My second review on artistic programming toolkits covers Isadora, a commercial real-time media manipulation toolkit for live performance. It’s versatile and intuitive interface is a great example of bridging the gap between artists and programmers. Unlike openFrameworks, which I reviewed before, Isadora is a visual programming tool that yields immediate results and requires no special programming skills. Isadora is a powerful tool for artists, designers, scenographers, performers, or VJs who may use Isadora for all types of live performances from simple video playback to complex interactive stage control.
Isadora has been created by composer and media-artist Mark Coniglio, who just recently was awarded the World Technology Award 2012, Arts Category for his outstanding contribution to the arts and technology world. As the WTA calls it: ‘the most innovative work of the greatest likely long-term significance’. Congratulations, Mark!
Mark had initially developed Isadora to realise the pioneering media intensive dance performances of Troika Ranch, his dance company based in New York City. As of now, Isadora reflects over 20 years of practical experience with real-time live performance and media interactivity. Mark still actively develops Isadora and refuses to give up his artistic practice which is certainly the secret behind his success.
Isadora is designed by an artist for artists. It is easy to learn and does not require any programming skills. In contrast to text-based programming languages Isadora is a visual programming tool where pre-defined blocks which manipulate video, audio and other data are visually arranged and linked. Media maniulation always happens in real-time and changes take immediate effect.
This principle very much differs from text-based programming languages that require an edit-compile-execute cycle even for simple changes to the program. Since results are immediate visual programming supports both creative improvisation and fine-tuning of rich media presentations allowing artists to explore the world of digital media by playing and experimenting.
Isadora allows you to manipulate live and prerecorded media, either with programmed effects or on-the-fly via input from a keyboard, a mouse, a MIDI device, a microphone, or a live camera feed.
Over 250 basic building blocks (called ‘actors’) are available in Isadora. Each actor has a unique function, from receiving a MIDI message to warping video imagery, manipulating 3D graphics or applying a sound effect. On the user interface actors can be linked in a nearly infinite number of ways, allowing artists to create and manipulate stunning visuals, sonic environments, and media-intensive theatrical experiences. From simple presentations of video clips to rich interactive performances that respond in real-time to a performer’s action, Isadora can cover it all.
Isadora has the ability to compose multiple layers of video, apply video effects, and output to up to six video projectors. Isadora can natively interface to external devices via OSC, MIDI, Serial, TCP/IP, and HID/game controller devices. A very helpful feature is that a user can create and easily switch between an arbitrary number of scenes which allows splitting a complex theatre performance into managable pieces according to the script.
Stability is essential when performing for a live audience on stage or running a long-term installation. Isadora was designed from ground up with an uncompromising standard of reliability and techical efficiency.
Although the interface is intuitive it requires some time to understand the depth of all the different features and master Isadora in full. Mark has produced a number of really great video tutorials available on his YouTube channel. I highly recommend watching them. The most pleasant way to learn and try Isadora is at workshops. From time to time Mark is invited to hold a workshop at media art festivals or a conference.
Current Version: 1.3.0f24 / 30 April 2012
Availability: Mac OSX 10.3.9 or above, Windows 7, Vista, XP
Requires: 2GHz DualCore CPU and 2GB RAM, Quicktime 7.5 or above
Price: 350 US$, discounts available
Notes: With separate upgrades it is possible to use CoreVideo and CoreAudio filters on Mac OSX which is a great way to interface Isadora to Quartz Composer and other toolkits on OSX.
On Quartz Interoperability (OSX only)
Isadora has been used in many professional projects worldwide, from life performances to interactive installations and even movie screenings such as Francis Ford Coppola’s movie project Twixt. Here’s a very short set of images and videos to give you a brief impression.
Loopdiver, Troika Ranch, NYC/Berlin, 2012
Losing Something, 3Legged Dog, NYC, 2007