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Doctoral dissertation: Mobile technology brings performing art out of the opera house


The mobile mind-set and mobile technologies are bringing operatic art out of the opera houses. The dynamic among an opera’s creators, performers and co-creative audience takes shape on hybrid stages through participatory, creative activity that moulds the work being performed. These are some of the conclusions put forward by Jaakko Nousiainen, MA, in his recently completed doctoral dissertation.

Throughout its history, Western opera has been an art form dependent on performance technologies. Given this link, opera has typically adopted the technologies of each age, making them part of its language of expression; the technologies have ranged from two-dimensional painted backdrops raised and lowered by ropes to digital 3D projections. But what happens when opera expands into the realm of mobile distribution platforms and mobile technologies?

In his dissertation Expanding opera into mobile media, director and scriptwriter Jaakko Nousiainen examines the impact of the mobile mind-set and mobile technologies on the burgeoning form of opera known as “digital opera”. The artistic component of the dissertation consists of an experimental implementation of an opera, designed to be distributed via mobile devices. The opera, Omnivore, was composed by Miika Hyytiäinen and first performed in 2012, with Jaakko Nousiainen directing the work and writing the libretto. A website has been set up that provides an in-depth look at the work.

Broadening the scope of “opera director”

As the mobile mind-set takes hold, the work of the opera director is broadening in scope to include a range of digital design skills. Figuring most prominently among these are skills in modelling interaction on mobile interfaces and applications and in designing the experiences of the users.

As Jaakko Nousiainen points out, “Mastery of the principles of mobile platform design now lies at the core of doing opera.”

In practice, this places the media manuscript on a par with music and text in the work of the director. This development means that the working group creating an opera will come to include media experts. Tapping their expertise and ways of working and incorporating these into the already complex creative enterprise that is opera will require support in the form of new content-driven models for how this work is to be done.

The hybrid stage - not bound by time and place

Among other innovations, mobile devices and technologies have made it possible to create hybrid opera stages. A hybrid stage can be created anywhere: it is independent of time and place. It consists of elements from both a virtual dimension - activated through the technologies and interfaces - and the real world.

Jaakko Nousiainen elaborates: “Mobility accentuates freedom of movement, awareness of place, and real-time communication. In this light, opera performances can be thought of as events on a hybrid stage in which the dynamic among the creators, performers and co-creative audience becomes defined through activity that invites participation. The dramaturgical decisions for such works can be shared among all those involved, in ways the participants agree on separately.”

Information on the defence:

Jaakko Nousiainen will be defending his dissertation, Expanding opera into mobile media, in the Faculty of Art and Design on Thursday, 29 January 2015 at 3 pm. The defence will take place in Eeli Hall (lecture room 19), located at the University of Lapland, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi. The Opponent will be Professor Mauri Kaipainen from Södertörn University, Sweden, and the Custos will be Professor Eija Timonen from the University of Lapland. Welcome!

Information on the doctoral candidate:

Jaakko Nousiainen, born 7 January 1969 in Pello, is a free-lance artist, director and scriptwriter. The musical theatre productions and operas which he has directed have been seen not only in Finland but also in Germany, England and Japan. Mr. Nousiainen completed his matriculation examination at Pello Upper Secondary School in 1987 and he graduated with a master’s degree (MA) from the Film Department of the University of Art and Design in 1989. In the course of his career Mr. Nousiainen has also gained extensive experience in the area of sound art. In addition he has worked in planning, development and management duties in the area of Internet and mobile content at, among other organizations, YLE (Finland's national public service broadcasting company).

Additional information:

Jaakko Nousiainen
jaakko (at) jaakkonousiainen.net
Tel. 041 495 3281

Information on the publication:

Jaakko Nousiainen: Expanding opera into mobile media. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 294. Pohjolan Painotuote, Rovaniemi 2015. ISBN 978-952-93-4980-7. E-version: Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 162. ISBN 978-952-93-4981-4.