Following on from the success of our Simulated Audience project, we were commissioned to create a Simulated Audition Panel for the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science.
Auditions for professional musicians can be an incredibly daunting process, even more so than a public performance due to the intimate and high pressure nature of the moment, but also the consequences of success or failure. In order to help musicians practice and prepare for these high pressure situations, and best represent their abilities, Professor Aaron Williamon asked us to recreate an audition situation using a digital projection.
The result is an interactive, projected audition panel of three judges that listen and react to your musical performance. A technician can at the press of a button make the projected panelists provide comments and interruptions based on the quality of the performance.
The panelists also have three different ‘listening’ modes, including ‘disappointed’, ‘indifferent’ and ‘enthusiastic’, in which their body language tells you exactly what they are thinking.
To create the interactive projection, we came up with an innovative direction process where we filmed three professional actors acting out set pieces and always returning to a fixed position allowing us to join up video loops to make the moving image as seamless and continuous as possible. As well as the skill the actors showed in providing suitably discerning facial expressions and body language, their ability to return to this fixed position was crucial to the successful outcome of the project. We then built a Flash interface that allows a technician to manipulate the projection by pressing buttons on a keyboard.
This simulation allows professional musicians to practice their audition routine, get used to receiving a variety of feedback with confidence, and practice maintaining their composure while playing to a panel that looks less than impressed. The Centre for Performance Science is currently using heart and sweat monitors and interviews to compare the physiological and mental experience between the simulation and real life auditions. The initial results look very encouraging.
How we created the simulation
The delicate differences in body language and facial expression of the members of the judging panel are all important for conveying their enthusiasm or disappointment. Auditions are restrained and tense affairs, and so we felt it was important to use professional actors. Unlike the audition simulation, this time there were only three people, and they needed to interact with each other, so we decided to film them together in a more traditional format.
We filmed them against a black backdrop so that the projected image wouldn’t look out of place in most settings. We lit the scene from both sides from a very flat angle to remove shadows from appearing behind the actors on the backdrop.
Even though we were filming the panel together, we still needed to create video loops that as much as possible blended seamlessly from one to another. To achieve this we asked the actors to create and remember a neutral body position which they would start and end each segment with. This meant that any video loop could then seamlessly blend into any other as long as the loop completed. (For instantaneous reactions, for example in response to the performance ending, ‘jumping’ to an appropriate part of the movie is unavoidable, but less noticed do to the intensity of the moment).
We filmed a spectrum of reactions that the audition panel could provide upon completion of the performance (selected by pressing an appropriate key button). We also filmed three long loops of ‘listening’ footage, one was enthusiastic in nature, another was indifferent, and the third was ‘disappointed’ in nature, with the judges acting appropriately in terms of their body language and facial expressions. To help them empathise and concentrate we played appropriate music in the recording room while we captured this footage. Each loop was 5 minutes long, which would result in three loops in an average performance of 15 minutes. We felt that this would avoid too much noticeable repetition, and allow the controller to change the level of enthusiasm twice during a performance and maintain the seamless transitions.
We needed to be able to end the session without the performer engaging in conversation with the judges, as simulating an open conversation was beyond the scope of this project. To do this we filmed a judge-led interruption and a firm ‘good-bye’ message that politely leaves the performer with the impression that they should leave.
While the performer is setting up, preparing, packing up and leaving the judges chat amongst themselves indefinitely with a realistic muffled soundtrack.
This project followed a commission for a simulated audience panel.
Read about this project on the RCM website: www.rcm.ac.uk/cps/simulator