Being There

Written by:

“I like to watch TV”. That’s the famous Peter Sellers line from the late 70’s film for which he got an Academy Award nomination. At this point I am sure many like you are pretty tired of watching TV. We want to be with our friends playing music and socializing. It’s hard to tell when that time might finally come again given this pandemic of a deadly virus but we have to hope for more normal times to come.

In the meantime people are getting pretty creative about their personal interactions. Some people are working from home by computer. And people are using the internet to communicate by text as usual but also often by video as well. Every week I get together with some of my jamming buddies and we share music. As a group, this particular group probably convenes once every three months or so under usual circumstances. Somebody in the group needs to step up to the plate, host a jam and clean up the spilled bean dip left by otherwise well meaning guests. Now we see each other every week! But it’s not the same as being there.
There are many free apps for your computer which will allow you to meet with friends and talk to them and see them at the same time. Skype is probably the best known. You see media events with Skype guests all the time. FaceTime is an Apple networking app that works well but is specific to Apple devices. We use Zoom for our weekly get togethers. I tried Skype but if didn’t seem to work as well with our group.
But it is definitely not like being there. It is not possible to have a jam in real time the way it should be. The biggest problem is lag time, the time it takes another participant’s signal to reach your computer and the time it takes to get back. Music depends on good timing and even with an all fiberoptic cable connection you can’t really get the groove. I’ve heard that a 28 second millisecond delay can be adjusted to by good musicians but still. It’s not the same as being there.
A Zoom “jam” for us is basically an open mike. You get to see your friends and share music but you can’t play along with them unless you mute your microphone (and then nobody hears your efforts except you; sometime that’s a good thing). The software for these conferencing apps is geared toward one person talking at a time for good reason. It can get very confusing when a lot of people try to talk at the same time.
You may have seen online music collaborations in TV with multiple participants, even orchestras. Trust me, they are not doing that in real time. They are using recorded soundbites to play along as they would do in a studio recording with separate soundtracks. Sending your soundtracks to others is becoming a popular activity these days. I have a friend who records on Youtube and forwards the link and another friend who used an app called Mixcord to record a duet with himself and forward it.
There are some efforts being made to allow real time music collaboration. I have not tried any of these but they supposedly sense the beat and adjust accordingly. Jammr, NINJAM, Jamulus, ejamming and JamKazam might be worth checking out if they work on your device.
I might try those one of these days but today I plan to just be there. My friend is hosting a social distancing jam. The two such jams I have been to so far have been very safe. I know the drill by now. It’s not that difficult to hear my fellow jammers from ten feet away and we play outdoors. It’s not the same as giving a hug or sharing food but it does give you the essential quality of being there.

Read about: