(Originally published in Musicworks magazine, March 2010.)
by Tina M Pearson
Avatar Orchestra Metaverse is a global collective making new music within the virtual reality platform Second Life, an online three-dimensional program that allows users to interact through inworld avatars (users’ digital representations within a given online environment).
The Orchestra had its beginnings in early 2007 with the coalescence in Second Life of a group of European musicians, artists, and engineers who were trailblazing practices of networked performance made possible with rapid advances in Internet technologies and software, and with easier access to portable computers and audio gear. The group quickly attracted collaborators from Asia and North America. The Orchestra is now a group of twelve core members scattered geographically through seven countries, using Second Life as a networked meeting ground, a performance venue, and an environment for the creation of previously unimagined instruments and interactive audiovisual presentations.
Skin has become inadequate
in interfacing with reality.
Technology has become the
body’s new membrane
of existence. — nam june paik
The Orchestra embraces an open-to-all playing field, with musicians and composers being joined by intense listeners from other disciplines (new media, visual arts, architecture, poetry, sculpture, dance), who bring new perspectives on working with sound, plus an informed approach to the visual manifestations of idea, concept, and sound.
The Orchestra’s virtual instruments are created within Second Life and have both audio and visual components that use uploaded sound samples and image files scripted and organized into Heads Up Display (HUD ) controls that appear on each performer’s computer screen. Most of the instruments, which are designed by Orchestra composers and instrument builders, incorporate animation and visuals with sound, and enable performers to trigger events within Second Life independently from one another in real time. The accumulated effect is a shifting blend of many avatars transmitting sounds and emitting images, particles, and/or symbols, while simultaneously walking, jumping, flying, hovering, or floating through virtual space.
In addition to its integrated HUD instruments, the Orchestra performs on occasion with instruments designed by other builders. Notable among these instruments are the Pataphone, designed and built by the late Michel Waiswisz of STEI M; a virtual cello and flute built by Robbie Dingo; and giant pianos built by a Second Life art collective.
Between 2007 and 2009 the Orchestra created over twenty distinct audio-visual pieces performed live for audiences within Second Life and in most cases simultaneously projected and broadcast at music, sound-art, and media events throughout Europe and North America. The pieces are variously whimsical, challenging, funny, raucous, poignant, spectacular, and sonically powerful. Similar to non-virtual music, the artistic impact of the compositions depends largely on the quality of performance practice, which, in the Orchestra’s case, is based on acute listening within a framework of conducted audiovisual
improvisation. The overall impact, however, changes with the access point of audience members: whether they are avatars in Second Life with control over their own viewing and listening perspective, are in a real-life performance venue viewing the Orchestra from projection screens and listening through loudspeakers, or are viewing an Internet stream. In each case, the experience can be markedly different.
It’s pretty crazy to meet
like this and play music.
— leif inge
Compositionally, the Orchestra’s pieces to date reveal the range of interests within the collective’s members, including explorations of sonic phenomena and the harmonic series; spectacular narrative representations of musical icons; incorporation of field recordings and processed instrumental sounds into new concepts for virtual instruments; sonic investigations of three-dimensional virtual space; juxtaposition of traditional instruments with newly conceived virtual instruments; juxtaposition of just intonation and equal temperament; ritual and sonic meditation; sound and text poetry; mixed reality collaborations (combining virtual and real-life performers and instruments); and sonic interventions in virtual public spaces.
With a focus on sound, Avatar Orchestra Metaverse explores nuances of identity, culture, and communication, uncovered through telematic connection within a virtual environment. This tenuous wired venture exposes a new kind of listening; inviting subtle yet powerful mind connections made audible as the group evolves within this very new medium.
avatar orchestra metaverse composers, 2007–2009
Harold Schellinx (France), Bjorn Eriksson
(Sweden), Andreas Mueller and Shintaro
Miyazaki (Germany), Leif Inge (Norway),
Michel Waiswisz (Netherlands), Biagio
Franca (Italy), Norman Lowrey, Pauline
Oliveros, and Tim Risher (U.S.A.), and
Tina M. Pearson, Erik Rzepka, Liz Solo,
and Jeremy Owen Turner (Canada).Avatar Orchestra Metaverse rehearsing PwRHm by Tina Pearson with particles by Sachiko Hayashi and Instrument Design by Andreas Mueller. Photo by Max D. Well