August 11, 2020

Zero-Latency Studios Offer Students, Faculty Cutting-Edge Technology and Safety at the Same Time

Zero latency
During a lesson, Dean Southern and his student Xiaoge Zhang (onscreen) use CIM's new zero-latency technology.

The Cleveland Institute of Music is making sure that learning and safety go hand-in-hand.

As CIM starts with music this week, students and faculty have returned to a changed campus. While pianists and string players can take lessons and play chamber music together in a physically distant way, the Institute is taking a more conservative approach to music making for singers and woodwind and brass players.

Five pairs of rooms have been outfitted with zero-latency technology (screens, cameras, microphones and speakers) to allow a single student who is unable to wear a mask to be in one room with a faculty member and/or collaborative pianist in another – and play together with no delay.

Zero-latency technology is designed to support operations that require real time collaboration, says Alan Bise (BM ’95, Knab), CIM’s director of recording arts and services, whose staff designed the rooms and equipped them with and installed the technology.

“Because of what we know about the risks involved in singing and from playing wind instruments, we began to look for a solution so they could continue to rehearse with a pianist as well as receive lessons at the highest level,” said Bise. “The technology will allow our students to continue to make music in-person and work with their teachers, and, in combination with new room scheduling strategies, will help protect from any lingering aerosols in the studio.”

This is accomplished via high-speed connectivity, high quality microphones and cameras and monitors in both rooms, Bise says.

“The teacher can control the volume of the speakers in order to hear the student either sing or play their wind instrument,” he added.

There is also a pair of microphones near the piano that are connected to headphones in the student musician’s room so he or she can perform with the pianist in real time. Additionally, a two-way video system has been installed for visual communication.

“By using high quality electronics and microphone techniques, the sound reproduction is quite faithful, coming as close to being in the same room as possible, while maintaining as much as possible the health and safety of all involved,” Bise said.

Bise also points out that colleagues at conservatories across the country were happy to exchange ideas with him about the zero-latency technology.

“It has been gratifying to see how much technical professionals have been helping each other through these challenges,” he said.

Dean Southern (DMA ’09, Schiller), head of the voice and opera division and artistic director of CIM Opera Theater, praised the new technology, saying that it’s as close as you can get to being in the same room.

“I can barely describe the emotional response I had when giving a lesson this week in one of our zero-latency paired studios,” Southern said. “For the first time in more than five months, I was able to accompany a student on a vocalization, and we could work on art song repertoire with voice and piano as it was intended to be performed. I could both follow and lead in turn, which is a musical experience we have missed so much. It gave me a renewed sense of joy and optimism for the fall semester.”