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04/30/2009 - College Music Society Hears World Premiere

Not just one world premiere, but two, were presented at the College Music Society regional conference this month at Eastern Washington University. World premiere number one was a concert duet of two electric cellos. The second premiere was that they performed their duet over special, ultrafast gigabit Ethernet – at a considerable distance. The cellists were John Marshall, Professor of Cello and Principal Cellist in the Spokane Symphony Orchestra; and Chris Chafe composer/cellist/music researcher from Stanford University. This was the first successful showcase of Music Telematics to the music community in this region.

Music Telematics is a new interdepartmental research area that explores the use of high speed networks for music, making distance ensembles a reality, and creating a new kind of acoustical medium. Music telematics is being studied at many universities including EWU with collaboration of Associate Professor Jonathan Middleton Department of Music and Professor Steve Simmons of Computer Science, as well as, Dr. Jim Braukmann, of EWU Engineering and Design, Dr. Kosuke Imamura of CS, and a group of eight EWU students.

There were two audience available rooms for the concert. One room was the recital hall in the EWU Music Building, and the other was the “advanced media technology room” in the CS building. Each room had a quality sound system and a Web camera for visuals. The audience in each room could hear one of the cellos immediately and live, but the other cello’s sound came over the network. Due to greater packet size and a separate, slower network, the visual images were slower to transmit than the audio, so the movements on the video screen were out of synchronicity with the audio. Due to this, the cellists couldn't look at each other without being influenced by the video – meaning there was no visual contact between the musicians. They relied totally on sound.

To start the concert, the cellists played a round of Frere Jacques to showcase for the audience just how good the network really was. They proceeded through a couple of duets composed by Michael Curtis, an Oregon-based composer. The duets were written for cello and bassoon, but Marshall had transposed the bassoon part for electric cello. The first number, Suave, required the two musicians to begin at the same time – without counting off or without the usual visual cues. They accomplished this by one beginning then the other beginning as soon as they heard the sound. It was almost in unison.

The second number, Funky, was a really fun and syncopated composition. With slower audio, this would not have worked at all. Funky proved to be an audience favorite.

After a round of improvisation, the musicians paused to discuss the experience. According to Marshall, “sound wise there is no delay – it is like we were sitting next to each other.” Chafe explained, “because the rule is 1millisecond equals one foot (12-inches) per second, technically, John is closer to me than anyone in this room.” The sound produced had a delay of only 8 milliseconds and was sampled at 48 kilohertz – which meant it was concert hall quality and exceeded the sound quality of CD’s and DVD’s.

The musicians finished the concert with a selection from Bartok. The duet had been composed for two violins, but again it had been transposed for electric cello. “Bartok certainly never envisioned his work on electric cello,” quipped Marshall. The concert was over, due to time limitations, but many of the audience wanted the two to keep playing.

For a history of previous developments, see http://manomeproject.com/

Billie Moreland
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