Between the 18th and 26th October we were exhibiting our VR experience as part of the Manchester Science Festival, one of the biggest science festivals in the UK. We were situated in the magnificent Central Library between the music library, 7000 feet and an exhibition of images from Manchester’s rock history.

The main experience we were showing the public was a virtual reality reconstruction of St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh, in the years 2018 and 1769. Prior to putting the headset on, participants were explained the cultural heritage and significance of the hall, giving them a deeper understanding of the purpose of our research.

The diverse number of people who were interested in trying the VR experience was truly staggering. One of my favourites was a young man of about 19 who hadn’t used VR before and was exceedingly sceptical that he would enjoy our exhibition. After 5 minutes, first in 2018 and then travelling back to 1769 he was a full convert to virtual reality, lifting the headset up and saying, “This is the future…you need to tell people about this!

During our time in Manchester we had well over 250 people experience the VR reconstruction. The majority of people had never user VR previously and were intrigued to learn more. Before the headset was placed on each participant, they were asked to familiarise themselves with the environment and in particular listen to the music. Once comfortable, the virtual scene was changed from St Cecilia’s Hall in its current state to how it is believed it would have looked in 1769.

Picture © Jason Lock Photography / Science Museum Group

Participants were asked to focus on the music and see if they could hear a difference between the past and present. The majority did. They were also asked if they could describe the difference. Words like ‘colder’, ‘clearer’ and ‘brighter’ were used to describe the 2018 model and ‘warmer’ and ‘natural’ for the 1769 model. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire following their experience. The results of this is given below:

  1. I enjoyed the experience – 96% agreed
  2. I would use the virtual reality experience if it was available within a historical venue – 93% agree
  3. This has enhanced my understanding of how the space(s) have changed over the years – 86% agree
  4. I could hear the difference between the present and the past in virtual reality – 81% agree

  5. I enjoyed hearing the music and appreciate its historical context more now I have heard it within a historically accurate virtual reality reconstruction – 88% agreed

  6. I would like to see more virtual reality reconstructions of spaces in heritage sites – 95% agreed

  7. I would recommend using this system to others – 95% agree

Clearly, looking at these results, it wasn’t just us that were enjoying ourselves at the Science Festival! The responses show an overwhelming desire to see more virtual reality reconstruction of heritage sites, experiencing music of the past as it was intended to be heard and it gave them a heightened appreciation of the venues.

Our experience at the Manchester Science Festival was an unbelievable success! Everyone seemed to enjoy hearing about our research, the venues we are looking at, the music we have chosen, how it was recorded and how it was presented – and we enjoyed sharing it with everyone who attended!