Friday, August 04, 2006

« YOUR TUBE, YOUR IMAGINATION | Main | YOUR TUBE, YOUR IMAGINATION »

SUZANNE VEGA AND THE SECOND LIFE OF LIVE MUSIC

Suzanne Vega is "the mother of MP3", but a decade later, we forget how hard that birthing process really was.  It didn't just involve a German engineer referencing her a capella version of "Tom's Diner" to perfect a revolutionary new audio file format.  In the mid-90s when MP3s first appeared, most people still used dial-up modems to access the Internet (if they did at all), so broadcasting music through them was a sputtering, cumbersome deal-- if you could even find the songs you were looking for.  It took years for MP3s to reach this ITunes era of seamless user interfaces and instant downloads.  (And now that we have, it's difficult to remember what music was even like before the Internet.)

All worth keeping in mind, while watching Suzanne Vega's avatar singing her a capella version of "Tom's Diner" in an online world (whipped up with my rudimentary editing skills) from last night.  It's fitting that the first song she performed was the one that helped make Internet-based music viable to a mass audience, because her appearance may be the thing that makes metaverse-based live music viable for them, too.  At the same time, it also shows just how far there is to go.

Here's Ms. Vega singing "The Queen and the Soldier", her wistfully beautiful fable set in a mythical kingdom, performed for an audience in an alternate world of their own.  (After, that is, Vega and the show producers manage to get her custom-made guitar properly displayed.)

You have Vega's dulcet voice streamed from the East Coast recording studio into the world (along with public radio's "Infinite Mind" host John Hockenberry); you have an avatar that looks eerily like her; you have an audience of 80 to 90.  And for several moments, here and there, you have what feels like a new kind of live music venue, one that's more intimate than a radio broadcast or an in-person live performance (since you're usually lucky to get even twenty feet close to the crowded stage), and more convenient than a drive to the nearest concert hall. 

Then again, you also have an artist who's stuck, expressionless, to her chair, a simulated guitar that refuses to properly attach, and an audience that's uniformly bald.   (Attendees were required to remove all attachments, including hair pieces, to curb the lag that so many residents on a single server would inevitably cause.) 

So a lot of potential rubbing up against so many unstable elements.    In future live performances in-world, you have to think major artists and personalities would be best served by "puppeteers" who can control the avatar, firing off a series of animations (playing music, dancing, and so on), when appropriate, leaving the musicians free to perform.  (A HUD driven system with a number of pre-loaded animations and gestures that can be called up at a single click would work almost as well.)  Speech animations would be an enormous advance in this regard, though it's unclear when (if?) Linden Lab will implement those anytime soon.

But all that aside for now.  With Julian Dibbell, Kurt Vonnegut, and now Suzanne Vega, this week's an enormous milestone in Second Life's history: the moment, perhaps, when the virtualization of all culture into an ever-expanding metaverse began to seem like our inevitable future.

Update, 8/6:  Working for "The Infinite Mind" (the show's sponsors) master machinima creator Tao Takashi has created a full video of the Suzanne Vega appearance here.

Update Two, 8/6: Robbie Dingo, himself an established auteur in SL machinima, has a shorter but more visually complex take here.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bf74053ef00d83461de0569e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference SUZANNE VEGA AND THE SECOND LIFE OF LIVE MUSIC:

» Suzanne Vega live in Second Life tonight! from The Click Heard Round the World
The talented folk musician Ms. Suzanne Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in Second Life tonight, wowing the large crowd of residents who packed the Infinite Mind auditorium this evening. Part of the series of in-world [Read More]

» Vega vs. Vega: Is is live or is it Second Life? from The Click Heard Round the World
Last night's virtual performance by folk artist Suzanne Vega has made me think more deeply about the potential of internet-mediated music performance. I have been to my share of live concerts and attended a number of in-world Second Life concerts [Read More]

» Suzanne Vega Second Life report from eightbar
Suzanne Vega in Live in SL on New World Notes ... [Read More]

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Cunzy11

Wow. Very cool. Next, do a full blown musical with accompanying ochestra!

Moriash Moreau

Dangit, I missed it. And I've been kicking myself continuously for the last 14 hours. Thanks for the video clips! Have you heard whether there are plans to release downloadable MP3s or videos of the event? I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd appreciate them.

reuben steiger

Wow! This is really impressive. Congratulations to all involved in making this happen. And Hamlet, thanks for sharing the films for those of us who were stupid enough to miss it.

Alexander Basiat

There's a lot of pretty awkward audio bits here....smooch sounds and donks from IMs and what-have-you.

I suppose there would be crowd noises in RL, but they stand out so starkly because of how few there are.

But still - it was a thrill to see Suzanne - thank you!

Ordinal Malaprop

I am also desperately seeking recorded versions of these, and have not seen any reference to such on their site. Thanks for the clips, Hamlet, I can take the audio directly from those, but if I miss some of those other full-length interviews simply due to living in the wrong time zone I shall be most put out... I shall see whether I can find any other solution.

rikomatic

Well this was done for the radio program "Infinite Mind," so we can presume that at least the audio will be made available. I understand that they may be releasing more "official" video of some or all of these events later on.

boliver oddfellow

Not to fear - there will be video released soon stay tuned to the SL forums for more info

Ansible Berkman

Awesome! I'm so happy this was inspired by Beyond Broadcast! :)

Robbie D

You have an uncanny knack Hamlet, of saying the things I'm thinking and I agree that for a short time there it really did feel like a very special occasion - through the coming together of various elements (- well orchestrated by IVM).

One of my favorite moments was when JH crashed, and SV moved the mouse around causing the AV itself to turn and said... "so if I turn around?.. do I see.... oh, he's gone...", there was something very real about that moment. Therefore, I feel that having someone else working the AV would take away from the experience.

I'm not sure why SV was given an Avatar with an inventory containing *two* guitars - asking for trouble that, especially when one of those guitars had not been pre-positioned!

In this instance, although it was a little amusing that Suzanne attached the wrong guitar to the wrong body part (and then was given another guitar by an audience member which had an animation that did not really suit the music style) - although all this was amusing (and fairly inevitable really, despite a rehearsal the night before), it was a shame also.

The guitar that *was* made for this event (lol, the one that never got to see the light of day) did indeed come with a selection of custom built animations (ie. acapella/chatting mode, guitar finger-picking, fast guitar strumming, etc), all accessible from a series easy to use buttons. It also came complete with a Mic+Stand that had been purpose-built for SV's AV and strategically placed to obscure the unmoving mouth. In the end however it was decided that this would be all too much for SV to learn in such a short space of time.

Personally I'm not sure I agree with the last decision here, I mean all SV needed to learn was how to SIT at the mic (and she would need to learn how to SIT in any case) and from there everything else could be done from a single click HUD, much easier in fact than allowing free control in my opinion, but hey I'm biased, I made the darn things. Tao and I were both asked to take video coverage of this event, and I'm sure Tao would agree that a more visually animated performance would really help to make a more interesting video?

However despite all of this, I would say that I feel it was incredibly brave of SV to put herself (or at least her virtual persona) in front of an assembled audience of experienced users when she had next to no prior-experience in using SecondLife.

Suzanne Vega goes massively up in my estimation for this, and it was so nice to be reminded of her beautiful voice, and the creative imagery she achieves through the words in her songs - in such an interesting way.

There should be some video footage of the event coming out very shortly. I don't know about Tao, but Im just trying to work out how to make 1 frame per second look good...(hehe)

Great to see that the next version of the SL client will separate the audio channels, should help to sort out the things pointed out above in Alexander's comments.

Komuso Tokugawa

Well, I have to admit to a small guilty touch of schadenfreude [bad komuso!] when your lovingly custom crafted guitar [nice vid btw] didn't appear...remember a couple of months back you told me you "don't do custom instruments" when I was desparately seeking a custom instrument set for my SL live music debut?

But, hey, no hard feelings...I can understand why you turned me down *sniff* ... after all, I'm just a low down dirty blues hacker from the bad side of the bitstream with no rep out to thrash the metaverse with my dirty gutbucket blooz;-)

[fortunately Cottonteil Muromachi stepped up to the plate and crafted me a sublime set of custom instruments in record time the night before - replicating my RL gig setup of headless guitar, rack harp and Peavey Classic 30 amp at very reasonable price - gets my pro builder of the year award!]

Anyways, Melvin Took gave SV his guitar which was one of your jobbies as well so you should not feel too dejected. [hope he got it back!]

It was pretty cool event, but have to say I'm surprised by all the gushiness that seems to be pouring out about it - or maybe people just normally go that way when stars pop into SL?
Congrats to the IVM and IM all round for getting it up and running...especially their low lag enforcement rules.

I hope LL was taking notes over SV's wrestling with the interface...I was not joking when I commented "I hope gui linden is watching".
It was an object lesson in the learning curve that needs to be lessened should SL really wish to "cross the chasm" and penetrate to main street for da 3d web. It's fine for us technically comfortable early adopter uberGeeks, but there are a LOT of people out there in normal user land who I'm sure would get off on SL...if the interface was a little more intuitive.

Cheers,
kt

Komuso Tokugawa

and actually looking at the video of the SV ventriloquist dummy with no mouth, while reminded of the very cool lip flap machinima, also brings to mind Harlen Ellison's classic story from my own experience as an SL musician -

I have no mouth. And I must scream.

Tao Takashi

Just reading Robbie's comment. And I agree, more animations would have been cool and for the John Maeda event I was working with Shukran on the stage situation and put my head-movement-animation into the chairs so that they have some sort of talking animation (like in my vlogs). Of course it was then enabled all the time but for the video that should be ok (we will see what moo did). OTOH the Maeda event was a bit simpler animation-wise than the Vega-event.

As for the framerate I guess I am a bit lucky to have a big computer and thus having at least 9 fps or so. As for the missing animations I made something up by moving around that avatar and cutting/editing it somewhat together to make it look a bit more music video like. But more different footage would have been definitely a plus.

A general note maybe about pop stars and other people coming into SL. Of course it is cool when they come here and fans have a more direct contact and can e.g. ask questions etc. but otoh it seems that for most of them it's more a one-time thing and they didn't take the opportunity to check it out sometime before the actual event. As interviews held in SL are usually also about SL it would be nice if the interview partner also knows a bit more about it and can mix this experience with his/her own ideas on certain topics.

But anyway, it was a cool event despite some problems and for similar events in the future some of these problems might be solved. It's all still new stuff stil. (I am available to help btw :-)


Tao Takashi

The video is available now here

Robbie D

That's excellent Tao, and well done on the quick turn around, impressive.

My take, although not as comprehensive as Tao's (above) is here

Tao Takashi

Well done, as well, Robbie! Esp. for having had only 1 fps :-)

And nice to see the (primless) audience, too.

rikomatic

It looks like Vega has paved the way for other (ahem) "musicians" to enter into virtuality. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you.... DURAN DURAN.

perrygone

Searching for Suzanne Vega's 3D avatars, you may find a few pearls at YouTube. There is a video avatar of Suzanne Vega signing... with the soft and sensual Marilyn Monroe's voice!

Suzanne Vega's face avatar

The animated avatar is a virtuoso lip syncing exercise and frankly, the experiment is a success: in a funny kind of way the face and the voice get along together! The clip is created by Image-me, an animation service offering a mix of paying and free for all video avatars.

Unfortunately the resizing of the Flash videos at YouTube affects every video rendered for small screens like wireless devices, but it can be adjusted by toggling the zoom out button.

ionixa

quiero pertenecer a second live

mulberry alexa

I "like" you on Facebook. Would love these for my oldest boy!

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.