Motivated by COVID-19 and supported by Hub for Good, a group of engineers and musicians set about solving the problem of synchronicity for groups rehearsing over video conferencing platforms. Here’s how they defeated the lag.
Since we launched our Hub for Good in April, we’ve been in awe of our community’s impact-driven responses to some very pressing global issues. From a global pandemic to racial injustice to climate change, we’ve watched as individual developers, nonprofits, universities, and companies have brought forth ideas for technologies that have endless impact potential. Using curiosity, community, and technology, the innovations – across countless initiatives – have been incredibly inspiring. It’s an honor to watch the brilliant minds that make up our customer base and community effect change, all over the world.
As folks applied for infrastructure credits through our Hub for Good grant program, we read every application in detail, giving us a deep insight into the causes our community cares about. One of the causes that came to our attention is the effect of COVID-19 on artists, performers, creatives, and the music industry at large. As venues, festivals, and entire cities closed, performing artists and other creatives who rely on event venues and a gig economy were left with no way to engage in group settings – for rehearsals, performances, or income – the trifecta of an artist’s livelihood. With live shows canceled for an undetermined amount of time, artists and artist allies have spent months coming up with creative, well-architected solutions that support creators from all corners of the globe.
We’re eager to introduce two of those artist allies (aptly made up of both artists and technologists), both of which have been leveraging DigitalOcean technologies as part of their tech stacks to provide evolving resources that help artists thrive in uncertain, physically distant times.
Digital Stage is an organization and multifaceted technology initiative inspired by the onset of COVID-19, including open source networked performance tools and a digital artist community – hosted by the German Center of the International Theater Institute and co-led by several international organizations and universities.
Primarily based in Germany, the Digital Stage team is made up of 80 people across a range of disciplines. We had the opportunity to spend time with three of their innovation and development leaders.
Tobias Hegemann: Development Lead
Rama Gottfried: Postdoctoral Researcher at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg’s Department of Multimedia Composition
Dr. Georg Hadju: Professor at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, and a pioneer of networked performance
With such a large, diverse, and technical team, Digital Stage’s missions continue to evolve. But all of their initiatives are rooted in the same ethos: connecting artists with each other and their communities – and communities with artists.
The organization focuses on developing high-performance technologies that bring music and musicians together, and enables them to practice, perform, and make art – together – over the internet, in real time, with as little latency as is possible. Overcoming latency challenges is one of their biggest goals, and having reduced latency to just 1 millisecond, they’ve broken barriers and accelerated possibilities in networked performance.
Level of technical aptitude pre-launch: 100%
The global impact of the coronavirus pandemic made it immediately clear that for musicians collaborating over video conferencing platforms, latency was going to be a prohibitive issue. Digital Stage set out to be a bridge to the many ensembles that are currently looking for a way to continue rehearsing together, and that meant overcoming the latency issue. While commercial solutions for this do exist, they are often too expensive or have certain technical requirements. Meanwhile free solutions typically demand deep technical knowledge to use properly. Digital Ocean aims to fill the gap with a product that can be adapted to different needs and easy to use.
What they developed is a modular video conferencing tool, optimized for music, dance, theatre, and performative arts that empowers rehearsals, live performances, and lessons online, with latency reduced to a mere one millisecond.
Digital Stage is using a Discourse Droplet for their community servers, and another Ubuntu Droplet to run small servers. The servers are the technology behind the service MediaSoup - a small environment that needs to make this client server infrastructure with WebRTC. And it gets ultra-low latency and is running directly on the Ubuntu Droplets.
Next, they are thinking about using 5G technologies to make latency betweens server infrastructures and endpoint. The next step is to connect these so-called regions, using direct connections between regions, rather than using an endpoint connection - like a smartphone. In classic German fashion, they are trying to achieve something akin to an Autobahn, using these infrastructures between all these regions and server centers to make things go faster. It’s a kind of mixture of P2P and Mesh and client servers
Other useful resources:
If you’re building a nonprofit project or startup that needs resources or visibility, we encourage you to reach out to apply for grant support through our Hub for Good, designed to help elevate mission-centered initiatives and bring impactful ideas to life.
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