 7-11.30pm approx. See the BBC Proms website for details. The event is free but places are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Please note that doors open 30 minutes before the event begins. The experience will also feature as part of this year BBC Proms Inspire day on Friday 22 August, before heading to further events associated with 14-18 NOW’s World War 1 centenary commemorations.