David Helvarg 9:30 a.m., Dec. 10
Shrinking the carbon footprint with a "virtual" tour
Using technology only available at certain universities, jazz musicians are performing together from different geographic locations.
UCSD's contrabass virtuoso Mark Dresser strikes boldly into the world of technology in a series of concerts coordinated from the UC campus, with a core quartet featuring flutist Nicole Mitchell, trombonist Michael Dessen, and pianist Myra Melford--performing live in real time with groups based in Amherst, MA, (April 5, 7 pm with saxophonists Jason Robinson, Marty Ehrlich & drummer Bob Weiner), Zurich, Switzerland (April 6, 12 pm, with drummer Gerry Hemingway & flutist Mathias Ziegler), and Stony Brook, NY (April 7, 4pm with trombonist Ray Anderson, Pipa player Min Xiao-Fen, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, drummer Matt Wilson and laptop musician Doug Van Nort).
This concept is called "telematics" and it involves live performances between musicians in different geographic locations via the Internet2 and super-bandwidth, high-definition audio and video hardware. There are large screens and high-fidelity audio systems at each location to enable the performers to see and hear each other, and these shows have been dubbed: Virtual Tour: A Reduced Carbon Footprint Concert Series.
Imagine Skype on steroids, with a little Star Trek tossed in for good measure and you're on your way to getting the idea. It depends on the kind of high-speed networks and highly trained audio/video personnel currently only available at select universities.
"Telematic music requires coordination of technology, administration and artistic levels," says Dresser. "There were literally three months of tech testing before our first musical rehearsal. 15 musicians over 4 cities, 2 continents, 3 different time-zones as well as the 9 different composers who have generated 12 new works for these concerts.
"When we're rehearsing the music or testing the technology, we're using the same high bandwidth, high-speed fiber optic networks available to us at UCSD. But for multi-site meetings to discuss logistics or talking through scores we use Skype or Google chat."
Telematic concerts operate at a transmission frequency just below the speed of light, so the farther away the geographic locations, the more pronounced the latency, (delay). I asked Dresser how that plays into a live performance.
"Even with the super-bandwidth, delay is a reality of distance and we have employed different musical solutions to minimize and embrace that delay. More often than not, we find solutions to create the illusion of synchrony."
"Just as recording technology transformed jazz in the early 20th century by allowing improvisations to be captured and shared outside of local regions," says co-producer Dessen. "21st century advancements now provide options for musicians to mine the environmental benefits of networking technologies--by rehearsing via the internet over a period of many months, a body of music can be developed that would otherwise require multiple flights, saving thousands of dollars, scores of travel hours and much fossil fuel."
Photo by Anthony Cecena