I need to fill a gap that has been hanging open around here for a long time. A search of the Live Design archives reveals 147 hits for “Watchout,” 228 hits for “Max/MSP,” and 459 hits for “Catalyst.” A search for “Isadora” yields only 17 hits, and a few of those refer to the eponymous Isadora Duncan.
The brainchild of Mark Coniglio of Troika Ranch, Isadora is a graphic programming environment for performance-based media, meaning that it is a customizable playback system with a focus on interactivity and flexibility. It installs on any Mac (Windows version is in a seemingly perpetual beta—though a stable one), and its horsepower is entirely hardware dependent, making it a scalable system. Need more outputs? Add more video cards. Even more? Network multiple machines together—Isadora will need to be installed and programmed on each one, but events can be triggered across the network or by MIDI.
Isadora’s stated purpose is interactivity, having been designed for interactive use in Troika Ranch productions. Want the size of a video object to vary in proportion to audio volume? No problem. How about the reverse: Want to have the overall video luminance control audio level? Easy. But the real core value behind all of this advanced interactive ability is flexibility, which shines through even when your production isn’t interactive. There have been many discussions in the magazine and on this site of how each projection show is different, each requiring a specially designed video system and control structure. Isadora is an answer. It isn’t the best possible answer to every situation, but its fluid structure gives it more breadth than any other playback option.
All this flexibility comes at a necessary price, however. Isadora is not as intuitive to program as Watchout or as ready for lighting integration as a DMX-based media server. It takes a little while with Isadora to even get a Quicktime movie to play on an external screen. Strangely, basic functions take some time to learn, but subsequently picking up advanced functions seems easy once you have learned Izzy’s language. Part of this might be that language’s semi-unusual idioms: objects in the programming environment are called “actors,” outputs are called “stages,” objects that move and crossfade from one cue (or “scene”) to another are called “jumps.” Another part might be that you have to build a control panel with “Go” buttons and so on from scratch - which turns out to be an incredibly useful feature later on. But learning Isadora is worth sitting down with the tutorials and manual (which are fantastic and, as the TroikaTronix website says, “actually useful”). In terms of object-oriented programming environments, it’s certainly a lot easier to learn than Max/MSP/Jitter.
And with a price tag of $350 (and an educational version for $275), you certainly can’t get more power for the money.