Internet2 Multimedia Event Creates International Arts Connection

Posted: November 11, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Two weeks ago, Paras Kaul, coordinator of Electronic Publications and adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Art and Visual Technology (AVT), was knee-deep in wires, computers, and multimedia equipment in TheaterSpace in the Performing Arts Building. By her side was Christoph Both, professor in the School of Music at Acadia University, Nova Scotia. Together, they were leading a team to assemble the backbone of a first-of-its-kind presentation at George Mason—an international Internet2 multimedia event on Nov. 23.

Internet2 is a consortium led by 207 universities working in partnership with industry and government to develop and deploy advanced network applications and technologies. One of the Internet2 initiatives is to assist its members in enabling and advancing collaborations between high-performance networking technologies and applications in the arts and humanities.

Both, who is co-creator of software called MusicPath, has been involved in the initiative. MusicPath is an Internet2 application that facilitates the connection of digital acoustic pianos over high-speed networks. The demonstration at Mason will show how teachers and performers can be linked over distances for a collaborative learning experience. On Oct. 27, Both was at Mason to help set up the technology that will connect Mason’s music composition instructor and music composer, Steve Antosca, with a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

In the demonstration at Mason, Antosca will respond onstage to music he hears from Canada through a digital acoustic grand piano, flown in from California and loaned by Yamaha Inc. As the music is played in Canada, Antosca will provide instruction and critique to the Canadian student. In a complex technology setup, the MusicPath software will be linked over Internet2 in the United States and CA*net4, a similar high-speed network in Canada. As the student in Canada plays, the keys and pedals on the piano at George Mason will depress exactly as the student’s do. Through video conferencing, the teacher and student will be able to see and hear what the other is doing.

Kaul explains that by using the MIDI protocol—an entire music description language in binary form—high-quality music can be delivered over high-speed networks, as opposed to the more common streaming of music. “A local instrument creates the music in real time from remote MIDI data,” Kaul says. “The demonstration will show how networked MIDI interfaces and video conferencing can be combined with Internet2 applications and high-speed networks to create collaborative learning and performance environments.”

The Acadia University/MusicPath experience, now almost two years old, has been primarily focused on bringing piano instruction to students in remote locations. Both envisions entire classes taught this way, with a master teacher at one location and students in another. “It is a way to push the window open to a completely new vision in pedagogy,” he says. Both, who has a doctorate in musicology in the field of information theory and electronic music and teaches cello, has demonstrated the technology in Australia, as well as numerous locations in Canada. The collaboration with George Mason is the first with an American university, and Both will be at Mason for the Nov. 23 presentation.

But well before the presentation, a lot of “people networking” will have taken place. It began with Kaul’s interest in Internet2, which developed from several conferences and events she’s attended and multimedia projects she’s been involved with. She knew that Mason was a member of Internet2 and had the networking technology in place. Through contacts at Mason, Internet2, and other professional organizations, she assembled the resources and people needed to pull off the demonstration, with virtually no funding.

The U.S. team from Mason includes, in addition to Kaul and Antosca, Derek Kan, manager, advanced network technologies, Information Technology Unit (ITU); Chris Nayeri, manager, network operations, ITU; Joe Hughes, video conferencing coordinator, ITU; Daniel Hobson, production manager, College of Visual and Performing Arts; Josh Hughes, web development, Electronic Publications; and Sean Watkins, technical director, AVT, as well as AVT students. Tom Coffin, technical and art director of Internet2 operations for the Alliance Center for Collaboration, Education, Science and Software (ACCESS) of the National Computational Science Alliance in Ballston, Va., also provided assistance. Helping Christoph Both in Canada is Karen Wilder, MusicPath project leader, and a technical team as extensive as the team listed above at Mason.

As the demonstration date nears, Kaul notes that there are still some technical bugs to work out, mainly with irregularities or lags in the video. “But that shouldn’t affect how it’s heard,” she says, adding, “There are always some variables on the network. Even in some professional presentations I’ve attended, there have been problems.”

In the short term, Kaul says that there are plans for a similar collaboration with American University in the spring. As for the future, “I’ll continue with Internet2 activities through SIGGRAPH [Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques] and seek opportunities to present George Mason’s capabilities,” she says. Long term, “This develops a collaborative relationship with Canada, and other countries may be interested in collaborating with us. The greatest result would be to bring nations together [through technology] for communicative purposes.”

The event is sponsored by George Mason’s Advanced Network Technologies, Electronic Publications, ITU, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and Art and Visual Technology. Admission to the presentation, which will take place at 4 p.m. in TheaterSpace, is free. For more information, contact Kaul at or 703-993-8819.

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