Before the pandemic, the prospect of two or more musicians performing together virtually seemed like a neat way to remotely collaborate or rehearse. During the global COVID lockdowns, however, the concept went from being a luxury to a necessity, as a virtual jam became the only kind it might be possible to have.
In the past, virtual performance has been limited by latency issues. That's why you won't typically be able to get your jam on over something like Zoom, or Facetime - the delay between the sound you're transmitting and the sound your collaborator receives will make staying in time impossible.
JackTrip, a Silicon Valley start-up backed by tech developed at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, claim to have made this a thing of the past, opening the doors to real-time virtual collaboration between artists hundreds (or even thousands) of miles apart. The software reportedly delivers high-fidelity, lossless audio with a delay that's much smaller than other virtual platforms.
The company's flagship service, JackTrip Virtual Studio, makes use of optimized cloud computing technology instead of peer-to-peer connections, enabling up to 480 musicians and collaborators to perform together while sounding like they're in the same room. You can see this in action in the video above, in which choirmaster Eric Whitacre leads three different choirs that are four hundred miles apart in performing a moving rendition of Sing Gently.
The performance is impressive, but it's not a great indicator of how effective the software would be for performing styles of music that require a tighter degree of rhythmic synchronicity. However, we're told that JackTrip will be putting on a more demonstrative showcase of what the software can do, today on July 27th at 2:00 PM PDT. The performance will feature players that have worked with Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John and ABBA, performing live from multiple locations 500 miles apart.
On JackTrip's FAQ page, they discuss how much latency users can expect to experience when using their software. "JackTrip minimizes latency by using software and hardware that is optimized for the efficient transmission of audio over computer networks. Most people who have tried it so far are able to achieve one-way latency of under 40 milliseconds, using typical home Internet connections."
The software performs better when connecting people within a radius of 500 miles, as opposed to those around the world. However, they believe that's still a possibility. "Virtual Studio sends your audio over the Internet, which is limited by the speed of light. Light takes about 67 milliseconds to travel half way around the world, but the Internet is less efficient and in reality it can easily take 150-200 milliseconds. Even 67 milliseconds is a lot of delay.
"Research suggests it's very difficult to perform music with a delay greater than 25 milliseconds. However, that doesn't mean it can't be done. Your success will likely depend on the tempo and type of music you are performing. Many musicians are using JackTrip today to perform music over very large distances. It just requires a greater degree of adaptation."
JackTrip Virtual Studio is available to download for free. The free tier allows users to host studio sessions for up to 5 musicians for 30 minutes at a time, while monthly subscription plans enable you to play for longer, with more collaborators.