TO MY COLLEAGUES, AND CALLING ALL GENIUS TECH FRIENDS AND AUDIO MASTERS:
I issue a challenge for collaboration on a realtime solution to the problem of remote-participant ensemble rehearsals in a time of temporary enforced social isolation. Most ensembles I know have postponed or canceled concerts and stopped rehearsals. Schools are making this mandatory. But folks still need to make music together, or at least “together” in a way that feels enough like live ensemble. We might be able to create a decent ersatz for this activity. In this time of increasingly-acute social media separation, we are already used to communicating remotely with our friends and groups from our isolated devices.
Come up with a hybrid of real-time telecommunications and live audio mixing that puts each participant adequately in a “virtual real-time ensemble” without being colocated physically.
DETAILS IN THE ATTACHED DOCUMENT (TLDR if put in FB post)
IDEAL FEATURE SET
1. All participants can be heard in the mix.
2. All can hear the mix (as in a good live show monitor speaker)
3. Timing is nearly-instantaneous (minimal or no lag)
4. Individual volume can be throttled/managed into the mix that all hear (central control)
5. Conductor/leader can be both seen and heard.
6. EXCEPTION: Not all player/singer participants need to be seen, or see each other. This reduces the problem by, say, an order of magnitude (no split screens or toggled views).
7. Solution is not too expensive either to ensemble/institution or individual participants.
All these elements are available in at least partial form in existing technology for live audio recording and mixing, and video conferencing.
1. Big-brand teleconferencing and video-phone platforms have bad lag and generally awful sound quality. Video-phone requires all to be on one camera at one end.
a. Are there better platforms less known? Not expensive.
2. All individuals are likely to have widely different microphones and acoustic environments.
a. Partial solution: set minimum standards for both, not ideal or expensive.
3. Individuals have their own volume controls.
a. Partial solution: Set standards, desired levels, do sound checks on all individuals before starting; like meta-tuning.
4. Not all instruments sound their best close-miked.
a. Partial solution: Provide guidelines per instrument type; adjust in the mix.
5. Ditto voices. Plus, choral singers who lack soloist vocal quality or temperament are often more likely to sing out when with others, losing themselves (and their inhibitions) in the crowd.
a. This freeing effect will be hard to replicate remotely in isolation, even when folks can hear their section in the mix.
b. In our favor is that more and more folks, especially youngsters, are comfortable on solo mike making a mix or a cover or a youtube spot. Pop to the rescue.
6. You need a genius at the mixing board, but you need that in a live miked performance too.
7. Individuals need to wear headsets to hear the group mix.
a. Studio instrumentalists and singers are used to this, but normal choristers and orchestra/band players probably less so. It changes how your voice or instrument sounds to you.
These are only my initial observations. I’m sure plenty of other folks are chewing on some sort of approach to this problem right now. But I bet it can be done, to a satisfactory (B+) level, mabye not well enough to replace making music all together in the same room in the long run (what could ever do that?), but well enough to tide us over the current pandemic isolation at least. And the next . . .
I welcome inputs; perhaps somebody wants to take up the task of creating a collaboration site and a test bed. And a consortium of ensembles and schools to support, contribute, even underwrite this effort.
Warm regards to all,