Take a symphony orchestra. Put the strings in Edinburgh, the percussion in Cardiff and the brass in London. Link them to the conductor in Newcastle and enjoy the music. This is now feasible, using the Jisc network and new, low latency solutions, or LoLa.
Latency is better known as the hourglass effect – that infuriating wait while the computer appears to be thinking, or just sulking. A few years ago, we tolerated the hourglass because we were still in awe of the whole idea of being connected. Not anymore; if our innumerable packets of digital data don’t assemble themselves near-instantaneously, we are likely to move on or – perhaps – throw the phone out of the window.
Musicians are even less tolerant of poor latency. This is because playing well together requires responses that are much more rapid than verbalization – a few milliseconds can make all the difference. LoLa technology on the Jisc network provides both volume and superfast speed. Claudio Allocchio shows how this works in a video overview that is well worth watching: https://www.garr.tv/home/viewvideo/678/lola-preview-by-claudio-allocchio.
Edinburgh Napier University has been leading the way in using LoLa to build virtual ensembles. Recently, they joined with the Music Directorate at the University of Salford in performing a particularly complex song cycle. This required soprano and pianist to read aural and visual clues from one another over the Internet. In practice, this meant providing latency levels of less than ten milliseconds, which is a very small segment of time. The performance was stunning.
Other work in developing the application of this new technology has been by Leeds College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Birmingham Conservatoire. Jeremy Sharp, Head of Strategic Technologies for Jisc, was particularly taken by a trans-Atlantic project: “a great recent example included some drummers at Edinburgh Napier University playing with bagpiper in Chicago using uncompressed 60fps video and 10 channels of audio. The latency was quite high due to the distance, but the very experienced military bandsman dealt with this really well”.
Music is a great test bed for new, high performance solutions such as LoLa because the specifications re so demanding. In addition to the creativity inherent in virtual performances that defy the constraints of space, there are practical possibilities here as well. Music departments, conservatoires, orchestras and producers, for example, spend a lot of time auditioning and rehearsing, driving up costs at a time when every penny counts and the arts are having to find new ways of working, sometimes to survive. There are many opportunities here for doing things differently, in new ways.
More widely, there are evident opportunities in other fields that require very high-speed connections. Engineering, for example, requires precision in a wide range of applications; broadband collaboration with latency levels below ten milliseconds opens up a range of possibilities for the big, multi-institution collaborations that will be part of the future of advanced manufacturing.
LoLa and its potential for the future is one of the reasons why high-speed, high-quality networks are important assets in themselves. Jisc’s digital network – superJANET – is one of the best in the world, connecting up more than 400 colleges, specialist institutions and universities.
Martin Hall is currently Vice Chancellor of the University of Salford in Manchester and chair of the board of Jisc, the United Kingdom’s information technology service for higher and further education (www.jisc.ac.uk).
Before joining Salford in 2009, Martin was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town (from 2002-2008) and the inaugural Dean of Higher Education Development at UCT (from 1999-2002). He is Emeritus Professor and Life Fellow at the University of Cape Town, a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts.
Read another post from Martin here.