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Online singing

Jamulus singing

My work schedule finally allowed me to join the regular twice-monthly Bay Area Sacred Harp Jamulus singing.

There were about 15 log-ins, and three of those log-ins had more than one person singing. So we may have had twenty total humans singing together. We had one singer log in from Kansas, and his total latency as reported in Jamulus was about 74 ms; I did not notice that he slowed us down. Another singer logged in from San Diego, and I’m not sure what his latency was. But most of us had latencies in the range of 30-50 ms. This tended to keep tempos slower than usual.

Singing using Jamulus is getting easier. I’ve gotten used to the lack of visual cues; it’s still annoying, but it’s no longer disconcerting. I’m better able to judge how to stay on tempo: it’s a fine line to walk because on the one hand you need to have rock-solid time and stick with that time no matter what, but you also have to listen carefully in case the overall group is slowing down, in which case you have to adjust your internal metronome.

However, I still get tripped up by things. For example, this time I thought I was watching my volume level on the Jamulus controls, but at one point when I had to look down at the music, I unconsciously raised my volume enough to push my audio feed into the red zone. Jamulus has no room for error — you go into the red zone, your audio feed sounds horrible, and all the other singers have to mute you. I adjusted my mic volume down, and that solved the problem. And it wasn’t just me — another singer had the same problem.

I also wonder what will happen when we try music we don’t know well. So far, we’ve been sticking to tunes that all of us know well. When we start learning new tunes, for example some of the new music in the Shenandoah Harmony, will it just turn into chaos?

Nevertheless, singing with other people in real time — even in not in person — was enormously uplifting. The pandemic can really get you down, and this singing was a good antidote to that.

Categories
Online singing

Another Jamulus singing

One challenge with Jamulus is reducing latency, and in some major metropolitan areas (like the Bay Area), you can have a great deal of latency to singers who live close to you, even if you both have good fast Internet service. Because if the packets have to travel up to a Tier 2 network, then up to a Tier 1 network, then back down to a Tier 2 network, and further down, it’s going to take a while — and the Bay Area has so much Internet traffic from small users up to really big users that things are just going to get slow at times.

In online forums, I came across one way to reduce the potential latency for all singers: host your Jamulus server in the cloud. The idea is to host your server on something like Amazon Web services that has a data center near you.

So Mark, one of our Bay Area singers who’s also a software engineer, set up a Jamulus server for us on AWS’s norther California data center. We tested it this afternoon with four log-ins totaling five singers, and the latency was better than I’ve experienced using Jamulus servers that are hosted locally in Palo Alto or Mountain View.

Not to say the latency was low. I probably had the highest latency, ranging from about 60-70 ms to 40-50 ms by the end of the session. This was counter-intuitive, because although the location of the AWS server is a Big Secret we sort of know where it is, and I was probably physically closer to it than anyone else in the session. Cyprian, who joined us from the North Bay, had better latency than I did, though he was probably 75 miles farther away. Also of interest: Adam joined briefly from Seattle, and his latency was about the same as mine.

Because of the latency, we had to keep the tempos slow. Then we often let the tempo slow down while singing a tune. And once or twice a tune just turned into chaos.

Nevertheless, it was so good to sing with other people in real time that all the frustrations were worth it. I hadn’t realized how much I missed singing in four part harmony.

I had to go back to work, and only stayed in the session for an hour. But it was good enough that I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Categories
Online singing

Jamulus singing

David set up a Jamulus server at his house in Berkeley, and we both logged on this afternoon to try it out. The latency was perhaps a little high, and it was strange at first singing without being able to see David leading, but we got used to it pretty quickly.

We sang a couple of tunes, then noticed that someone had dropped in to listen. We wound up chatting with Rob from Rancho Cucamonga. A trained musician and a guitarist, he was interested to hear us singing solfege; he’s just discovering Jamulus and was listening to different sessions to get a feel for it. It was sort of like when you’re singing Sacred Harp in person, and someone hears you and comes in out of curiosity. This could be a side benefit to singing on Jamulus!

David and I sang a few more tunes, then we both had to go. While it’s not the same as singing in person, it was really good to be able to sing together with another person in real time — it was also really good to be able to sing with David once again, who is a really good singer.