Saturday, July 29, 2006

Suzanne's Guitar

In August 2006, Suzanne Vega will become the first major recording artist to perform live in Second Life avatar form. This forms part of a larger project sponsored by The Infinite Mind, a public radio show which has hired Infinite Vision Media to create a permanent presence in Second Life.

I was commissioned by Boliver Oddfellow (CEO, Infinite Visions) to make the Guitar and animation for the Vega avatar (created by Munchflower Zaius).

However, I decided to use this opportunity to also make a short (3 minute) video.

This is Suzanne's Guitar...

[View it here, 21.8Mb lower quality]
[View it here, 54.2Mb mid quality]

(A High Quality, 121.2Mb version is also available upon request).

* Music on the video is Prelude No.2 (V.Lobos), performed (well) by my good friend Steve Bean.

Suzanne Vega will perform live on August 3.

(Edit: embedded YouTube Version now available below:)

(Edit: Suzanne's Guitar is broadcasted as a backdrop on Japanese TV:)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Distant Drums

I find it kinda strange, when you make something (like the for example the Elven Drums I built a while back) and then you 'release it into the wild', cut your ties and it's out there, in the Metaverse doing its own thing. Strange, when you have kinda forgot about it to suddenly stumble across it again in a different setting and you realize that someone, somewhere has been caring for, commenting upon, or simply doing something else with the work you started - when you, the creator didn't know this was taking place. Strange, but nice-strange.

A couple of recent examples spring to mind:

Firstly, this youTube clip of a discussion about Drumcasting technology using my Elven Drums (with Raoul Weiler, Rolando Berger, and Tom Munnecke).

Second, another youTube broadcast, this time a film from the very creative (and often hilarious SL comentator) Pierce.P showing machinima footage of what looks like a very bizarre twilight drum circle. (Great work PP, note to self -have got to try do some work with Pierce if I can at some point).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Little Girl Giant

So every now and then, along comes a film that is hard to describe. For me this is not one of those. Simply put, it's quite possibly the most beautiful and inspiring video I have ever seen... (view here)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

As a World turns

Much has already been written about the potential for SL (Second Life) to become the mainstream front-end for a more three dimensional web experience. Judging recent actions taken by LL (Linden Lab), the move to open and free registration for example, along with the increase in SLurl links appearing on traditional websites and blogs; this feels like the general direction things are moving.

If we need any more evidence, the word on the street is that if the population of SL continues to grow and if the immigrants continue to settle, laying down roots in the form of virtual land acquisitions, eventually LL will most likely need to extend the Grid beyond which they could personally manage, allowing residents to host their own land on 3rd party or personal servers. When you take a few steps back to look at the BIG picture, this almost seems inevitable, and if LL doesn't someone else probably will, right?

So let's roll with this for a while, not looking at the fine detail but speculating and, using what we know about historical developments with regard to web trends, lets see where this might go, assuming of course that LL retains its advantage over future competition.

First, maybe it kicks off when the population reaches 1 million? (...and they laughed at Noah too). Maybe it takes a major outlet store who wants a piece of that action to come forwards and they negotiate a deal with LL to host a
Sim of their own. Seeing an additional opportunity here they also begin to rent land to their customers; and overtime the ownership of the Grid enters the public domain. Initially 3rd parties continue to offer hosting of SL Sims perhaps, but increased competition, advertising and sponsorship lower monthly rental fees and eventually, just as we have seen with website/blog/video-blog hosting etc., it becomes possible to obtain free Sim-space or to run ones own personal SL server.

(LL adopt a different payment model at this time, possibly one where charges are required to update the Client or through licensing of dedicated Server software?)

The Second Life village/town/country/continent/world, (whatever), becomes big... very big. SL worlds are arranged or naturally migrate into (solar) systems, polarizing around individual themes.

Next, the Client software is absorbed into a browser, (or if at this point LL wanted to be really shrewd, it's the other way around). Either way the 'net' result (excuse the play there) is that browsing the web whilst switching between 2- and 3-D views becomes common place, and hassle free.

Great, so everyone has a huge and open playground, what about content?

There are many analogies that can be draw between the traditional 2-D website model and a 3-D virtual world such as SL, the language is different but some of the concepts are similar: (Internet /Grid; Website/Parcel; URL/Land- mark; Hits/ Dwell or Traffic; Hyper- Link/ Teleport; etc). However the sociable and freely creative side to SL make for distinct differences (the browser/viewer being at any moment a chat room and also the tool for content creation).

Yet putting my inventing and chatting time aside, when I log to explore, the experience of flying over other people's land is like randomized web-surfing. The point I am trying to make is that unlike it's 2-D counterpart I do not currently see SL as an information resource nor do I see an effort to place 'portals' between locations which share a logical relationship - (read Hyperlinks between Web-Pages). The latter is a real shame for me.

However the true currency of SL is its content.

Currently the popularity of one location over another largely comes down to the skill and inventiveness of its Builder. Also at the moment all residents have access to the same compliment of building and scripting tools therefore everyone is able to realize builds of the same standard, at least theoretically. However, if the code for SL were to be open-sourced as occasionally hinted by LL, or if the systems were made modular so that additional plug-ins could be enabled, then we might see an un-leveling of the playing field. This could bring about healthy competition amongst major players and would certainly help to raise the bar when setting standards in quality with respect to builds and more importantly technological innovation.

Open sourcing the code would also allow for greater flexibility and versatility in the application of this technology. However the 'monopoly' assumed above (and I never really gave the make-up of that word much thought 'till now), I mean this large scale adoption of a single system without rival seems unlikely. Alternative, or spin-off systems may well come about, and there are a lot of decisions that LL will need to consider when they do.

In any case, at this time in our theoretical journey the typical reasons currently put forwards by people who do not initially enjoy the SL experience have been addressed through regular updates to the client. For example, the GUI has been made more accessible or has become a HUD - part of the user-content created by the owner of the Sim?; and an optional mode has been provided whereby all the content from a particular Sim could preloaded and cached to let it run more or less entirely on the client - in this option only active scripts and chat are streamed providing an alternative for people who are looking for a more game-based or non-lagy experience.

I wonder?

Monday, July 10, 2006

whisperBox, complete

whisperBox, my sound-installation for Second Life (as described here) is complete, and as mentioned in the previous blog - here are a couple of screen-shots:

...sounds better than it looks; promise...

(Edit): whisperBox has now been installed in several interesting and high profile venues in SL, including the New Media Consortium's Campus, as shown in the image below:

The NMC also has a 9 minute audio file of the whisperBox in action on their blog entry which does give a taste of the sound, but does not portrey the interactive and spacialised elements to the project, nor does it capture the echos in conversation that this review has picked up upon.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Internet Audio Experiments

“We have also sound-houses, where we practice and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation…. We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances”. [- Quote: Francis Bacon, in his essay “New Atlantis” (1627)]

In the previous blog I discussed the concept behind a new virtual-world audio installation I wanted to create titled 'whisperBox (a 21st century folk song)'.

It occurs to me that it makes sense to introduce this installation by firstly covering some of my earlier research (prior to work in Second Life) that led me this point.

whisperBox is built for use within Second Life, however I really see this installation as the next logical step from my internet-audio experiments that began back in 2001 when I first started tinkering with 'SoundToys', the audio capabilities of Macromedia's Flash and with SDK's for online 3D game environments. This latest installation now complete, I'll use this blog to briefly show some images of the earlier research and then use the next blog to show images of the latest project 'whisperBox' in action within Second Life.

By way of an introduction to this work, here are some short excepts from an article I wrote back in 2001. The article was first published on the front cover of New Notes, a monthly journal by the SPNM (Society for the Promotion of New Music). Five years on, I find it interesting that now a lot of these earlier observations have now become realities:

(If you are interested only in the latest project, skip to next blog).

Internet Audio Experiments. (Extracts)

Thomas Edison was developing a device that could record, then replay at high speed, telegraph signals when he made the first recording of the human voice (Phonograph, 1877). Elisha Gray, who came a close second to Alexander Graham Bell for the title of inventor of the telephone, instead is known as the inventor of the first of the early electronic musical instruments (Musical Telegraph, 1875). Thaddeus Cahill built the precursor to the synthesizer (Telharmonium, 1906), a remarkable machine capable of not only generating but also broadcasting music to public and private residences using telephone technology.

Despite these close beginnings surrounding the technologies of music and those of telecommunication, the World Wide Web remains largely a quiet ‘place’, often more akin to a public library than an integrated multimedia experience. This is not to say that the Internet is mute, far from it, but the relatively slow speed of data transfer typically encountered has precluded the use of audio files from many websites which would otherwise greatly benefit from musical support.

This said, as technology continues to progress, and there is certainly a desire within the Music Industry to utilize the Internet as a means of music delivery (along with other forms of entertainment), we should expect changes and technological advances to cope with the current obstacles. We have already seen some impressive steps forward, for example the introduction of MP3 (a low-loss audio compression which greatly reduces the size of an audio file whilst maintaining high fidelity). In 1997 was founded and offered approximately 3000 compressed songs available for free download. In 1998 it became the leading music site on the Internet and received over three million visitors per month, this of course did not pass unnoticed by the commercial eyes of the Music Industry.

More recently we have witnessed the merging of already giant companies from each end of the Music / Internet Service spectrum... ...We have seen the introduction of new legislation concerning the copyright of digital media and ‘Webcasting’ of music. We are also beginning to see a wide-scale take up of ‘Broadband Internet’ by home users. ‘Broadband’ promises much improved transmission speeds and almost certainly brings us one step closer to interactive television and music broadcasting via the Internet.

In the year 2000, the CA*net3 fiber optic network in Canada became the fastest computer network in the world capable of transmitting all nine symphonies of Beethoven in 0.065 seconds.

I find the idea of sharing new musical works, installations, experiments and instruments which have been specially devised for fast Internet delivery very interesting, yet one that has not really been widely taken up. Interesting, in that here is a medium without commercial obstacles, one that easily allows material which may appeal only to a local minority, to find a larger global audience.

I suppose that it is partly because of this freedom, because of the inherent challenge of creating new works for a new medium which are efficient yet interesting (greater than the sum of the parts), and partly because if the ‘Web’ is to become a more interesting ‘place’, music technologists and composers should perhaps begin to claim a much larger stake. For all of these reasons and for personal development, I have decided to begin tentative research into the current possibilities, and limitations of transmitting a variety of music related applications across computer networks.

The following projects are more or less in chronological order:

First up (and isn't it always the way, still one of my personal favorites) is..

WCM: Wind Chime Marimba. (SWF - size 276k)

An aleatoric music composition for the internet. Notes are triggered when any Note-Object collides with the ‘Trigger-Object’. Amplitude and pan are derived from the X and Y position of each collision. When the collision occurs within the ‘Roll-Area’, a roll sound is activated. ‘Repeat-Object’ is toggled upon contact with the Trigger-Object and creates the effect of an echo. ‘Accel.’ and ‘Rit.’, alter the velocity of the Trigger-Object upon contact and can dramatically affect the
density of the music.

FPP: Flash Player Piano. (SWF size - 272k)

An infinite aleatoric music composition for the internet. Each of the inner sides of the cube represent the different pitches from a six note piano chord. Piano samples (or occasional bass samples) are triggered by the moving spheres which are contained within the 3D space. A leading sample is played and the chord alternates if a sphere collides with another sphere. Amplitude and pan are derived from the X and Y position of each collision. The arrow buttons in the top right corner rotate the cube, whilst playing the composition in real time.

VDS: Virtual Drum Skin. (SWF size - 32k)

A succession of ‘grains’ are dropped upon virtual drum skins of differing tunings to form rhythmic patterns. Parameters such as gravity/attraction, skin tension, number of grains etc. can be user defined. The user can interact with the program exploring the effect upon the musical output.

CLARA: Internet Instrument (SWF size - 52k)

A playable internet instrument based upon the Theremin. Use the mouse to test the instrument - control the on-screen hands, (left hand controls volume, right hand controls pitch). The hand movement can be recorded and replayed. The instrument has a 3 octave range.

PATTERN CHAIN: Internet Instrument (SWF size - 136k)

A playable instrument which generates musical patterns based upon the physical movements of a chain of objects which together simulate the properties of either spring or elastic . The user can initiate a pattern by dragging and releasing an on screen ‘beater’ which is free to perpetually oscillate over the keys of a virtual xylophone. The instrument has a 3 octave range and the resulting patterns can be notated in real time.

Try my Flash based SoundToys here.

Future Directions

“The Internet is at once a world-wide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographical location”
[Quote - history (2001)]

The next step that I hope to take is to introduce a two-way communication flow into subsequent projects, either to-and-from a server or more interestingly from user to user. I feel that there is great potential in this area....... An example of this might be an Internet multi-user environment that would allow many people to simultaneously collaborate on, discuss, listen to and interact with a new work as it is being generated...

Sound Emitters in SDK's for 3D Game Engines:

Here, I began to investigate available SDK's for Game Engines, (for example TGE [Torque Game Engine]). With respect to audio in Torque, it appeared to be split into three sections of interest to this research -

[1] GUI Editor - Key elements within the start-up Graphical User Interface can be sonified, [ie. sounds can be attached to buttons and main and sub screens can trigger different audio files]. Also, it would appear that the main game screen can have a superimposed HUD [heads-up display] containing more buttons etc. which can in turn might trigger in-game events (inc. sound).

[2] Scripting - In addition to accessing the source code (C++), Torque includes it own higher level script language (JAVA like) and this can include audio even triggering and control.

[3] World Editor - The bulk of the built in tools are here (including tools for terrain creation and 3d object importing/positioning etc.) and allow for the creation of special objects called 'Audio-Emitters' which can be positioned within a 3d environment and linked to audio-files.

The latter being is quite similar in many respects to research already carried out [in 2d] was therefore the logical place for me start...

However then I discovered the Second Life environment, a much more sociable and exciting place to continue this research.

Next Blog covers 'whisperBox (a 21st century folk song)'.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

whisperBox, SL Audio-Installation

And so, purely by coincidence really I stumble upon the Phoenicia Center for Contemporary Art (formally Phoenicia Gallery), somewhere in the Metaverse . I'm looking around at some rather excellent photographs on the walls by Phil Borges and on noticing that the building has lots of unoccupied space I think, you know this would make a cool place for an audio-installation I've been contemplating for some time. I decide to contact the owner, Victor Newchurch.

Rather than install a traditional sound installation, like one that might be typically found in art galleries, I would like to construct and install a work that is interactive and utilizes SL features that would not be possible or difficult to achieve in real-space.

Victor asked for a proposal, this is what I sent:


whisperBox, a 21st Century Folk Song? (Audio Installation for Second Life).

Thoughts and Inspirations:

Folk music can be loosely defined as music which is passed on (typically from friend to friend or amongst a community) by performance rather than through a musical score. A quick web search on the definition of Folk Music may also yield the following snippets:

...[Folk Music] in the original sense of the term, is music by and of the people... used and understood by broad segments of a population and especially by the lower socioeconomic classes...

...[Folk Music] belongs to, and is normally shared, evolved, preserved, and performed by the entire community (not by a special class of expert performers), and is transmitted by word of mouth...

...[Folk Music] is normally lacking an identifiable composer...and is an expression of the life of people in a community...

...[Folk Music] is music that has evolved through the process of aural transmission...with its roots in the past but its branches wherever they choose to grow...

It is my intention that 'whisperBox' will draw upon some of these definitions of Folk Music for inspiration, taking some of the points and applying them to a modern, sound-based installation in Second Life.


whipserBox will appear as a circle of seven loud speakers, arranged evenly on stands, facing inwards. It will require no more than 20 prims in total.

whisperBox will be sensitively constructed to work within its environment, alongside other visual art rooms for example. Low level audio will not be intrusive. Although not essential, this could be further enhanced by sitting the installation within its own land parcel with land preferences set to restrict audio from bleeding into the next space. Also desirable is that the media preferences for this parcel should not include an audio stream, or possibly the audio stream might point only to a URL containing a short welcome message / introduction that I could provide?

whisperBox will be active/audible only when people are near-by and could be switched on and off by the creator and the owner only.

How it will work:

Although not finalized at the moment, here is a brief indication of the workings -(probably).

The installation will make use of multiple sound emitters, linked, synchronized and working in unison.

When the installation is active it will listen for conversation from near-by avatars. If detected, it will pick out certain words and/or letters from their chat and interpret these as different pitches for short percussive sounds which will be distributed as looped patterns of notes and rests across the seven speakers. The pattern created will be directly influenced by local conversation in real time. It will be in 7/8 time, (which is a fairly irregular time-signature) so that looping will not become too obvious or repetitive.

Additionally, over time when an avatar enters the circle of speakers they will also begin to hear feint whispering sounds, (and the installation will begin to store short snippets of their conversation, comments they might be making or individual words they are saying to generate musical patterns; this will occur in the background without their noticing). If they dwell for long enough (which I hope they will), very feint, mostly transparent text will gradually appear around the speakers showing the conversation, comments or words said by previous visitors to the installation; this almost as if they can hear the subtle echo of an earlier moment in time. Many comments will come, and go.

So now just to build the thing, result -next blog...