Catherine Harrison, 37, who works in human resources, came to the installation with her husband, Mark. "It was so nice to sit there and feel like you've been properly drawn in. You can feel [the music] in you with the vibrations," she said.
The couple are what's known in the classical music marketing biz as "culturally aware nonattenders." Those types regularly go to galleries, museums and the theater and listen to classical music at home but never venture into the concert hall. If it's not about the cost and it's not about interest, then why don't they come?
Said Salonen, "The power of the installation is that it places no demands on you. If you hate it, you leave after 30 seconds. If you like it, you stay for two hours, three hours. For me personally, the best experience was to see two old ladies in their 80s banging the hell out of the bass drum, trying to hit the off-beats and shrieking with joy like little girls."
In the three weeks since Universe of Sound opened, 16,000 people have visited, some coming specifically for the installation itself and others just dropping by as part of a larger visit to the Science Museum. While developing this project and precursor RE-RITE, based on Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," the Philharmonia has focused on the middle ground between marketing exercise and education project.
"Yes, we would like people to come and see the Philharmonia," Slaney said, "we're not going to argue with that idea, but it's a very expensive way to get 2,000 people to go to a concert. Maybe they'll go to a concert in 10 years' time, maybe they'll go see their local orchestra, maybe they'll buy some CDs or maybe none of these things. I don't think it matters."
In the violin room, a boy of 9 or 10 brought his instrument and was bravely playing along with "Mars" as practice for his sight reading exam. Next door, a barely walking girl in a rainbow tutu was transfixed by the pair of on-screen harpists, while a group of teenage boys, all limbs and hoodies, gave the instruments in the percussion room a nonironic workout.
"What art can do in the best-case scenario is offer an alternative to your own reality wherever you are in life on the timeline," said Salonen. "Discovery is not a function of age, it is a state of mind. We should be able to offer that to everyone."