5G Festival trials herald new age in remote live performance

Experiments carried out in Britain since March promise a new world in musical collaboration across networks.

Speaking at the CogX Festival in London in June 2021, Sonosphere’s Jamie Gosney and Dr Jeremy Silver of Digital Parachute, among the collaborators in the Government-co-funded 5G Festival, said that they were getting close to achieving the project’s mission to, ‘Demonstrate creation of a live, 360 immersive, professional music feed – produced synchronously from multiple locations – exploiting 5G high bandwidth, ultra-low latency and network slicing.’

In the last few weeks, the 5G Festival team has successfully connected musicians playing live together in Metropolis Studios, London, Brighton Dome and the Blue Room at the O2 Arena with minimal latency.

‘We did our first trials in March,’ said Gosney. ‘We had three musicians in the Brighton Dome to test what latency tolerance musicians could play with. We tried it acoustically first, then with in-ear monitors, and introduced the Klang 3D mixing system. Then we took away their line of sight in the middle of a song and suddenly the vibe changed completely, and for the better. They were really able to connect with the music.

‘Then we split them up and started to add latency. We got to about 40 milliseconds before the whole thing fell apart. But at 25 milliseconds they said they could work with that.’

The potential is enormous for musicians across the world to collaborate live

The experiments have continued since, splitting the musicians between remote venues.

‘We had a drummer and vocalist in Metropolis, a guitarist and keyboard player on the stage of the Dome and two more musicians in another room. We had network problems at first but on Thursday 10 June the network came to life and I was watching six musicians on screens playing together in time. I got really teary because I’ve wanted to do this for four or five years. The potential is enormous for musicians across the world to collaborate live. What could emerge from that is amazing.’

The experiments also included trying using augmented reality glasses so the musicians could see three-dimensional cutouts of the musicians 100 miles away, apparently in the same room. This was less successful for players who need to look down at their instruments, but the drummer loved it, according to Gosney.

5G remains very controversial technology, and even many who are not concerned about the conspiracy theories are not sure of its value. But the possibilities offered by latency-free, virtual reality, live, remote performing could be exciting for teaching, recording and international performances.

5G Festival is led by Digital Catapult, the digital technology centre, with the Warner Group, Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival, Metropolis Studios, Audiotonix, Sonosphere, Mativision and LiveFrom. It aims to create new opportunities for musicians to experiment and collaborate, as well as new business models for festivals and music venues.

The project has attracted considerable financial support from the UK Government’s Innovate UK fund, and the CogX discussion was attended by Culture Minister, Caroline Dinenage. ‘Events like these demonstrate the magic that happens when you smush together the power of creativity and technology,’ she said, adding that the creative industries will be a top priority in the Chancellor’s plan for post-pandemic regrowth.

Dr Jeremy Silver agreed. ‘It used to be a bit of a problem getting the geeks and the luvvies together,’ he quipped. ‘Since the pandemic that artificial assistance isn’t necessary. And the value of tapping into the grants that come out of Innovate UK and elsewhere is it gives companies the extra opportunity to pursue an idea that they might not otherwise be able to invest in.’