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UCSD Musicians Perform Telematically

UCSD Musicians Perform Telematically
Telematic music is real-time performance via the internet by musicians in different geographic locations. In recent years, University of California faculty including UCSD's Mark Dresser have led new developments in telematic performance and they'll be performing telematically this weekend at UCSD with musicians in New York.

TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge, standing in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days in San Diego. We live a lot of our lives through telecommunication and internet connections. In many ways, it's the space in which we live. But can it also be the space in which we make music? I'm not talking about broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera here. I'm talking about musicians performing live music when some of them are in San Diego and some of them are in New York. That's exactly what’s going to be happening this Sunday. It's called telematic music. Mark Dresser will be one of the performers on Sunday, and he joins me now to tell us what telematic music is all about. Mark Dresser is a bassist, improviser, composer, and professor of Music at UCSD. He joins me by phone. Mark, thank you.

MARK DRESSER (Professor of Music, University of California San Diego): Thank you, Tom.

FUDGE: Listeners, if you have any questions, call us at 888-895-KPBS. Mark, what is a telematic performance?


DRESSER: Well, telematic music, as we experience it, is real time performance via the internet by musicians in different geographical locations.

FUDGE: All right, if you have spectators, where do they watch the performance?

DRESSER: Well, they can come to the Calit2 Theatre and hear it live on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at UCSD. Or they can go to the NYU Steinhardt Theatre in New York City and hear the concert there or they can tune in to it as a webstream live on the internet and the URL for that is

FUDGE: Okay, write all that down. If they go and see you at Calit2, will they see the New York musicians on a video screen?

DRESSER: Exactly. So we’ll be set up on a stage and then behind us will be a screen where our – four musicians, five musicians will be performing to get – will be performing with us, you know, from NYU.


FUDGE: Well, before we talk about this further, why don’t we hear an excerpt from your last telematic performance, which was in May.


FUDGE: Now, Mark, where were all the musicians that were performing on this one?

DRESSER: Well, we were divided between San Diego and UC Irvine. This was a concert with three professors. A musician, pianist/composer, Myra Melford from UC Berkeley, Michael Dessen from UC Irvine, and myself. And what was notable about this concert is that for nine months we rehearsed from our offices together and developed the music live on the internet.

FUDGE: And this tune is called “Mowger Time (sp).” Here it is.

DRESSER: Right. Thank you.

(audio of Dresser, Melford and Dessen performing “Mowger Time”)

FUDGE: All right, that’s “Mowger Time” and Mark Dresser was the bassist that you heard there. Now, Mark, when we were listening to that music, were those instrumentalists in different places?

DRESSER: Well, Myra was in San Diego with me and Michael was playing from UC Irvine, as well as there were computer graphics going on, too, taking our imagery and playing with that as well.

FUDGE: Now you had the trombonist, a bassist and a pianist.


FUDGE: Who was in Irvine?

DRESSER: Michael Dessen on trombone.

FUDGE: On trombone.


FUDGE: He was in Irvine. There’s actually a conductor involved in some of these performances, right?

DRESSER: The concert we’re doing on Sunday, yes, we have a conductor, Sarah Weaver.

FUDGE: And what is soundpainting? That’s the way you described this conducting.

DRESSER: Well, soundpainting is a conducted, improved language that was developed by Walter Thompson. It’s a way to get a large group of musicians playing together giving them visual cues to tell them to do various kinds of – very, very specific kinds of development, musical development, whether it’s playing long tones or playing points or following melodic curves or interpreting, you know, a gesture.

FUDGE: But you have to speak the language before you can use soundpainting.

DRESSER: Yeah, you have to learn it, yeah. It’s cert – Yeah, you definitely have to learn it. But it’s quite easy and direct to learn.

FUDGE: And Mark Dresser is a bassist, composer, and professor of music at UCSD. He’s talking about telematic performances which are kind of performances over the internet where you get musicians in one place, in one geographic area performing at the same time as another group of musicians performing together with another group in a different geographic area. And one issue that comes up when you talk about telematic music is lag time. Now tell us what lag time is.

DRESSER: Well, it’s just, you know, the speed of light we’ve been able to get past that so, you know, there, you know, the distance even if we talk on the phone, we think we’re talking in real time but, in fact, if we try to count together there’ll be, you know, there’ll be a little bit of separation if we, you know, a half a beat. So we – you have – there’s a, you know, you have to take in consideration that when you’re performing so the greater the distance, the greater latency or greater lag.

FUDGE: And on Sunday at Calit2, you’re going to be performing with a group of people in New York.


FUDGE: A little more lag time between New York and San Diego than San Diego and Irvine, right?

DRESSER: Definitely.

FUDGE: Okay. How do you deal with that?

DRESSER: Well, you create solutions to, you know, well, you create solutions to create both the illusion of synchrony, for example. Which what I mean by that is like if we’re playing in tempo, I’ll have my rhythm – the musicians in San Diego play to a beat and I’ll have the musicians in San – in New York play something that will float over the top that’ll sound like we’re playing together but, in fact, there’s, you know, you know, a quarter of a second difference between us.

FUDGE: And you do this by using different rhythms in different places?

DRESSER: Well, we use this by, you know, by – it’s really – Yeah, in a way. That’s a simple way to say it, yeah.

FUDGE: All right.

DRESSER: I’m playing some – We’re playing something maybe that’s kind of tight and precise, and they’re playing something that’s a little looser. Or we can have – they’re playing – we’re playing one rhythm and they’re playing another, so they’re a unit and we’re a unit and together we get a – we get the sense of playing together.

FUDGE: Yeah, I can imagine how that would sound pretty good but what if you want to play something that really swings or really rocks?

DRESSER: Well, you can definitely make – Well, there – it all depends on the kind of music you’re playing. If I’m playing like a real tight, you know, funk-oriented groove, it’s not going to work. But if I want to play something that is kind of jazz-loose, like in the Ornette Coleman kind of style…

FUDGE: Uh-huh.

DRESSER: …that’ll work just fine.

FUDGE: What is the sound quality like?

DRESSER: Well, the sound quality is excellent due to this wonderful software that was developed by Chris Chafe at Stanford and also this high bandwidth internet superhighway we have access to at universities called Internet 2, which gives us, you know, basically, you know, this ability to have the best possibility – possible – the least amount of lag possible.

FUDGE: When you think about jazz, you think about improvisation. How does performing telematically impact that?

DRESSER: Well, you know, it, you know, I think that it actually serves improvisation quite well because, you know, you’re carrying on a conversation and you’re able to do that same conversation whether you’re in the real – whether you’re in the same room or, you know, you’re a thousand miles away. It’s the – it’s how we deal with time that’s really the critical issue, and that’s really been one of those areas that we’ve been actively, you know, researching and experimenting with and finding out what the tolerances are and really figuring out strategies how to make it feel good.

FUDGE: I was going to ask you if you rehearse telematically but I think you’ve already answered that question. You said for the concert you’re going to do on Sunday, you were rehearsing in your office.

DRESSER: Well, no, actually the concert that we did last May, we worked – we rehearsed together for about 9 months. We were like meeting once a month and even more, you know, getting ready for it, developing the music. That was a luxury that, you know, we had because all of us were – had university offices with this high level internet. But for Sunday’s concert we’ll have two days of rehearsal coming up starting tomorrow and we – but we have four world premieres people have written for it. And, you know, it’s exciting for us to think about this and to work with these wonderful musicians.

FUDGE: Okay, but you are literally able to rehearse alone together over the internet.

DRESSER: Yeah. Well, there’ll be four of us in San Diego and five of my colleagues in New York.

FUDGE: Why not just gather – why not just get together and perform together on stage?

DRESSER: Well, you know, I love doing that, too. I mean, I think the point is really why do this at all. And the reason that brought me to it was once I moved to San Diego, which was post-9/11, the realities of travel for a bass player were really impeded. And so the idea of being able to make meaningful, artistic collaborations at a distance really became appealing. But once we started getting into it, you’re real – you know, I became aware that this was actually quite exciting. It had a very kind of different special feel to it, different than live performance. And also, because there’s a video component, you know, it, you know, there’s a visual aspect to it that’s quite dynamic and that’s – and sort of to connect sound and video together is really the areas that we’re really researching now, and really trying to get, you know, on a more integrated level.

FUDGE: So as a musician, you feel that telematic performances are bringing something new to the art?

DRESSER: Yeah, it’s a different musical space. And it makes – it makes me listen differently. It makes me feel – the idea of what space is and musical space is, not, you know, is more meaningful because like when we’re – you know, if I’m playing in the room with someone ten feet away for (sic) me, when we’re leaving silence, that’s one thing. But when we’re 3,000 miles away or 50 miles away, there – it just feels like the musical space we’re in is literally bigger. And also sonically, it has a different quality than live music. It’s sort of – we’re work – it feels like somewhere in between playing in a recording studio and live performance.

FUDGE: All right, well, with that, let me thank Mark Dresser. He’s a bassist, improviser, composer, professor of music at UCSD. And the telematic concert featuring Mark Dresser, San Diego musicians, and musicians in New York will take place this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at the Atkinson Auditorium at Calit2, and telematic performances are performances long distance over the internet, if you will. Mark, thank you very much.

DRESSER: Right, thank you very much, Tom.

FUDGE: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. Coming up next, the Reduced Shakespeare Company tells us how and why they make Shakespeare a little more concise, so stay tuned.

The Telematic concert featuring Mark Dresser, San Diego musicians, and musicians in New York takes place this Sunday, June 13th at 4pm in the Calit2 Theater (in Atkinson Hall) on the campus of UCSD. The concert is free!