https://www.routledge.com/Networked-Music-Performance-Theory-and-Applications/Iorwerth/p/book/9781032215365 Miriam is the Digital Development Manager at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and has lectured in music at the University of the Highlands. She has a PhD on how musicians experience network music performance, and before her career in academia was working at the Halley Research Station in Antarctica.
Rebekah: Hi, I’m here today with Miriam Arworth. She’s the Digital Development Manager at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – Like Nowhere Else (rcs.ac.uk). And before that, she was lecturing in music at the University of the Highlands, which is very, very interesting to me, specializing to music technology and online music collaboration, network music.
She has a PhD on how musicians experience network music performance. And before her career in academia was working at the Halley Research Station in Antarctica. So, wow, Antarctica that’s a really long distance away. And I’d just like to ask you how did it feel to be so far away from the world and truly isolated?
Did you think about then, about music and network music?
Miriam: Good question. I was very young when I went. I was 23 when I went. So I think I had the, Ignorance of youth perhaps. So it just felt like a really, really huge adventure. And in terms of isolation, I worked on a radar.
My job was looking after this radar that looked at the upper atmosphere, aurora type things. I’ve kind of forgotten a lot of the science of it. But I used to sit by the, this radar, so it looked out to the South Pole, and there was basically nothing between the radar that was like the furthest bit south of the base.
I think, if I remember correctly, I would sit there and look and go, there’s, there’s not a single thing. Nothing. There’s nothing between here and the South Pole where there’s actually quite a big population of people. So that, that really, I used to have these moments of reflection, I suppose. And I do actually think it, it does come up sometimes when I’m thinking about network music, because I think of the fact that actually it’s not that difficult.
I suppose that’s, that’s the big thing. When I, when I was in Antarctica, so what year was that? 2005, the winter. And that was the first year that the internet had been kind of put into the, to the base. So, I suppose that, maybe that was actually the starting point of me realising that, that technology could connect us so easily.
We used to have, we used to have these monthly meetings with our managers. They were back in Cambridge, that was where the base was. And it just, it just kind of tickles me sometimes when there’s this, this conversation about remote working and, oh, how it doesn’t really work. My boss was like 10, 000 miles away.
And I mean, there was a huge delay, but it worked fine. I think there is, there is a connection there. Definitely.
Rebekah: So having come from a technical background thinking about how when we engage with network music, we are suddenly assuming the identity of not just a musician, but also a technician and a sound engineer. So I’d love to hear about your journey and how other musicians might be encouraged to taking on a network project if they’re not already integrating technology to their practice.
Miriam: I suppose, actually, I never, in terms of identity as a musician, when I was at college, I actually didn’t study music to start with. I was studying chemistry and maths and physics and I wanted to be a doctor. And I actually absolutely hated chemistry with a fiery passion. And so my, instead of dropping out completely, my very wise chemistry teacher said, Well, what do you actually like doing?
I was like, well, music, obviously, but I’m not a musician. I’m not, I’ve never seen myself as a performer. I’ve always had that kind of, Unfortunately, oh, I’m not good enough thing in terms of the actual performance, but as an educator, obviously, I, I see things slightly differently now, and I, I kind of really believe that, that if you can make a sound and you want to, then, then you’re a musician.
So that, that’s changed a lot. So in terms of my journey, I suppose I’ve always been the facilitator. I feel, I felt like the facilitator of, of music rather than a performer, although I do perform. So that might be in terms of. The teaching side of things. But in terms of technology, facilitating people to do things like networked music.
But actually, there’s such a spectrum of technology around this, that if you can do a video call, like we’re doing now, which you can fairly easily do on your phone, through WhatsApp or whatever, whatever particular platform you want to use, then you can do networked music. And I think that’s, That’s probably the message that I would give to somebody is that, there is a huge spectrum and it’s not all highly technical.
It’s much, for me, it’s much more about the connection, it’s about the networking in the wider sense rather than the computer sense. That’s the important thing. So, yes, you can do it in a highly technical way, but actually you can also do it in a really straightforward way. And obviously that’s then to connect it with the music that you play and how you approach it.
And I would say probably from, if you’re doing it in a really kind of low tech version, then you probably need to think a bit more about music and how you kind of approach that than maybe you would if you were using a really high tech version. Although maybe not, I don’t know, I think there’s a, there’s a balance between those.
What, what’s, what’s your perspective about that? Because,
Rebekah: well, I don’t wanna follow up with another question because, you know, I, I, I, I’m full of questions. I’ve been doing, you know, network music for, gosh, long time, you know, almost a, a decade, like as a, as a, as a professional focus. Before that working with the, the technology that I then started using with music for, you know, long distance recording tech, but.
I’m still interested in the, in the question, why are musicians looking at these tools and going, it’s not for me, it doesn’t work, there’s some, there’s a barrier still. And I really believe it’s cultural. I believe they’re not seeing other people doing it in mainstream technology. And I believe there’s going to be a breakthrough at some point.
My theory, like. It’s still stick with this somewhere there’s a pair of 15 year olds, like, you know, really cool young kids and they’ve got a band, maybe hip hop and some mix of, you know, these days it’s all fusion of everything. And then the parents are like, I’m sorry, but we’re moving states. And so they’re being separated.
And they’re like, well, dammit, I’m going to keep working together. And they’ll just make it work, and then they’ll make a hit record, and that will be it. And the whole world will start making network music. Well, I suppose It needs a moment.
Miriam: I think maybe it’s partly to do with sort of gatekeeping in music, isn’t it, as well?
Mm. It’s what, what, there’s, there’s a lot of people who like to I think maybe that’s possibly a barrier, especially maybe for people who haven’t grown up with technology at school in terms of music technology that it’s certainly music education has evolved, hasn’t it? Quite a lot in the last, well, the entire history of music education has evolved, but, but where technology is coming into the classroom and maybe has in the last, say, 20 years or so.
I wonder whether that will help in terms of the, the fear factor maybe and also the acceptance of technology as music, rather than it being a separate, separate thing that that’s what
Rebekah: specialists do maybe. There’s another tangent to that too and, you know, as an educator you also have seen this, is that when you’re working with students.
Their idea of what music is, is irrelevant to what we care about. You know, as a teacher, you don’t grade on whether you like it or not. You know, you grade it on other criteria. And so you really get exposed to what they think music is. And I love that. You know, even 20 years later, another generation, what their idea of music is, is very different to what mine was.
And I love that so much. So, that’s where I have that hope.
Miriam: I suppose also it’s about as you say, exposure, and if we can expose our students to these different approaches, because it’s not a different, it’s not a different type of music, or, or even a different way of playing, it’s just an approach, and a sort of the way you think about music, the way you think about time, for example, in the music list.
And so, that, that idea of time and rhythm is so completely, excuse the pun, but drummed into you. Then, taking that away from your, or kind of maybe slightly separating that from your idea of what ensemble music is. I think it’s probably, maybe one of, one of the stumbling blocks. Anyway, if, if you’d been taught that ensemble means playing exactly in time with one another.
Then to kind of shift away from that. It’s nothing to do with technology, is it? It’s to do with the music itself.
Rebekah: Exactly. I mean, didn’t jazz go through that as well? You know, if you look back a hundred years ago, I’m sure there were people going, Oh, that weird jazz thing. They’re not even in time with each other.
I swear it must have happened to, you know, many listeners who were thinking, you know, 4 4, on the beat.
Miriam: Have I completely forget the actual technical name, but psalm singing in the Hebrides.
Rebekah: Oh my god, yes. That is the best. Please, please explain it, because you’ll do a better job than me.
Miriam: Well, I’m not deeply engaged in that culture, so I feel like I’m kind of speaking on behalf of other people.
But it’s I believe it’s in the Free Church of Scotland. I might need to check that. But so it’s where the the minister I hope I get this right. The minister sings a phrase at one of the psalms and the congregation sing it back but with their own, their own kind of idea of how it sounds, so kind of improvisatory, so it becomes a sort of merging of lots of different voices but they’re not particularly necessarily in time with one another they’re not singing exactly the same thing so it’s this overall kind of sound And that ensembled, but not in terms of the timing and the tuning and all of those things that we expect.
So it has this very kind of ethereal kind of sound to it.
Rebekah: So the good news is I researched this maybe seven or eight years ago, and there is a very short documentary of a couple of minutes somewhere, hopefully still on the internet. So I’m going to look for that and post it along with this interview here, because I think anyone listening, go and listen to it.
It’s something beautiful about it. How, like you said, you know, people are just going, I’m responding to the minister, but I’m not trying to stay in time with everyone around me. I may sing differently, I may sing it longer or shorter, and this is a really, really special thing, I think, that we can learn from.
Miriam: The very first time I heard that was in University of Surrey for my first degree. I don’t think I’d even been to Scotland at that point. And it was a It was a lecture called Music and Other Cultures, and it was played to us, and the question was, where does this come from? And we were like, wow, I’ve never heard anything like that before.
And we were like, I have absolutely no idea. And then, and then when the lecturer said, oh, it’s actually in the Hebrides, in Scotland, basically in your country, in the UK. I was absolutely blown away by it.
Rebekah: It’s really special. And, you know, there’s the many, many cultures where they teach, treat, treat timing differently than in, you know, Western classical music or pop music as well.
And you know, seeing the rise of Africa music, you know, increasingly popular. You know, there’s, there’s many, many complex rhythms, which is another thing we know with network music. If you want complexity, do it over the internet because you’ll, you’ll, you’ll not sync up and you’ll create this great syncopation without even trying.
And,that’s okay, isn’t it?
Miriam: I think that’s the big message is that that’s great. That’s interesting. I always think it also makes me think of the music of Steve Reich as well. That’s that whole idea of the phasing. Like Violin Face, for example, where the two musicians are actually trying to, to not be in time with one another.
What an enormous Which is hard to do.
Rebekah: Right? It’s like, well, just put some internet delay on it, no problem. You know. Does that detract from Steve Reich’s work, or, these are questions? If you, if it’s not such a challenge to do, is it, is it then not interesting?
Miriam: It’s a good question, isn’t it? I, I actually love his music.
Yes. It’s music for pieces of wood, I’ve, I’ve done that a few times with students at varying levels of success. But it’s that conversation that you have around it that it’s about. So in that, in that piece you have five sets of claves. You’ve got one who kind of keeps time and then you’ve got patterns that, that are the same in two parts and then out of phase by one.
But you repeat it a number of times until it feels right, and that’s one of the really kind of interesting things about that piece, and explaining that to students to understand that, that you’re not counting, you’re not doing it a set number of times, you’re doing it until it sort of does this kind of settling thing.
Rebekah: And I love what you just said, until it feels right. Because, you know, when we’re playing music together, ultimately we’re doing it to satisfy. something inside us, you know, our soul, our heart, our mind, our humanness, that it’s a very, very, very satisfying feeling to play music together, to move in time together, to synchronize together, to arrive at the same point together, something really profound happens to you as a human being when you do that, you know, and we can all do it in large groups.
Everyone’s had the opportunity to be a large choir when they’re in school, you know, we’ve all had that feeling. So just, you know, anyone who’s not a musician listening to this, just extrapolate on that, how much more we’re doing that as a, you know, when you’re maybe in an ensemble or a professional ensemble, you’re just doing that more, more of that.
But I believe that’s to me why network music really excites me. Is that I can be online together with the people I care about and I can make music with them and then make that relationship more profound. But I’m just gonna So to, to, to case in point on that, you and I have not met, not met in person, but we spent, you know, a lot of time together on, on, on video chats or emails or, you know, projects.
And then, so, you know, we’ve built a friendship and we’ll get to meet early next year, which is great. I’m finally getting to Scotland. And then. We will ferment that relationship. It’s not to me, it’s just going to be like, you know, another moment in our relationship time that people will then keep building on remotely.
So I’m wondering if you have the other experience or thoughts on this, about how network music forms and enhances relationships.
Miriam: And I think the biggest example of that I have is from the teaching that I was doing. So at the University of the Highlands and Islands, that music course I was teaching on is It’s not completely remote.
We have residencies where people get together two weeks out of the year. But, for the majority of it, the students are working apart, and they’re working musical projects together and they’re doing their studies. So, potentially over four years, and in fact it was different over COVID, when we couldn’t do the residencies.
I think, I’d have to work it out, but I think there were years where they probably had Four weeks in total together in, in, in the place together. But but they still formed these relationships as musicians, as students, and the friendships just blossomed. And I remember, I think, in fact, it was the first residency after, after COVID and we could all get back together.
It was just this sort of amazing, slightly strange situation where, like, especially as lecturers and with the students, we felt like we knew them, but then suddenly there was the physicality as well. And it’s not that we didn’t know them, it’s just then we suddenly knew them in a different way. So I think that, that has made it really clear to me how you can work together and form these relationships.
And these relationships are really important in terms of the music as well. The musical relationships, the personal relationships, the professional relationships. I think they can all be built up online. And they can be continued online. And I, I don’t, it’s, it’s sort of that idea again of it’s not just one or the other.
It’s the combination. And I suppose this goes actually back to the Antarctic. You know, I have friends from all over the world. And some, several of my local friends have kind of commented how, how, isn’t it amazing how you keep those friendships going? And again, it might be that I never see them for like ten years.
But I still feel like there’s that connection. So for me it’s not a separate thing, or, or, in fact it’s not really different in any way. It’s just part of, part of the relationship.
Rebekah: Absolutely. And, you know, it’s another benefit of network music, which is overcoming geography, which, me being from New Zealand, you know, that’s another mutual area for us, given, you know, the experiences we’ve had from working long distance.
And accessibility also means And inclusivity for other reasons, for example, disability, people caring for families visas and immigration statuses we’re also using accessibility being important.
Miriam: in fact, the geographical aspect of it, that’s why I started doing this because I was living up in Fort William and everyone’s doing it all over the place and so on and beyond.
And so, it was purely a practical way actually to get people together. So and that, that’s kind of, I think, again, I suppose it’s about me reflecting on it and learning from it and realizing that it’s much, much wider than that. And COVID probably was a good example of that, where people who are, everybody was suddenly isolated.
So that in some ways kind of opened people’s minds up to the fact that there are people who are isolated all the time for those reasons that you mentioned. Conflict’s another one of them. So maybe we’re a bit more open now to understanding that. Although, on the flip side, I think there’s been this kind of thing about COVID.
Oh, it’s all over now, so we can just go back to normal. And I think it’d be a real shame if we lose that idea of accessibility and inclusion.
Rebekah: Well, we’re not at remote work, so we just need to keep pushing with the music stuff. But many, many people are happy that they can have, you know, two, three days at home working now.
That’s not going away. Another question to that too is, of course, the, the, the environment. So, you know, one area where remote work has such an impact. It’s absolutely no question that it’s better for the environment to work remotely. According to a study done a couple of years ago by a European agency every hour of remote call, so one hour of remote call between two people.
So what we’re using now is two and a half percent of the carbon use of one kilometer of driving a combustible engine car. I mean, it’s nuts. Just this huge, the difference is just absolutely nuts. Though I don’t hear this a lot in the network music community. Maybe it’s something where. For example, did we start thinking about network music well before the pandemic, before the climate change really became such a big thing, or, I don’t know, I, there, there have been some interesting projects though is there anything that you’ve seen musicians talking about the environment as well, in regards to network music?
Miriam: Do you know what, I haven’t at all, and it’s, it’s almost a bit of a blind spot, isn’t it, I think, for musicians, potentially, that, that, perhaps we Musicians as a whole may be, if you’re not thinking from the network perspective, if you’ve been doing musical performances in spaces, then there’s a sense of, oh, well I have to do them, I have, well I have to travel to continue my profession.
So maybe that’s an educational thing as well, that we should be shouting about it much louder, that actually the environmental impact of what people do and how they perform, and and rehearsals as well. I see, again, kind of going back to that idea of it’s not all or nothing. If we can, or if musicians can maybe reduce their impact by, say, having one rehearsal online, for example, that they wouldn’t have done otherwise.
It can be a kind of a little step in the right direction, perhaps. And then maybe going, actually, this does work. And actually, it’s saved me loads of time. I’ve not had to travel halfway around the world every two hours, or whatever -maybe we should be shouting more about that.
Rebekah: I did a project many years ago when Source-Connect was very young.
A school in Virginia in the U. S. had been doing a regular yearly project with another jazz school in Durban in South Africa, where they would swap every year, you know, the students would go to Virginia or the students would go to Durban. When this teacher, you know, very advanced thinking, was like, Oh my God, I can use this tool so that my students can get to know each other before they travel.
And then when they’re there, they already have an idea of who they’re playing with and will maximise the time together. It was very special and very, very early thinking. I was impressed by that.
Miriam: And actually that’s a good point because if you think about all the rehearsals, depending, again, depending on genre and style, a lot of time in rehearsal is spent chatting, isn’t it, and getting to know people and building those relationships.
Rebekah: Exactly. Going out for a beer, all of those.
Miriam: Which I would never say don’t do. But if it can be more efficient in the time that we do have together, then that’s a good thing. But from the musical point of view, it needs more of that musical development.
Rebekah: Absolutely. And I also wonder whether, you know, as musicians, we Look, I will start deciding to take trains, you know, and take the slow way there because the world’s allowing us now.
So, okay, I can leave my laptop on a train for five hours and I can work. And then it’s okay that, you know, these things, hopefully the world is making it easier for us to do slow travel and then make the best use of our time.
Miriam: And actually there’s loads of creative opportunities for that, aren’t there, as well, around music and trains and the arts generally and trains.
I think I read recently that it’s actually illegal to play a musical instrument on a train in the UK unless you have permission.
Rebekah: Oh my god. Right, well we know why they do that because there’s too many bad trumpet players out there that you have to suffer for. But maybe instead they need the certificate, like, yes, you’ve passed your grade eight, and you’re in tune.
No, I don’t know. But speaking of that, the new creative possibilities, ultimately, above all, you know, all that I love, the technology, and I love that it connects me remotely, and you know, all the other, the environment, it just, it makes new music. And this is why I love them, I love everything.
Miriam: And it makes music that would be impossible in any other situation.
Yes. Yes. I keep working my brain to think whether it would be possible. Technically we probably could find a way to create that delay somehow. But that, I think that would only be, it wouldn’t work with a computer, would it?
Rebekah: You’d still need to be in different rooms. And then, you know, I’m not sure that the idea of artificially adding delay is relevant when we’re just like, you know, a wall away.
To me that’s, I don’t know, it’s a thought experiment, it doesn’t excite me you know, I don’t know what it is in music that makes all things feel authentic, but faking network music is, I don’t know, what’s the point to me.
Miriam: Absolutely. Absolutely, and funnily enough, when I did my PhD I had to do that, so when I did I did the studies for it.
I had people in two separate studios that weren’t interconnected and was adding delay. And and this was pre COVID. So this was, I felt like actually looking back on it, I would do it in a totally different way. It would be much more creative. And I had this, this idea of that the only way that people would ever do this, because that was, when was that?
2013, I started it. The, the only way that I felt musicians would accept it was if it was really small groups like pairs. of people, and they were doing it for a very specific purpose. Because I was working with, I worked with student musicians and some professionals across different genres, and that was kind of what they were saying to me, which is before most of them were exposed to it.
They were like, oh wow, this is actually really hard, and, so there’s this line somewhere in my thesis, and I, I regret it, basically saying that the only network music performance that professionals are going to accept is when there’s Minimal latency and it’s just like playing a room together, and that’s just like, that’s just wrong.
Rebekah: No, it’s wrong. I did one similar piece just before the pandemic as well. I had two ensembles playing in different rooms and they were separated by a short corridor. So if you’re in one room, you heard that group. If you’re in the other room, you heard the other group. They were connected over Wi Fi and playing together and I had a score that was a generative score that was using machine learning that would say if you guys are playing the same thing, same thing.
you know, advance the score or something. So they had to listen to each other. But then the audience, I said, look, get up and walk around, stand in the middle if you want, you know, so if you stood in the corridor, you could hear both. And so I used that opportunity to create a new space. And I, you know, that kind of happened by accident because of the situation, but it was, it inspired me a lot.
Miriam: Actually that, that does make me and also the, my, I suppose my, my thesis kind of. rested on the fact that people would be doing this for rehearsal and that there wasn’t an element of performance like, presentation of it. And I didn’t take into account audience at all. Like, I just, I just ignored it.
Rebekah: Of course there’s analog musicians, I suppose that you just say in real life, even if you’re playing digital instruments, we’re still analog. We’re used to being in the same room at the same time and the audience is used to being with us, you know. And so then where’s the visual element?
You know, with the physicality that, that, that, that, that, whatever happens when you’re in the same room with someone. I’m not a scientist on that level, but I’m sure something neurological happens. Maybe we smell each other. I don’t know. But you know, but even digital music changed that. And I remember in the nineties, how, you know, the conversations we had about how uninteresting it was to watch somebody on their laptop.
So that technology’s changed a lot, and now you see musicians using interfaces. So, you know, you are seeing them move. Do we, do we need to see them move? Is that what it is? I mean, I’m seeing some interesting projects like interactive tactiles and, and dance, and what are your approaches regarding physicality and visual engagement to music, so the audience can also engage?
Miriam: Well I suppose the first thing that springs to mind is that music isn’t all phenomenal. And if you can’t see your, are you losing anything? So if you, if you have a disability that affects your sight, does that affect your, your ability to enjoy and engage with music? I don’t think I’m the right person to answer that, but, but I think that’s, that’s my first, my first kind of thought around that.
And then I also think about, just going back to the laptop thing the the idea of algo rave. I, I love that idea, where it’s live coding on a laptop. And actually. The most physicality that anybody’s actually doing is their minds are going really fast as they’re trying to kind of live code the things that they’re imagining.
Their fingers are moving, that’s about it. But they think about this by projecting the code up onto a screen. Yes. That’s the visual aspect. So you can actually see the process.
Rebekah: So we can participate in their mind process.
Miriam: And you can see, what I love about it is you can see someone type something and I don’t know, actually, I’ll just delete that and start again.
And that editing process. And that, I mean, it’s massively geeky, isn’t it? It’s a really kind of, it’s about as techy as you can get in terms of live performance in music, I think. But going back to the network side of things, in my book I talk about the video side of it. So, when I was teaching this, even kind of through the pandemic, we never, we never discussed video, everything that was Everyone did was using audio.
So that’s what they were setting up for. So it would just be the audio that they used at the end. I think COVID kind of made people think about the video. I don’t know why, I don’t know why that is. Do we like to, when we’re engaging, maybe it’s because when we’re engaging with computers, we like something to look at.
Maybe that’s, that’s what it is. But the, the thing that really struck me, thinking about network music in its widest, context so the, the asynchronous idea where people are kind of building up music through files, like multi tracking, but over a distance. I was always amazed at these little boxes that would appear on the screen, and it was like this was the aesthetic, the video aesthetic of, of that virtual ensemble thing, and I always wondered about that, because why are people, why do people automatically do that?
Were they trying to sort of show that it was distance? Was the distance really important? Even though you couldn’t hear it, because there’s no delay if you’re doing, if you’re working asynchronously. There’s so many creative opportunities around video. I was just really surprised that that was, that was the kind of aesthetic.
Miriam: I think it’s again, that idea of the creative around the visual. There’s loads of opportunities that don’t necessarily involve seeing the musicians. And I think maybe that can be further exploited, maybe.
Rebekah: I think for sure, I mean, you know, there’s all the live film and live cinema movements.
I don’t know much about what’s going on there with remote. Technologies, you know, if there are people out there doing live remote theater, I know I’ve seen most of what I saw was during the pandemic, you know, I saw some very, very successful pieces, some very successful dance pieces I’m going to send links along with this as well, because there’s some great stuff out there that whoever’s, you know, watching or listening to this I think you’ll enjoy seeing those.
But what I haven’t seen, of course, you know, there hasn’t been anything on the, the grander stage. You know, I’m not seeing any remote opera or, you know, any pop stars or rock stars or you know, other than maybe, you know, the occasional someone being broadcast and to play a solo, but they’re not playing together.
And I, I hope that will change. Maybe it’s just a matter of the technology getting stronger and people trusting it. Or needing some influencer out there, you know, some Hans Zimmer to, to make it happen. And then everybody goes, Oh this is cool. And I don’t know, maybe it’s just time.
Miriam: The other thing I was going to say around video was again going back to my PhD. One thing I am confused about around it was I looked at video in relation to the communication between the musicians rather than the audience perspective and that was a really interesting thing because the way that people perceived how they used the video, if that makes sense, so how, if you ask them, oh did you use the video too to communicate with you? Absolutely. Yes, I did. But then I did some kind of it wasn’t quite eye tracking, but it, it was looking at actually where people were looking frame by frame, and you could go through and you could see they barely looked at one another at all. But I felt that they, they needed to.
Mm-Hmm. . So that was a really interesting thing because actually we don’t, when we’re playing, we don’t really look at, I’m trying to think. I, there was one time I was playing with a band. And the only time that I really kind of intensely looked at somebody was when I’d lost my place and I was just looking at the keyboard player.
Yes! Working out what chord they’re on, and I’m like, oh, right, okay, there I am. But in terms, and the occasional glance and a smile, or if someone goes, if something goes wrong, you kind of like, the grimace or whatever it is. But in terms of that, that, ensemble playing, there wasn’t really a great need to look I think, but, but, we, as musicians, we believe that we do and that we need to.
Rebekah: But maybe we don’t. Maybe we just very much like to be together. That’s, you know, to go back to, you know, something I said when we opened. And so, you know, you could say you could take a conductor of the orchestra and you could give like, you know, everybody, you know, fancy glasses that had the timing and you know, some kind of shapes that told them where they were.
But I bet everybody be like, just give me the conductor, you know, even though, because we’re, maybe we’re, we’re separating the, the person through technology in a way that it’s not necessary. We, we, maybe as humans, we, we, we’re very not easily scammed into thinking, you know, this is not a, this is not a substitute that I’m happy with.
Is there anything there about, you know, substitution?
Miriam: I think from the visual point of view, it’s about realizing that you’re working with a human. Because potentially, if you didn’t have the visual, you could just be working with an AI. You could be working with a robot. You just wouldn’t know.
So maybe that’s the idea of why we don’t want that taken away. So that I know that I’m talking to you, Rebecca. Because I can see your face and we can interact. Whereas if we did this by phone, I wonder, we’d still be very successful.
Rebekah: But it’s eye contact it and it’s, here’s a, you know, there’s a, a, a thinker that is, you know, very important to me.
Caroline Avion and she talks about presence, how trust is a, is a process. It’s developed by human presence. And so, you know, the most form of trust is you, me, here together in the same time. And then as you take away those layers, so for example, you and I at the same time, but separated by distance. Okay, that’s only one degree away, at least we’re in the same time, and I’m talking to you, and I’m not separate, you know, there’s not these substitutions.
But as we substitute more and more and more, so maybe you wrote a book 200 years ago and I’m reading it, then I’m like, I’m going to have to have a different level of trust to believe what I’m reading about you, you know, I’m going to need a lot more information about who you are, you know maybe this is why.
You know, people are learning about, you know, fake news. It’s like, mm, verify your facts first. You know, we’re, we’re learning we need to do that because it’s so easy to substitute. Anyway, not introducing fake news right now. But I love the fact that you said realizing you’re working with a human and that might be really important element there.
We, we still, we, we don’t evolve very quickly. We don’t evolve as fast as technology and maybe our brains are saying, are you sure? Are you sure that’s a person? Because my cat doesn’t know me on the phone. When I go away, my cat hears my voice, but cannot see my face. Right?
Miriam: So, I don’t know.
Rebekah: Oh, she’ll know you’re there from the voice, but they just, I don’t know if dogs, I don’t know about dogs if they can recognize visuals.
Video, I’m not sure about dogs, but I like that, realizing you’re working with a human. There’s a whole book here. Speaking of books you wrote, and have published this year, the phenomenal and seminal, very important book called Network Music Performance Theory and Applications, and I was very honoured to be asked to write on the book jacket, and I said, today’s musician works online, yet we haven’t even begun to plumb the depths of creative collaboration over the internet.
The book illuminates why network music performance is an emerging force. Culture and technology become more sophisticated when driven by both social necessity and the obviously rich rewards of new music and cultural opportunities. Tell me about the book. How did that happen? It’s a lot of work.
Miriam: How did that happen?
It’s at an online conference during COVID. And someone from Ravslist sent me an email and said do you fancy writing a book? Ooh! And then I thought about it a little bit more and thought, actually, do you know what, there isn’t another book like this. And nobody else is writing one, so why not do it?
It’d be a fun project. So from a very basic level, that’s where it came from. But I suppose also the kind of thinking around it was, I was, I’ve been working with students, since like 2010, I think. No, maybe a bit after that, that I started doing the, the network stuff. But there was no textbook around it.
And, and for educators, that’s, that’s, Especially at that kind of university level, the first thing you do is I write resources. What are the resources around this? And there pretty much weren’t any. So I was kind of gathering all this information and so it’s sort of, it’s a combination of the research from the PhD, it’s combination of the resources that I’ve gathered over the, over the years, but also I suppose the questions that I got asked during Covid about how do you actually do this from, from musicians?
And there’s no. There’s no quick answer to that, is there? It’s not just that here you go, have an A4 kind of fact sheet, that will get you started. There’s so many variables, and as I was saying before, there’s that, that, that kind of whole spectrum of using your phone to the kind of stuff that you do actually, which requires more of an understanding of the kind of network side of things.
So I thought, well, that’s the way to do it. Put it in a single resource, but then of course as you start doing it, you’re like, gosh, where do I start? Or where do I stop, I suppose? And I, I suppose I found that cultural side of it and that idea of networking from the human side of things, that’s I guess where I find the most interesting.
Rebekah: Absolutely. And just the, the, the content of the book. So, you know, you go through synchronous network music performance, which is probably mostly what we were talking about today. And then asynchronous performance, which is your songwriting, collaborating you know, asynchronously and using file sharing and those kind of things.
Online music teaching, which is another important one. I guess that also involves rehearsals. Maybe that comes to that as well. And accessibility so I really, plus you go through sound engineering, you know you know, the, the available tools, you know, an abstract way. So the book’s going to have a very long life as well.
And just, I felt after reading it that if I had come to this with nothing, I would leave feeling like, okay, I’ve got a good base. of how I can work with network music as an educator or as a musician or as a student. Thank you so much for writing it.
Miriam: Well, thank you for reading it and thank you for reviewing it. It was a big, I mean, from an entirely personal point of view, it was a big, big thing to take on. I’m kind of glad it’s over in terms of my free time, but you know what it’s like. As soon as there’s a vacuum for time, something else fills in.
Rebekah: Absolutely. What did you feel that you personally got out of all that writing and that research?
How did it change your view on the world, the network music world?
Miriam: I think actually it was, a big thing was around that gatekeeping idea of actually what does network music performance mean. And I felt quite strongly that the, the asynchronous stuff did need to come into it. Because, actually, when you start trying to define these things, actually, that was a big thing.
Like, when, when you have to put something down on paper and, and sort of, like, commit to it, trying to actually define what these things mean is really difficult. So if you think, right, okay, well, it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? Asynchronous, you’re working in time with one another. Ah, but then you’ve got latency.
So suddenly, actually, it’s not actually synchronous. It’s so late. It becomes, if you, if you’ve kind of been really kind of technical about it, it becomes asynchronous. So at what point, like what, what’s the cutoff point for that? So I’ve had to, I mean, we like to categorize things, don’t we? So I’ve had, I’ve had to sort of say, well, synchronous is where you’re effectively working in time with one another, sort of in real-ish time. I think I may be stalling.
Rebekah: I use the word near real time. It’s a, it’s a phrase that we like, you know, it’s like you’re reacting. In your physical real time, but you’re receiving information a little bit delayed and Information that’s something I really like is that neurologically we live in the past Our brain processes information and then it gets sent to our cognitive functions But it takes time to do that and even more These things always there are delays.
So music is faster than sight And the brain delays sound so that it syncs up in our brain with what we’re seeing because it knows the latencies inside our brain. Right? It’s fascinating. And think about this. If you pinch yourself on your ear, you feel it immediately, right? Pinch yourself on your toe, you feel it immediately.
But it takes time to travel from your toe so your brain just says, well, it all happened at the same time. It’s nuts what we’re doing inside our brain. We, I worked with this neurologist a little bit Mika, and there’s so much interesting information about there, about how the brain manages time in our internal processes.
So when we’re thinking about latency, I’m like, you know what, half a second latency is nothing. The brain can handle that. I can culturally adjust to that.
Miriam: And actually, the if you look at the research around latency in music, If you ask a chamber musician, for example, because they’re very much about their ensemble how much latency there is.
Oh, well, there isn’t any. But actually there is, there’s like 30 milliseconds is considered an average in terms of the, the synchronicity, I suppose, between musicians. But they don’t perceive it. So when you then look at kind of latencies around network performance, suddenly it becomes actually, do you know what, 30 milliseconds, that’s quite a long time.
Rebekah: You know, if you’re a brass band on like a football field, right? I mean, that’s like, let’s, that’s latency between the tuba and when it’s a percussionist, you know, like doesn’t percussionists and orchestras like place earlier so that they get it out on time.
Miriam: But as a young percussionist, nobody told me that.
And so I was constantly out of time. I remember I was in a youth orchestra and the conductor, it’s quite a funny story. The conductor’s wife taught me she was a percussion teacher, so he, and he didn’t really know many people’s names but he knew my name ’cause I used to go to his . So he would absolutely shout at me as my triangle note was like far, far too late.
But there was a, there was a, someone in the first sorry, second violins, also called Miriam. It’s not like a hugely common name in the UK. And she was, she was probably like 11 or 12 years old. And he would absolutely shout, I’m across this orchestra! And she was just in front of me, the way we were laid out.
Oh dear. And this poor girl was absolutely traumatised. By this new orchestra conductor. I mean, you seriously hoped that would not happen.
Rebekah: Not these days. No, the things that happened in the 80s, I think we can leave them there. Yes.
Miriam: Yes. Oh,
Rebekah: I don’t think that’s your responsibility as a young musician.
So that’s a really great topic to sadly end this conversation. I think we could talk for another hour. So we’ll probably just talk again and again in the future and do another chat. We covered a lot here. And I’m going to package it up nicely so that people can enjoy it. So if you’re still listening to this point so glad that you stayed and heard our stories and it’s going to be a bunch of links available with as well.
So thank you so much, Miriam, really appreciate your time and the book I have with me, so I’m gonna make sure that this is really made. Everyone can see how to find it as well. So it’s, it’s, it’s the book. Thank you.