Q & A with Irish National Opera about Isolde, a ground-breaking new mobile app

The Scorched Earth Trilogy — a projected video and sound installation experienced through your headphones with audio transmitted by the Isolde app — will take place at The Digital Hub on Culture Night, on Friday, 22nd September 2023.

A trio of satirical films inspired by environmental disaster and the lack of serious climate action, the Scorched Earth Trilogy tackles some of our most pressing concerns with coruscating humour and wit using a highly original mix of street art, animation, contemporary orchestral music and opera in their search for answers.

It features a projected video and sound installation experienced through your headphones, with the audio transmitted by Isolde, a ground-breaking new mobile app, developed by Nuwa for Irish National Opera in consultation with Dumbworld  and funded as part of the Next Stage Initiative from Fedora and Opera Europa.

Isolde is currently in the beta testing phase of development and we spoke to Sarah Halpin, Digital Producer at Irish National Opera, about the innovative platform.

1. Firstly, tell us, in 100 words, what is Irish National Opera and what does the company do?

Irish National Opera is Ireland’s largest opera company providing inspirational, vibrant and ground-breaking opera of exceptional quality to audiences across Ireland and internationally. We regularly perform large-scale productions in Dublin, Cork and Wexford as well as bringing touring productions to venues of all sizes throughout the country. We are passionate about the development of a strong, sustainable opera ecology in Ireland and endeavour to nurture and develop the operatic landscape through all areas of our work.

2. Tell us about Isolde and why Irish National Opera decided to develop an App?

Isolde is a ground-breaking new cloud-based platform for managing and synchronising shared audio and visual experiences for artistic productions. We were driven to develop it by a need for better audio experiences for our Street Art Opera The Scorched Earth Trilogy, a co-production with our partners Dumbworld. The opera is projected onto city walls with the audience listening to the audio via headphones. Isolde allows us to control the audio quality of the opera experience while also allowing us to streamline the audience experience, making it more accessible to more people.

3. How does it work?

Isolde uses cloud technology to deliver synchronised audio to individual mobile devices. Once the user has the app downloaded to their phone, all they need to do is plug in their headphones, open the app and the music will start to play. The app downloads the file temporarily to the user’s phone which eliminates any buffering or latency issues, allowing for seamless synchronicity with the projected visuals.

4. Who are the partners?

Isolde was created by Nuwa Studios for Irish National Opera in consultation with our co-producers Dumbworld. Nuwa have brought a wealth of knowledge and experience in both the tech and audio industry to the development of the app while Dumbworld’s experience in street art opera and projection has provided a fantastic test case for the technology.

5. What is next for Isolde, are there any other plans for creative projects or showcases?

Yes, we’re very excited to be back in The Digital Hub in a few months using Isolde to present a work for Crash Ensemble as part of the upcoming Beta Festival. After that, we’ll be heading to Other Voices in Dingle for a showing of The Scorched Earth Trilogy in early December.

6. What are your thoughts on the importance of cultural organisations keeping apace with technology and using it to benefit them and their audiences?

It’s so important. Digital technology is so ingrained in our everyday lives and is becoming more and more important in how we consume and relate to art. Exploiting digital tools for communication and audience engagement is already essential practice for arts organisations and the next step is to explore the implications that digital tools have for the artwork itself. How can they enhance the artistic experience or help us reach and connect with more people? They’re exciting questions.

7. What is your hope for the future of opera in Ireland?

There’s so much happening on the opera scene in Ireland at the moment, from the annual Wexford Festival Opera every autumn to INO’s jam packed schedule to productions from companies like Opera Collective Ireland and Michael Gallen’s Straymaker. With so much talent there’s great opportunity for exploring new partnerships, new projects that can help expand the reach and impact of the artform. Including of course, exploring those opportunities held in digital technologies.

8. If anyone wants to enquire about getting using the Isolde App for their creative project who should they contact?

If you want to learn more about Isolde and how it might work for your organisation or event you can reach out to me at sarah@irishnationalopera.ie. We’d love to chat about any ideas!

Learn more at the Irish National Opera’s website at www.irishnationalopera.ie/beyond-the-stage/isolde-software

Read more about Culture Night at The Digital Hub at www.thedigitalhub.com/news/markets-opera-for-culture-night-at-the-digital-hub-22nd-september/

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