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New technology breaks Internet barriers for the art world

Pearlman Syneme Lab 2010.jpg

At first the Internet was nothing more than a dark screen with green type, then it became the World Wide Web. According to PhD student Ellen Pearlman the next evolution of this revolutionary technology is Telematics, a new artistic practice enabled by high-speed fibre optic research links that allow multiple participants to engage across space to achieve real-time, high-definition experiences.

Students, artists and professionals within the arts community and at U of C will have an opportunity to engage with the technology during the Syneme Summer Institute in Telearts July 5 – 23, 2010. Participants will utilize Telematics to create an international networked, real-time collaborative performance.

“The software is just in the process of being developed and it requires new modes of thinking,” says Pearlman, who came to the University of Calgary specifically to study with Canada Research Chair in Telematics, Kenneth Fields and because it is one of the very few places in the world where innovation in Telematics is occurring. “If you think about the Internet and about blogging and consider that these things didn’t exist at one point, what we’re doing in Telematics is that big of a jump.”

Pearlman says that while applications like Skype provide a measure of interactivity, they lack the experience of presence. “This new technology will enable a lived virtual experience with people located elsewhere. Currently the Internet cannot achieve this.”

The technology is so new, in fact, that researchers have only piloted it three times. Pearlman and her research team are applying Telematics to live art – music, dance, dramatic theatre, installation and visual art – to create an experience that artists in differing locations can share and participate in together.

“Current technology can’t handle the bandwidth required for intensive art practices occurring across geographic locations because of the lag time in sound and visuals. As well, one action in one location doesn’t affect artists in another location.”

But now that is changing. Pearlman, who is also the Artistic Adviser to Yuanfen, the first gallery of New Media in Bejing, China, says it is possible to send uncompressed live audio and optimally compressed visual images across distances in real time to trigger an action in another environment. Through a series of pilot studies in Fields’ Syneme artists’ studio-lab, the research will lay the groundwork for developing new networked computer applications.

The medium was piloted for the first time in October 2009, and in January 2010 a music concert took place in the Rosza Theatre over fiber optic lines with performers based in each of Bejing, Calgary, Indiana and Singapore. The most recent pilot took place April 24 in a collaboration between the University of Calgary and two universities in Indiana. It was a dance, video and music performance in a three-dimensional virtual environment where U of C dance student Jennifer Manhood, who specializes in dance for the camera, navigated through a backdrop containing live and pre-mixed images partially originating from Indiana University which was sent real-time back to a live audience viewing it on three screens at the Indiana Intermedia Festival.

The fourth pilot in the study will take place in Calgary and at Hong Kong Polytech, Bournemouth, U.K., and Indiana on July 23 and will involve members of Calgary’s artistic community through the U of C’s Syneme Summer Institute in Telearts. Pearlman and her Hong Kong colleagues will have access to a high speed research network unavailable anywhere else. Students, artists and other professionals within the arts community will participate in the Telearts festival with an international networked, real-time collaborative performance.

The Syneme Summer Institute in Telearts takes place July 5 - 23. For more information visit This course is open to interested U of C students for credit through a special initiative sponsored by Student and Enrolment Services, with additional seed funding from Calgary Arts Development.