Greetings from the School of Music at the Australian National University in Canberra. The ANU just had its fist concert "streamed" live to the Internet from Llewellyn Hall "CLARINET.BALLISTIX Concert". This featured Alan Vivian (clarinet), David Pereira (cello, Alan Hicks and Katherine Day ( piano) with works by Verdi, Gershwin, Kats-Chernin and Bukovsky. The technology is being incorporated into the teaching of musicians, both to help teaching (with master classes by video) and as a subject the students learn about (how to set up an online event).
In addition to the live performance, the ANU web site has program notes, background, interviews, rehearsal out-takes, places for adding questions and reviews.
The ANU is essentially adapting the format of a live TV broadcast for the streaming concert. Experienced ABC Radio Classic FM presenter Colin Fox of acted as MC at the side of the stage. He briefed the live audience before the streaming started. They then introduced the Vice chancellor and other speakers. Then there was a briefing about the music and the performers.
There were two cameras apparent in the hall: one in the middle of the front of the stage and one on a crane at the side, over the audience. The ANU has obviously put a considerable effort into arrangements for the streaming. This is intended to promote new courses at the university, which go beyond just being able to play a musical instrument, but be able to cope with the complexity of providing online content and being a being in the online entertainment business.
The ANU is also installing a video conference suite for distance education in music (a challenging application which business orientated equipment can't handle). The new Bachelor of Professional Music Practice will place a heavy emphasis on the use of such technology.
At the School of Computer Science I help teach fine arts students in web technology. An interesting aspect of this is how technology, business and art combine to produce online content which is of cultural and business value. Currently I am working up a proposal for a new e-learning unit on how to interact online, to expand and teach the techniques used in the ANU course COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies. This was intended for scientists and business people, but now I see it may also be of use to the performing arts. I will be talking about some aspects of this in a series of talks in the next few months: "Social Networking for Business: The Year It All Changes - 2010",
To the audience there is little indication of the online aspects of the concert. There are no screens showing what is online. Some incorporation of the online into the live event would be of value. The ANU could adopt aspects of Senator Lundy's Public Sphere event format, with web, blogs, wikis and instant messaging, before, during and after the event. It might be interesting for some of the materials the online audience saw in advance of the work and for some of the blog comments to be shown on screen between works.
One of the works performed incorporated recorded sounds of fax modems. It might be interesting to incorporate some vision into some works possibly be interactive.
The crane camera was intrusive in the performance,at times appearing to be performing its own modern ballet, swooping in over the performers and at time apparently at times caressing them. For later performances it may be worth equipping the hall with permanent cameras. Most of the motions of the camera crane could be duplicated by multiple cameras. These could be mounted in tinted hemispherical covers, as used for security cameras, so as not to distract the performers or audience when they pan.
A permanent camera system could also be used for degree award ceremonies, so that relatives and friends could watch the ceremony. This would be particularly useful for the many overseas students, so their relatives and friends could watch.
It was an honour to sit next to the composer of one of the pieces performed (I am the one sitting next to him with the netbook). In amongst all the technology it is worth pointing out that these were works and performances of the highest standard, at least to my non-expert ears.
This first concert was an experiment which seemed to be successful. If used routinely, the cost and complexity of the initial exercise would need to be reduced. This could be done partly by building the cameras into the room and partly by using the same computer infrastructure the ANU uses for teaching. The ANU's new Wattle system is capable of being used for providing the information about the performances and the Digital Lecture Delivery system handling the audio visual files.
A concert or ceremony could then be recorded and simulcast live, much in the same way as when I routinely record a lecture: I walk up to the lectern, enter my university user-id and password. The system automatically identifies the scheduled event from the ANU calendar and starts recording. At the end of the lecture, I press "stop" and the event is podcast.
This system would need some upgrades to handle a concert performance or awards ceremony. The quality of sound would need to be improved for music. There would need to be provision for use of multiple cameras. There would need to be provision for events to be streamed live as well as recorded. But the system could be designed so that, by default, it would use the same interface as other teaching spaces.
The key to the long term use of the technology is to incorporate it into the normal research and teaching work of the university. In addition to the ANU's Wattle teaching system, there are several initiatives for indexing, publishing and archiving publications and research data. These same systems can be sued for music and visual arts. Dr David Prosser, Director of SPARC Europe, discussed this when he visited ANU last week and later talked at the NLA.
ps: The video of me at the keyboard during the performance are fake: I found that the WiFi signal did not penetrate through the concrete floor of the concert hall from the library below. I had to wait until after the performance to blog. Normally I would be expected to turn my computer off during a concert, but in this case I was asked to leave it on, as it added a hi-tech ambiance, with the camera panned the audience.