Virtual Collaborations In Real Time: JackTrip Sends Sound At The Speed Of Light

A whole new world of musical collaboration is taking shape at JackTrip Labs. Run by musicians, JackTrip focuses on innovations for musicians, especially in a time of increasing demand for ways to make music online just as effectively as in person. The JackTrip Virtual Studio does just that, linking musicians at high speeds and making it possible for them to truly play together again. 

Based on technology created by engineers at Stanford University, JackTrip transports uncompressed audio at the speed of light through a cloud computing system that minimizes delay to a fraction of what is typical for virtual communications platforms. State-of-the-art signal processing mixes everyone’s audio in real time so that up to 500 users can come together in a single virtual room and sing or play simultaneously, creating a truly live musical experience.

As Director of Bands at Stanford, Russ Gavin knows how important it is for musicians to be in the same room–or at least feel like it. Pandemic-borne lockdowns made it clear that there needed to be a new way to sync up. “Musicians were floundering,” he recalls. “I was looking for resources.” 

He wasn’t the only one who saw this urgent need. For entrepreneur Mike Dickey, it was personal. “My son was into chorus for many years,” he recalls. “I remember a conference call in 2020 with people in the choral community. It dawned on everyone that it might be years, not months, before the boys could sing together again.” A longtime expert in cloud computing infrastructure and performance engineering, Mike started building on open-source technology developed at Stanford’s Computer Center for Research in Music and Acoustics by its director, Department of Music professor Chris Chafe, to find a way to help. By that summer, Mike had the technology in place to start bringing musicians back together, starting with the 200 members of the Bay Area-based Ragazzi Boys Chorus.

Mike, Russ, Chris, and expert executive Alan Hu founded JackTrip Labs to develop these innovations further, working toward a vision with the potential to far outlast a single pandemic. Russ says it best: “Solving the problem of the moment created a new future.”

The Virtual Studio uses a cloud computing model that minimizes the strain on individual internet connections and allows for low-latency delivery of high-quality sound. It’s straightforward tech capable of scaling up and taking on hundreds of singers at once, as Ragazzi first proved. .

“Everyone was amazed,” says Russ of an early rehearsal with members of the Chorus. “We were able to expand until we had the whole chorus connected and singing.”

Also impressed was Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre, whose work with virtual choirs has already spanned a decade. With innovative work that has long shown a place for virtual collaboration in the music world, his early adoption of the Virtual Studio for groups as large as 85 members marks JackTrip as the most promising way forward. In fact, JackTrip ended up being the site of an Eric Whitacre premiere when the composer arranged a version of his summer 2020 Virtual Choir composition “Sing Gently” for members of three California youth choirs. Over 80 singers spread out over 400 miles came together seamlessly for this groundbreaking performance.

In the past, making live music together at a distance has been an uphill battle. Audio lag and flat sounds always get in the way of a good performance. “We’re accustomed to a certain acoustic experience when we interact on the internet, and it’s not a good one for music,” says Russ. “JackTrip delivers the humanity, intimacy, and authenticity of an in-person session. You get 100% of every performer.”

There can be more to virtual music making than asynchronous collaboration. At JackTrip Labs, music-minded innovators are keeping performers connected in new ways that bring the human element front and center. With the cutting-edge technology behind the JackTrip Virtual Studio, there are new potentials for online collaborations no matter the circumstances.

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