Ballet in Second Life: Archidance

I’m an absolute heathen when it comes to dance, particularly ballet. That said, I was pretty impressed with this short piece of machinima. Ignoring the artistic merits, I hadn’t thought of what a brilliant choreography tool virtual worlds could be. I consider myself enlightened now.

Apparently Ballet Pixelle’s Archidance was performed back in June, wish I’d seen it. Have a look for yourself:

[via Indigo Mertel]

The Virtually Live Events Project

This is a guest post from Surreal Numbers on how the Openlife grid has played host to numerous musical events. It’s one of many examples of how OpenSim and related grids are continuing to grow in popularity and maturity.

Thanks to Shai Khalifa for the heads-up on the project initially, and for a historical take on Openlife you can also view our original 2008 profile of the Openlife grid here.


I’d like to thank Lowell Cremorne and The Metaverse Journal for taking an interest in the Virtually Live Events Project and publishing this article.

Purpose and Initiation

User-created virtual reality is the most flexible and powerful tool for sharing information and imagination. Upon entering a space made with 3D modelling primitives and scripts, a visitor can take a journey far richer than that offered by other sharing technologies including blogs, photographs, and audio-video streams. At the same time, community development using virtual reality can have a significantly different life-cycle as compared to the use of other social media.

Social development and technical capabilities are closely entwined in virtual worlds. For example, without a functioning script engine, reliable login servers, and robust sim physics, it is not reasonable to plan and host events. By late-2009, The Openlife Grid had reached levels of stability, scalability, and security appropriate for hosting events reliably. The Virtually Live Events Project (VLE) was started on 05 September 2009 with a solicitation for an “International Live Music Events Developer” committed to consistency, innovation, excellence, and sustainability. Goals were set for number of monthly events, expected audience size, an international distribution of performers representing all continents, and integration with the grid’s business community. The quantity and quality of the responses were overwhelming. They were invariably professional and, most strikingly, reflected a strong spirit of generosity.

The solicitation was focused on finding a single person capable of initiating and maintaining the project so I had not anticipated that the majority of feedback suggested that I form a project team and manage it. As I came to learn, a team was easily justified by the extensive list of tasks that needed to be addressed. But I was reluctant to manage. I’m a mathematical scientist, not a musician, and I felt unqualified to understand music event hosting much less how to build a sustainable arts program.

Eventually, I recognized two things. First, I have a strong interest in hearing music from everywhere. My father had been a Grammy-nominated recording engineer for RCA Records and worked with outstanding musicians and singers from around the world. In addition, I’m a product of the South Bronx, which has a rich fusion of multinational music that simply will not allow one’s body and mind to sit still. Second, professionally, I have a lot of experience planning and hosting conferences as well as managing international research project teams. It seems to be an odd combination of characteristics on which to base the decision to manage but now, a year and a half into VLE, they seem even more applicable.

Challenges and Team

The challenges for the project are to:
1. host music events consistently;
2. innovate to keep performances and venues fresh;
3. work towards a standard of excellence; and
4. sustain and grow the project into the future.

To meet these challenges the team, which has evolved over eighteen months, was initially Debbie Trilling, Adec Alexandria, Shai Khalifa, Digital Dreambuilder (Digi), Pantaiputih Korobase (Pants), and me. At present, it includes Shai, Digi, Cheops Forlife, and me as well as a consulting group with Caro Axelbrad, Grimley Graves, and Pants.

Debbie Trilling and Adec Alexandria (both UK) helped establish a strong footing for the project as well as provided me with the best possible mentoring for managing it. Debbie’s artistic work is well-known in Second Life. She sets a very high standard for quality and was always quick to point out what would not work, what would work, and why. Adec has experience hosting events, is a keen photographer with a great design sense, and an excellent builder who can quickly bring prim form to the vision in his mind’s eye. Debbie and Adec eventually resigned because of other personal and professional obligations but their influences still underpin Virtually Live Events.

Shai Khalifa (Australia) has a degree in arts management, was a professional musician, and has extensive experience managing virtual music events. She has been invaluable for vetting, contacting, and booking performers. Her role is especially challenging since she is literally the artist’s first contact with VLE and she has the professionalism to address whatever questions, comments, or observations arise. In addition, her experiences have provided sound insight into how the performance program should be structured and how it will evolve.

Digital Dreambuilder (Native of Ireland living in Finland) is innovative, a skilled builder and scripter, and an amateur musician with experience planning and hosting virtual events. He’s also professionally involved with virtual education and training, which has implications for the future of VLE. He has a well-grounded sense of setting goals, the capabilities for meeting them, insights for avoiding pitfalls, and the creativity for crafting fallback plans in the case of disaster. He’s built and animated almost all of the exceptionally detailed musical instruments used by performers on Virtually Live.

Pantaiputih Korobase (Germany) was an early member of the project team selected for his insightful nature, exceptionally big heart, people skills, and diamond in the rough building skills (nowadays, he’s well-cut and polished). His role has been recast as a consultant in order to accommodate his personal wishes.

Cheops Forlife (France) was added to the team after Debbie and Adec left. She is unfailingly cheerful, positive, and creative. Once new performers are booked, she brings them inworld and prepares their avatars for the performances. This is no small task since there are psychological, sociological, and technical factors involved. However, she is exceptionally well-suited to the effort given her training in psychology and professional background managing non-profit programs.

Caro Axelbrad (Spain) and Grimley Graves (US) serve as consultants to VLE. Caro custom builds skins, shapes, hair, and clothing for the performers when needed. Both she and Grims have been longtime supporters of the project and, along with Pants, share their creative ideas for helping VLE grow and evolve over time.

I help the team meet the project challenges. I especially enjoy designing and building our default and themed venues.

Although not a member of the project team or consulting group, Logger Sewell deserves recognition for donating the stream used by Virtually Live. His action was an early example of the generosity the project enjoys.

Performances and Venues

VLE performances and venues have been well-documented on the project blog as well as Twitter where performers are announced and event photos are posted. Over the last eighteen months, VLE has held themed events (seasonal parties, wear your green dots, pool, beach, and valentine’s aftermath, among others) and rebuilt the project region, Virtually Live, many times to accommodate the themes as well as new concepts for the entire venue.

Performers have responded enthusiastically. It is really important to the VLE team that the performers have the best possible experience whenever they visit Openlife and this is reflected in their feedback both to the team and the event guests. Time and again, performers have commented on how much they enjoyed the entire process of coming inworld and performing. While musicians and singers had previously crossed from one grid to another to perform, the VLE project broke new ground by establishing an innovative mentoring model to make their transition to Openlife simple and fun. One broad reaching effect of the VLE model is that it has provided a methodology that performers use to explore the potential of other virtual worlds, which increases their reach and audience base.

The performers, moreover, invariably notice both the unusual artistic venues on Virtually Live and the chatty appreciative crowds that attend. The Virtually Live region is devoted exclusively to the arts and the builds are among the most distinctive and beautiful performance venues in any virtual world. In turn, performers all want to come back and have spread the word to other performers throughout the metaverse, who have either already performed on Virtually Live or will be booked in the future.

The most important thing the team wanted for the audience was simply a relaxing fun time that everyone could count on happening regularly. Again, the response has been overwhelmingly posiitive and the best part of this has been the social development. Friending occurs frequently during each event and connections are made or strengthened. New residents of the grid are treated to a warm and helpful greeting in an enjoyable atmosphere, which reinforces the reputation of the community.

In addition to the many blog photos from events, Caro and Pants have each made videos of some VLE performances; a few links are:

Openlife 3rd Birthday and Halloween Party by Caro

Idella Quandry “Fields of Gold” by Caro

Yellow Pool Party by Pants

The Future

Recent updates to Openlife’s infrastructure have brought further improvements in scalability and features, which, in turn, can be used to enhance and expand the social environment of the grid. For example, for several events, VLE has made use of scene-flip, a unique to Openlife feature that, with the touch of a button, flips the entire region to an alternate scene. Having a full-sized blank region with 45,000 prims to use for a themed event has led to some beautiful scenes that required a lot of people to build. The Openlife 3rd Birthday and Halloween Party video illustrates the use of flip-scene. While the default venue remained secure in Slot 1 of Virtually Live, an entirely different scene was built for the party in Slot 2, including themed terraform and builds.

Virtually Live Events, notably, has been a valuable source of performance and stability data for Sakai Openlife, 3DX Openlife founder and owner. These data have been helpful for identifying technical problems and solutions that lead to grid improvements enjoyed by all residents.

While the emphasis to date has been on music, VLE intends to increase its scope to include theatre, art exhibitions, and arts education venues. Virtually Live Events wants to thank all performers and guests for their support over the last eighteen months and looks forward to where technical capabilities and social development take the project in the future.

Interview – Zak Claxton, Second Life musician

zakclaxton_liveZak Claxton is one of many Second Life musicians who have built up a loyal following. Over the past year I’ve been aware of Zak’s work on an album showcasing the body of original songs he’s built up. With the December 11th release of his self-titled album, I thought it was a good time to profile his work, to get his thoughts on the SL music scene and some tips of SL music performance.

I do need to make a disclosure – I’ve known Zak’s real-world alter ego for seven years or so – we’ve hung out together throughout that time on a number of musician discussion forums. We both became Second Life residents around the same time and the Metaverse Journal’s Second Life presence was constructed by Zak’s partner Kat Claxton from Encore Design Group. Finally, I have had extensive involvement online with the other musicians on the album as well.

On to the interview:

Lowell: You’ve been a musician for decades – aside from the Second Life learning curve, was there any aspect of musicianship you’ve had to learn or change with Zak?

Zak: Absolutely. Most musicians are used to receiving immediate feedback from their audiences, be it clapping, cheering, or throwing beer bottles at their foreheads. When I first started performing in SL, it was a bit disconcerting to finish a song and then wait for 15-40 seconds to have the audience react, due to the latency of the stream. You get used to it after awhile.

Also, on a personal basis, most of my musical experience as a live performer previous to SL was as a member of bands. It took a short while for me to get used to being alone on stage, with no other sources of music than what I can perform in real time with my guitar and voice. But I got over that relatively quickly… it’s just a matter of experience.

Lowell: Can you describe in a paragraph or two the process of making the album?

Zak: I am extremely fortunate to have developed close friendships with a number of talented people in the music/recording business. When I decided to get serious and do a “real” album (as opposed to something I could record in my bedroom on marginal equipment), I enlisted the help of engineer/producer Phil O’Keefe, and recorded all of the tracks at his Sound Sanctuary Recording Studios in Riverside, CA. Then I called upon the talents of a couple of other multi-instrumentalist friends; Bunny Knutson provided drums on every song as well as some additional guitar parts, and Ken Lee also came in for a few songs on keyboards and guitars.

The process was pretty simple. All of the songs were those I’d written to be able to perform as a solo artist, so it was just a matter of fleshing out the songs, arranging them for a rock band setting. We would go into Sound Sanctuary, and Bunny and I would perform the songs in real time, without any click tracks to lock us in. It was a very free and creative environment. After we got the drums down, we would layer other tracks via overdubbing. I played the majority of the guitars and bass, and did most of the lead and backing vocals as well. Phil O’Keefe also added various parts as needed.

We started recording in March 2008 and didn’t finish until August 2009, but that’s only because our respective schedules didn’t allow us to record whenever we felt like it. We actually only spent six days in the studio during that time frame, and each of those days had us creating two complete songs. The sessions were actually very productive. Phil would then make rough mixes as we went along, and at the very end we had one final session to go through and make tweaks to those rough mixes. The whole thing was very smooth, and since I was working with great friends, we had an incredibly fun time at each session.

Lowell: Can you divulge the inspirations behind any of your songs?

Zak: I’m inspired by many things, both for the musical and lyrical content of my songs. First and foremost, I’m inspired by all the great music that’s been done before me. I’ve spent a lifetime as a lover of all kinds of music, and I did my best to allow those influences to be reflected in my songs.

On a more specific basis, I find that nature is often a key source of inspiration. In a number of my songs, you’ll hear references to the sky, the sea, the sun, the stars and so on. I don’t know why; perhaps I feel these things are part of a bigger picture than the fleeting stuff that happens in our day to day lives. But I’m also inspired by relationships, and the interaction between people in general. Certainly, the fact that I’m madly in love with my ladyfriend Kat Claxton resulted in the creation of several songs on this album, specifically “This Afternoon” and “Always Tomorrow”.

Lowell: Have you written any songs based on your performances in Second Life?

Zak: I have, and have performed them upon occasion in SL. For example, I have a song called “Triana” that was inspired by a gal to whom Kat and I have become close in SL; she runs a weekly music trivia game we attend.

However, it was important to me to make a distinction between what I do in SL and what I do on a more general basis as a musician. I did not want to make this an SL-centric album, and it was my intention all along to create music that people could relate to whether or not they’ve even heard of virtual environments. It’s safe to say that nothing that ended up on the album is specific toward SL, only because I wanted all people to be able to enjoy it with or without references to virtual worlds.

Lowell: I know it’s hard to list a few, but are there particular SL musicians that you admire / have inspired or impressed you?

Zak: Definitely, yeah. SL is simply a microcosm of real life, and much like the rest of reality, you have a small percentage of people who probably shouldn’t be playing music in public, and then a much larger percentage of people who are pretty decent and can play and have fun along with their audience. And beyond that, you have a small number of people who are obviously very talented. Again, these percentages line up with what you’d expect from any collection of musicians in any real life community.

While most SL musicians do cover tunes in world, I have a greater admiration for those creating and performing original music. Some of my personal favorites include Grace McDunnough, a fellow singer-songwriter who is from Atlanta. I’ve also really enjoyed the live creations of a guy who would probably be considered a DJ, but is actually a great real-time remix artist named Doubledown Tandino. Slim Warrior is another original remix artist and singer who is very talented. She’s known in real life as SlimGirl Fat, and is currently achieving some well-deserved recognition in the UK. I also enjoy the music of a British guitar player and singer Blindboy Gumbo who does blues-based music. He’s great and does a fun show. Hexx Triskaidekaphobia puts on reggae/jam shows in SL as a pseudo-band called Born Again Pagans who are very original and cool. I also enjoy the performances of SL artists like Mimi Carpenter, Mel Cheeky, and several others.

Lowell: What are Zak’s goals for the future?

zakclaxton_albumcoverZak: I tend to create music for the sake of the music, as opposed to ulterior motives like fame or fortune. I can say for sure that I still have a lot of music inside of me that has yet to emerge. I’ve begun writing songs for a second solo album, which I intend to start working on in early 2010. But on an immediate basis, my self-titled debut album is just coming out now, so I have some stuff to do to help promote it. In that regard, I will be doing some live shows in real life, and we’re making an effort to get terrestrial radio airplay here in the USA in addition to the Internet radio play we get on stations like IndieSpectrum Radio and SL Live Radio. While I’m not fooling myself into thinking my album will be some massive pop hit, I still want to do the things that will at least give it a chance to get heard, so the current focus is in that regard. I’m working closely with Kat on this stuff, since we’re partnering in a record label called Frothy Music to do the release of my album.

And, of course, I intend on continuing to do live performances in SL on a regular basis. On average, I do about 5-6 shows each month, and I have no plans of slowing down. At the end of the day, I play in SL because I really enjoy it, and as long as there are people who want to see and hear me, I’ll be there.

Lowell: Have you collaborated at all with other SL musicians and if not, is it likely to occur in the future?

Zak: I have, but not in the way I’d really prefer. I’ve taken part in a couple of collaborative efforts that were designed to bring some attention to the SL music community as a whole, but in both cases, I just sang a few lines on someone else’s song and didn’t have much direct participation beyond that. However, I would definitely love to really collaborate on something new with a fellow SL musician. While I don’t have any firm plans at the moment, having focused on my own album in recent months, I can absolutely see that happening at some point soon.

Lowell: You’ve put a lot of work into developing the Zak Claxton persona: do you see Zak as a creative psuedonym for Second Life only or is there a broader connection for you?

Zak: My story is pretty funny in this regard. I became Zak Claxton pretty much by accident; it was a name that I picked while signing up for SL in 2006 without giving it much thought. I certainly didn’t plan on it being a name I’d use for purposes other than in SL. At that stage, I wasn’t even fully aware that one could perform music in SL at all.

I started doing live shows in SL in early 2007, and I can now honestly say that around the world, many more people know the name Zak Claxton as a musician than they would associate music with my given name. If I already had some really great sounding, marketable name in real life, I might have been more open to using it for my musical endeavors. But unfortunately, I don’t; my real life last name is kind of long and German and clunky. So, Zak Claxton has become my official stage name. I find it likely that with or without SL, I probably would have chosen an alternative name which I’d use to release my music, just as Bob Dylan, Sting, and many other artists have done before me. It just so happened that Zak Claxton sounds cool, and I’ve already built a decent-sized following of fans who know me as Zak. It all worked out, despite not being part of a plan. I love when random things happen like that.

Lowell: Does Zak have any plans to perform in other environments like OpenSim, Twinity or Blue Mars?

Zak: I see no reason why not, though I have yet to delve into any virtual world beyond SL. To me, these are all platforms where new fans might be found. Live music is an appealing form of entertainment in just about any environment, and if OpenSim, Twinity and Blue Mars (or others) offer ways to attract an audience and do performances as easily as can be done in SL, I think it goes without saying that I’ll eventually be looking into them.

Lowell: Ignoring the Second Life aspect, why should people buy your album?

Zak: What I really want is for people to throw away all the other stuff when it comes time to judge my album worthy of purchase. Don’t think about SL. Don’t think of me as an avatar strumming a cartoon guitar on a virtual stage. And above all, don’t think, “He’s pretty good for an SL musician.” I want the music and the recording to be judged based on the same criteria you would any new music you’ve ever heard. If you hear something that connects with you, and you truly enjoy the music, then I hope you buy the album, or at least get on one of the online retailers like iTunes and purchase the song you like via digital download.

I think there are aspects of the album that will have a strong appeal to people who appreciate music that lasts longer than the typical pop tune. My strongest musical influences — people like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Police, and so on — seemed to write music that stands the test of time, and doesn’t necessarily feel dated after a few years go by. I would like to think that my album possesses some of the qualities that put it in a similar vein. And while some folks may want to skip over the harder rock stuff and others won’t bother with the softer stuff, I think there’s something on the album for everyone who enjoys well-crafted songs. I hope so, anyway.

Lowell: Have you managed to convince the other musicians on the album to join you in SL? If not, why not?

Zak: Well, I can say that they’ve certainly heard me babbling on for three straight years about how I view SL as a musician’s paradise. But what I usually get in return are excuses like, “That seems cool, but I don’t have time for it,” or, “I’m not sure my computer can handle the graphics,” and so on. In fairness to them, not all of my real life collaborators are the type of musicians who are comfortable doing solo performances, as most SL shows are done. Out of the three folks who helped me on my record, only Bunny has even tried out SL, and sparingly at that.

On a side note, I would enjoy the hell out of doing a full band show in SL. I mean, there are logistical challenges, but it’s been done both as real-time live performances with the band members in the same room, and as relay-streamed performances where each musician is in a different place. But it can be done. Like most things in life, it’s more a matter of people with busy schedules and jobs and families to take care of, rather than a lack of desire to do it. I think it’ll happen eventually.

Lowell: Is it true the drummer on your album spent many hours camping in SL casino chairs before the gambling ban came in?

Zak: Let me tell you something about my drummer: I love Bunny as much as any man can love another without deviating from his heterosexuality. His contribution to the overall feel of the album cannot be understated. He was right there for every moment of the recording sessions, and added invaluable opinions to the process of capturing the songs. The mere fact that he was probably better known as a punk rock guitar player before tackling drums on this album says a lot. He stepped up to the occasion, and while he’ll tell you with typical modesty that his performances were subpar, I tend to think that he was the best drummer on the entire planet for my music.

And yes, I think he did enjoy some camping chairs during his brief tenure in SL. It’s certainly true to his form.

Lowell: What advice would you have for musicians wanting to create music in Second Life – what mistakes should they avoid?

zc_streetZak: Lots and lots of mistakes to avoid. First and foremost, check your ego at the door, as Quincy Jones once famously said. I’ve seen a number of musicians come into SL thinking they should be the hot ticket from day one, since they have a bit of real life experience as a musician. But as I mentioned earlier, there’s actually a pretty deep talent pool in SL, and like any music scene you’re trying to break into, you have some dues to pay in terms of getting recognized.

Second, it��s pretty silly for musicians to think of SL as a viable income source in and of itself. Granted, there are folks who’ve worked their asses off to develop a large fan following, and perform several times per day every single day, and make relatively great tips at each show. I can see some of those folks making enough money to pay their rent, perhaps. But in the entirety of the SL music scene, which probably comprises over 500 people who perform on a regular basis, there are maybe three to five folks who fit this description. It’s a tiny percentage.

Third, while you shouldn’t set the expectations too high from the income available in SL itself, don’t get discouraged and quit. In my opinion, the real value of SL to musicians is exposure beyond your wildest dreams. Look, I live in Los Angeles, right? One of the world’s musical Meccas. And yet, there’s no possible way I would have had as many people listen to my original music as I have with SL. That’s not even mentioning the fact that I have fans who enjoy my music and are based in Australia, Canada, all over Europe, across the USA, and so on. The opportunity for getting your music out there is tremendous.

Here’s a simple thing that still needs to be said: if you’re at all serious about using SL to perform at a level expected for a professional musician, don’t try and sing and play through your computer’s built-in mic using Voice. You should treat it like you would any real show, meaning you use gear that’s appropriate for showing off your skills, and you use an audio stream that will give reasonable quality to your sound. Anyone can hear the difference when musicians are using decent mics, instruments, computer audio interfaces and so on.

Finally, keep in mind that despite the preponderance of people like me who strum acoustic guitars and sing in SL, there should be no limitations in terms of the type of music you play. I’d actually like to see more hip hop artists, more ambient and experimental music, more classical music, and more jazz in SL. In fact, there are probably entire audiences of SL residents who are just waiting for more varied types of musical performances. No matter what type of music you do or how you perform it, give SL a shot and see what happens.

Lowell: Aside from musicians in SL, which SL residents have inspired you the most?

Zak: I’m certainly amazed by the talented builders and scripters in SL. Some of what they do is awe-inspiring. A blog run by resident Bettina Tizzy called “Not Possible in Real Life” (http://npirl.blogspot.com/) sadly just decided to close, but the content there is fantastic, showcasing the art, architecture, and other creative aspects of SL. I would also say that some of the SL-centric social commentators like Crap Mariner have been enjoyable to get to know. Also, the few people who have successfully established business models that work in SL are inspirational from the standpoint of virtual worlds’ continuing acceptance into the mainstream.

All that having been said, my biggest inspiration in SL does indeed come from the community directly involved in the music world, which includes the artists, the people who own and run venues, and the fans. It’s been a positive inspiration since day one, and even if I’d never used SL as a platform for my own music, it would have been highly worthwhile based on the friendships I’ve made through the SL music scene.

Interview – JaNa KYoMooN, Second Life musician

jana0508_001JaNa KYoMooN, the avatar used by Jan Pulsford, is a musician I’ve known since the late 90s when we were both involved with online music collaboration via the now defunct Rocket Network. Via Twitter, I connected Jan and JaNa, and knowing her extensive background in music performance and composition, I asked her if she’s be happy to be interviewed on performing in Second Life. She kindly agreed and provides some useful tips for those thinking of starting their performance career in a medium like Second Life.

Lowell: Can you tell us a little of your pre-SL performance and composition history?

JaNa: I suppose I am considered a “veteran musician” who, as Jan Pulsford, has lived an incredible life jam packed with musical adventures that started in London amidst the electronic and hair revolution of the late 80s. Touring the world as keyboard player for pop band the Thompson Twins, I ended up in the USA where I built a recording studio in the woods of Tennessee and formed a production company “Madame la Pulse Productions” working with many independent artists including Felicia Collins (who is now the guitarist for Late Night with David Letterman) and Kat Dyson and Sir Jam who both became members of Prince’s musical entourage. I also formed one of the first online labels during the frenzied Internet revolution of the 90s: “Collecting Dust Recordings”, releasing CDs by artists Nigel Pulsford, guitar player with multi platinum rock band Bush and Grammy nominated Dulcimer legend David Schnaufer.

Cyndi Lauper heard my music and invited me to New York where from 1993-2001 I worked as her co-writer, producer and touring musical director. The partnership spawned some of Cyndi’s most artistic and critically acclaimed work with over twenty co-written songs released on the albums “12 Deadly Cyns” ~ “Sisters of Avalon” ~ “Merry Xmas” and “Shine”. I’ve always loved the rhythms of dance and wrote Cyndi’s club hits “Come on Home”, “You Don’t Know” “Higher Plane” and “Cleo and Joe” which led to working with Grammy nominated DJ Julian Marsh on many of his Pride CDs featuring Happy Charles and Jajucha and more recently UK artist Alan Connor and Evan Cowden.

I’ve been lucky enough to have songs performed by artists as diverse as Ani da Franco, Steps, Darlene Love, Chico Freeman, Bruce Wooley, the Leaders, Dr. Elmo, Sweet Dreams, Zoe Girl, Jeff Oster, Hazell Dean, Julian Marsh and Townes Van Zandt. I’ve also had over twenty albums of production music for film and TV released. You name a TV program and my music has probably been used on it – from Oprah to Jerry Springer, MTV to the BBC! Film scores include “Unhook the Stars”, “Intimacy” and Audrey Tatou’s “At the End” which was written with Jazz great Chico Freeman. We continue mixing jazz with electronica and triphop on such projects as “Zolace”, “CJ7″ and “aTHeNa BLue” the latter being best known for the ReQuieM 4 eLViS + JeSuS, which has been performed around a thousand times both on line and live at the City Skies Electronica festival in Atlanta and the Buzz + Click Festival for WRVU. Acid Planet recently ran a remix competition and it is being featured in an upcoming TV documentary about music for peace.

Lowell: During the 1990′s you were involved in net-based music collaboration, can you talk a little bit more about that?

jan_USBmidiJaNa: My fascination with music technology and computers started back in the days of the Oberheim System and continued through C-lab’s Notator on an Atari to working with Logic Audio on the Mac. I became a beta tester for Logic Audio’s Rocket Network, a global network of pioneers of on line collaboration and today I continue to develop that spirit in the 3D virtual world of Second Life where I perform as a solo virtual artist mixing electronica with ambient improvisations and rhythmic reflections.

I know that on line performance and collaboration is a huge part of the future of music and am still recording with people all over the globe, in fact that has been my mode of working for the last ten years. When Rocket disappeared, I reverted to using ichat/skype etc. passing midi files and audio via on line storage and yousendit. Everything has developed so quickly that it is really a lot easier to do than 10 – 15 years ago!

Lowell: What were the main things you learnt from that time that has helped your musicianship?

JaNa: It was great meeting like-minded people and showed that you don’t have to be in the same room to write music or a song! The thoughts flow down the wires and through the airwaves without the hindrance of physical contact – it’s the closest to mind melding and Spock. I was very fortunate to meet Chico Freeman on the Rocket Network who became one of my main writing partners. It was a truly brilliant concept and nothing has come close.

As an aside – I have learned over the years that too much software is developed by people who don’t understand or care about the practical uses. I’m about USING software and making it work for ME not playing the geek game. Most musicians are an altruistic lot and I have seen too many, myself included, unwittingly become enthusiastic unpaid beta testers for badly designed software for start up companies that ultimately will be sold off or floated on the stock market. . But that’s an article for another time!

Lowell: When did you first come across SL and what were your initial impressions?

JaNa: My first impression was it was a big black hole! I got into Second life in early 2006. My friend the ambient musician Tony Gerber had discovered it and as the avatar/musician Cypress Rosewood was having the time of his virtual life in a second life. . I followed him in as Emmeline Pankhurst and fast realised it could be an all-consuming proposition. After a major computer crash and several months later I tried again but couldn’t remember my password or any sign up details so rezzed a new avatar – ladies and gentleman – Miz JaNa KYoMooN. This time I “got it”

Lowell: When was your first SL gig and what are your memories of it?

JaNa: My first SL musical adventure was as part of the Peace Park Trio in 2006-7 playing at the Music ALL Music Peace Park, a sanctuary I built as a place of inner and global peace through music and the arts. I remember the exhilaration of really doing something new and special. We piggy backed three streams and played live. The mixture of electronica with dulcimer and Native American Flute was extremely successful. We played many gigs before the next crash – a mixture of Wall Street and black hole syndrome.

Lowell: When did you realise the music performance aspect would be a good option for you?

JaNa: In the summer of 2008 I started performing as a solo artist – quite a daunting prospect for someone whose whole musical life has been spent at the back of the stage or on the other side of the glass.

At first I was performing hard hitting electronica music from my aTHeNa BLue project but then as time went on it seemed the more down tempo, meditative ambient music was getting the biggest reaction. When I realized the positive aspect of performing this kind of music for spiritual and physical well being I decided to dedicate most of my performances in SL to this end.

Lowell: Can you give details of how you actually go about performing in SL?

JaNa: I have tried a few different setups. Running Logic and SL on the same computer can present problems so I try to have one computer for SL and the other one for Logic and Nicecast. I have also used GarageBand and iTunes to broadcast. I prepare sequences in Logic and prefer to have everything running live – I don’t use mp3s. Just the computer running sequences and me playing over them gives it a feeling of “anything could happen” – there is a certain energy from playing music live that you can’t communicate from lip syncing with ready made mixes. Everything I do with online concerts is prepared especially for that performance. To me music is a collection of moments and I usually capture what I play into Logic after each performance. Eventually I mix it down and make the music of the KYoMooN available as downloads in SL or on iTunes and CD Baby.

Lowell: What are some of your favourite SL venues to perform at?

jana_milesJaNa: They come and go but so many to choose from! The Music ALL Music Peace Park of course! The Pyramid art gallery and Club Ethereal run by Torben Asp and Jess Oranos. The Bluff Arts Center with ZeroOne Paz, Gaia Island with Enchantress Sao, Anthology with Trella Mohan, Dragonfly Reign with Magnolia Anthony and Broody Flow, Firehouse with Trowser Boa and Sugar Hill Island with Marjorie Dibou. The list goes on . . . . and on

Lowell: Have any SL experiences inspired you to write new music?

JaNa: Indeed! I believe music is all around us and we as composers learn to tap into that – we get our inspiration from a variety of stimuli depending where we are in our lives. I do try and write a new piece of music or arrangement for most events and of course if you are collaborating with someone you take into account the instrument and style they play e.g. Trowser and his sax, Cypress and his flutes, Trefies with his dulcimer, Miles with his fusion based keyboards etc.

The Solstice concerts have been very inspiring as have the Space Center events like Yuri’s Night which spawned “Floating with Yuri”; Silver Shimmers came about from the shimmers on the water at Alda Lair; Reflections of Indigo came from two art exhibitions – Indea Vaher and Gleman Jun. Others include Tibet Day and of course Relay for Life. Playing at the charity events are ALWAYS inspiring. That is the really positive side of SL.

For the past few years my RL inspiration was where I lived and the fields and nature that surrounded me. From the sound of the water babbling to the birds, the smell of honeysuckle and the beauty of the trees and flowers. The sight of the full moon to the sound of thunder. This was all reflected in the music I played in SL. I captured these musical moments into my computer. I might come back from a long walk, take a deep breath and play and programme the music I found. I like to think of it as painting and sketches with music. I use reflective piano and ambient synths tinged with echoes of world jazz and triphop.

Lowell: Which other SL performers do you enjoy the most?

JaNa: Torben Asp – A true bedroom electronica artist from Denmark whose venue Ethereal hosts the monthly E-fests. I got to hear him through Cypress Rosewood’s “When Worlds Collide” radio show

Tuna Oddfellow – unbelievable and indescribable visual show with very cool music streamed

Miles Eleventhauer – the jazzologist who I found one night whilst searching for “Jazz”. He plays a great mix from Queens New York

ZeroOne Paz – fellow logic user. I love his original music and covers played from his studio in San Francisco

Nuvolino Ruffino – excellent electronic trance artist from Australia

Formatting Helenoise – plays a wonderful esoteric mix of music to go with his very interesting photographs.

Leanna Luftig – love hearing her New Age music along with HappyCharles SideShow at the Goodbye Weekend Show

DJromex – plays GREAT trance in SL!

Swina Allen from Italy and the ambient Sunday music of cypress rosewood and hardhat Rickenbacker – the list goes on and on. Apologies for those I have missed

Lowell: What are your future plans with performance?

JaNa: I have recently changed computer timezones so am looking forward to resuming operations end of October. I am especially looking forward to continuing the GoodBye Weekend Show and “Behind the Monitor” – an interview show I tried earlier this year that was well received. Also plan on doing more poetry and music shows plus art/photographs with music. SL is the perfect platform for mixing visuals with music. However, more than anything I would really like to develop getting my music through SL into hospitals and hospices – it is such a wonderful platform for people who are disabled in one form or another. I have done several performances to benefit cancer patients and children with autism and really want to do more. Last Christmas we raised a good sum of money for UNICEF at the mAm peace park so the Music for Winter Festivals will be starting up again in November.

Lowell: For the newcomer to performing in SL, would you have any wise words to share?

JaNa: SL is a great platform to experiment and connect. It is a perfect parallel to the real world in terms of seeing yourself reflected in the virtual world. You can be performing to hundreds of people in a short period of time, you can learn from your mistakes and your successes and you can get immediate feedback. For new musicians it’s invaluable for planning a business model. I mean if no one comes to a show, why is that? Promotion is key. Posting to SL events and groups is time consuming but the results are very worthwhile – just like a real life gig.

Do your preparation, your promo, your sound check to make sure your stream is working. Be professional and get it all worked out before hand. There is nothing more annoying than hearing a performer blame the venue and SL about “lag” – go ahead of time to see what issues you may have to encounter and embrace the great opportunity the virtual world gives us and enjoy!! I host the “Goodbye Weekend Show” on Sunday night’s at the Music ALL Music Peace Park and have seen it grow from nothing to a packed SIM. It has helped me record three albums and develop Radio Jana. I wouldn’t have done that without Second Life.

Find out more about JaNa:

1. Calendar for dates and further info

2. Twitter

3. Pictures and event blogs

4. Buy the music – CD and downloads

If you’re a musician and would like to discuss your approach to virtual world performance, drop us a line.

Von Johin’s public relations bid for ‘stardom’

Today we received a breathless press release announcing a ‘world first’. The release in full then some commentary afterward:

Virtual Reality Becomes Reality for Second Life Musician

Foresthill, CA – For the first time in history, a virtual avatar has received a real worldwide recording contract. Second Life (SL) blues musician Von Johin has been signed to an artist contract with California based Reality Entertainment, Warren Croyle, CEO of Reality Entertainment, announced today. “Never before has a virtual character been signed to a worldwide recording contract. Von Johin is legendary in the virtual community Second Life for his heart pounding live shows,” says Croyle. Second Life resident Pud Puchkina, who in real life is director of operations for the east coast division of Reality Entertainment and Second Life resident Kateyes Wingtips, the virtual representative for Reality Entertainment have been scouting the growing number of live performers in SL for several months and handling the daunting task of choosing the Avatar that fits the ethos of Reality Entertainment – a multimedia, virtual music label, book publisher and film company. Puchkina stated, “It was a hard decision, but Von Johin is the real deal, he is original and plays from his heart. Just the man and his guitar, with just these two instruments and a virtual appeal like no other, he brings crowds to their feet daily.” Reality Entertainment plans to release Von Johin’s debut album exclusively on iTunes and then to all digital download outlets worldwide.

About Reality Entertainment:


Reality Entertainment (RE) is a diverse multimedia company that specializes in music, books and film. Known for #1 musical acts such as Marcy Playground and KC and the Sunshine Band, RE also is known for #1 best selling books on Amazon.com as well as nationally successful films such as The Extraordinary Voyages of Jules Verne.

About Von Johin:

Blues musician, guitarist and vocalist, Von Johin hails from Nashville, TN and grew up playing juke joints across the Midwest. An ardent follower of the blues greats, Von Johin delivers his powerful shows every week in the clubs and dance halls of Second Life. Once you hear Von Johin you never forget him because he is a unique performer who resonates deeply with his audience providing compelling and hypnotizing performances.

About Second Life:


Second Life is a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents. Each Resident participates in a virtual environment via their “Avatar” or second life persona. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has experienced explosive growth and today is inhabited by millions of residents from around the globe. Recently, live performances have become a viral phenomenon in Second Life with real life musicians performing to audiences within the SL global community.

Ok – there are two obvious flaws with the press release. First, there’s absolutely no way of verifying that this is the first avatar to have music ‘published’ worldwide. Second, any individual can now publish their music worldwide on iTunes using services like TuneCore for the princely sum of US $9.99 per year.

Expecting hyperbole from PR people is par for course, but this is an outright case of trying to get the lead spot in a race where the race already over. Applying 20th century concepts (worldwide recording contract) to the metaverse is bordering on farcical. It’ll be fascinating to see if the mainstream media pick this release up.

All that said, no comment is made on Von Johin’s ability as a musician. Avatar music performance in Second Life is one of it’s most interesting activities and here’s to continued growth in that area.

Update: Wired and New World Notes have picked up the story with no hint of understanding that everyone can buy their own ‘world record deal’.

Update 2: Von Johin has contacted us to emphasise that he is the first avatar to sign a record deal and given there’s no contrary evidence we accept that he is indeed the first. We also accept that the record deal may involve activities that offer more than services like TuneCore do. The main point was the hyperbole in the press release and the reality of cheap digital music delivery methods available to anyone wanting to utilise them. Of course, the purpose of record deals are to increase sales, so we look forward to seeing increased sales of music by avatars in Second Life.

SpaceJunky – Australian Second Life band doing well

I received a press release today from Australian Second Life resident Bella Dutton about music outfit SpaceJunky. The whole virtual band thing is far from new (I was involved in one in 1994) but it’s great to see another Australian artist doing well.

The full text:


Australian band SpaceJunky follows path from Tibet to Virtual Reality to the Next Big Thing

Tunes Island, SecondLife, (Jan 24, 2008) – This Thursday through the weekend millions of viewers around the world will have a chance to learn about an Australian band whose efforts to reach the public have taken the road less traveled, to say the least. Digress a few years: Tania Smith (known in SL as Shakti Cianci), lead singer and founder of Australian cosmic pop/rock band SpaceJunky traveled to Tibet and asked a Tibetan oracle in his temple if her band would ever be heard by the world. After rolling the dice an unusual four times and pondering for some moments he looked at her and simply said “yes”.


Flash forward to a year ago: Tania was searching the internet for an ancient Tibetan symbol that scholars like Robert Thurman of Tibet House were unable to decipher, and her search returned a link to a virtual online world she had never heard of before called SecondLife.

Tania then decides to re-create her band members in SL, eventually recruiting the help of a virtual publicist, stage manager and lighting designer, photographer, and other supporters on her team, with the intention of creating a virtual experience of a SpaceJunky concert in SL.

Now to the present: SpaceJunky’s shows are always packed and through their growing popularity they have gained fans around the world, sold cds, gotten real-world radio play and magazine covers, YouTube fan videos, offers to air their upcoming video and real life product endorsements….just like in real life.

So this week SpaceJunky are being featured in a CNN interview called the Next Big Thing with CNN Chief Technology and Environment correspondent Miles O’Brien whose attention was caught by their innovative use of cutting edge technology to promote their band. O’Brien has also long wanted to be the first news correspondent in space, so SpaceJunky had a virtual spaceship built in space for the interview, which will be aired on CNN and CNN International Jan 24 through the 27th.

All this is made more important by the fact that Tania and bandmates Luke Mason and Dan Harris live separately in the USA, Malaysia and Australia.
“Our dilemma is that our band members now live on three continents in three time zones on opposite sides of the planet, so being a band in Second Life allows us to promote our music and stay connected through the internet. Hopefully it will allow us to do what we really do, which is play live in real life too.” As professional musicians who have worked with large touring bands such as Kylie Minogue and stood on some of the world’s largest stages, they find it ironic that recognition might come to them as an animated virtual act.

Tania credits this cosmic journey to her Tibetan guidance, and as such is helping various Tibetan causes including aiding the project to build the Potala Palace in SecondLife, where the real life Dalai Lama himself will be invited to visit, and if so she will have the opportunity to sing for His Holiness. Tania admits that honor would be “virtually amazing”. “

Interview – Dexter Ihnen (Dexter Moore)

Dexter Moore (SL: Dexter Ihnen) is one of a growing number of Australian musicians performing in Second Life. Like most, he’s a well-established real-life musician who’s built up a loyal SL following. At present, he’s number one most played artist on Slusic.com, so he’s obviously doing something right. We caught up with Dexter this week to find out a little more about the life of an SL musician.

Lowell: When did you first get interested in Second Life?

Dexter: I started performing in Second Life March 2007 – SL was mentioned to me and I had seen it in passing on TV too. Since then I’ve been doing up to 8 shows a week. I’ve pulled back to 4-5 for now as my RL career is extremely busy both coming up to Christmas and after my award for RnB Song of the Year on ABC Australian Radio. Anyway, I entered in to SL in Feb 2007 and spent a month just getting used to the virtual world experience. It’s been an amazing experience since I started, right up to today.


Lowell: Was music the drawcard for you initially or were you just checking it out?

Dexter: My brother said he thought it might be a good platform for my music. I came in to have a look and a listen I didn’t really think it would become integral in my life – but I do follow up ideas

Lowell: What are the attractions of performing in-world versus real life?

Dexter: Performing in Second Life is quite unique, The most fascinating aspect is the direct personal feedback you experience whilst playing. This is not very possible in RL as one person in an auditorium cannot make themselves heard over the volume of the concert, but here they can talk directly to the artist and the artist to them – I really dig that :)

Lowell: Without getting too technical, how do you actually get your music and voice in-world?

Dexter: In my studio I have 2 separate mixers and 2 computers also. One mixer has in built FX and I plug my stereo Godin guitar, vocal, congas and roto-toms into it. As well as that I record any backing tracks I create and choose to use into it also ( it is an 8 track hard disk recorder too ) I send a stereo mix out of that into my main mixer which has a Firewire connection to my main music computer. This is also wher I take my headphone feed. I stream the out of my music computer with SimpleCast. Meanwhile, I run SL on my other computer which I run at standing eye level. This is the one I interact with while performing. The reason I run 2 computers is that if I crash I know that the stream is still stable.

Lowell: How would you describe the music you perform?

Dexter: Interdimensional SOUL – FUNK ;)


Lowell: How have you built up a following in SL?

Dexter: I worked my butt of for 6 months – to the point of burn out! Up to 8 shows a week, plus 3 RL shows and a major recording project. I moved around a lot in that time – but I am pretty much in a holding pattern until the New Year now until the RL Christmas season commitments subside.

Lowell: What are your goals in the longer term with performance in SL?

Dexter: I want to tour the world playing live to my SL fans plus whomever else is into my music. SL fans though will always have a special status with me. Prior to that I have a number of ideas to bring to life here in SL;

Lowell: Who inspires you in SL?

Various types of people inspire me in SL: Dane Zander – Lost Gardens of Apollo builder. Skribe Forti, Film maker. Circe Broom and Slim Warrior, entrepreneurs. And anyone having lighthearted fun :)

Lowell: What are three SL landmarks that you keep coming back to again and again?

1. The Lost Gardens of Apollo
2. The Wild Coast
3. Tableau – Roller Disco, 10 pin bowling, Cool shops,

Lowell: What are the pet hates you have about how SL operates that affects your ability to perform?

Dexter: In this order:
1. Crashing ( sim crash excepted – we all have a strange affection for that one lol )
2. Freezing & heavy lag
3. Notecards ( they cover up my guitar controls )