The idea of being able to perform at a distant in real time, together with musicians scattered around the world, is not new. It is probably more affordable and easier to accomplish than it was 20 years ago, but it’s not a new idea. One early telematic performance took place in 1982 on satellite in countries including Sweden, Canada and New Zealand. The practice has seen renewed interest in the wake of the pandemic where musicians and audiences alike have been confined to their homes. Why not get together and jam online? At it’s best it is a fascinating experience where the real time musical presence of a musician on the other side of the world is right there with you, responding to what you play. Unfortunately, many times it is a frustrating experience of trying to deal with latency, drop-outs in the audio, inability to hear properly, etc.
But, nevertheless, the political and social aspect of networked performance makes it an interesting path to pursue. It may contribute to equality and may allow music and cultures from a much wider scope to be programmed at concerts and events. It also makes it possible for musicians to collaborate without the costs and risks of traveling being the deciding factor. The playing field may be somewhat equaled when the structural advantages of Western cultures is dismantled. If it is. Because it is easy to sit a country such as Sweden, with some of the best IT infrastructure in the world, and think that we can now play together with our colleagues anywhere in the world, especially if we also have access to our institutions networks. But confined to our homes the advantage is not as clear. Trying to connect, as we have done, with our colleagues in a country such as Vietnam further complicates things.
At a time when we take for granted the ability to stream any movie at any time with excellent quality, sometimes several at the same time in the same house, it is easy to forget that neither the technology that these streaming companies have access to, nor the bandwidth, is equally accessible to all. I’m guessing that in 1982 the technology that made the telematic solstice performance possible was cutting edge comparable only to what otherwise only the military had access to. In preparing for today’s network performance between Vancouver, Stockholm and Hanoi we are using technology that should be far less advanced, and that doesn’t work as well, as what my kids use when the play video games with their friends or stream movies. I will continue trying, but we will never be able to compete with the big media companies
PS. Yes, I do think we should explore Discord as a platform for networked performance, because I have always believed that appropriating existing technologies for artistic purposes is one way to deal with this.