Camera Obscura musical steps to be key attraction

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A CITY centre attraction is ­hitting all the right notes with tourists as they scale greater heights on its new musical staircase.

Inspired by the 80s cult classic Big, starring Tom Hanks, bosses at Camera Obscura on the Royal Mile have transformed their exit stairs into a bespoke keyboard, with tiny sensors emitting tuneful notes when stepped on.

Alyce Paton and Heather King make sweet music on the Camera Obscura's new interactive staircase. Picture: Greg Macvean

Alyce Paton and Heather King make sweet music on the Camera Obscura's new interactive staircase. Picture: Greg Macvean

To celebrate the New Year, the keyboard staircase has been programmed to play Auld Lang Syne, but can also be set up for various other songs.

And the new attraction is the first step in manager Andrew Johnson’s vision of turning the entire building into a giant interactive experience where every surface and item plays music or emits visuals.The stairway was designed by James Hutchby, of Easter Road-based electronics workshop MadLab, with the help of Camera Obscura’s maintenance man and electronic ­engineer Sandy White.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s been a real hit with visitors and we’re really happy with it.

“We wanted to add something as a little treat for people before they leave and this has proved a real winner.

“Each one of the steps are programmed to play different notes when stepped on – it’s completely flexible to whatever song you like.

“The grand plan is to turn the whole building into an ­experience and not just an ­exhibition.

“Each surface will light up or play music or make some type of sound.”

A similar musical ­staircase was installed by car firm Volkswagen within a ­Stockholm rail station, proving an instant hit with Swedish commuters, as 66 per cent more people than normal chose the musical stairs over the ­escalator.

Mr Hutchby said: “It’s reasonably complicated as the sensors are placed in the underside of the wooden steps so they are quite sensitive and delicate.

“It’s not too difficult to turn the entire building into a more interactive audio and visual experience. More and more tourist attractions are looking to become that bit more ­interactive so we’ll see a lot more of this kind of thing.”

Camera Obscura welcomed 210,000 people through its doors last year and this festive season saw 11,000 visitors.

Visitors Mike and Sally Newbold, from Chicago, both tried out the new attraction and gave it a noteworthy rating. Mr Newbold said: “I think it’s great fun. I remember the film Big and always wanted to have a try on the giant musical ­keyboard. It’s a great tourist attraction.”

Wife Sally added: “The only problem might be that ­people won’t actually leave now – they’ll just stay messing about on the stairs.”

Built to watch people interact

THE building at the top of the Royal Mile was originally bought by one of the city’s great thinkers, Sir Patrick Geddes, and converted into a “sociological observatory” in 1892.

The key attraction – the Camera Obscura – allows visitors to experience a 360-degree snapshot of the Capital using the camera device.

The name ‘camera obscura’ comes from the Latin words meaning ‘darkened room’. The first record of the camera obscura principle goes back to Ancient Greece, when Aristotle noticed how light passing through a small hole into a darkened room produces an image on the wall opposite.