How Aloha Helps Musicians Rehearse Remotely

Remote music without internet delays

Key Takeaways

  • A new tech by Elk Audio allows a low latency connection to help musicians rehearse together in real-time. 
  • The San Francisco Opera has used Elk Audio’s Aloha system to prepare for their first live performance in over a year. 
  • Elk Audio set Aloha’s tech commercial release for this fall.
A painist playing with the Aloha app on a tablet on top of the instrument.

Elk Audio

For the past year, musicians have had to shift their in-person rehearsals to remote sessions, but latency issues with Zoom are always a problem when making music in real-time. Elk Audio is trying to change that with its ultra-low latency Aloha system

While still only in beta testing, Elk Audio’s Aloha makes it possible for all types of musicians to practice playing music together in entirely different cities, effectively eliminating the lag time that interrupts the creative flow. 

"Our final goal is to be able to connect every musician out there," Michele Benincaso, the founder and director of Elk Audio, told Lifewire over a video chat. 

Low Latency Music-Making 

Elk Audio began working on the Aloha technology more than five years ago. Still, the company didn’t see the immediate need for something like this until last March. 

When everyone—including musicians—transferred their lives to Zoom, it became clear the platform wasn’t the best place to practice music in real-time. 

"There's only so much you can do with Zoom," Bjorn Ehlers, the chief marketing officer at Elk, told Lifewire over video. 

"Zoom is great for talking, but you can't use it for singing or playing music when you want to make sounds at the same time."

"Playing music together live is what musicians really need to do to perfect their art."

Enter Aloha, which lowers the latency rates from 500 milliseconds (your average Zoom call) down to 10 or 20 milliseconds. The Aloha tech works in three parts to get the latency down to the same time as if you were in a room with someone about nine feet apart. 

"First, when you send the signal, it's taking your order and converting it to code and preparing it for the network. The second part is the actual network, which is the internet," Ehlers said. "And the third part is taking that code and converting back to audio on the receiving end."

For the musicians who have so far used the tech, Ehlers said they've received feedback that it's a very "familiar feeling" to playing with each other live. 

"I think a lot of musicians, when they try it out, think it's going to feel very awkward and different from what they used to," he said. 

"But when you start playing, you can get captivated by the music, and you forget that you're not in the same room."

Virtual Rehearsals Made Possible 

For the musicians and singers in the San Francisco Opera, Aloha has been a game-changer in their virtual rehearsals during the pandemic. The opera’s resident artists, known as Adler Fellows, have not performed in person since December 2019, so to gear up for their first performance since then, they’ve relied on Aloha. 

"What Aloha has enabled us to do is to do the kinds of coaching that you would have leading up to live performances," Matthew Shilvock, the San Francisco Opera General Director, told Lifewire in a video call. 

The San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows

Cheshire Isaacs

"We have our coaches and our voice teachers working with the singers [through Aloha] so that once we hit that first day of in-person rehearsal, they are ready to go."

The San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows will be performing in a drive-in series starting April 29. Shilvock said without the Aloha tech, he doesn't know if the opera’s classically-trained musicians would have been adequately prepared to perform. 

"I've just been blown away by just the very smallest things [using Aloha]—like a pianist hearing a singer breathe and being able to respond to it," he said. 

"I think [Aloha] has a real ability to transform the way that people think about music-making. Certainly during the pandemic, but beyond it as well."

'Aloha' to the Future 

In a post-pandemic world, Benincaso said he sees Aloha applications could possibly include gaming and virtual and artificial reality. Even sooner than that, he wants to expand Aloha tech to combine both audio and video elements for live-streaming capabilities. 

"So you can take this virtual rehearsing and make it into a virtual stage in a way to perform for audiences on social media or whatever platform of your choice," he said. 

Aloha will be available for commercial release this fall, providing musicians that much-needed connection that has been lacking. 

"Playing music together live is what musicians really need to do to perfect their art," Ehlers said. 

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