COVID-19 has brought a halt to plans and activities for people everywhere. For technical staff at the Armenian research and education network, ASNET-AM, one consequence has been no LoLa, the low latency data transmission system that was introduced in their country through the EU-funded EaPConnect project. Just over a year ago, they had a great experience when LoLa and high-capacity R&E networks connected local artists in a real-time performance with counterparts in a different country. Now, for Simon Hunanyan and Aram Mirzoyan, memories connect them to their lived experiences, and a chance to consolidate understanding and knowledge. In this interview, they share their insights and hopes for the future.

What impact was LoLa having, as a new service provided by Asnet-Am ?

Simon: “We are both members of the LoLa operating crew at ASNET-AM. And we already have some achievements. Among them was, first of all, an e-masterclass that was conducted jointly by Yerevan State Conservatory and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theater in March 2018. I believe it was the very first event of that kind. The e-masterclass was dedicated to the Armenian and Estonian national instruments – duduk and kannel. And the technical part of the event from the Armenian side was fully provided by our team.

In April 2018 we managed to use LoLa to briefly participate in the NowNet Arts conference, which was held in New York. It was a short presentation of our LoLa activities. We also participated in the 2019 Network Performing Arts Production Workshop, where practical use of LoLa was a feature. Also, we regularly test the equipment and connections with our colleagues from different countries.

All our LoLa activities are either directly or indirectly supported by the EaPConnect project, because the LoLa kits and the broadband connection between Armenia and the GÉANT pan-European network were purchased with its financial assistance.”

Aram: “Our last event with LoLa was the performance that was part of the social programme of the 4th Eastern Partnership E-infrastructures Conference, EaPEC 2019. It was held in Yerevan in that September and was Armenia’s first ever concert via LoLa. Together with our colleagues from the Italian research and education network GARR, we connected Yerevan and Venice. From the Italian side there was the famous ‘Cappella Marciana’, the choir of St. Mark’s Basilica. And from the Armenian side there was one of the country’s best and leading choirs, ‘Hover’. The concert included two pieces by Komitas Vardapet, the famous Armenian composer, whose 150th anniversary was in 2019.”

Simon: “Despite some minor technical issues, I can tell you that for us it was a successful event. Especially taking into account the fact that it was the first real-time concert for our team. During the previous e-masterclass the Armenian and Estonian sides did not actually perform together. So this concert was a real ‘baptism of fire’.”

Simon and Aram at work with 'LoLa'. , ©ASNET-AM
Hover choir performing at EaPEC 2019 'Connecting with Culture' concert., ©GÉANT

What does using LoLa mean for you in your job?

Aram:“Every time we participate in such an event it gives us a great impetus for our future work. This is a unique opportunity for making new contacts and re-activating existing ones, gaining new knowledge and ideas, as well as sharing our experience. Using LoLa gives us technical staff the opportunity to establish new contacts both inside and outside Armenia. For example, our cooperation with Yerevan State Conservatory only started because of LoLa, and we hope to deepen this collaboration to include other activities and services in future. Concerning international collaboration, we are planning to enlarge it – once the pandemic allows. As a result, we hope to have contacts with our colleagues from several European counterpart organisations and to be a bridge between Armenian artists and performers and their European peers.”

Simon: “The results of our collaborations have been positive and encouraging. We have many discussions with our peers from several European countries. We were making arrangements concerning future collaborations; among them a special plan to have a great event dedicated to Komitas, which would include Yerevan, Venice and Vienna. Unfortunately COVID-19 has postponed this, but we hope that we can still realise this project.

Then we were planning tests with colleagues from Belarus. Depending on the results, we hope that LoLa can become a kind of ‘lifesaver’ for Armenian artists, in that they could connect and collaborate with their European peers without spending time and money on travel.”

How do you see your LoLa work developing in future?

Simon:“I hoped that we were just at the beginning of a long journeythat would bring artists from Armenia close to their peers from other countries. We still believe that LoLa can become an important tool for Armenian artists in their activities, such as concerts, theatrical performances, education activities like master classes, online learning etc. As well as the big project we were planning with our Austrian and Italian peers, we also had a suggestion from Yerevan State Conservatory to cover the technical side of an Armenian-French bilateral musical project.Hopefully we shall still succeed in all that and you will see everything.

Of course, the world pandemic of COVID-19 has had a negative effect on our plans. But, as in the case of every crisis, COVID-19 does not only stop some activities, it also opens new horizons. For example, nowadays it is complicated or even impossible to organise face-to-face collaboration of artists and musicians from different countries. So here, using LoLa could be a good solution. Let’s see!”