Learning the strings
11, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 14
PHOTO: Owen Egan
instructs Véronique Mathieu
Violinist and National Art Centre Orchestra music
director Pinchas Zukerman took a sip of his coffee and leaned forward,
looking intently at music
student VÈronique Mathieu as she held her bow above her violin, ready
for action. "Presto?" she asked. "Presto," he said
and nodded slightly. She played a few quick ascending notes. He stopped
her, saying, "more staccato, like this," picked up his violin
Zukerman then showed Mathieu a thumb-strengthening
exercise to do "on
the bus, on the phone, at the movies -- don't hold hands with your boyfriend!"
he laughed. "Tell him you're busy."
It could be any master class between virtuoso
and disciple. Except for Mathieu was in McGill's Instructional Communications
Centre TV studio,
and Zukerman in a National Research Council studio in Ottawa, a couple
of hundred kilometres away. This was McGill's first public "Ultra
Videoconferencing," in which video and audio are transmitted as
quickly as a violin maestro can wince at a wrong note.
Ultra Videoconferencing was conceived as part of the McGill Advanced
Learnware Network Project, funded by Canarie Inc. and Cisco Inc. The project
is headed by ICC director John Roston; Wieslaw Woszczyk, director of the
Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology; and
Jeremy Cooperstock of the electrical and computer engineering department.
Research associate Stephen Spackman developed the transmission software.
Existing videoconferencing technology, often used for business meetings,
needs a transmission delay to compress the signal so it can fit conventional
bandwidth. McGill uses a special high bandwidth Internet that connects
major research institutions.
There appears to be a slight echo, a result from
the sound transmission bouncing between the microphones at the two
different sites. The team
is working on reducing the transmission time so that it seems as though
you're in a large room where sound travels from front to back. Roston
says that already, over distances such as between Montreal and Ottawa, "it's
capable for the audio to be so fast that people can play together."
The digital wide-screen SDI video, a 50" flat panel plasma display,
is remarkably clear. Roston's assistant, Adam Finkelstein, explained "It's
like a window. Not a TV -- that's the hardest thing to understand. It's
like a window between here and Ottawa."
Zukerman is excited about the possibilities.
Top teachers all over the world will be able to instruct their pupils
in all kinds of hands-on techniques,
and provide instant feedback. He has asked the team to look into setting
it up so he can teach remotely in two places at once -- McGill and
Manhattan School of Music -- so that the students could benefit from
sitting in on each other's classes. "Remember, this is incredible!"
he urged." This is not just talking to a banker in Zurich!"