DIS group releases open source software for digital humanities

Together with European partners the DIS group investigated the potential which opera could have to foster social transformation in disparate communities through the use of technology.

Publication date
9 Mar 2023
Traction project team
Traction project team on the red carpet of Liceu theater.

The beginning of this year saw the conclusion of the TRACTION project. TRACTION was a EU-funded project in which the Distributed and Interactive Systems (DIS) group joined project partners from all over Europe to investigate the potential which the art form of opera could have to foster social transformation in disparate communities through the use of technology. At the centre of the project were the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the organisation SAMP working with young offenders in Portugal and Irish National Opera in Ireland. Each one of these partners was working with very different communities and had different goals they wanted to achieve, presenting unique challenges that the technical partners and DIS attempted to solve using technological approaches.

The project kicked off in February of 2020, right before the pandemic had taken full hold of Europe. As complicated as the lockdowns made working together, it also gave the project a driving force and focus: tools were needed to allow people to work together creatively over a distance. Moreover, communities and opera professionals needed a tool to support co-creation.


This idea was the guiding principle behind the first big development of the project: The Co-Creation Space. The Co-Creation Space is a web-based application through which people can share thoughts and communicate through media, guided by a facilitator in an effort to create a piece of art. The platform was to be designed to be usable by people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages and having different accessibility needs. Thus, the first round of requirements was gathered involving people with special needs from the Centre Ocupacional Sínia in Barcelona.

With an initial version ready, the Co-Creation Space was used in a first trial by rural communities in the Gaeltacht of Ireland to co-create musical pieces under the guidance of professional composer Finola Merivale in the role of facilitator. She would encourage people to record sounds, upload them to the platform, annotate and remix them and make their own songs. These pieces of music were then shared with others in the group over several iterations, resulting in a final composition.

co creation space
Co-creation space interface.


The insights from this process fed into a second iteration of the platform in which it was used by 150 choir members from the Ramblas neighbourhood in Barcelona in the process of co-creating the opera piece La Gata Perduda. Participants were sharing audio and video recordings, sheet music as well as messages of gratitude and encouragement. This made the platform not only a space to share work, but also a place for people to keep in touch with each other. After months of hard work, the completed opera premiered at the Gran Teatre del Liceu on 5 October 2022 to a sold-out house.

Young offenders

A different approach to the idea of co-creation was taken by SAMP. SAMP is an organisation in Portugal which uses music to connect to various parts of society. Among which, the organisation works with young offenders, using opera to give them an opportunity to express themselves and aid them on their path of re-joining society. Working with prisons presents a very unique set of challenges. The way the project attempted to address these was through the Co-Creation Stage, an application suite which allows for the easy deployment of distributed performances over the internet. For instance, the Co-Creation Stage was used in a distributed performance of an opera piece created by prisoners, performed simultaneously at the Gulbenkian Foundation concert hall and Leiria prison some 150km away, where performers at each location could directly interact with each other.

The Co-Creation Space: social VR lobby.

VR opera

Finally, some of the output of the co-creation workshops in Ireland using the Co-Creation Space fed into a third expression of how technology and opera can be combined to effect social change. Namely, the creation of a fully immersive VR opera piece. To complement this virtual opera experience, the project also trialled a social VR lobby. Another immersive environment mimicking a real-life opera lobby, in which people can mingle before and after the virtual performance, talk to each other, interact with props from the opera piece and take souvenir photos. Thus creating an environment to help people to connect with each other over a distance.

Participatory art

Over the three years that TRACTION was running, the project made great strides not only in trying to bring opera to the modern world through the use of technology, but also in bringing people from different backgrounds closer together and give them agency by allowing them to participate in the creative process. The efforts of TRACTION have resulted in the release of several pieces of open source technology, who are documented and made available through a dedicated wiki site at https://traction-project.github.eu. Moreover, the project compiled a series of policy guidelines on co-creation processes and culture, numerous publications and most importantly, several successful pieces of participatory art that managed to bring people closer together.

All of this and more can be found on the project's newly launched website, where all lessons learned are presented and interested parties can find a starting point for launching their own co-created art projects.