The video above looks like two musicians on a Zoom call, but with a twist — we can play at the same time and actually hear each other! How is this possible? The answer, as the modern parlance goes, may surprise you —-> we’re also connected on Skype! Allow me to explain —
We know from experience that playing music at the same time on Zoom will lead to audio dropouts, as Zoom and similar apps try to deduce which participant (e.g. musician) is more “important”, making the other secondary and barely audible (if at all). This has been an interesting compositional challenge since the early days of the pandemic.
But what if we were to use both Zoom and Skype at the same time but flipping the audio settings? This was a tempting idea to try because it’s very low gear — just about everyone now has Zoom and Skype on their computer / tablet / phone.
We finally had a chance to try it out this evening with my old friend Zisl Slepovitch.
Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes in the video excerpt above, or the full video below:
1) We are connected both via Zoom and Skype.
2) Zisl (piano, left) is playing into a Zoom. His sound and video is being recorded in Zoom.
3) Ljova (that’s me on the fadolín, right) has muted his sound in Zoom and is sending sound into an audio-only Skype call instead. (We don’t need video in Skype, since we already have it in Zoom.)
4) Zisl is listening to Ljova’s sound in Skype.
5) Ljova is recording his sound locally in Reaper.
The result – we can hear each other with no dropouts! For a few minutes making music seemed blissfully normal. Check out our full jam below.
Now, a couple of caveats:
1) While we didn’t experience any audio dropouts, we still had some latency– we couldn’t play anything up-tempo and stay together like Dan Tepfer’s recent trio show with Eric Harland and Jorge Roeder. (They use JackTrip, which can take some time to set up properly but works really well.)
2) Both Zisl and Ljova were using ethernet connections, not wifi, external microphones and webcams.
3) Ljova recorded his sound locally into Reaper, synching it later with the Zoom video above, using the visuals as a sync reference.
Caveats aside, this is something that anyone can try on wifi, using any two of the numerous platforms like Zoom / Skype / Facetime / Whatsapp / Signal / Viber / etc. and flip the audio settings to the opposite of your colleague. You could do this on tablets and phones — for example, you could have one Skype open on a phone and Zoom on a tablet. You don’t have to record your own audio locally — but if you have a Tascam or Zoom handy recorder, you can use those to record sound locally, then sync the clean audio up later.
Your mileage — geographically and metaphorically — will vary. But hopefully this helps some of you to enjoy very low-gear / low tech musical encounters with minimal gear. Let me know how it goes.
The question now is — can we make this work with more than two musicians? Can we find a way of broadcasting such a jam? I suppose it should be possible to capture all of these sources into OBS and try to stream it out – worth exploring.
P.S. Thank you so much to my friend / clarinettist / pianist / vocalist / bandleader Zisl Slepovitch for trying this with me!
||> See a playlist videos of Ljova’s new music released during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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