The Orpheum

April 25, 2024

This is another example of our free-range, radical thinking and unbound experimentation from our development team. Here, Art & Science creative alchemists showcase how they’ve delved into art, science and the edgy application of inspired ideas that may one day change the world.

In the grand theatre of big events, spectacle wins. When the audience becomes a part of the performance, that’s when the magic truly unfolds. In experiential design, the brilliance lies not only in thinking up grand ideas, but also in the meticulous execution that brings them to life. The Orpheum is an example of our mastery in transforming visionary concepts into unforgettable experiences.

Imagine a musical instrument and light show that works in grand spaces, that anyone can play, and you can even operate wearing mittens. This is The Orpheum, an experiment that holds a lot of affection for Art & Science since it was one of our first.

It’s part interactive art installation, musical instrument and light show. A simple touch across a 10-finger touchscreen creates beautiful waves and orchestrates a beautiful musical score. As you play, The Orpheum’s pipes fill with moving light, changing colour and intensity to match your performance.

With no wrong way to play, The Orpheum’s touchscreen lets anyone create a beautiful symphony of light and sound.

Releasing Inner Maestros, from Mississauga to Toronto

For five wintery weeks in 2019, The Orpheum had a home in Mississauga’s Celebration Square to help celebrate New Year’s Eve and Hometown Hockey. More than 3,000 performances raised the roof through the 2,000 watts of sound across three built-in, concert-grade speakers. Because it hooked into the civic lighting grid, every personal concert bathed the entire square with light and colour—to the top of the clock tower—making the festivities even more personal.

The Orpheum also made an appearance at TedxToronto 2019, and was seen by more than 1,000 attendees. It celebrated the event’s theme, Rise. Meant to evoke a sense of belonging, connectivity and empowerment, The Orpheum added to the core of the visitor experience. The choreographed light and sound beautifully cascaded throughout the Evergreen Brick Works’ Koerner Gardens.

“The Orpheum was a wonderful addition to our event – creating a space for connection, wonder, and discovery,” said Kapil Khimdas, Chair of TEDxToronto. “You could see groups of strangers meeting and getting to know each other as they interacted with the exhibit and conducted a brilliant display of lights and sounds.”

How We Did It

The on-screen experience was built with a 3D JavaScript library called Three.js, and an audio JavaScript library called Tone.js. When the user touches the screen, it triggers water droplets to appear in the 3D space, and that triggers an audible note.

The Orpheum has five different modes, each of which contain a different musical mood, instruments, and screen colour. Think of it like a piano, but instead of one instrument playing the note, it’s a blend of three.

The thing about a fun idea is it often has lots of parameters that need to be met. That’s the joy of experimentation: it teaches us to innovate. Here are some of the challenges that The Orpheum presented and how we overcame them.

1. Weatherproofing for a Canadian Winter

It gets cold in Canada on New Year’s Eve, in a way that electronics don’t necessarily love. To Canadianize this project, all electronic parts were protected from the elements inside the structure and kept in optimal conditions by a temperature-controlled heater.

2. Self-start and Shut Down

The Orpheum needed to be able to turn itself off and on daily, so we gave it a startup and shutdown sequence that runs on a schedule. In case of a power failure, the system’s BIOS settings enable it to recover and restart automatically.

3. Operates Internet-free

We couldn’t rely on the Internet, so we used local servers for communication and direct serial connections for the lights and the light tubes.

4. Tamper-proof

Not that people will meddle in an open square at night when no one is looking, but in case they did, the Orpheum is already a deterrent because it’s heavy. And it has security locks to ensure it can’t be opened without the key.

5. Anyone Can Play It

No instructions were needed. Just the simple words ‘Touch to Play’ greeted prospective musicians on the screen. Once they started playing, the rest was up to them.

6. Mitten-friendly

People needed to be able to play with mittens on. Instead of a capacitive touch screen like your phone has, we used an IR touch frame. This kind of detector emits a grid of infrared beams and detects when their path is interrupted. It means the Orpheum to detect up to 10 individual fingers, even from hands wearing winter gloves.

The Orpheum is an example of the limitless possibilities when art and technology converge. Its ability to captivate audiences, foster connections, and create awe-inspiring moments shows how interactive installations can shape cultural experiences. The Orpheum is ready for anyone to play in our office, or try the virtual desktop version.


AVA Award – Platinum Art Installation
2019 DOT COMM Award – Platinum Interactive Brand Experience

—Jordana Harrison, Senior Full Stack Developer and Kat Hartog, Senior Full Stack Developer

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