Last month, Pavig Lok summoned me mid-performance into the opera house of Intempesta Nox (direct SLURL teleport), to attend a live music performance. Not Residents playing real instruments streamed as audio into Second Life, as usually happens-- here, instead, the avatars themselves were the musical instruments, spinning like digital tornadoes around the audience. This is the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse, a loose collaboration of numerous artists-- their blog is here, tracking an impressive number of mixed reality performances around the world. This video is an excerpt from their hypnotic October show, and hopefully the stereophonics are good enough to convey the sensation of being amid these flying ripples of sound.
"[W]e upload samples and trigger them using HUDs on the screen," AOM member Bingo Onomatopoeia tells me. "In most songs we use a visualization-device worn on the back to make it seen who is playing a note. Using this technique, every orchestra-member becomes a moving instrument. In the instrument I call 'Onomatophone', there are six flying spheres that are filled with samples, that fly through the audience, creating a ever-changing mix that is unique for each listener."
As with most avant garde efforts, the results are an acquired taste, but there's no disputing their ambition to reshape the boundaries of what's considered music in Second Life and the wider metaverse. That in mind, I've included some excerpts [after the break] from a text written to accompany a recent AOM performance in Vienna.
Excerpts from "New Directions in Music by Avatars" written by Leif Inge
The way one approaches a virtual world like Second Life will inevitably influence the way one acts within it. Approaching it as a cooperative networking society rather than a construction ground, the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse opens up a new field for new experiments in music.
There is a sort of surreal irony in doing art in an artificial world, it is so obvious that it can only be distinguished in definition. It is only terminology, what you name the thing, that makes the canvas different from the wall it hangs on. In here more than out side, both are mere representations, and it is hard to maintain an art versus everything else discourse because the daily routine in Second Life is always already a surreal vision created by humans. Everything is by default interactive, audiovisual and ever changing. Avatars takes shape after Marcel Duchamps nude descending the stairs, blood pours from the sky and the world can at any time turn into a painting by Rene Magritte.
The emerging art scene in Second Life have received their attention too, though rarely has it managed to anything but looking for the artwork as we already have it defined. It has failed but to generalize and simplify; if it looks like paintings, then it is art. If its looks like sculpture, then it's art... This desire to reach a new audience and new ways of promotion has lead to an influx of bands, but all the famous bands having played here simply stream their playing from a studio into Second Life and have their avatar representations play on a prop looking like a proper instrument but really have nothing to add to it...
Originally the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse arose to the needs to perform two projects rather simultaneous, one by Harold Schellinx and the other by Shintaro Miyazaki, or in this world they are better known as Hars Hefferman and Maximillian Nakamura... It is an ever-changing mix of backgrounds and generations shaping the orchestra at any time. What it does have at present is a dedicated core of about 15 members, to which they also add guest performers and guest sound installations occasionally. To approach the idea of an orchestra in such an elastic manner makes the logistics easier as the performers are based in both Europe, North America, and East Asia, potentially adding the rest of the world too.
Many of the performers are also traveling artists, and performs from whatever place they’re in.
The orchestra's membership constitution, or lack of such, contribute to the aesthetics as another aspect of the indeterminate process of playing in Second Life. In addition to the changing body of the orchestra, there is the ever-present time delays affecting all use of broadband cooperation. Simply put, it takes time from playing the sound to hearing the sound. Even if the orchestra perform composed pieces and do follow a score and a conductor, all the factors in live performances are dependent on both the performers and the environment. It will never achieve the same piece sound exactly the same each time.