Team and technology helps bring twins virtually together for BBC World Service

Date posted

6 September 2019


Edinburgh Napier and the Royal College of Music has helped bring musicians virtually together as part of a special 18th birthday edition of the BBC World Service’s Digital Planet programme. 

Led in Edinburgh by Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Paul Ferguson, cellist Andrew Huggan played a duet with his identical twin Calum live on the programme – despite the duo being nearly 400 miles apart. BBC World Service's Digital Planet logo

Andrew may have been in Edinburgh Napier’s music studios and Calum within the iconic BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House in London with 300+ audience members, but the pair were brought together using advanced audio-visual streaming technology called LOLA (low latency). 

Despite the distance, the time difference through the system was a mere 12 milliseconds (one way), meaning that the sound qualities were almost identical to both being on the same stage for the performance. This compares with an average sound lag of around 500 milliseconds for a regular Skype call.

The real-time music performance was the first time the technology had been used live on a radio programme, with listeners tuning into the performance from all around the world. The successful performance was made possible by research teams in Edinburgh Napier University and the Royal College of Music, London. 

Dr Paul Ferguson, leader of Edinburgh Napier’s long-distance music research team, said: “This was a really exciting and technically challenging project.

“In the past we could only use technology such as LOLA for performance between universities that were connected to a National Research and Education Network (NREN) such as the UK’s JANET Network. Thanks to the support of BBC R&D, we’ve been able to push the boundary and connect to the London audience in the BBC Radio Theatre within Broadcasting House. It’s been a fantastic achievement by the team and we’re delighted that it all worked out.”

The BBC World Service performance comes hot on the heels of a successful project at Durham Brass Festival, which saw Dr Ferguson along with Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Haftor Medbøe bring two bands together - the NASUWT Riverside Band from Durham and the Concord Brass Band from Denmark – for a very special performance, despite both being 560 miles apart. Edinburgh Napier band onstage at Durham Brass Festival

The unique live performance from the two bands was one of the highlights of the festival which sees bands from all across the world come together for 10 days of fun and fever across County Durham. 

As part of the same festival, LOLA was also used to bring together Dr Haftor Medbøe and his Will of the People quartet with Norwegian musician Gunnar Halle who played live with them from Oslo.

The performance again showcased LOLA’s capabilities, with the unique jazz jam session demonstrating that distance is no object to great music-making. 

Dr Ferguson added: “It’s been a busy summer for our research team. This month it was the BBC Digital Planet gig, August was the Durham Brass Festival were we connected British and Danish brass bands for the world’s first live global brass concert. We also had a guest musician playing from Oslo, Norway – virtually on stage in Durham’s Gala Theatre with Dr Haftor Medbøe’s jazz quartet.

“We’re continuing to push the boundaries of the technology and we’re delighted with the development we’ve overseen throughout the summer months. Here’s to more in the future!”

More on LOLA (Low Latency)

LOLA (Low Latency) is an audio-visual streaming system that allows musicians to play together remotely in real-time. It is currently used in universities and orchestral academies around the world for music education, rehearsal and performance.

LOLA relies on very fast, reliable networks – the national research and education networks that connect universities around the world – to operate effectively. Edinburgh Napier has a dedicated synchronous 10 Gb connection to the Janet network, the UK’s national research and education network, provided by JISC.