Information Technology

Transcontinential Circuits

Faculty: Professor Jason Robinson
Staff: John Kunhardt and Marcus DeMaio
Technology Used: Max/MSP/Jitter and JackTrip

 “Good evening everybody. Thanks to those of you who are joining us online. We’re doing a performance today that’s a bit of an experiment…” Broadcasting from a streaming server on the Amherst College campus, the voice of Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Jason Robinson (a saxophonist and scholar) was heard at 6pm
Jason Robinson
(EDT) on May 9, 2009 as he introduced a student performance that concluded a special topics course focused on electroacoustic improvisation and networked performance. Joining a growing international community of musicians interested in new technologies in internet-based performance, Professor Robinson’s students gave a thirty-minute multi-site networked concert using cutting edge software to simultaneously c onnect eight performers at three locations on theAmherst College campus (Arms Music Center, Marsh Arts Dormitory, and Garmin House). The concert featured students from Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst using graphical programming software called Max/MSP/Jitter (developed by Cycling74) to process acoustic instruments, play back and modify pre-existing sound samples, and produce computer-generated sounds. The processed electroacoustic signal of each performer was routed through an internet-based network, mixed by Professor Robinson, and broadcast in real-time to listeners through a streaming audio feed available to anyone with Internet access.


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t from May 9, 2009 student performance*

Multi-site concerts are made possible by advances in high-speed connectivity—such as Internet2—and new developments in open-source networking software. The student concert on May 9th utilized JackTrip, specialized software developed by Chris Chafe and the SOUNDWire group at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) that enables extremely fast CD-quality audio connections between two or more computers over the internet. Like earlier networked performances that used telephone lines to connect performance locations, a central issue today is latency—the delay of audio data between different performance locations. Although great advances have been made in real-time communications software (such as iChat, Skype, and so forth), the high latency and lower audio quality of networked connections often limit their application in networked musical performance. The combination of JackTrip and Internet2, however, greatly reduces latency while providing high quality audio.

The May 9th performers were also part of the technical support team for a networked concert given by Professor Robinson on April 3, 2009 titled “Transcontinental Circuits,” a part of the yearlong Amherst College music festival Faultlines: Mapping Jazz in the 21st Century. The concert featured Robinson in Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College, saxophonist Adnan Marquez Borbon at Stanford University’s CCRMA, and trombonist Michael Dessen at the University of California, Irvine’s REALab (Realtime Experimental Audio Laboratory). Performing for audiences at all three locations, each performer used customized software to manipulate the acoustic sounds of their instruments and interact with each other via the network connection in various ways.

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from "Vicissitudes (for Mel)" (2008) (composed by Robinson) from the “Transcontinental Circuits” concert on April 3, 2009

Professor Robinson’s interest in electroacoustic improvisation and networked performance reflects more than a decade of research in new technologies and experimental performance practices. His first major networked performance took place in 2002, when he performed as part of an international multi-site concert titled Sound Travels Global Internet Exchange, directed by pianist Paul Plimley and zheng virtuoso Mai Han in Vancouver, British Columbia and which featured performers in New York, Tokyo, Vienna, Melbourne, and Toulouse. Professor Robinson’s current research interests include new ways of building indeterminacy and interactivity into software-based models of electroacoustic signal processing, as well as composing interactive scores designed for improvisers performing together via network connections. The images below are from one such interactive score. The title of the April 3rd concert was drawn from Robinson’s composition “Transcontinental Circuits” (2009), an interactive graphical score developed in Max/MSP, which networks “sender” and “receiver” versions of the score so that performers in multiple locations react to changing musical material and improvisational guidelines.

Receiver 1
Receiver 2
Two states of the “receiver” version of Professor Robinson’s interactive network composition “Transcontinental Circuits” (2009)


Maxwell Suechting '11 completed an internship
at UC Berkeley's CNMAT in Summer 2000

These and other topics are central to Professor Robinson’s ongoing special topics course Electroacoustic Improvisation and Networked Performance. The course acts as a laboratory for Five College students interested in learning more about new technologies in musical performance and composition. Recent student achievements related to the course include Maxwell Suechting’s Summer ’09 internship at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT) and Henry White’s impressive Spring ’09 Div III at Hampshire College that used motion tracking software to control various sounds in an installation piece at the Hampshire College Art Gallery.

*Student performers on the May 9, 2009 networked concert:
Jorrell Bonner ‘11
Julian Damashek ‘09
Stephen Grigelevich ‘10
Isaac Luxon (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Walker Peterson ‘11
Scott Smith ‘09
Maxwell Suechting ‘11
Henry White ‘09 (Hampshire College)

Professor Robinson wishes to thank Dean of Faculty Greg Call, Scott Payne, John Kunhardt, Marcus DeMaio, and Professor Eric Sawyer for their support in making music technology programs possible at Amherst College.