Three Arizona Students Hope a Video Conferencing App for Musicians Can Change Cities

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A video conferencing app for musicians could let players collaborate over distances.

Music can change the world. Music has a healing power. Music is life itself. Or, if you’re Prince: music is music, if it makes you feel good, cool.

Perhaps only the word love inspires as many sweeping claims to magic as the word music. Search the internet for quotes about music, or poems about music, and you’ll find a lot of very big statements from some very popular people letting you know music can change everything but the weather.

What those famous folks rarely claim is that music can encourage sustainability, or contribute to creating smarter cities of the future. For an ambition like that, you must look to a trio of Paradise Valley high school students in Arizona. They’ve helped create a video conferencing app for musicians that mixes art and technology in an effort to win a global prize, and, of course, change the world.

A Video Conferencing App for Musicians Using Superfast Internet

The three students named their creation the World Symphony App and entered it in the Phoenix leg of the international Smart City Hack 2017 competition (update: they didn’t win the Phoenix competition, but they did qualify as finalists). Behind the hyperbole that the app will spark creativity and higher-level thinking and will unify the community, World Symphony is an attempt to make the high-speed internet network currently being used by some of America’s leading music conservatories public.

Organizations such as the Manhattan School of Music have been using the private network, called Internet 2, to create video calling connections with the smallest amount of lag currently possible–40 milliseconds. This private network generates enormous bandwidth speeds of 800 megabits per second that allow musicians to play together online with almost the same precision they’d get by standing in the same room.

The problem is that Internet 2 is a private highway only a select group of colleges and non-profits can access. What the Paradise Valley girls are proposing is to open that superfast lane to the public by delivering it to civic spaces such as libraries, art centers, and concert halls.

It is hoped that with this new power to jam with musicians the world over, Phoenix will become a more sustainable and technologically-advanced place.

Equal Opportunity Video Conferencing

We’ve written before about the difficulties you run into when trying to perform music online. The lags and glitches that are considered a nuisance during a friendly Skype video call are death to a musical act trying to keep the same beat. Most virtual bands that create together tend to do so by exchanging pre-recorded parts online and layering them using digital recording software.

If the World Symphony app can put an end to that it’d certainly make a difference in the lives of musicians, budding and experienced alike. It would make it easier to find peers who share musical taste, and to establish mentoring partnerships that draw on differing cultures and local music scenes.

Of course, for this to work there would have to be sister centers set up in other towns that could share the same high-speed broadband. This makes the project a little more complex. Perhaps the centers could become a form of musical speed dating, with random musicians being placed together from around the world every time someone books a rehearsal space.

Whether it can unify communities and develop high-level thought beyond that musical circle is debatable, though. Video conferencing definitely has a role to play in making future cities smarter by being better connected to, and through, the internet, but playing and creating music seems too specific a use to make an enormous difference.

But if the breakneck speeds of Internet 2 were to be made publicly available throughout a city the size of Phoenix, there are all kinds of things video calling could do.

Video Calling for Smarter Cities

Some U.S. communities are already starting down the smart city path with video conferencing. Newport Beach, California, for example, has deployed public computer tablets around town equipped with dedicated links to sign language interpreters to make newport beach calife easier for its deaf citizens. In that town, video conferencing is helping the deaf live a more normal life.

When I think about smart cities, those are the kind of broad innovations I want to envisage. The Newport Beach idea could be expanded out to dozens of information portals, each providing a public service such as maps and timetables, with more detailed interactions supplied by video conferencing operators. They could provide historical information, access to emergency services, tourist information, and an answer to any question that needs a quick solution.

That sort of mass installation of technology would appear a better way to make a city smarter, rather than focusing on a specific set of people. Maybe, again, we’re getting a little carried away with the power music has to change things.

Image Sources: Flickr CC Users USAG Humphreys and Ken Lund

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