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The New Year's Eve concert on Syncspace. Photo via the Syncspace website.

New technology allows jazz musicians to play together, apart—and it’s awesome

By Bruce Burwell on January 27, 2021





Lately, our Friday evening ritual has changed. The last couple of weeks we’ve grabbed some great takeout food using Apt613’s Takeout Talk series as an inspiration. Then we’ve settled in for a live jazz concert featuring some of Ottawa’s best performers.

We’ve all been missing live music performances since COVID-19 clobbered our world last March. Some solo performers seem to have mastered streaming technologies and can give entertaining shows without too many technical glitches. But bands that can’t physically get together to play are limited by the inherent internet delay.

Ottawa jazz musician and leader of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra Adrian Cho has created a system that solves that problem. It lets musicians in different locations (and us in the audience!) see and hear each other play live. It’s called Syncspace and it “syncs” the audio feeds from the different locations so that everyone hears the same synchronized feed. Additionally, it offers video feeds from every location to every other location, so that the musicians can see each other playing. This is especially important in jazz, where musicians may be soloing and need visual cues from each other that their segment is coming to an end.

A major motivator for Adrian was the desire to allow local jazz musicians to play together again. And now that the system is in place, he’s organized a series of weekly jazz concerts that runs till the end of March.

Apt613 talked to Adrian about the concerts and Syncspace. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Image: Syncspace website.

Apt613: Can you describe the series of concerts you’ve got coming up?

Adrian Cho: It’s a series of jazz shows featuring local musicians. We’re trying to have some variety in the series, so every show has a different theme and lineup. We have interesting combinations of musicians, including some people who have not played together much before.

We’re also trying to do some things where we leverage the medium so we don’t just use it as a substitute for not being able to play together in person. Like a lot more audience interaction through the live chat. So, for example, we’re going to do a jam on February 19 and I’m going to have the audience suggest to the musicians things to play.

The most important thing really is we’re trying to connect to people because of course, that’s the thing we’re all missing right now. We’re trying to connect people with the musicians. And we’re trying to connect the musicians with each other.

Apt613: Are there any technical limits on the technology? I noticed that the shows you scheduled so far include three to five musicians.

AC: In fact, I’ve had many inquiries from people who run concert bands or choirs wanting to use the platform. And there are definitely some considerations to doing it when you get larger numbers. The audio part of it is no problem at all. We can scale the audio to huge numbers, but the video is a much harder thing to deal with. One of the cool things about the way the system works right now is that all the musicians can see one another. But when you’ve got a big group, it’s not like everybody can see everyone else all the time anyway. So when you have a choir that’s directed by a conductor, then you can just have everyone seeing the conductor. And the conductor doesn’t need to see all 50 people.

Guitarist Justin Duhaime. Photo via the Syncspace website.

The two live concerts I’ve seen on Syncspace were excellent. The jazz was great and there was definitely an effort to educate as well as to entertain. The first session featured local woodwind musician Dave Renaud along with three other musicians. Dave showed off his talents on the many woodwinds in his collection and explained a bit about each one. The second concert featured the music of saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter and the guitar of Justin Duhaime. I definitely miss the intimacy of the crowd and especially the chance to applaud wildly after a great number. But there are advantages too. Seeing a great guitarist’s finger work up close isn’t always possible in person. So while we are all hoping to be able to return to the clubs this year, there is going to be a life after COVID-19 for Syncspace.

See you on Friday for tunes and takeout.

The Friday Syncspace jazz concerts are listed here. Tickets are $9 plus tax.