CHERYL HNATIUK, GAZETTE / Camera, lights, music and log-on. McGill music students rehearse for their performance over the Internet tonight.
When a jazz ensemble made up of McGill music students begins playing tonight, it'll be doing something the rest of the world won't be able to experience for years.
While the players put on the show in McGill's Redpath Hall, their performance will be broadcast live in Japan on a big screen in surround-sound via the Internet.
The university will be able to put on this first-of-its-kind overseas concert by using a fibreoptic connection that is mammoth compared with what most people are using now at home or in their offices.
John Roston, director of the university's audio-visual production centre, explained the difference by comparing the bandwidth to a water pipe: "The size of the pipe into people's home is very small, so you get this trickle of water. What we're working with are very large pipes.
"Our interest is in how the Internet is going to be in the future."
'A Big Pipe'
A standard personal computer hooks up to a phone line using a 56K modem. Cable connections
offer about 20 times that capacity. The link McGill will use to communicate with the Internet Society Conference in Yokohama, Japan, at 9:30 p.m. is 800 times bigger than a 56K modem.
Roston estimates that the actual transmission will use only about one-10th of the capacity available, the sort of connection that the rest of us might have access to in a few years.
"The question is how big a pipe is going to be available in homes how soon? And nobody can answer that," he said.
"But our feeling is that within the next five years, you should be able to get in your home what we're doing tonight."
Once such links are more commonly available, people will be able to do things like watch a Place des Arts performance at home on the Internet, sacrificing little sound or image quality. And musicians will be able to perform together even if they are an ocean apart.
McGill hopes to use the new technology as a teaching tool for its music students.
A plan is already in the works to use Internet hookups with super-wide bandwidths with the University of Calgary to share "master classes" - where world-renowned musicians give hands-on seminars in performance.
"(The students) have to not only be able to hear, but see how they are handling the instrument," Roston said.
But tonight, the technical staff will be focusing on the fibreoptic route - which snakes through the United States, then under the ocean to Japan - that will carry the sounds and images.
One of the challenges is to make sure the video and the audio, which travel separately, are synchronized at the end point, a problem the team faced during a similar broadcast to a conference in New York last year.
"What we were really worried about was, as you saw on the screen the band start up, whether you would actually hear the music right away," Roston said. "That's what's got us a bit on the edge of our seats."
The technical staff at McGill will also have an audio feed tonight so they can hear what's going on in Japan. If all goes according to plan, they'll hear the applause.