Artists without borders: Creative cloud collaborations

Micron Technology | April 2020

“It takes two flints to make a fire,” author Louisa May Alcott said, alluding to the creative spark. Today, thanks to cloud technology and increasingly powerful computers, online collaboration is the new creativity hack. It’s bringing together artistic minds from around the world to generate multiperspective, multicultural forms of expression, and it’s providing a forum for them to connect with audiences.

Using myriad platforms in the cloud, artists, musicians, writers, and even actors and dancers are coming together — not only across borders but regardless of them — to brainstorm, critique, augment, reduce, construct and deconstruct. This collaboration is all in the name of producing completely new works: paintings, operas, poems, plays, animation, films, songs and more. Cloud technology is also giving them a stage to bring those works to the masses, regardless of any distances or barriers between them.

The day of the creative genius toiling away in isolation is dead, and a new one is dawning. It’s a day of artists without borders working together in “distributed creative production” and connecting with audiences through livestreaming.

Breaking the Mold

Cloud collaboration is exciting because it portends a virtual explosion of mold-breaking, mind-blowing creative work. For the first time in human history, people of all ages, nationalities, cultures and talents are able, thanks to cloud technologies, to meld and refine their ideas and perform them for audiences any time they want, without having to travel anywhere.

Of course, people worked together long-distance before the cloud rolled in — but the logistics were quite challenging. One of the first creative collaborations to use the internet was the Cassandra Project. A consortium of dancers, musicians, educators and technology specialists in New York, Canada and Romania used a software server called CU-SeeMe to develop live performances for audiences around the world.

The day of the creative genius toiling away in isolation is dead, and a new one is dawning, a day of artists without borders working together in “distributed creative production.”

From 1996 to 2000, the project used digital technologies to livestream dancers and musicians across the miles. A choreographer directed the performers from afar, much as a conductor might do with an orchestra. But connections were slow (2 Mb of data per second was the initial speed when Wi-Fi first became commercially available in 1997) and images had to be reloaded frequently, interrupting the performances for participants and audience members. Modern network connections and the cloud would have vastly improved those experiences. In fact, the cloud’s widespread adoption, beginning around 2008, stimulated a veritable avalanche of remote artistic collaborations:

  • The award-winning Post Natyam Collective, founded in 2004, comprises members from the U.S., Germany and India working in the cloud to create and present dance, video and other artistic performances. The group’s manifesto includes a commitment to “an online collective process from which we each craft individual products.”
  • The Interactive Diaries, which sprang from the Goethe Institute-sponsored Cultural Innovators’ Forum, present music/sound, photography and drawings created interactively, in real time, by artists around the world. “Technology and art are used to encourage people who are geographically and culturally distant to communicate,” the project’s website explains. “Illustration, photography, and sound art replace the words and — through their universal language — help break down walls of misunderstanding and stereotypes.”
  • To make the Oscar-nominated film, “The Dam Keeper,” 75 animators, painters, musicians, production staff, sculptor and editor, all in different locales, collaborated in real time using an online file-sharing site.

Bringing Audiences and Artists Together

Technology has also bridged distances, both great and small, at a time when a global coronavirus pandemic has forced friends, neighbors and families apart and indoors. In 2020, musicians like singer, songwriter and drummer by trade George Hrab are livestreaming concerts from their living rooms to remind us all that art can uplift our spirits and connect us in ways that in-person concerts never could.

In virtual venues, audiences can comment to and interact with performers in real time. Hrab observed that this interaction is a huge shift in the relationship between audiences and artists, who traditionally have been separated by physical barriers and security guards at concerts. He explains, “It can be a very intimate thing,” knowing that performers will see what you’re typing.

This forum also provides musicians like Hrab an opportunity to continue performing in lieu of touring. And technology on hand is making things possible today that were unheard of in decades past.

“Each of us has this TV studio within our telephone ― which is an astonishing chunk of tech ― [that] has allowed this kind of explosion to happen,” explains Hrab. “To do that 15 or 20 years ago would have taken separate servers and video feeds and who knows what.”

“Come Together”: The Benefits

Why collaborate? In the U.S., a nation shaped in part by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay, “Self-Reliance,” the reasons may not be readily apparent. Many in the creative community swear by collaboration, however, and even rely on it for the following benefits:

  • Creativity. There’s a reason why it’s called “brainstorm.” The back and forth of ideas stimulates the neurotransmitters in our brains, which brings more ideas. Thinking outside the proverbial box is easier when we have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who can stimulate our thinking with ideas of their own. If we’re brainstorming with a group, it gets even better — especially if it’s a diverse group.
  • Companionship. One is a lonely number. Opportunities to meet and work with other interesting, talented and creative people abound online. An increasing number of websites and apps can introduce you to other artists and then bring the art you create to the world.
  • Growth. Working with others means getting and giving advice on new approaches to try; it means getting and giving critiques of works in progress. Scratch, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, brings young people together to create interactive stories, games and art simulations using digital “programming blocks.” Launched in 2007, the site has produced more than 1 million creative projects.
  • Reach. Working with others means gaining access to their audiences, and they to yours. Collaboration and livestream sharing can expand art’s ability to make a difference in people’s lives and connect artists and audiences, which is the primary reason artists create.

Each of us has this TV studio within our telephone

While face-to-face collaborations can be nice, our increasingly mobile culture allows artists to reap the benefits of working with and performing for others ― no matter where they are located. The cloud becomes, for creatives, the proverbial “third space,” that place between domestic life and professional life where artists, musicians, writers and performers can gather and share without the expense or inconvenience of traveling.

A Technology for Its Time

As anyone who tried videoconferencing a few years ago can attest, working with or presenting to even one other person online hasn’t always been easy. Before the cloud, we relied on hardware in our homes and offices to send and receive video and audio data. But servers need huge amounts of memory to keep information flowing. Without robust hardware, network connections in those days would stall or drop altogether. Distance chats and presentations were almost always marred by these lulls, causing frustration and interrupting the exchange of ideas.

Despite the challenges, the corporate world never lost sight of the advantages of long-distance collaboration and interaction, even as the financial crisis of 2008 hamstrung business budgets. In fact, tighter funds are almost certainly one major reason why organizations moved their data to the cloud. According to Gregg Wolff, Micron senior customer program manager, they could use the vast memory that cloud servers offer at a lower cost and avoid having to pay IT personnel to keep on-premises hardware running.

While face-to-face collaborations can be nice, our increasingly mobile culture allows artists to sequester themselves for alone time while also reaping the benefits of working with others.

Taking note of the trend, cloud providers improved their data storage and processing abilities. Soon the benefits trickled down to the rest of us, including those in the creative sector. Now, platforms from social media to productivity apps employ cloud technology, providing a seamless streaming experience no matter how many people tune in or where they are located. Musicians can listen, critique and add (or remove) instrumentation in collaborative tracks; artists can draw and paint on shared digital canvases in real time; and audiences can interact with musicians and artists to influence their choices.

The advent of high-bandwidth 5G networks promises to enhance the collaborative process even more, adding lanes on the information highway to end data bottlenecks and choppy connections and paving the way for emerging technologies such as virtual reality, holograms and artificial intelligence. Soon, we’ll forget that our creative partners and audiences aren’t in the same room with us — because, in a sense, they will be.

Memory: The Essential Ingredient

To keep vast quantities of data flowing for creative collaborations and performances, cloud servers and the networks that connect them need memory. Today’s cloud services offer virtually infinite amounts of it to satisfy our seemingly endless appetite for video, audio and livestreaming. The need for memory is only going to grow, both in the cloud and on the “edge,” meaning on our devices or in data centers, as up-and-coming technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality become more prevalent.

For immersive technologies to provide quality user experiences, they will use the cloud and the edge to process massive quantities of data in real time. The need for bigger, faster, more powerful memory is not going to go away, and it will almost certainly accelerate in the coming years.

Micron has long been at the forefront of memory technology, and we hold that place today with our powerful, fast DRAM memory chips and our high-density NAND flash memory.

As technologies improve and emerge — from holograms to, perhaps someday, “beam me up” capabilities — humans will continue to expect better, faster and more realistic ways to converge and commune with one another.

Soon, we’ll forget that our creative partners aren’t in the same room with us — because, in a sense, they will be.

The benefits extend beyond business, and even beyond art itself. Scholars in the Big History Project say that, more than any other factor, “collective learning” propelled human evolution to surpass that of any other creature on Earth. The cloud enables collective learning and innovation on a scale and at a pace never before experienced.

Despite its importance, the challenges facing memory technology boggle the mind. Some other company might be daunted by the collective, rapacious hunger for digital memory. But Micron, the only memory-maker producing capacious DRAM and fast NAND, is already rising to the challenge. Our solutions enable thought-quick processing of virtual galaxies of data, and they are only going to become denser, faster and more efficient with time.

What’s next? Created virtual-reality environments for friends who must be apart? A movie in which every person in the world is a star for 15 seconds? Virtual concert halls where fans can see their favorite bands perform in their living rooms? For these and other remote art projects, the technology exist today, the only limit is human creativity which truly knows no bounds. Technology including new memory architectures can more rapidly draw on an increasingly vast repository of stored data to seed and support creative ideas. Micron is poised to lead the charge, memory first, to the collaborative, creative heart of the Connected Age.