Music on the net

We’re all locked indoors; no live performances. Prompted by a musician friend of mine, I looked around for mechanisms for using the Internet for performance. The perceived problem was latency: you can’t hear what the other performers are doing simultaneously with what you’re doing. This latency is irreducible across long distances, limited by the speed of light, but with consumer-grade tools it’s a real issue.

The musician in question had evolved a practice that accommodated this, by making music with long tones that didn’t involve millisecond-accurate synchronicity. She and her compatriots could sing, hear each other singing, and make changes over fuzzy time scales that worked. A good adaptation to the medium.

I recalled Phil and others building pattern-based instruments that synchronized every n beats. So, eg, if the pulse was 4/4 and we were improvising across the net, any change I made would be heard by the other guy one bar later. Again, good adaptation to the medium where the aesthetic of the music is partly a product of the medium it’s performed in.

True to form, CCRMA want to adapt the medium to existing aesthetics. To that end, Chris Chafe and others have built tools to reduce the latency to sub-perceptual levels, so people can play “regular” music across the net and the net becomes invisible, just a wire. This sensibility echoes the ideas that I remember differentiating CCRMA from the Mills CCM when I was there. At the time, they were working on using large computers to recreate the mechanics and the sounds of “real” (existing) instruments like pianos, in imitation spaces that recreated “real” spaces using tools like convolution reverb, as a way to validate the work prior to using it more imaginatively. Most of their pieces were not realtime, so lots of tape music concerts. In contrast, the Mills aesthetic revolved around realtime, interactive, improvisational, … necessitating small machines with their limitations. Rather than trying to supercede the limitations, the aesthetic involved investigating what about the limitations were interesting, and led to different ways of thinking/composing/performing.

You see the same sensibility in, eg, experiments with machine learning and music, where the success of the experiment is judged in how accurately it recreates something about “real” music …

Seems like this distinction is still in place. So the question that’s interesting to me is: what is it about the Internet that makes it different as a medium?

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