February 16, 2018

Gig City Music | Field Reports

US Ignite Gigabit Application Summit demo between Austin and Chattanooga  Photo credit: Susannah Spellman

US Ignite Gigabit Application Summit demo between Austin and Chattanooga
Photo credit: Susannah Spellman

During Chattanooga’s StartUp Week, October 3–7, the Chattanooga Public Library (CPL) hosted a long-distance music collaboration between the visiting international OneBeat Fellows, the world’s foremost music diplomacy program, and the Miami, FL–based Fellows of the New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy. Using the ultra-high-speed connectivity of Internet 2 and low latency (LOLA) software inside the library, the long-distance live event was one of a kind, featuring young gifted musicians from all over the world in both locations performing together while more than 700 miles apart.

LOLA is the audio and video streaming technology developed by researchers from the G. Tartini Music Conservatory in Trieste, Italy, and GARR, the Italian Research and Education Network. The low latency between remote collaborators creates a feeling that the participants are in the same room, almost as if standing less than 20 feet apart.

CPL is one of 58 operational LOLA nodes in the world and currently the only LOLA node in a public library. Most of the 27 stateside locations are within universities, music schools, and performing arts centers.

We are fortunate to be a library located in the middle of a highly integrated and emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chattanooga with annual events such as StartUp Week that allow us to showcase our next-generation projects. We also have a running start, being the nation’s first gigabit library beginning in 2013 when our 4th Floor Maker space opened to the public and was hard-wired to the city’s gigabit network. In 2014, library partner and local economic development agency the Enterprise Center donated a new LOLA system to us to become the city’s test bed to develop use cases for this exciting technology and platform. It had been experimenting itself with a previous version of the system since 2011 with some high-profile, Emmy-nominated results.

LOLA projects not only require high-speed Internet and broadband in order to function, they also need a good many people working together remotely (technologists, network engineers, artists, and producers), which can demand extra patience, wrangling, and resources not always built into typical library staffing and timetables. When you’re on the frontier trying something few have done, let alone in public, it also demands that you get over your fear of the unknown, which can be liberating.

Starting in spring 2016, our colleagues at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, VT, introduced us to the crew at Big Heavy World, a musicians advocacy group that since 1996 has been developing a network of musicians and fostering a statewide music-based economy. Together we produced weekly tests on the network with improvised duets via the LOLA software and a special camera called the Grasshopper3. Musicians in each city were invited to participate in one of the scheduled tests; they generously donated an hour of their time. As a result of this R+D period, we were able to refine network tech and audio connections as well as audience experience details such as camera positions, basic staging, and production value. We improve with every try.


By June, we felt ready to go public. International Make Music Day (MMD) events in Burlington and Chattanooga were already in the works so we partnered with the Burlington team again to add LOLA to the schedule and produce an all-day two-city live event at both libraries to coincide with the worldwide street music festival happening that day.

The schedule for the new MMD “LOLA Stage” featured headliners and music lessons, with donated/loaned ukuleles and harmonicas in both locations. In between headliner sets, “open mic” time slots created improvised duet opportunities for any musician who showed up wanting to play with someone in the other city.

Families in Chattanooga learned to play songs on the ukulele from a teacher with the Vermont Ukulele Society in Burlington. Kids in both locations had a full harmonica lesson from a bluesman in Vermont. And busking musicians in both cities showed up at their library with guitars, banjos, violins, and mountain dulcimers to perform with complete strangers 1,088 miles away.

As a highlight of Chattanooga’s StartUp Week this fall, our LOLA event with OneBeat and New World Symphony placed the library in the spotlight as the start-up, and we even promoted the event as an experiment. This “experiment” was our most ambitious yet, as we not only worked for the first time with an established and reputable LOLA Distance Learning program at New World Symphony but also seized an opportunity to invite world-class touring musicians from Russia, Kyrgystan, Zimbabwe, Turkey, India, and the United States to try something in front of a live audience that they have never done before. The ten-minute performance was followed by a panel discussion on how this intersection of music, interconnectivity, and gigabit technology can foster opportunities in education, community building, and the arts.

Through a combination of incredible partnerships and great timing, CPL has been able to achieve a series of successful LOLA tests and public programs as well as develop new projects for 2017 that we will be talking about in this column throughout the coming year, including long-distance education and performing arts programs for children, teens, and adults.

Mary Barnett is Public Relations and Special Projects Coordinator, Chattanooga Public Library

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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