This article first appeared earlier in 1999 on David Fleming's web site

Laila Padorr Nilles
(The mother of telecommuting)

I wear two hats: one as the administrative expert for JALA International, Inc., the other as a producer of classical recordings for a small record company, Protone Records. In my producer role, since it is a small company, I am responsible for every aspect of the process from finding the artists and the recording venues, through directing the recording sessions, editing the results, arranging for CD production, preparing the PR, and haggling with our distributor. Until recently, this job didn’t involve much telework. That was reserved for my JALA hat.

How times change. Our latest recording, Ayke Agus Doubles, involved one artist and two instruments, Ayke Agus (the artist) playing violin and piano duets. Jascha Heifetz, the famed violinist, chose Ms. Agus to be his accompanist for the last 15 years of his life. She also is an accomplished violinist with an international career. The focus of Ayke Agus Doubles is the presentation of a number of Heifetz arrangements of familiar works. The key to the recording was the high tech piano.

David Abell, a prominent purveyor of pianos in Los Angeles, serves as a field-test site for Yamaha pianos, the Yamaha Disklavier™ in particular. Mr. Abell also has a small recording studio on the premises.

The Disklavier™ is an information age player piano. With it an artist can record a piano piece and, via the electronics in the piano and a computer in the studio, have the performance reproduced exactly at some later time. The nuances of the performance, the phrasing and shading, are reproduced; the piano keys go up and down—but without the artist’s presence.

So, we first had Ms. Agus record the piano parts on the Disklavier™. Then engineer David Kreisberg had the Disklavier™ play back her performance while she played the violin half of the duets—an eerie experience for her. A live performance with her ghost. The album cover picture is a double exposure showing Ms. Agus playing both instruments. (For a glimpse of the cover, click here —it's 132KB. To purchase a copy, via, click here.)

Interesting, but what does that have to do with telework?

A few weeks later Ms. Agus was at David Abell’s store when he received a strange request. A renowned concert hall in Stockholm was about to celebrate its reopening after refurbishing. It was to be a black tie event and would be televised throughout Sweden. The program included classics, pop, and jazz performances. The management had hired Roger Kellaway, a jazz pianist who is very popular in Sweden. He was to perform with a clarinetist. Good news.

The bad news was that Mr. Kellaway became ill a week before the concert and was forbidden to travel. The good news was that the concert hall has a Disklavier™. The bad news was that the phone lines between Los Angeles and Stockholm couldn’t handle the bandwidth required for the MIDI bit stream but could cope with the ASCII translation thereof. The good news is that Mr. Kreisberg, the engineer, discovered a shareware program (via the Internet) that would translate the MIDI output of the Disklavier™ into ASCII code fast enough for the purpose.

Our artist, Ms. Agus was drafted into testing the setup: Disklavier™ output in LA, to phone lines, to Stockholm, to Disklavier™ on stage in Stockholm. A problem: a half-second delay due to the pokey speed of light, between a keystroke in LA and its replication in Stockholm. So Mr. Kellaway and the clarinetist had a phone conference to work out the program details, taking into account the delay time.

At the appointed time (a 9-hour difference between LA and Stockholm) a television crew was brought into Mr. Abell’s studio in Los Angeles. Mr. Kellaway then played the Disklavier™ in Los Angeles, transmitting the data and his picture by satellite. His picture appeared above the stage in Stockholm. The audience saw a clarinetist playing with a magic piano—the virtual pianist hovering over the stage. It was a great success.

Who said telework was confined to office types?

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