Tag Archives: Tom Ward

Announcing R&D project for playing music online together

We are super pleased to announce we have received funding from Innovate UK to work on developing a platform and accessible devices that create a networked online multi person space for playing music, rehearsing and broadcasting with good audio quality and stable low latency!

Growing out of online improvisations between Manchester and London in the wake of the lockdown in April between Noise Orchestra’s David Birchall, Sam Andreae and Otto Willberg, we quickly realised that there was a need for an accessible way to connect musicians together with good audio quality and reliable low latency. We soon found that all of the easy to access online voice meeting platforms for multiple people are optimised for speech not music and the best software for audio quality and reliable latency we could find; Stanfords JackTrip, seemed to us to be a little too complicated to set up without some technical knowledge. So through various conversations we realised we could design a project that brought together these elements of accessibility and the potential for good quality audio and stable low latency.

There are three main elements to the project and with the support of the Innovate funding we have been able to pull together an absolutely amazing team to develop the these complimentary strands of the project in parallel.

The first element is building a dedicated Server. We realised early on that the most accessible way to utilise the JackTrip software was to host a server running this high quality audio communication software which could be connected to by external users.

backoftheenvolopeserver
Back of an envelope server model explanations. We have made the one on the right.

Tom Ward is our server wizard who already has version 1.0 of the server up and running. Live tests with groups of up to 6 musicians linked as far apart as London, Manchester and Newcastle have produced positive results both musically and in terms of the usability of the technology so far, we expect the server to undergo further refinement as the project develops. This model of a high quality dedicated server for laptop and hardware users of JackTrip to meet on, is one we think could be replicated widely and be really useful to musicians. The server itself runs the JackTrip software in the background, provides routing and automated audio panning as musicians join the session, fires out recordings of the session afterwards and can stream live with Icecast software. Tom will also later in the project develop the API code which will allow the server to communicate with the project website.

serious_coding
Heavyweight coding going on from Tom

The second element came about when we realised there was a barrier to access with JackTrip. Even with a dedicated server people will need to use a laptop, soundcard and some technical knowledge to connect to the server. So we are developing a simple to use piece of hardware; a ‘Noisebox’ which will allow anyone to connect directly to the server at the click of a button. This is currently in development with Noise Orchestra’s David Birchall and Coder/Improvisor Sam Andreae at the helm. The work is looking at running JackTrip software for battery powered Raspberry Pis alongside a quality soundcard and a bespoke ‘NoiseHat’ shield to give users access to controls and settings in the software. The ultimate goal is that this can be a mobile, completely accessible tool for playing online with a single button connection to the server. This is currently in a version 1.3 prototype with continual daily developments. The plan is for this to appear as a prototyped unit by September this year with bespoke enclosures designed by Noise Orchestra’s own Vicky Clarke and ergonomic design by the whole Noise Orchestra team.

Noise_ASCII
Noise ASCII welcome as you upload V1.3 of the Pi Software!

The third and final element to be developed will be a web platform which Sam Andreae and Vicky Clarke are working on coding and visuals for. This will provide key information and documentation about the project and its different elements. It will also provide data, information, recordings and user-interaction with the ‘Noisebox’ hardware and server for users.

We’re all really excited to be working on this project. It is both very useful in practical terms right now; in supporting musicians work and communication in the immediate and longer term pandemic conditions but it also raises the question of whether use of this technology could become the norm as ecological concerns come into focus; ultimately musicians will still need to travel to do their work but having a high quality web audio connection with reliable latency could mitigate some of this travel and give rise to new collaborative possibilities.