3 (Musicians) + 2 (Venues) = 1 (Telematic Success)

May 19, 2011 / By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Paul Blair With Students
Dessen wows the audience at the Calit2@UCI auditorium.

It turns out you really can be in two places at once – if you have the right gear. Musicians Michael Dessen, Mark Dresser and Myra Melford certainly succeeded last month with TeleMotions, a networked concert enjoyed by audiences at UC Irvine and UC San Diego. The trio, whose members were separated by 90 miles, played as one and interacted with both audiences in real time during the telematic performance.

In the UCI Calit2 auditorium, Dessen captivated the audience with his trombone, while Dresser and Melford enthralled with bass and piano, respectively, at UCSD. Thanks to ultra-high-speed bandwidth, Dessen's image was projected onto a large screen between Melford and Dresser in San Diego, while their representations were beamed into the Irvine venue.

The bandwidth, combined with cutting-edge audio technology provided crystal-clear, high fidelity sound, while video technology directed by UCI’s John Crawford offered stunning visuals.

“It went really well,” Dessen said, adding that audience members in San Diego told him the Ultragrid video, spearheaded by project director Todd Margolis, made it feel as though he was really in their auditorium.

“The delay was far less than ever before and the quality was incredibly sharp. That was a huge advance for us since video latency and quality has always been one of our big technical challenges.”

Paul Blair and student demonstrating the device
Paul Blair and student demonstrating the device
Left: Dessen appears courtesy of high-speed networking while Dresser plays the bass in San Diego.
Right: Sophisticated software and hardware are behind the scenes of the telematic success.
(all photos by Jim Carmody)

Jazz aficionado Robert Bush, who reviewed the concert for online site AllAboutJazz.com, agreed whole-heartedly. “For all intents,” he wrote, “the three artists were in the same room.”

The concert was a mix of original written music and improvised tunes based on the artists’ interpretations of the changing images mixed and projected by Crawford to both auditoriums.

“We worked on the music through telematic rehearsals throughout the year,” Dessen said. “Thanks to that long-term and highly collaborative process, we were able to develop some extremely complex music in a very organic way.”

Dessen also credits behind-the-scene collaborators for the concert’s success, lauding set designer Victoria Petrovich and Crawford for the “beautiful and immersive visual environment,” as well as project director Margolis and lighting designer Omar Ramos.

Reviewer Bush, who lauded all aspects of the performance, ended his review with a special tribute. “Kudos to the University of California for funding this marriage of state-of-the-art technology with the absolute cutting edge of adventurous music,” he wrote. “Much respect to Dresser, Melford and Dessen for taking the leap into the brave new world of telematic performance.”

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer