What was the inspiration behind Elk LIVE?
“We started our company a few years ago by building a smart guitar with onboard processing powers. Our idea has always been to use cutting-edge technology to create digital tools for and provide musicians with the same work from home or remote possibilities as most other trades, which has never been possible due to latency issues. We first began working on Elk LIVE as a way for musicians to play and rehearse without being in the same room prior to the pandemic, however, now it has transformed from a technical exploration into an absolute necessity. We’ve essentially brought musicians into the digital revolution, which because of latency, they were left behind.”
How exactly does Elk LIVE work?
“When sending audio over the internet, there are basically three things which cause latency. The first is converting your audio into code and preparing it for the network. The second is the network itself and sending information over the internet. The third part is taking that code and converting it back to audio on the receiving end. Elk LIVE removes steps one and three, leaving you with network latency. We have developed an audio interface which you connect via ethernet cable via fibre or 5G to operate wirelessly. Our web app is operated from any device and is a remote control for the hardware, as well as onboard video for basic communication.”
What are the benefits of the hardware and software?
“The reason we run this on dedicated hardware is to provide as much of a controlled environment as possible for the system as possible. For example, laptops are a multipurpose device so there are a multitude of things going on in the background which makes it impossible to prioritise latency as much as we can do on a dedicated hardware unit. Our prototype runs on raspberry pi, so it’s actually a mini computer with its sole focus and priority on latency. The app you run on your phone or tablet acts only as a remote control for the hardware interface and is directly not involved with the audio.”
How has the COVID-19 pandemic shaped the R&D process?
“We started out prior to COVID-19, providing the same opportunities for musicians to collaborate without the need for travel, especially for working musicians who work across the world – having to pack up your kit and travel can eat into the time spent playing music. Elk LIVE also inspires creativity; it is now much easier to get projects off the ground without having to go through the rigmarole of booking a space to play, which feeds into the green aspect of the product. It also allows music schools to teach students and curate hybrid classes with in-person and online students. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted musicians’ inability to acclimatise to the digital and WFH revolution, so it’s now about challenging perceptions and age-old conventions.”
What has the feedback been like from performing artists and end users?
“Although it is cutting-edge technology, as soon as you set it up and begin playing, you forget that it is there, and you get lost in playing, which we believe is the best evidence of the product working. The intuitive nature of Elk LIVE is preferred by most musicians who have used it, as you are able to tailor your individual mix. Fundamentally, we want the software to be as plug ’n’ play as possible, even simpler than video conferencing software to connect and begin playing. After all, every minute dedicated to setting up is a minute lost playing music.”
Where do you see the future of the product post-pandemic?
“As a band, you might want to use Elk LIVE to rehearse before meeting in person. It’s about giving an option for creativity and getting projects off the ground without having to travel and providing opportunities other trades have. End users can also use Elk LIVE to find a community of musicians to collaborate with. There is also room for bands to bring in fans to demo material or provide a virtual ‘VIP’ experience. We are currently working on implementing a livestream feature, which will allow end users to broadcast their sessions to a platform of their choice. Music is so important for boosting mental health, especially amid a global pandemic.”
San Francisco Opera recently turned to Elk LIVE to prepare its acclaimed resident artists, the Adler Fellows, for a highly anticipated live drive-in series beginning on 29 April 2021.
This article originally appeared in issue #262 of TPi, which you can read here.