John Roach

Simultaneous Translation
Ongoing Collaborative Networked performance project.
Specially designed software called The Simultaneous Translator created with Willy Whip.

Language is simply alive, like an organism. We all tell each other this, in fact, when we speak of living languages, and I think we mean something more than an abstract metaphor. We mean alive. Words are the cells of language, moving the great body, on legs. Language grows and evolves, leaving fossils behind. The individual words are like different species of animals. Mutations occur. Words fuse, and then mate. Hybrid words and wild varieties or compound words are the progeny.

- Lewis Thomas

Project Description

Simultaneous Translation explores the limitations of distance and time through the lens of streaming media. Just as language has changed over time and as dialects have evolved as groups of people moved from place to place, so in this project sound is effected by the distances it travels and the time it takes to get there.

Simultaneous Translation is a collaboration in which the strengths and weaknesses of the internet are allowed to become active and shaping ingredients. Fluctuation and indeterminacy are not only inevitable, but desired. Variable stream quality, rebuffering, unexpected dropouts, these are the elements (like bad grammar or slang) that can launch the language into unforseen directions and vibrant neologisms.

The project is designed to be flexible and many of its elements (software, visual components, text, participants) will change as the project moves from host to host. The project can expand from a solo user with a computer, to an installation to a massive networked perfromance event.


  • Images
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Project site and software
  • Text about SimTrans

Images from Simultaneous Translation events, including sketches, graphic scores.

Get the flash player here:


Performance Number Four: april 15 2007
Hosted by UbuWeb
These recordings are samples (86 minutes worth) of a 3.5 hour performance organized to launch the web project The Simultaneous Translator by Willy Whip and John Roach on
The backbone of the performance is a reading by Kenneth Goldsmith called Fidget. The reading is translated a variety ways: into french, italian, percussion, spanish, simulated speech, cello sounds, etc.





















Excerpt from Contemporary music Review
Vol. 24, No. 6, December 2005, pp. 445 – 458

Breaking Out: The Trip Back
by Helen Thorington

The author discusses how sound was used in early Turbulence Internet works (1996 – 1998) and musical collaborations distributed between multiple physical performance venues (1998 – 1999). Focusing on the open composition, the article addresses the challenges of Internet-based musical interaction, including asynchronous time, lag and technical glitches. The latter part of the article focuses on the advent of mobile devices and wireless networks and the migration of computing out of the desktop computer into the physical world, and the resulting changes in musical experience. As composers and non-composers encourage active ‘audience’ participation in the realization of the work, the accepted nature of performance is called into question and a shifting relationship between the artist (composer), artwork (composition) and audience is introduced.


The history of networked computer music begins long before I became involved with the Internet, with the League of Automatic Music Composers that later evolved into The Hub.1 This article, however, is not about the history of networked music, but about my experience, both as a participant in its more recent history, and as the director of the website, which has commissioned artists to create art for the Internet since 1996. In the latter capacity, I have come to know musicians and

Breaking Out

More recently, similar issues have been taken up by John Roach, who like myself was neither trained in music nor in performance. As he says of himself:

I . . . come to this idea of networked performance with the desire to capitalize on its shortcomings. . . . How can the undesirable elements of electronic communication (delay, instability) be made to shape the final product? Turning the network into an active player in the process may be the only way of using the medium in a manner that doesn’t simply reflect the countless other kinds of performance or information delivery formats that already exist elsewhere.14

The aleatoric aspect of networked performance, Roach goes on to say, is really one of its greatest strengths and ‘a perfect extension of John Cage’s ideas of indeterminacy: create a structure and then open it up to chance operations and other outside influences’. Roach’s first networked performance, Negative Space, introduced him to the limitations of streaming media, the difficulties they create and the possibilities he was able to envision as a result. Lag and flux became the starting point of his second work, Simultaneous Translation, which draws connections between language and the Internet. In it, the idea of flux and slippage is compared to the slippages and mutations of language as it evolves. Another point of comparison is the delays that occur on the Internet as data passes from router to router. Roach’s collaborator, Willy Whip, has designed a software application for this project. The Sim-Trans software examines the trace routes between the remote participants and the host (or hub) location. It then uses that data to affect the participants’ audio streams in some way. If, for example, there are persistent delays in the router hops between one participant and the host location, ‘the audio might be shifted to the right speaker, or its volume decreased or an effect manipulated. The goal is to enable the delays and fluctuations of the Internet to become active players in the shape of the sounds that emerge.’ The shape of the final piece, then, is determined partly by human intentionality and partly by machine (the Sim-Trans software), which acts outside of the control or desires of the participants, introducing into the work modifications deriving from Internet delay and instability. trainedinmusicnorinperformance.Ashesaysofhimself:

[1] According to a recent communication from Scott Gresham-Lancaster, one of the founding
members of The Hub, they are beginning to work again and will give their first performance
in the Tesla concert series at the Podewil in Berlin in June 2005.
[14] E-mail correspondence with John Roach, April 2005.
[15] A utility called ‘traceroute’ is available that probes the paths that data packets take through
the Internet, recording all the ‘hops’ (routers) along the way (see