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04/30/2005 - Musicians Survive Distributed Music Adventure

A group of jazz musicians, network gurus, technical kibitzers, and innocent bystanders met on Monday, April 18 for the first ever regional adventure in distributed music. Musicians and techies were in both the SIRTI Boardroom and the Eastern Washington University (EWU) music department choir room on the EWU Cheney campus. This was a baseline experiment in music-making – to find out if it was really possible for musicians to be in two or more distant locations and be able to play together as an ensemble.

At the Cheney end, a piano trio consisting of Dan McCollim, piano, Eugene Jablonsky, bass, and Dru Heller, drums was set up with special microphones and headsets. The jazz musicians at SIRTI were Doug Folkins, bass, Rick Westrick, drums, Paul Plowman, saxophone, and Craig Volosing, trumpet and flugelhorn. These musicians also had recording quality microphones, headsets, and electronics. VPnet provided the network connection Identical Polycom units were used at each end to transmit the audio and visuals. Connecting the Polycom unit to the VPnet switch at the SIRTI end was a Cat5 copper, 100 Mb Ethernet network. At the Cheney end, the VPnet connection was the Ethernet campus network .

At about 6:00 pm the musicians were set and ready and the sound check began. Combinations of the various musicians played experimental variations, checking timing, sound quality, and visuals. They used headsets to block outside interference, and made countless electronic adjustments. Finally, satisfied, they were ready to play as a group.

Soon after, things began to deteriorate. The audio slowed; the visuals were out of sync. The drummer in the SIRTI board room’s movements were far ahead of his portrayal on the monitor two feet away. Equipment statistics on a third monitor showed significant packet loss across the network. The network and technical gurus worked feverishly, making adjustments – trying everything -- to bring the network back into control. Over the next hour, the session slid into the “sound check from hell.” Heavy student use of the segment at the Cheney end of the network was suggested as one possible corrupting factor.

What was learned from this adventure? Craig Volosing was wildly enthusiastic about the possibilities. “We’ve learned that this is doable,” says Volosing. “We had it all together, at least for a few minutes. Making music in this way can be done.” The other musicians concurred. The goal of establishing a baseline, technically and artistically, for ongoing experiments, applications, and development had been met.

Use of the VPnet for performing arts applications, both commercial and educational, is the "brainstorm" of Spokane musician and businessman Craig Volosing. Volosing first conceived of this application over two years ago, bringing the concept first to Steve Simmons (EWU) and Judy Cole of Avista Corp for feasibility evaluation and development direction. Volosing’s overall hopes for the use of VPnet in the performing arts are:
· as a catalyst for economic development in the region
· as a commercially-viable application in music and theater
· as a cost-effective tool in performing arts education

The initial experiment was supported by two sets of technicians: Jaye Nordling and Paul Plowman provided technical direction at each location. Sky Hagen of EWU and Bonnie Glazier of SIRTI provided the VPnet technical direction. Overall assistance in bringing the various parties together for this event was provided by Steve Trabun of Avista Corp.

Billie Moreland
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