What a jam: Musical video conferencing

FIELD NOTES

Don't be surprised if all music professors of the future live on tropical islands, teaching classes in- between visits to the beach. Provided, that is, that the islands have access to videoconferencing technology.

On May 26, the Berklee College of Music in Boston conducted a series of tests in association with the Philippos Nakas Conservatory of Music in Athens, Greece, to test the possibilities of transcontinental classes - and even jam sessions - via video conferencing. Four guitar students and 10 ear-training students in Athens received lessons from Boston, and four percussion students in Boston were treated to the expertise of an instructor 4,500 miles away in the Mediterranean. "Videoconferencing with ISDN technology is so much easier than renting a whole channel, using a satellite, and requiring a truck with broadcast technology. We did the whole thing with a telephone call," says David Lustig, an information- technology expert at Berklee, in a telephone interview.

The experiment wasn't without its challenges. The video feed experienced a 200-to-400 millisecond delay because of the time it takes to compress the video and audio feed and then extract it at the receiving end, according to Lustig. That time delay may be trivial for a tte--tte between two boardrooms, but that half-second difference is all the difference between being on the beat or off it in music. Local conductors had to be employed on either side of the video screens to keep the musical jams in synchronicity.

"It's a way to include our wider music college community," Mr. Lustig explains. Berklee College is affiliated with 14 international music schools, and they hope the technology will facilitate further opportunities for the swapping of expertise. Music schools in South Korea, Japan, and South America have already expressed interest in pursuing further experiments of this sort.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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