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BBC Launches Pick a Part Philharmonic Orchestra listening experience

David Murphy

The BBC has launched Pick A Part, which is designed to give classical music fans a taste of what it might be like to conduct their own Prom. Acessible via the BBC Taster platformThe BBC has launched Pick A Part, which is designed to give classical music fans a taste of what it might be like to conduct their own Prom. Acessible via the BBC Taster platform, Pick a Part enables users to connect laptops, phones and tablets to create a homemade synchronised surround sound system. They can then listen to a selection of pieces performed by the BBC Philharmonic, and choose to isolate instruments to listen to on each device – or play them all together and sit back to get the feeling of what it would be like to sit right in the middle of the orchestra. 

The idea came out of lockdown, when BBC Philharmonic musicians had to record their parts of the music separately from their own homes to be edited together later. The BBC was able to put them back together in a way that now enables the audience to interact with those individual recordings.Jon Francombe, senior research & development engineer, BBC R&D  Pick A Part is the latest in a series of orchestrated trial productions that started with audio drama The Vostok-K Incident in 2018 and recently saw the release of an orchestrated episode of 1927's Decameron Nights. 

Pick a Part uses the BBC’s Audio Orchestrator tool, with a modified template application that shows a picture of the selected instrument on each connected devices; automatically assigns an instrument once a device has been connected; and displays a representation of the instruments assigned to each connected device. 

To make sure the instruments are in sync, the BBC’s R&D team developed a manual calibration stage so that listeners can easily correct the time-alignment for their own devices. Danial Haddadi, an industrial placement student with BBC R&D, ran an experiment to determine how well listeners can align two devices, and what method is easiest for doing this. Based on the experimental results, he implemented the calibration tool that is used in Pick A Part. The same speech content is played from the main device and an auxiliary device, and the listener is asked to adjust the time delay on the auxiliary device until the two devices are in sync.

“There are so many potential applications for Pick-a-Part,” said Simon Webb, Director of the BBC Philharmonic. “This is the BBC at its very best, collaborating, innovating and sharing. Whether in an educational setting exploring the inner workings of a string quartet, exploring different audio mixes of a recording, or playing along with professional musicians in your own home, this is a brilliant piece of kit.”

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