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Speed and Space: Recent(-ish) Developments in Internet Music and Sound

Due to Covid-19 many musicians have begun to explore live streaming technologies and are posting non real-time Zoom collaborations. How much these habits continue after a vaccine is found remains to be seen, but I would assume that some of these practices are here to stay. From an educational point of view, we must incorporate these changes into what our students learn and begin to prepare them for this new world. However, while the tools that many of us have very quickly come to rely on are incredible, and relatively user friendly, they do have limitations, including:

  1. Real-time collaborations between multiple locations are mostly impossible due to the latency – the time delay –  inherent in these systems.
  2. Listening conditions over the internet deprive us of a shared experience of space – hearing sounds in the same ambience/reverberation

I have some good news, other tools are available that help with these issues and more are on the way.

  1. Speed, Real Time Internet Network Performances:

Network performances have been around since the late 1970’s (Max Neuhaus RadioNet – 1977), arguably earlier, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Suffice to say, if you are interested in nonsynchronous forms of music (Pauline Oliveros or early Morton Feldman), congratulations all your latency problems already have solutions! As for synchronous performances, with Zoom or Skype or similar, with a great broadband connection, a one-way duet – X plays along to Y, but Y doesn’t listen to X – is possible… sometimes. You’ll likely have some glitches and the latency may randomly change during the performance…. it’s like playing along to a bad record player, like we did in ye olde days!

If, however, you want to have a non-glitch synchronous jam or rehearsal with multiple sites, one free answer for audio only is JACKTRIP – developed at Stanford University, it connects high quality uncompressed audio streams directly between computers. You do need Ethernet – can’t use Wi-Fi, sorry – and it is open source, so it can be a little clunky. It’s not making a cup of tea, but it’s not brain surgery either. Most importantly, you can achieve a total latency under 50ms, enough to become jamable!

2. Space, Virtual Acoustics… sharing spaces not just comments:

Live streams often come from small rooms with very little reverberation (unless you happen to be living in a church!). For some, this dryness can be part of the charm of internet music making. For others, it can be a distraction. Further, musicians who want to jam together benefit from being in the same aural/reverberant space. As in traditional broadcasting and recording, artificial reverberation can be added to streams, as some are doing..

But with multiple sites, having microphones and speakers generating artificial reverberation in the multiple spaces will cause feedback – making certain types of interactions difficult, or requiring all of us to wear headphones.

At UL and Stanford University, we’re collaborating on a system that does this:

It requires some half decent speakers, a microphone, and a laptop running our software. But as you can see/hear, any sound made happens with reverberation and no feedback. Therefore, other musicians or audience members, in multiple places around the world, could now share that experience by running similar systems, facilitating remote rehearsals and performances like never before. Best of all – you can heckle a performer just like in the real world!

For me – and my students – beyond facilitating our existing performance aesthetics, the big question is, what possible new aesthetic experiences can be created with these technologies?

*****

Dr. Eoin Callery is the course director for the MA in Composition and Creative Music Practice at the Irish World Academy at UL. His music and research explore acoustic phenomena, feedback, and virtual acoustics. Before coming to UL, he lectured at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, where he was also involved in network performance events.

Feel free to contact him at Eoin.Callery@ul.ie if you have any questions.

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