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05/31/2008 - EWU Network Music Project Graduates

The Metropolitan Area Network Optimized Music Environment (MANOME) is in its fourth year at Eastern Washington University (EWU). After this academic quarter’s work, MANOME is ready to leave the university laboratory and go out into the real world for trial. Professor Steve Simmons and his students plan to collaborate with the Spokane Symphony, School District 81, and Stanford University for field trials during the next academic year.

Started as the Distributed Music Project and conceived by Spokane-area music entrepreneur Craig Volosing, MANOME has been underway at EWU for four years with music professor Jonathan Middleton serving as the music scientist and professor Steve Simmons serving as computer scientist. MANOME’s goal is to allow two or more musicians to perform music in real-time between buildings, districts, and even cities. Eventually, this system could be used to enable teachers to conduct multi-school orchestras or by city orchestras and small elementary schools that can’t afford to hire a music teacher.

In order to play as if next to each other, but actually at a distance, musicians can’t tolerate more than about 20 milliseconds of delay. The MANOME team had to design and build its own system, using basic hardware and software components they selected, tested, and put together. The system had to be very fast but still have good quality sound. Special headphones were needed. The mixer and sound cards were very tricky to select and adapt. The system uses no audio compression because that slows everything down. Then the network itself had to be fast. The network remains very simple – just two Cat 6 cables connecting to one Cisco 3750 switch. The network used in lab tests time delay was one tenth of a millisecond at its worst. Finally in winter and spring quarters of 2008, the team achieved success. Professional rock musicians (and EWU computer science students) Justin and Erik May could detect no delay no matter how fast they played. They rated the musical quality as “excellent.” Total system delay, in various configurations, ranged from 5 to 16 milliseconds.

The EWU team received a lot of help from Dr. Chris Chafe at Stanford University who supplied several components and specialized knowledge on how to use those components. JACK, software for capturing and controlling audio, was a significant contribution, along with JACKtrip, which sends audio out of JACK on a “trip” to another computer also running JACK.

Equipment stability still remains a problem for the researchers at EWU. For the latest round of experiments, EWU CS Master’s student Adam Miller wrote a program similar to JACKTrip but more suited to the hardware and components being used in the EWU laboratory. The research group is also working to change the project’s operating system component from Linux Fedora – used by the Stanford team -- to Linux Ubuntu.

A portion of the Spring academic quarter students’ work was devoted to creating the official MANOME Web site. With a few small additions to be made, construction of the site should be finished by mid-June. To learn more about MANOME, visit the student produced site at manomeproject.org.

Billie Moreland
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