​All the world's a stage!

High-speed networks are transforming global arts and humanities.

By Tamsin Henderson, GÉANT

Have you ever tried singing Happy Birthday over Skype? It's pretty dismal. So imagine coordinating a live performance between groups of professional musicians in different continents - made doubly nail-biting because they're performing in front of a global audience. Oh, and did I mention they're improvising? Noticing subtle variations in each other's tone and tempo is key to blissful audio rapture... or ear-splitting disaster.


Thanks to very high capacity networks such as GÉANT and high definition, low latency technologies, artists can now see and hear each other so well, the creative tension is palpable. Today some truly jaw-dropping simultaneous collaborations are taking place, where distance is irrelevant and imagination the only barrier to what can be achieved. This is the future of performing arts across boundaries.


Merging art and technology

E-Culture and e-Arts are digitalising the traditional arts, bringing us video art, net art and even 'serious gaming'. People can interact across the globe in real time, sharing vast amounts of digital information such as manuscripts, artefacts or paintings.  

From remote auditions to expert master classes, just think of the possibilities! World-class orchestras can collaborate with laptop musicians across different time zones. Beyoncé could perform at Glastonbury without stepping on a plane! Carbon footprints will reduce. Air miles will drop. And let's not stop at music. Remote, digital stages enable dancers not only to perform but to interact with each other. New languages can be developed in the performing environment.


Being 'virtually' present

The implications go far beyond arts and humanities. Telepresence, the technology enabling a person to feel present at a virtual location, has benefits to health (remote surgery), disaster recovery (bomb disposal, mining), environmental research and so much more. Sky is the limit, in fact even deep space research is using telepresence to place human dexterity in places too dangerous for the living.


In a world where resources are ever-shrinking and low-carbon living critical, very high-capacity networks such as GÉANT are closing the gap between those with knowledge and those who need it, creating a global studio and classroom.


How does GÉANT support e-Arts? 


LoLA (LOw LAtency audio/visual system) was developed by GARR - the Italian National Research and Education Network (NREN) - and its cohorts. GÉANT helped deliver the project's vision and today, LoLA and partners can beam performers to each other with a latency of 20-50 milliseconds; roughly the time it would take the sound to reach a musician on one side of a stage to the other, but with video.



eMusic is a project coordinated by the Czech NREN, CESNET, under the GÉANT Innovation Programme. It aims to demonstrate a novel use of the GÉANT bandwidth on demand (BoD) service to support e-Learning and remote access to cultural performances. It is hoped the impact will open possibilities for teachers and students (and artists in general). New education paradigms could be developed, integrating traditional face-to-face training with remote sessions. This is where the global exchange of experiences can truly widen horizons.



In 2006, GÉANT worked with the ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) project which recreates the sounds of ancient musical instruments using highly data intensive physical modelling programs. GÉANT provided the bandwidth required to harness the power of grid computing to greatly accelerate the modelling process, bringing to life the Epigonion and Barbiton to produce a fascinating insight into the past.


Data sonification

GÉANT recently demonstrated the power of its network by sonifying data from NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, to an awe-struck audience at the NASA booth at Supercomputing 2013. The project used data sonification - representing data by means of sound signals – itself increasingly used to accelerate scientific discovery; from epilepsy research to deep space discovery.


Mixing art and technology

With world-class artists' increasingly embracing digital art, for instance David Hockney, whose trusty iPad allows him to work fast without the need to carry paints and pencils: add high-speed networks to the mix and you have a powerful tool connecting artists with multiple computing resources.


Partly developed by artists, partly by engineers, e-Art reimagines the relationship between people and art and allows studios to tap into geographically dispersed, rich and varied talent pools without the need for a fixed location.


High-speed networks reshaping our world

The unstoppable juggernaut that is Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs, is another way in which high-speed networks are reshaping our world.  Learning is no longer only for those who can afford it, or for those who live close to a specific institution. Here virtual communities share resources, using peer review or crowd sourcing for guidance, in way that is flexible, open and free.


And, with technology and data needs continually changing and improving, we're likely to see even bigger changes as the world discovers new ways of collaborating through the sharing of data over high-capacity networks. It seems we're only just scratching the surface with what can be creatively and technologically achieved.


This article appeared in CONNECT Issue #14, January 2014.


Previous publications​​

CONNECT Magazine is produced 3-4 times a year. To view previous editions please click on the images below.

connect18.jpg connect17.jpg
connect16.jpg connect15.jpg