NEC professor Ian Howell spoke with WBUR about his work on low-latency music making, addressing both the technology and the human need for togetherness through music.
Ian Howell, director of NEC's Acoustic Vocal Pedagogy program, has been at the forefront of low-latency music-making in the COVID-19 pandemic, becoming a resource for peers at other musical institutions with regard to making music together digitally in realtime. He spoke to WBUR's Quincy Walters on Morning Edition:
It's hard to play live music together, remotely. That fact has been highlighted by the pandemic. Many ensembles have tried rehearsing via Zoom and Skype. And entire musical seasons have been scrapped. But some faculty and students from the New England Conservatory are trying out an old technology that's giving new life to their music-making.
"We were just able to return the banality of teaching a voice lesson and to be able to accompany someone in time," said Ian Howell, a voice professor at the New England Conservatory.
Walters and Howell discussed technology, but also the emotional side of using technology for musical togetherness:
"One of the big challenges is the sort of social challenge and just the psychological challenge of breaking people out of the prisons that their minds are in right now thinking what is possible," Howell said.
But once people see how it works, he said, they're onboard—like New England Conservatory Master's student Michaela Kelly. She said she's not a tech wiz, but was motivated to try it because collaborative live music-making is a big part of her life.
"It's difficult at first and I think it can be a little bit overwhelming, but once you realize that it can be exactly like being in the same room with somebody—the panic of this pandemic just lessened a bit for me," Kelly said.