For help starting your own Soundjack and LiveLab chorus, refer to links on the homepage and/or contact David Liao ().
When we use Zoom, there is too much audio transmission delay for us to sing together. Low-latency technology, on the other hand, achieves audio delays that are low enough to let us sing to and listen to each other at the same time.
In September of 2020, New Jersey Gay Men's Chorus's Artistic Director Sarah Michal pointed us to low-latency technology she had researched.
In November of 2020, we polled members at an Artistic Committee Zoom meeting to see who would be interested in participating in a low-latency pilot project. Eight members showed interest.
“If it works, it will allow us to do rehearsals with minimal delays … without muting yourself. That’s the dream.”
Attributed to Artistic Director Sarah Michal
Starting at the end of 2020 and then ramping up during the spring of 2021, a group of us (a couple, then a few, and then twelve musicians at ten sites) in the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus started using Soundjack to transmit super low-latency audio. We use LiveLab to transmit low-latency video.
To keep mouth-to-ear audio transmission delay low enough for live rhythmic music-making over the internet, audio data need to be transmitted in small data packets one-after-the-other in quick succession with the transit delay for packets kept consistently low. So, Ethernet connections, rather than typically jittery WiFi, should be used at all participating sites.
Our low-latency pilot project transitioned into low-latency program, with roughly weekly sessions.
Every four years, GALA Choruses holds a choral festival where choruses from across the U.S. and even the world meet. The 2020 festival was cancelled, but Soundjack still gave us the opportunity to make musical connections across States and continents.
The summer of 2021 was the first time we had rehearsals led from across the country. Our Artistic Director Sarah Michal led Soundjack rehearsals while traveling through California while singers joined from New Jersey.
About 39 seconds into the following video, just after "To strive, to seek, to find", you can see our Accompanist David Hughes look over to the camera while the tempo of the conducting of our Artistic Director Sarah A. Michal stretches.
Professor Alex Carôt, the creator of Soundjack, led a performance by a group of Soundjack users as part of a celebration event at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Germany. Performers connected from Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Köln, and Köthen. The two singers from New Jersey were from the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus. Together, our band is called "The Transatlantics."
We performed a version of "Caramel," by Suzanne Vega. The clip below was assembled using audio and video recorded in New Jersey. The audio in this clip is processed, including to reduce packet-loss artifacts. A recording of the same performance excerpted from the unprocessed livestreamed audio and video from the lecture hall at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences is available here.
Thank you to the members of the New Jersey Gay Men's Chorus and also to the members of the Soundjack facebook group who supported our journey with low-latency. Helpful people (including Alex Carôt and Ian Howell) are cited at 15til.com.
A couple of us in the New Jersey Gay Men's Chorus continue to rehearse (and socialize) on Soundjack and LiveLab about twice a week!
Humanly speaking: We did not push for the whole chorus or even half the chorus to suddenly get set up and participate in low-latency rehearsals. We accumulated recruits organically, one or two at a time, by word of mouth.
Technologically speaking: Keeping track of technological details can be a lot of work, so we routinized procedures for equipment setup and computer settings. Recent versions of instructions were reminiscent of visual instructions for assembling flat-packed furniture. If you are a low-latency user hoping to guide fellow musicians through the process of setting up equipment, you can download and customize guide documents containing illustrations and phrasal templates.
Soundjack software is free to download and use for macOS, Windows, and Linux. LiveLab is free and is based on webrtc, which is implemented in free browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox.
A typical singer getting started with low-latency rehearsals would probably want to purchase microphone, mic stand, and mic cable ($130), a USB audio interface ($120), an Ethernet cable (maybe $20--varies with length of cable needed for connecting Soundjack setup directly to primary router), and open-back headphones ($100). The singer should have a computer with at least a vintage 2015 quad-core Intel Core i7 process (with nothing but Soundjack and LiveLab running). A substantially faster processor might be needed depending on how much other software is also running on the computer. If equipment is marginal or too slow, obtaining a fastmusic box (about $190 easily built from parts or about $270+S/H purchased from Symonics in Germany) is highly recommended. The fastmusic box is a Raspberry Pi 4 running software that is managed by Christian Hoene. Aggregate start-up equipment costs of $370 and $560 are typical.
It is also common to need to purchase a USB-to-Ethernet adapter/hub (a household might already have such a device, especially if they have an M1-or-earlier MacBook Air, which had so few ports that it was common for people to feel forced to purchase expansion hubs to be able to connect enough peripherals and still be able to charge their computers).
It might be possible for a singer who happens to have the right audio equipment and an existing Ethernet connection to get set up within 10 minutes, but when asked by a singer who might not yet have specialized equipment, a more realistic setup duration to quote would be 2 hours for one-time setup tasks (30 minutes for initial consultation and 90 minutes for first setup) plus an additional 15 minutes of setup time ahead of each rehearsal.
The setup time needed ahead of each rehearsal can explode to 45 minutes if failed attempts are made to use marginal equipment. If the singer's computer is a bit on the slow side (or the singer is not comfortable meticulously quitting all unnecessary applications and hidden background processes), a lot of time can be spent trying to figure out why stuff isn't working. In such a situation, the money spent on a fastmusic box is far more than recovered in the time cost avoided by avoiding complicated troubleshooting.
JackTrip, Jamulus, and Soundjack operate on similar principles and all allow for chorus-scale low-latency audio transmission through a centralized mixing server. You can browse recordings made with all three technologies and browse links to guides/startup resources for all three technologies by going to the main resource page.
Low-latency music-making can be the basis for developing an interdisciplinary project-based curriculum that links aspects of traditionally separate courses.
|Department||Course||Activity||Relevance to low-latency music-making|
|Music||Concert Choir||Singing||Performing the art|
|Engineering||Introductory Engineering||Sampling, discrete transforms, and signal processing||Anti-aliasing, dithering, and perceptual coding|
|Math||Fourier Series||Signal processing and continuous transforms||Perceptual coding|
|Biology||Introduction to Biology||Anatomy of the ear||Perceptual coding|
|Psychology||Introduction to Psychology||Psychoacoustics||Perceptual coding|
|Physics||Electronics lab||Burn out op amps||How analog-to-digital converters work|
|Computer Science||Introduction to Computer Programming||How to organize programs||Implementation of algorithms|
|Physics||Solid State Physics||Electronic structure of semiconductors||Lasers used for optical communication|
|Physics||Optics Laboratory||Standing waves, total internal reflection||Lasers, optical fiber|
Such a curriculum could also have an immediate broader social impacts component: equipment could be deployed and set up at a nearby non-residential college campus and at homes of students of the non-residential college. The convenience of being able to meet up with fellow choir members "to stop by the practice rooms for 20 minutes" that is found in a residential campus can be shared with students of non-residential colleges. Students at the campuses deploying and receiving the equipment can rehearse together in large low-latency choruses.
I would expect that over the coming 5-10 years(?), broad deployment of low-latency, low-jitter 5G cellular data networks and smartphones with fast processors will mean that all of this painful "did you remember to use the Ethernet cable and turn off WiFi?" will no longer be necessary. People will be able to just use their iPhones, walking around their houses, with wired headset earbuds and inline mics singing together with very low-latency.
If the COVID pandemic could have waited 10 years, that horrible March of 2020 that resulted in flailing around suffering with just trying to connect on Zoom might have, instead, been replaced by a lot of musicians almost effortlessly tapping a few icons on their smart devices and then singing with musical programs largely uninterrupted.