For those of us who are more office-bound air guitarist than full-fledged rock star, Google has created JAM with Chrome, an interactive web application that lets you and up to three friends collaborate in real-time to create original tunes using digital instruments.
On JAM with Chrome, you can choose one of 19 different instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and drum sets, then play and chat with friends you invite from Facebook, Google+, or Twitter, as well as through a unique link you can share with anyone. A default “easy mode” comes loaded with pre-recorded autoplay loops, while the “pro mode” gives you more control by letting you play instruments using your keyboard.
The team behind JAM with Chrome—a collaboration between Google Creative Lab, production company Tool, Sweden-based Dinahmoe, and illustrator Rob Bailey—employed a "non-tech" approach to translate the real-life aspects of playing physical instruments into a web interface that felt intuitive without restricting creators.
"If you handed an electric guitar to the Internet, how do you show that?" says Google Creative Lab London’s Steve Vranakis, who oversaw the creative direction for JAM with Chrome. "That’s what makes [JAM] quite sweet. It’s like when you get together and bang on a bucket or blow a horn or something. You have bit of fun and it’s your music."
As it were, the guitar was the most difficult instrument to recreate for a web-based playing experience, Tool’s interactive director Ben Tricklebank says.
"With guitars, you have this whole other component in that you have to convey the idea of how to fret a guitar and strum a string at the same time," he says. "We wanted to let it enable you to do just that. So in pro mode, you’re actually able to fret a chord and play it."
It helped that about half the team members who built JAM are also musicians who play in bands. Vranakis himself isn’t a musician, so he says he made the perfect test subject for all 25 iterations of JAM’s "easy" mode they tested before settling on the version you can play now.
There are a couple of noticeably missing features in JAM with Chrome. One of those is the ability to record your creations, which Vranakis explains is a precautionary step so as not to potentially offend rights holders. Another missing feature is the ability to hook up a tablet or smartphone to sync with the web interface.
Tricklebank says the missing features make JAM ripe for potential creative hacks he’s looking forward to seeing, particularly from pro mode users. Those could be anything from workarounds to record their creations to exploring ways to sync physical instruments with the JAM interface so rather than playing on a computer keyboard, you could potentially play on a real one.
"It’ll be interesting to see how people interpret this and break the system we’ve created and try to create something new from it," he says. "At the same time, we wanted an experience where just anyone can come along and pick up an instrument and create."