Just as the Internet has changed the way geographically-dispersed knowledge workers can collaborate on a document, new technology on show at CES allows musicians from across the globe to collaborate in real-time over the network - creating a 'virtual' jam session.
The technology, patented by California and Florida-based start-up eJamming, was among several new collaborative tools demonstrated by Intel CEO Paul Otellini on stage at his CES keynote, with a little help from pop group Smashmouth.
I cornered eJamming chairman and president Alan Glueckman at the Showstoppers event later in the day to discuss how the technology works.
"We literally connect musicians in real-time, synchronizing audio streams from multiple locations so they can play together," Glueckman says. "You might have a musician in China, another in Australia, one in Brazil and one in United States that can all jam together in real-time. Not only can they play together, they can write and create together or teach each other."
The magic behind the scenes, Glueckman says, is a compression technology that "thins the audio data so it can be shoved through broadband pipes but still sound pleasing to a musicians ear."
Geographically-dispersed musicians can also turn eJamming into a virtual recording studio, he said.
"The really cool thing is that their performances can be recorded locally in full fidelity," he said. "Then you later can exchange a time-stamped full-fidelity track based on these local versions. [Mixed together] you get a better-than-CD-quality recording of the jam session."
Traditionally, even when multiple musicians are recording together in the same room (multi-tracking), there are often problems with latency if the system recording the tracks doesn't have enough memory or compute power. The thought of pushing such huge files in real-time over the Internet sounds like a pipe dream at the speed of most connections.
But Glueckman insists that eJamming's compression technology, coupled with software that synchronizes audio streams in real-time, means that musicians can hear each other performing in high quality audio (at least as rich as MP3) across the Internet.
It does, of course, require some decent recording gear at each end, works better with MIDI-interface sounds than actual stereo audio tracks, and requires very high broadband speeds to ensure the latency issue doesn't plague the process.
But with both home recording technology and broadband connectivity continually dropping in price, it might not be long before the technology is available to even the most humble of home studios.
Glueckman says eJamming eventually intends to bring the magic of live performance to fans dispersed across the web. At the end of the quarter, his company will launch 'jamcast' - an opportunity for acts to stream a live performance to any computer, mobile internet device or smart phone connected to the web.
"The excitement of live performance is liberated from the venue," Glueckman said.
A jamcast, he said, would be particularly fruitful for those acts that have developed relatively small fan bases that are distributed globally using social networking sites like Myspace or e-commerce sites like iTunes. A broadcast of their performance might be far more viable than a tour.
At present, eJamming's revenue model is charging a (roughly eight to ten dollar) monthly subscription to use eJamming's technology.
With Jamcast, both the musicians and eJamming will be able to share the revenue gained from from paid subscribers to a performance.