Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

I saw the post below from the FB virtual session. I thought it better to start a new thread for this. I did find some old discussions on the topic but it was difficult to ascertain the information I need.
A couple of us local session people have been toying with the idea of a virtual session as a temporary replacement for our suspended regular weekly.
Is it possible or practical to create a virtual session in which we can all hear each other at the same time? Could we also see each other at the same time?

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

I don’t think a lot of people have tried yet. So I would say: Go on Google hangouts. Try it out, and tell us about it!

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

It will never happen. Even with super fast internet, you still have to deal with the speed of light (not to mention the work the servers have to do to process data packets). So even if you can get it as efficient as possible, you’re still going to have some latency issues. 100 milliseconds sounds really small, but it’s a tenth of a second. So you can’t really play in time with each other, or react to each other.

The only way it will work is if there is someone who is the "leader", and they play, without being able to hear everybody else, and then each other person is just playing along with the leader, without being able to hear the other players. But I’m guessing that this won’t satisfy the desire to play tunes together.

You could try to do some additive recordings, maybe. Where one player records a tune, and sends it as a file, and then each player adds their part and sends it on. It’s not playing together in real time, but it might be more satisfying.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

> You could try to do some additive recordings, maybe.

I’m thinking of doing this for our session - my plan is for me and our guitarist to record a track we send out, get everyone to record themselves playing to it, and then get all the recordings back and mix them down.

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Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Three of our local session players in San Diego did a three hour Twitch.tv broadcast playing tunes on St. Patrick’s Day. It was wonderful playing along with them at home. I don’t think it’s possible to play together in groups remotely because of latency issues, but playing along with them on my own was the next best thing. On most of these streaming platforms, you can also make comments in real time to request tunes, or make donations.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

With fast speed fibre optics, low latency cameras, low latency monitors and sound converters this could definitely be done. But it takes effort.
We did a project in 2018 with a full orchestra in our concert hall, with the opera singers and the audience in another town 300km away.
They all heard each other and played together. The singers saw the conductor on screens in the venue.
And it worked.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=7SQHoONHKcM

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

That’s pretty cool, Mattias! But there’s probably a difference between a sung melody sitting on top of an orchestral piece like that. It doesn’t have to be tight, like you would need for people playing a fast melody in perfect sync with each other. It probably wouldn’t have sounded as good if half the orchestra was also 300km away… And it helps that there were only two locations. But for a virtual session, you might have more, and everybody would have different amounts of latency.

I have done enough teaching on skype, etc, that I am very aware of the latency issues. If I’m teaching a lesson and wanting the student to play along with me, I have to concentrate very hard on what I’m playing, shut off the instinct to try to make it match what they’re playing, while also trying to pay enough attention to what the student is playing to see what they need to work on. It’s quite challenging!

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

This was my fear. Thank you for your collective knowledge as always.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Many musicians are planning to do different things online and I look forward to checking out the different projects.

I’ll be quite content to play along with the different videos and recordings but I’m not necessarily that bothered if I actually interact with the other musicians or not. A bit like when I once played in the same session as Altan (along with many others) but they didn’t realise I was there. 🙂

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

I snagged this off of the FaceBook page for Tullamore, a group out of Kansas City:

Tullamore
December 1, 2017 ·

Wednesday evening, we had our first rehearsal since the big kickoff weekend in October. That probably sounds like a run-of-the-mill occasion for anybody familiar with just about any band. AND we aren’t just ANY band.

I can hear you wondering… “With three of you up in Kansas City, and one of you down in Arlington TX, how could you rehearse?” I’ll tell you. It was courtesy of a wicked-cool piece of electronics called a JamLink (of which we have two).

A JamLink is an “ultra low-latency network audio interface that sends and receives uncompressed, studio-quality audio over the Internet in real time”. In lay-speak, it’s a small processor that digitizes an audio-signal, plugs into a router, and blasts that signal to, say, another JamLink in Arlington, mixes that JamLink’s signal in, and plays it back as one audio-output – with only a 7-8 millisecond delay… which is barely perceptible.

I can hear you wondering… “Why does this warrant a post on the band’s FB-page?” I’ll tell you. This is a HUGE victory for the continuation of the band. It simply wouldn’t have worked to fly Kathryn up to Kansas City for all of our rehearsals… we couldn’t afford it, it would burn her out, and we couldn’t get all the material up to speed quickly enough. The astounding success of this first long-distance rehearsal confirms the bands ability to rehearse across the interwebz and guarantees the longevity of the band!

After we rehearsed our first number (‘Caledonia’, if you were wondering), we sat around for a minute and laughed giddily at the successful run AND the big, bright future it guarantees for the band. Eventually we got back to work and cranked out another eight pieces before calling it a night.

“That’s one small step for a band… one giant leap for bandkind.”

************************************************

Sounds great but… you’ll have to purchase the hardware which isn’t exactly inexpensive and during the truncated existence we have under virus prohibitions, may not be possible at all. Plus - everyone that wanted to play together would need one. Technologically, it looks like a really good approach. If we’re cut off from sessions for months, this might become the only means of playing together. FWIW, if I knew someone else had the hardware and wanted to play then I would purchase the hardware as well. The nearest session is 85 miles from me anyway.

https://store.musicianlink.com/

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

If the price goes down I would be very interested!

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

JamLink and other ideas like that are good ideas. Basically, they develop a "direct" link between devices, as opposed to having the data go out to some central processing facility, like say, Google’s server farm in California. The problem is that the internet doesn’t draw a straight line between endpoints. It travels through the "web" of routers to get onto one of the big data pipes that can transport it most of the way, and then it hops off into another maze of routers and connections. So even though the boxes are talking "directly" to each other, there are still going to be numerous "stops" along the way. And each different router will add a tiny bit of time to the transit (as will the encoding and decoding between analog and digital).

The distance between Kansas City and Arlington is about 500 miles, which would produce a 3 millisecond latency if you were communicating directly with light. And that’s only one way… A sound made in Kansas City, encoded digitally, transmitted to Arlington, decoded, heard, and responded to with a similar return journey would be at a very MINIMUM a 6 millisecond transaction round trip. But with all the hops between, none of which are in a straight line, I think the 7-8 millisecond delay they quoted is unrealistic for that distance.

I have gigabit fiber internet that is pretty close to a big internet pipe. I just traced some data packets to a big server farm in Arlington, Texas, which is most likely sitting close to a bit internet pipe. It made 12 stops between me and that server farm. And the minimum round trip ping I could get to that server (at a similar distance from Arlington as Kansas City is) was 24 milliseconds.

I suppose that you could probably play with other people with 24 milliseconds of latency, which would be about the equivalent of sitting about 27 feet from someone, and the amount of time it takes for the sound to get between you. I have been in a few sessions where there were people 27 feet apart, and you get all sorts of trouble staying together. But if there were only 2 of you in a quiet room that far apart, you could probably play together reasonably well, I guess.

So I’m not against the idea of trying something like that, and might just buy a pair, to see how well it works. But I’m skeptical of it being particularly useful over distances like that. It might actually work reasonably well for people with good internet that have the same provider in the same city, though!

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Hey Pete, when I lived in the digital desert just west of Chandler, Oklahoma, the only option was Hughsnet Satellite and the latency was about 1.8 seconds. That and a 50 Kb/s bandwidth with a 200Mb limit per day put every internet experience on a par with smoke signals. It was very expensive as well and actually one of the reasons I moved to Arizona.

Let me know if you purchase a JamLink though and I’ll do likewise and we can see how well it works.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

The Jamlink looks really interesting, but I’m skeptical of the idea that the latency is "low enough not to matter", as their marketing copy suggests. What I’m reading is that the latency can get down to 6 or 7 ms (if you have two people with fast Internet who aren’t too far from each other). That’s probably low enough to make playing together *possible*, but I think you’d still notice it. Steve Vai once commented in an interview that he can "feel" a 1-ms latency (which is why he avoids certain kinds of gear, like amp sims).

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

I’m in New Jersey, near NYC. I just pinged round trip times to the University of Texas at Arlington, which is hosted on Amazon Web Services somewhere.

It’s 8 pm (prime time) on the US east coast, with everyone streaming Netflix, Amazon, HBO, or Hulu content at the same time.

FWIW, I showed round trip packet times averaging 18 ms via my ISP Altice.

However, when I used Xfinity’s speed test utility to test to Albuquerque, NM, it consistently showed 68 ms.

From my years of racing cars online in dial-up/DSL days (see Motor City Online), I would say humans can adapt to lag.

https://youtu.be/OchJP3STXfU

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Online racing or any other online multiplayer game can still work with a lot more lag than a group of people trying to sync up their playing of musical instruments, so it’s tight enough to enjoy and not mush.

Back when I fooled around with some digital and Midi guitar gadgets, the threshold we used to talk about for noticeable lag was 7 to 10 milliseconds. If you can hold it to that, or just a little higher with your online group it might work.

If anyone here DOES get it to work, please post here with details including how geographically close your session partners are. I think we’re going to be in self-imposed isolation for a while yet.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

How far does sound travel through air in 5 milliseconds? Given the social distancing safety spacing we are each diligently practicing I think it’s about 5 milliseconds between players. But I could be way out in left field, or about 150 milliseconds away.

edit - just saw Reverend calulated it out earlier in the thread. Thanks, Rev!

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Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

Ah well… using speedtest.net it would appear that my somewhat remote location lags way too much for a change of hardware to matter. In fact, I would have to make the trip to the neighboring city where I already go to play at sessions before the latency would achieve suitable levels. Traveling 85 miles plus to sit in the area of the session location just doesn’t seem like much of a technological leap. FWIW: I have a fiber-optic 50Mb connection to the internet but there’s a huge amount of latency in the servers it passes through before getting out of town. Sometimes it doesn’t go anywhere at all because the fiber optic cable to the next region is exposed and the squirrels chew it up.

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

I was just watching some of the videos on the JamLink site, and they’re somewhat misleading. In one video, they had a guitar player in a remote location, with bass and drums in the location that they were filming. And it sounds great, because the bass and drum are following the guitar, so it all sounds together. But they don’t show you what it sounds like on the guitar players side. And at one part of that video, you can see video of the guitar player pretty well, and there is a noticeable lag between when you see his hand move up the neck in a guitar solo to when the drummer plays the beat to match it. So my guess is that they were really playing in a leader/follower kind of scenario, and it didn’t sound all that good from the guitar player’s side…

And that music is different anyway. Similarly to Mattias’ video above, there is room for error, because you have flowing melodies sitting on top of rhythm. In the trad music, the rhythm is provided by the melody players, and they all need to be hitting the beats at the same time…

So I’m still not entirely convinced this is great for the music we play. Carl, I will let you know if I decide to buy one…

Re: Virtual session for the tech savvy posters

When we did our project with the orchestra and operasingers they all heard and saw each other, but yes. They were only in two different venues, with the audience in the same venue as the singers.
The fibre optic connection was dedicated only for our use. So it went a LOT of money and effort in this, no questions.
But the possibilities this opens up are great.
I’m sure this would work in multiple venues. Our partner in this has done some tries of that before we got involved. The plan was to then take this and develop further with just multiple venues, but we had some changes in management and we haven’t continued yet.
I think it is a matter of time also. Not so Consumer friendly yet, but I believe price will go down, our world will get more connected and have access to higher internet speed.