Love Karaoke but Have No Friends? Someone Invented Chat Roulette for Duets

The founders of glti.ch talk about the joys of doing drunken Belle and Sebastian covers with people on the internet at 2 AM.

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Mar 3 2014, 10:00am

You don’t need to leave the house to belt out your favourite karaoke tracks—with strangers. Two Skype-friendly artists have founded glti.ch karaoke, an online karaoke project which anyone can partake in. You literally sign into Skype and sing karaoke duets (or quartets) with fellow fans. Imagine chat roulette was entirely musical and you get how things are matched. The artists Kyoung Kim and Daniel Rourke started this without any plans. Three years later, they’re still singing to Belle and Sebastian on YouTube. Strangely, they’re not alone.

As they continue to synchronize singers in different time zones, they also do these GLTI.CH Breaks event where DJs located in different parts of the world mix together in a basement, a bedroom, or a pub full of drunks (from New York to Seoul, they’ve done it all).

Last month, glti.ch karaoke opened a show called Tactical Gltiches at the SUDLAB gallery in Italy. They spoke to us about tinkering with Ustream, avoiding crappy bandwith, and how acapella saves the day.

NOISEY: How did Glti.ch Karaoke come about?
Kyoung Kim: We were swapping stories over a few pints—Daniel of his experiences living in Japan, and I of my time in Korea, and got to talking about missing karaoke in these respective countries. Unlike your average karaoke bar in the US or the UK with a conspicuous stage and spotlighting for the singer, karaoke in Korea and Japan generally consists of piling into a room with a bunch of friends, food, and drink and singing in a raucous mix of solos, duets, and group numbers eventually belted while standing on the sofa. It’s more about sharing fun with people than claiming your theatrical moment, and all in all, you get a lot more bang for your buck. For me, karaoke with my sister trumps all, but at the time she was living in Seoul. I confessed to Daniel I’d been getting my karaoke fix by singing YouTube karaoke videos with her over Skype.

Daniel Rourke: We were astounded to find that nobody had given a name to 'singing karaoke over Skype." (We did a lot of Google searches). It seemed so obvious to us to hook up two locations, buffer a YouTube rendition of "Livin’ on a Prayer" on both sides of the Atlantic and click "play." That got us thinking about the possibilities. A good friend works at Meanwhile Space, a non-profit organization in London that transforms empty properties into community projects, and mentioned to us that they were about to start working in an old shoe shop in Whitechapel. The challenge to make karaoke happen in a dusty basement with no internet access at four o’clock in the afternoon spurred us on. We had our eye on the amazing stuff the GLI.TC/H community was doing at the time, and setup our website Glti.ch as a kind of homage to them. The rest is less easy to explain.

How does it work?
Rourke: We have done it a few different ways over the years, but we try and make sure the basic setup is accessible to anyone who wants to repeat it. Using free software like TinyChat or Google Hangouts we link up at least two disparate locations and orchestrate karaoke duets over the internet. YouTube is stuffed full of fan made karaoke versions of pop tunes. If you want to sing it, chances are, somebody has already uploaded it. Then it’s just a case of scrambling to get things to work on both sides.

Kim: To prepare for that scrambling, we test and design a bunch of back-up plans that only work about 30% of the time in attending the actual glitches that manifest. In emphasizing the GLTI.CH of the karaoke, the scramble is something we both warn and invite others to join in on. So how things work is not just contingent on computer software, hardware, cables, and broadband connections, but also on the mix of curiosity, patience, and enthusiasm for making-your-own-fun-through-convoluted-ways that people bring with them to our events.

Rourke: That’s where the "art" of the project begins: a sincere desire to dance with failure. The most exciting elements of the project come out of realizing how many variables there are in organizing something so simple, especially if you have a group of drunk karaoke enthusiasts at one end, say in Liverpool, and an old pizza restaurant in a London shopping mall at the other. The thing that remains stable—getting people to sing duets—is surrounded by all this other stuff that we, as the hosts, have to juggle. Let’s just say we are both very adept at keeping a crowd entertained.

How do you combine DJs in different time zones together?
Kim: A lot of planning. Hosting a party in London on a Friday night means you get a DJ during the work day in San Francisco. So we work with our DJs' schedules accordingly. There is constant managing and coordinating during the event. We dedicate one computer and the best internet connection in the house to connecting with the DJs with (so far) Skype, but also usually have one or two other computers open with Google Hangouts, again Skype, Tinychat, Facebook, Twitter, Kakao Talk, our phones, smoke signals, pigeon… both for backup and because different people have different preferences for interfaces. We avoid as much as we can set-ups that require others to register or sign up to any new social media outfit, download more software, or buy equipment they don’t have. With the last Breaks, we tinkered with Ustream, and the chat in there ended up being the key for making things go.

What is GLTI.CH Breaks?
Rourke: Originally, it was a project we instigated with Christina Millare. We wanted to take some of the stuff we had learned while glti.ch karaoking and translate it into another format. The result was the first GLTI.CH Breaks event, where we had three DJs—Tramshed, Sahn, and WaxOn—all located in different parts of the world, mix together in the basement of Power Lunches, Dalston. It was a blinding success, apart from the computer crashes, and crappy bandwidth, but that means success to us.

Karaoke is a ridiculous phenomenon. Anyone who has watched the X-Factor will know how kitsch and mediocre karaoke can be. But those of us who love it embrace that, and the social outcome of that kitschy quality is what makes it so wonderful. Our projects inhabit that crappiness, and take it somewhere else, so the technical components of the work also echo the social, and hopefully the two really fuse and amplify each other. With GLTI.CH Breaks I think we stumbled on something like that. DJ mix culture is based around a beloved, but antiquated medium - the vinyl record - that is prone to skip, and jump and crackle and hiss. Ironically though, it is those very qualities that make vinyl perfect as a medium of expression. Building a series of technical, network, temporal and spatial layers on top of that in GLTI.CH Breaks we felt as if the creative element of DJing was heightened even further. Plus, drunk people get really excited when they realize that a DJ based in a bedroom in San Francisco is mixing tunes just for them.

Kim: They get excited by it when sober too!

Enlighten us. What is "social glitch?"
Kim: A phrase we've batted around since the beginning. To describe what we'd both been thinking about and working through in our separate research and practices.

Rourke: Social glitches are at the heart of all the projects we have done. They are what you might call, "desirable unintended effects." We go hunting for them, we try to set up the conditions to make them happen, but we never know when they might arise, or what exactly they might look like. For instance, in summer 2012, we took part in AND Festival, Manchester. We were asked by curator Christina Millare to host a GLTI.CH karaoke event in one of the bedrooms upstairs in a pub. We hooked the room up to our online chat room, and invited anybody with a webcam to join us from wherever they were in the world. The event in Manchester was raucous, full of people singing at the top of their voices from 8 PM until 2 AM. The HD television was lit up all night with new people logging in from London, Seoul, New York, and who knows where. At one point the computer in Manchester completely crashed—mid-chorus—and everyone in the room let out a huge groan of despair. The social glitch came when I logged back into the chatroom, because even though our side of the party had crashed, the participants online were still there singing their hearts out. It was an amazing moment, and the crowd in Manchester whooped with joy and began to sing along, even before I’d had chance to hook the music back in. It was improvized acapella karaoke and a beautiful unintended social effect.

Nadja Sayej would like to sing "More Than A Feeling" with you. Follow her on Twitter - @nadjasayej