The session was hosted on Zoom by Phil Morton.
There were seven players from six different places and one observer.
The initial log-in seemed to be smooth (at least for the ones who were there!)
There was a short trial run of the sound levels with the players in groups. It was later realised that it would have been better to have an individual check at the start.
There were problems with one person breaking up and there was a strange echo delay. This seems to be of all participants, but only one echo about 1’5” secs later. It was later eliminated by changing some microphone settings by one of the participants, but quite why this gave echo of this quite long time remains mysterious.
The count in was odd as it became clear there is a difference in the video image and the sound. Maybe this makes no difference as long as the medium the participants are interested in is sound.
The echo ran through the playing of the first quartet to play, but was sorted after this.
The video images were turned off in the playing to save info transmitted, but it is not certain if this actually made any difference, and it may be that the multi-user screen, with the highlighting of the loudest player is a closer to a live event where there is visual contact.
On the other hand it was an interesting and worthwhile experience to have to hear live music of this kind following the sound alone. Sometimes the mode of production was uncertain, and coming through speakers (in mono?) there is no way of spatially separating the sounds down the particular players. This is then more ‘objective’ as it is sound alone. That might be a good or bad thing.
There were not any obvious imbalances in sound, like one input being three times louder than another. It might be that Zoom ‘corrects’ differences, otherwise in meetings some folk will be whispering and others shouting. It could be this could be turned off in Zoom, but while allowing a greater dynamic range it also opens the door to greater balance problems. This is all speculation.
The easy option of making a recording via Zoom did not happen as it requires the host to permit this to happen. This needs trialling, as presumably it is as close to the source of the total sound as one is going to get. In the event the observer attempted recordings via Audacity, but the sound was coming out through low grade computer speakers and back in through the computer external microphone. If this has worked at all it will be very rough quality. It may be that one can take a more direct line into Audacity, but this requires reading the manual.
In the course of the session there were four improvisations, three quartets and one with all players.
50:50 was used in all of them, mostly on 5 mins play 3 mins silent.
The pieces were rather thinner in texture than one might have predicted.
The degree of musical interaction seemed high and the improvisations were felt to be successful. People were able to hear others and respond well to this.
There was much enthusiasm from participants for the on line project and a great will for this to be continued.
On the whole while there were teething troubles many of these were sorted in the course of the session, so there are grounds to be optimistic that this will work well.
Further weekly sessions are planned and one hopes participation will be sustained.
Q: If the sound is now being pushed through the speakers and not separated live, are smaller and thinner ensembles easier to cope with?
Q: Zoom is receiving a set of incoming tracks and will have no means to decide itself on a spatial layout, but can users can not get inside the mix to add spatialisation?
1. Players said it was odd not hearing their sound in the mix of the ensemble. It seems Zoom sends out all other participants, except oneself. This makes sense if it were a spoken meeting as why would you want to have oneself through the speakers? (It may also be that with this one can hear any latency, and this is much easier to ignore otherwise.)
The problem is that people cannot judge their volume in relation to other players. This might be an immovable fact of the system or maybe there is a way to get round this. (Say, take the full mix out to You Tube live (or something) and have this on headphones. Would there be a big delay?)
Or this might then be a known factor which players could accommodate in their playing.
2. Balance as a whole is less immediately corrected on Zoom than live, and it may be that quieter sounds drop far back in the general sound and are more easily lost. This will depend to a degree on the responsiveness of the sound system people are using.
3. The sound of larger groups of players coming through two speakers will be more crowed than when live. It may be that the medium favours smaller ensembles.