Views of the future – Google Glass and classical music

Monday 18th August 2014

The debate surrounding the future of classical music ranges far and wide, having lead to experimentation with classical music clubnights, donor membership specifically targeted at under 40s and classical concerts given in ex-swimming pools and car parks – all in an attempt to engage new audiences and encourage young people to start attending concerts.  The hope is that, as well as increasing engagement, they might still be attending in forty years time – as well as donating part of their increased salary to an organisation which has provided them with so much enjoyment during their lifetime.

Meanwhile, in the UK in particular, cuts are being made to music provision in schools to the point where many children aren’t being given access to the basic musical education which will give them the hunger to see these live classical events.  It is easy to spend the same amount of money on a ticket to a sporting event or a West End show as on some classical or opera events – so why should anyone take the chance on something which they know little about, and can’t guarantee the same enjoyment?

The concept of merging classical music with technology is relatively new, a major example of which can be seen in the live broadcast of opera and theatre in cinemas and on open-air screens.  These screenings, of productions from the Royal Opera House, Metropolitan Opera, National Theatre and even exhibitions in the British Museum, have proved hugely successful, with audiences citing the quality of filming and sound as reasons for their continued enjoyment. The fact that many of these broadcasts can be seen for free has also created a talking point.  The Berlin Philharmonic launched their Digital Concert Hall a little after the live broadcasts started, bringing one of the world’s best orchestras into your living room – so close you could touch it.  When it was launched, in 2009, there was a lot of discussion about the future of classical music – why then, has there been so little technological innovation within the industry since then?

If the industry doesn’t experiment with new technologies, it risks falling short of what a lot of new audiences are looking for.  This isn’t about radicalising a well-established industry which is still very much alive, it is about keeping the hugely loyal audiences which already exist as well as engaging new people and alternative press in what is increasingly becoming a digital world.  The use of Google Glass, seen in isolation, could be seen as little more than a gimmick, true.  However the product’s use within live classical music over the long term could potentially give an insight into a performer’s experience of the incredible world of live classical music – which musicians a conductor engages with and when, what a soloist sees in that crucial moment when they walk on stage, the fundamental eye contact at the end of a cadenza to lead to a down beat.  The nature of the Google Glass technology means that the images and videos generated from the headset can be shared instantly throughout the world – to an audience of existing classical aficionados as well as those who haven’t yet experienced a live concert, and to those interested in new and pioneering technology.

The industry is lucky to have such forward-thinking platforms in which to experiment with this technology, but why should an industry which has already survived so much change be so adverse to new technology?  The use of Google Glass and other forms of technology within classical music will inspire debate and discussion, as have many other advances in music – including the music itself – throughout history.  Whether for or against, these innovations have got the industry talking, and a worldwide audience will be watching to see where they take us.