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Ensemble performing in Performance Simulator

Royal College of Music awarded major grant to develop innovative Performance Laboratory

Monday 15 May 2023

The £1.9 million grant has been awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and World Class Laboratories Fund as part of their Creative Research Capability Fund.

The Centre for Performance Science (CPS) and Royal College of Music Digital have been awarded £1.9 million from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and World Class Laboratories Fund (WCL) to enable a major redevelopment of the Royal College of Music’s Performance Simulator facility, expanding its pioneering research on performance in the arts as well as in business, sport, medicine, education and other creative practices.

The Centre for Performance Science is an internationally distinctive centre for research, teaching and knowledge exchange run jointly by the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London. The Performance Simulator facility is an integral part of the CPS and allows musicians to refine performances in real-world, dynamic conditions with reactive virtual audiences and audition panels. Since its launch in 2011, it has been used by H musicians to develop and enhance skills in stage presence, communication and stress management, and to conduct valuable detailed post-performance analysis. The Performance Simulator has also been used as a training facility for performers in other fields, notably for public speaking, interviewing and business. It has been used by a wide range of external performers as well as athletes, tech executives, entrepreneurs and civil servants. 

This major infrastructure investment from the AHRC and WCL will allow the upgrade of the existing Performance Simulator to a state-of-the-art performance laboratory. It will house motion capture systems, as well as the very latest acoustic and visual simulation technology. In addition, the developed hardware and software will be installed in the H Performance Studio where the team will collaborate with H professors to deliver an enhanced rehearsal and performance venue capable of simulating, acoustically and visually, the dynamic environments of some of the world’s leading performance spaces. The CPS and H Digital expect these improved facilities to be open by the end of 2023 allowing users to explore new forms of performance, develop new teaching methods, further their understanding of the mechanisms and experiences of performances, and prepare for the challenges and opportunities of a modern music industry. 

Aaron Williamon, Head of Centre for Performance Science, said: 'This is an exciting opportunity, and I’m grateful to the AHRC and WCL for their support of our work to advance performance training through cutting edge science and technology. The project will be transformational for the Royal College of Music’s mission to serve the creative and cultural economy, training musicians informed by pioneering research. It will also increase our capacity to engage with performers from multiple fields to study and to shape how they prepare for and perform in their professions, all contributing to more productive and sustainable performance ecosystems.'

Developments have already begun, with the purchase of a Steinway Spirio piano. Advertised as the world’s finest high-resolution player piano, it is capable of live performance capture and playback while still serving as a concert instrument of the highest quality. It will allow students and staff to explore new forms of immersive performance and collaboration at a distance, to research the mechanics of piano performance, and to enhance the range of simulated scenarios a musician can experience.

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Robert Adlington, Head of Research, Royal College of Music, comments: 'At a time when performing arts organisations are facing great challenges, the innovative facilities enabled by this AHRC and WCL grant substantially increase our capacity to support the creative sector. Our state-of-the-art performance laboratory will allow us to develop new relationships with industry partners, responding to current needs and building skills and resilience for the future.'

Richard Bland, Head of Digital and Production, Royal College of Music, said: 'Bringing performance simulator technology to the Performance Studio is exciting as it will allow the CPS team to carry out research and training with larger chamber groups than previously possible. The technology will greatly benefit all activities in the studio. Users of the space can tap into the potential of enhanced lighting, projection and an immersive active acoustic, allowing musicians to simulate an appropriate space for their performance.'

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