Exploring what happens when drama, technology and architecture converge
Connected culture explored a radically innovative method of producing theatrical experiences through ‘networked performances’. The technology enabled musicians, actors, singers and artists located in different time zones to perform as one company in a single real-time production that could be watched by audiences located in any part of the globe.
To confront the complex engineering and artistic challenges of networked performance, a 30-strong team of academics, directors, artists, producers and telecommunications experts broke them down into a series of discrete topics: sound, vision and touch. The team began by addressing the issues surrounding sound and networked performance.
Sound plays a particularly important role in multimedia performances. Every space has unique characteristics and the challenge comes in establishing an acoustic environment that bridges multiple spaces. Performers may be in separate physical spaces but the performance needs to happen in a single emotional and dramatic place. Conventional speaker systems fall short because they fail to articulate a complex environment within the minds of performers and audience. Immersive sound has been possible for decades but only with exacting technical and financial demands that include hundreds of speakers.
Researchers at King’s had developed a system, tentatively called ZD Sound, that produced a structured acoustic environment with lightweight software and as few as five speakers. By combining this with advances in 5G (fifth generation) networking, also developed at King’s, Connected culture sought to test an approach to acoustic design that could serve as a paradigm for emerging forms of art, entertainment and industry – powerful enough to create sensations of immersion and flexible enough for dramatic expression with a simple set of controls.
The networked performance was tested through a series of performances, each of which crystallised around the dramatic potential of a specific sense, starting with hearing then moving to vision and touch, aiming for full sensory immersion. The first theatrical piece chosen, Fundamental, was developed by Josh McNorton and Jennifer Tang.
These performances were developed over a series of multidisciplinary workshops that brought together creative practitioners and engineers, aiming to move from collaboration among artists and scientists to collaboration among artist-scientists. Each workshop adopted the ‘scratch’ methodology borrowed from agile software development and pioneered at Battersea Arts Centre - a way of working that emphasises minimal roles and maximal contributions from individuals that work across multiple specialities.
Find out more about Connected culture from the project film below.
Analogue workshop - 30 June 2016, National Theatre Studio
An Analogue workshop was held to develop the project methodology and perform dry runs of expensive technical systems. Producers from Battersea Art Centre coached the project team in 'scratch', an agile approach to development that unleashes group creativity. By the end of the day, the team had a working technical configuration that saved considerable expense when it came to actually building the network and telecommunications systems that bring the stages to life.
Sound workshop - 29-30 October 2016, King’s College London
The second workshop confronted the issue of how to acoustically bind three separate spaces. In an era where everyone has connectivity, it is not enough to have a speaker. Somehow you have to create a feeling of presence. To accomplish this, the project team adopted the ZD Immersive Audio system invented at King’s. With relatively light technology, they were able to crisply reproduce an actor’s voice and place it precisely within another room. Displaced bodies and disembodied voices can be a powerful medium for storytelling, and the team are now working to fully understand the acoustic dimensions of the medium in preparation for the next workshop on vision.
Immersion Workshop – 26 January 2017, RADA
In collaboration with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the project team created an immersive soundscape for Edward Kemp's production of A Little Night Music. Building on the previous workshops, musicians from the Royal College of Music were transported virtually to the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre using 5G networking techniques and audio technologies developed by Soundscapes. Under Kemp's direction, actors in the Vanbrugh performed alongside a pianist and woodwind ensemble in a remote studio with an uncanny sense of presence brought by audio spatialisation.
Touch Workshop - April 2017
In collaboration with Sadler's Wells, the fourth workshop opened a new domain of artistic expression by adapting haptic devices, e.g. chest mounted devices and the Internet of Touch as a medium of expression or communication to the stage. This included using techniques from the Sound and Vision workshops to explore whether the actors shared a heartbeat along with whether the audience did as well. Defining stories and norms that take advantage of an emerging medium will preoccupy the effort.
Click Festival, Denmark - May 2017
The Ouroboros installation featured at Denmark's Click Festival and was used to test and refine the Soundscapes technology used to create immersive telepresence.
The longer aim of the project is to produce a mainstage play that embodies the learning from Connected culture in a work of theatre with live audiences and a possible live simultaneous broadcast.
Following the completion of the project in July 2017, King's in collaboration with Cinema Arts Network and Ericsson published an evaluation report on Connected culture which can be downloaded here
Professor Mischa Dohler
The project's academic lead, Mischa Dohler is Professor in Wireless Communications, driving cross-disciplinary research and innovation in technology, sciences and arts at King's College London. He is the Director of King’s Centre for Telecommunications Research, co-founder of the pioneering smart city company Worldsensing, Fellow of the IEEE and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), and a Distinguished Member of Harvard Square Leaders Excellence. He is a frequent keynote, panel and tutorial speaker, and has received numerous awards. He has pioneered several research fields, contributed to numerous wireless broadband, IoT/M2M and cyber security standards; holds a dozen patents; has organised and chaired numerous conferences; was the Editor-in-Chief of two journals; and has authored more than 200 highly-cited publications and several books. He regularly acts as policy, technology and entrepreneurship adviser, examples being Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, former Minister David Willetts’ 8 Great Technology Fund, UK Regulator Ofcom, UK Ministries, EPSRC ICT Strategy Advisory Team, European Commission, Tech London Advocate, ISO Smart City working group, and various start-ups.
Dr Ali Hossaini
An artist, philosopher and writer, Ali Hossaini is a Visiting Research Fellow in King’s Department of Informatics. His productions have shown in museums, performing arts centres, galleries and festivals around the world, winning acclaim from Vanity Fair, Cool Hunting and others. The New York Times calls him 'a biochemist turned philosopher turned television producer turned visual poet.' Hossaini’s Epiphany premiered at BAM’s Next Wave Festival in 2015, and the New York Times presented Ouroboros at Art for Tomorrow 2016. He has worked with talent that includes Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Robert Wilson, Dennis Hopper, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Sean Penn and many other cultural icons. His productions have been presented by the Barbican, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, New York City Opera, Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum in Beijing, the Mediations Biennale in Poland, Tribeca Film Festival, Montreal Festival of Film on Art, PS1/MoMA, the American Museum of the Moving Image, Whitney Biennial, Couvent des Cordeliers, Anthology Film Archives and others. He holds a doctorate in philosophy of science from the University of Texas at Austin, and he is co-editor of The Manual of Digital Museum Planning, forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield in 2017.
The project is also being run in collaboration with:
Professor Zoran Cvetkovic
Zoran Cvetkovic is Professor of Digital Signal Processing in the Centre for Telecommunications Research, Department of Informatics, King's College London. His research focuses on with an emphasis on time-frequency analysis, wavelets, filter banks, A/D conversion, quantization, source coding, compressed sensing, and applications in audio and speech technologies, telecommunications and biomedical engineering.
Dr Enzo De Sena
Enzo de Sena is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Audio at the Institute of Sound Recording, University of Surrey. A former Marie Curie Fellow, his current research interests include room acoustics modelling, surround sound, microphone beam forming and binaural modelling. His focuses on perceptually-motivated methods, and aims at bridging the gap with physically-motivated ones.
Jennifer Tang - Theatre Director specialising in making new work across multiple disciplines
Josh McNorton - Creative Producer, Relative Motion and Nesta
Ericsson – a company at the forefront of communications technology with customers in over 180 countries and comprehensive industry solutions for creating a networked society.
Vodafone - one of the world's leading mobile communications providers, operating in 26 countries and in partnership with networks in over 55 more.
Battersea Arts Centre - an arts centre in an iconic historic building that has pioneered a 'Scratch' approach to arts production, which invites audiences in to watch early versions of shows and provide feedback.
The Young Vic - an innovative and award-winning theatre.
Connected Culture is a collaboration between King’s College London's Department of Informatics and Dr Ali Hossaini. It is supported by the university's Culture team.