Accessories 2021: Low-latency Performance Technology – Adventures in Time and Space


The internet has been a lifeline for musicians in the pandemic, but latency – the delay as sound data is processed and transmitted – is a killer for those wanting to perform together in real time. Tom Stewart finds out how teaching institutions are fighting back with technology that can ...

Although technology that allows a musician in one location to perform with another somewhere else has been around for some time, interest in it is relatively new. The emergence of low-latency networked performance software from the university research departments that developed it is due in no small part to Covid-19. Musicians across the globe were suddenly unable to play with (or for) anyone who lived outside their household. Orchestras found themselves broken into a hundred pieces, decades-long chamber partnerships were cast asunder and students were prevented from having the kinds of in-person creative exchanges that define the conservatoire learning process.

Zoom, Skype and others like them quickly became a lifeline, but they have their limitations. As anyone who has attempted to use such platforms for music making or instrumental teaching will know, one of these is the delay between the sound being produced and its arrival in the ears of the person at the other end of the line. Eighteen months after the first Covid cases were detected, the majority of people have resigned themselves to the slight but crucial delay that tests the resolve of any teacher (or student) and makes real-time synchronised playing all but impossible. (And there are other problems besides – many platforms will intervene to ‘fix’ a decrescendo by boosting the sound levels, for example.)..

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