How and why we built the Connected Studio System – John Collingswood

TaikaBox first started experimenting with remote performance in 2015 – before moving from Wales to Finland we spent a week in the studio with dancer Lucy May Constantini, choreographing a duet that we could continue to work on after we moved to Finland.

The result was A Study in Telesymbiosis – a short performance that was shown in June 2015 as part of the Wales Dance Platform, with Lucy dancing on the main stage of Newport Riverfront and Tanja dancing in Oulu Theatre – connected using Facetime and SoundJack.


Since then, we have experimented with various ways of using technology to collaborate with artists who are in different locations. Later in 2015 we performed at the Global Forum, with a soundtrack created live by Antony Ryan from his studio in Denmark. It was, essentially, a simple setup that proved to be much more complex than we had planned. We were booked to perform on the small stage at Radisson Blu Hotel, in the gap between main course and dessert, for 500 international delegates who had spent all day in a conference. The organisers installed a superfast WiFi for us and we tested connections the night before.

The problems started when we were still setting up in a room at the other end of the building, we discovered that the delegates were all so hungry that they had demolished their food and didn’t want to wait for their next course, so could we start 25 minutes earlier than scheduled?
Cue a frantic scrabble to get everything connected and working, struggling to shift laptops from the wrong WiFi and onto the fast option, and trying to communicate with Antony as the system crashed a number of times whilst trying to connect.

Tanja rehearses for Heart & sOul

What had been planned as a 7-minute performance became extended to something like 12 minutes, with the first half consisting of Tanja standing and staring at everyone in the room while I struggled to reconnect the system, sweating and swearing until we got a clean audio feed from Denmark and a video feed to the projector.

I think that experience was a little discouraging, and we put our research on a shelf for a few years.


Living in Northern Finland means that we are generally pretty far away from everything that isn’t Oulu. Our work regularly took us overseas, visiting venues, festivals and organisations all across Europe and as far afield as Japan.

Tanja started a collaborative research project with Katariina Angeria in Lapland, meeting each month online. They discovered the benefits of using projectors to take the video feed out of a small window on a laptop screen and onto a wall, approaching life-size, and were surprised at how well they managed to sense each other’s energy – despite the distance. The Connected Studio System was born.

We began to be concerned about how our travel was impacting the environment and developed a strategy for reducing the amount of travel involved in working internationally, developing systems that use technology to reduce the need for a full company of artists to make the journey to perform. We found that working with artists who are local to the venue can produce stronger connections with communities and initiate partnerships between artists and venues, creating a more meaningful legacy to our projects.


Fast-forward to 2020. Coronavirus hits and countries close their borders. It is no longer possible to travel to other countries to work. We are halfway through a major project initiated by Dansinitiativet in Sweden, planning to create new short dance works in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia, and then tour them to each partner’s city. All of a sudden this is no longer possible and we need to rethink the project from the ground up. This process is outlined in an article we wrote for Dance Info Finland.


Now its 2021, and Finland seems to be emerging from the grip of the pandemic into a post-viral reality. We see it as an opportunity to continue using the connected studios to work internationally without travelling. It opens up so many more possibilities for borderless collaboration. Presenting Out Of Urgency to an international audience showed us that remote performance does not always have to be a compromise, that there is massive creative potential in making and performing work like this.

Jenny Schinkler and Henna Räsänen in Out Of Urgency. Photograph: Janne-Pekka Manninen

TECH

we started this journey using facetime, which was easy to use, but very limited. Skype was a solution for a few years – particularly when they released ndi support, but we found the connections a little unstable and the meeting protocol was somewhat confusing. also – its not very popular in russia, so when we started collaborating with russian artists, we needed a new solution.
Jitsi was useful for a few months, but needed new code if we were to make it flexible enough for creative use, and then we discovered VDO.ninja. this is a fairly new webrtc platform that is constantly being upgraded with new features and new flexibility. it has proved to be a great solution for much of our connected studio research, including ‘out of urgency’ and oulu dance hack 2021.

in early 2021 we were awarded a grant to work with near real – a remote service provider based in oulu – to research ways of applying their platform in a performance context.

the hardware element of the connected studio system is based on using a camera with a wide angle lens rigged in front of a projection surface that reaches all the way to the floor. an ultra-short throw projector in the ceiling gives us a clean image of the other studio and ideal mic position is determined by the needs of each project.
Using the Near Real system to connect studios in Oulu and Tórshavn for Føddur Gamal – photo: Lölä Vlasenko

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  1. Pingback:HACKING THE DANCE – T A I K A B O X

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