Monday, September 28, 2009

Chouchou's new and virtual musical instrument: The Babel

Sometime this October, Chouchou, the Japanese musical group that exists only in Second Life®, will unveil The Babel, a new virtual musical instrument that harnesses their uncommonly fresh sound and makes it possible for anyone in SL to play and compose with it.

Arabesque Choche and Juliet Heberle are Chouchou, and together they have released two albums and several Machinima, and their live and streamed music wafts over its mostly virtual listeners like tropical oxygen, restoring their equilibrium after the agitations of the day.

What's all the excitement about? Check out this recent and stunning live performance, shot and edited by tadakuma Koba, featuring their new piano piece - r.i.p. - which Arabesque composed for his beloved father who recently passed away from a brain tumor. "His father taught him piano and the beauty of music," explained Juliet.

Chouchou - the sim - is possibly the chill-est spot on the grid to unwind, and you haven’t really experienced all that SL has to offer until you’ve used the free Chouchou HUD, which delivers panoramic views and deliciously slow camera tracking for a brilliant cinematic effect.

While the music industry may be dying a little death with each new Napster clone, virtual worlds are enabling new technical and artistic possibilities for composers and performers. Chouchou’s new Babel marks a novel step forward in that interplay. It is a towering and sculptural staircase in a pure-as-driven-snow white setting surrounded by contrastingly black boxes that hang mid-air, each endowed with a pre-loaded mini-clip of Chouchou’s trademark sounds.

Touch a box to hear a few keys of Arabesque’s fingers dancing over a piano keyboard or some harp strings, for example. Touch a percussion box and Chouchou’s unforgettable static and cymbals are heard. You can mix these sounds any way you like to create your own compositions, or purchase a full set to take home with you and play there.

The music in this video was created with "The Babel." Chouchou hopes that visitors to the Babel will record their compositions via Machinima and upload them as a response to this video

Here’s Chouchou’s tutorial for how to use the Babel:

I met with Chouchou at the Babel to learn more.

“In the Bible,” explained Arabesque Choche, “before the Tower of Babel was destroyed, all people could speak same language. In our Babel, people from all over the world can communicate through music."

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”- Genesis 11:1-9 (King James Version)

Arabesque Choche studied classical music and majored in piano study: “I often play Russian post modern music, but when I listen, Ravel is my favorite composer”

Each floor at the Babel is a different “track” or composition by Arabesque, and the boxes are grouped as elements with specific codes and chord progressions, and organized according to musical rules. Beneath each grouping of elements, there are boxes that have chords that can serve as accompanists. Each box in the same "element" is compatible with those chords. Some of the stairs have sounds embedded, as well.

Chouchou expects to add floors and “tracks” featuring new compositions over time. “The tower is growing,” said Juliet. “It's alive. Those sounds – our sounds – are born in a tidy room like a laboratory at the top of the tower and fall down below to make the tower of sounds. They might look scattered and random, but they are all kept where they are meant to be with certain rules. The tower is like our virtual music album. Each level is one track of the album and people visiting the Babel are making the album with us... together. ”

“When we play music in C major, it has a strong connection with G major, which is known as the ‘perfect fifth.’ In the Babel, I made every effort to ensure that elements that are close to each other have that perfect 5th relationship,” explained Arabesque. “This prevents the cacophony of many people playing the boxes simultaneously,” added Masami Kuramoto, Chouchou’s trusted friend and promoter, “so even if there are boxes near different elements, it still works, and this is what most other sound sculptures don't get right.”

Juliet, whose ethereal voice was surely dipped in honey, adds so much to each song but had never studied singing, and instead prepared for a career in fashion. “For me, designing fashion and singing are not so different,” she said. “I just do whatever feels right, but I need good music to feel something and sing to it, and Arabesque's compositions have that effect. I'd never taken singing seriously until Arabesque asked me to sing for him.”

It turns out that Juliet’s voice is Arabesque’s instrument, too. “I had initially made additional synthetic voice elements for the Babel in the same scale as Juliet’s voice,” added Arabesque, “but then I decided not to publish those because Juliet's original voice is just perfect for the melody."

I became insatiably curious about that first moment when Juliet sang for Arabesque, and what his reaction had been. Juliet had always loved his music, “so when he asked me to sing to it, I felt like my dream had come true. Then I wrote the lyrics for Chouchou’s first song: utakata.”

“To tell the truth, I didn't expect her singing to work well with my compositions,” interjected Arabesque. “I was aware that she was talented and that she understood my music, but hadn’t anticipated that she would perform so smoothly. My feeling during that discovery was... so happy. I was so glad.”

Chouchou has just released a new song, Sputnik. Their MySpace page can be found here. You can join their in-world group in Second Life: Chouchouholic for all their updates and news. You can teleport to Chouchou, the sim, directly from here.

See also:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Andrek Lowell's new Bentham Forest... will creep you out

Photographers are going to have a field day at Bentham. There simply isn't a Windlight preset that it doesn't look great in. It's those light rays...

This is one scary forest. I got so spooked at times, while walking around taking pics, that I could feel the little hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. In the interest of full disclosure, its creator, the hobbit Andrek Lowell, is a dear friend and also the creator of my own sim, Chakryn Forest.

The mushroom forest

"I hate this place," said Andrek, while we were standing in one particularly creepy area surrounded by glowing red eyes in the darkness. "It gets to me big time. Scared of my own creations... yeesh."

Andrek Lowell

A few weeks ago, Lauren Bentham commissioned Andrek to create Bentham Forest on a Homestead sim in Second Life®. She would later add several elements of her own, including the elder mushrooms, a shack and the lighted path to it, as well as sculptures by Pumpkin Tripsa and trees with eyes by lonetorus Habilis. Andrek included four of his super entertaining quests, as well as forest-appropriate gifts for visitors.

Dark passageway

What was your assignment?

Andrek Lowell: My assignment was to create a dark haunted forest. Her wording for it was a "dark version of Chakryn." My first reaction was, "eh..." mainly because Chakryn, light or dark, is still Chakryn, so I decided to go with a more themed version. I designed this project as a game for the mind. I tried my best to portray the feeling of unease, and dread, if not outright fear.

Did you spook yourself?

Andrek Lowell: Several times. I can barely stand going into a couple of the installations. I tweak and then port right the heck out.

The whole thing is 2,404 prims!

Andrek Lowell: About 400 - 600 of those aren't mine.

Did you do all in 3ds?

Andrek Lowell: All of this is done in Max yep, 'cept for the sounds. I did those using Audacity.

What is your favorite part?

Andrek Lowell: I particularly like the mushroom forest. I've been wanting to do something like that for a while. Other than that, I love the crystal caves. Um... there isn't much of this sim I don't like really.

Andrek Lowell standing in the crystal cave

How many quests are there? Are they difficult?

Andrek Lowell: I created four quests, using scripts by Desdemona Enfield. Two of them are pretty easy. Only one of them gives location hints. Hopefully they won't be as easy as Chakryn quests are. Two of the quests have three items to find, one has four items, and the last has five items. The quests feature items created by Lauren, as rewards for completion. I've also hidden five crates of goodies: small elements of the forest.

So, how much fun was this?

Andrek Lowell: It was hard to stop working, and I forgot to eat today, =).

The elder mushrooms - with the faces - are by the sim's owner, Lauren Bentham

What kind of forest would you like to make next?

Andrek Lowell: I want to make a new Chakryn Forest on Blue Mars, and also I've very much wanted to make mushrooms for a while. My hope is to one day create a hyper fantasy forest, where the rules of nature apply loosely, like they sorta do here: Giant things, odd things, lights that don't make sense but look neat, basically a fairy tale... large mushrooms, glittering trees, but with a warm, joyful, colorful setting.

Teleport to Bentham Forest directly from here.

See also:
How to view this forest: Do not count on seeing everything by camming or using your Space Navigator. Many smaller sculpties will not render. Turn up your sounds (not your music). The sounds alone are worth the trip! Look for the dark passageway, the crystal cave, the wicked red eyes...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A new machinima from the fertile mind of Lyric Lundquist

I consider it an event whenever Lyric Lundquist publishes a new machinima of hers, and this time is no exception. She had taken a short break from Second Life® - we missed you, Lyric! - but apparently got right back to work making beautiful things the moment she returned.

"I named this video after a quote from one of my favorite books by Chuck Palahniuk - Invisible Monsters," she explained.

"The world," Brandy says, "Is your cradle and your trap. And if you can find any way out of our culture, then that's a trap too. Just wanting to get out of the trap reinforces the trap."
Lyric, who's lush cinematic videos always make me think that MTV is creaky and old by comparison, continued, "I tried to take my time with this machinima instead of totally indulging myself and just going for images that are aesthetically pleasing and meaningful only to me with no obvious story line to an outside viewer. Instead, I kept the images I loved while also attempting to portray a story."

"The surface level story is about a girl trapped in a black and white world, but when she films, she sees a world of color with a darker, more lustrous version of herself. It tempts her to cross over and leave her colorless world behind. In the end though, I try to show that perhaps the key is not trying to find a way 'out of the trap,' by choosing one world over the other. Both worlds have their dangers, and by struggling, it only reinforces that the bonds that hold me down are real," said Lyric.

cradle and trap from lyric_lundquist on Vimeo.

  • Song is by Saltillo - Backyard pond.
  • Locations: Chouchou and a sim being developed by Hern Worsley.
  • Clothing and accessories by Cora Lu and her Paper Couture, Triangle Cauldron, the creator of "ghost!," and Bark Aabye's BjD "Hades Horns."
  • Animations by Surrealia Anatine
  • Lyric also wishes to thank Skills Hak for creating the Emerald Viewer: "It injected my SL with a whole new kind of magic. After playing endlessly with the myriad of settings, it was what originally inspired me to make this lil film."

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spun fantasy: The Metaverse Broadcasting Company

There's a new sim on the grid featuring lacy, gossamer-like buildings that almost defy description. The structures are somewhat Moorish, highly articulated, and futuristic, too, thanks to their aqua-tinted bubble windows. You will recognize the style if you were familiar with Planet Mongo which, by the way, is gone! The sim is still there, but it seems that new plans for it are in the works.

Lumiere Noir has made a virtual career of teaching others to create in Second Life® via his self-guided, self-paced, hands-on tutorials of the in-world building tools at his Ivory Tower of Prims, but he didn't stop there. His vehicles are fantastical and incredibly fun, and his Flash Gordon-inspired sim was one of my favorite creations on the grid.

Robustus Hax and Dousa Dragonash of the Metaverse Broadcasting Company (MBC) commissioned Lumiere to create this spun fantasy, which he accomplished with less than 6,000 prims. Look for the pinneapple! The saxophone! The turtle head! Look up through the inside of buildings, and down at them from above. Exquisite, precision detailing.

Lumiere is planning a suspension bridge between this sim and another that will have a conference center. He says he's never had more fun doing a build. Teleport directly from here.

See also:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Oberon Onmura knocks me over and blows me away

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Blame the summer heat, my haste in recent months, or simply my incomprehension and obtuseness, but I didn't appreciate what others saw in Oberon Onmura's Second Life® work. I was also quite unhappy with Oberon a few months ago when the New York artist left a large gray scripted building plop atop the works of others on the Brooklyn is Watching gallery floor, thereby inhibiting my ability to enjoy everyone else's pieces. While this was not good form, it did have the effect of branding the name "Oberon Onmura" on my brain. It was going to take a lot to turn me around.

And a lot has happened: Two striking and, I feel, important highly kinetic and interactive installations.

The first appears to have been assembled in a flash. Plaza or "Uneven Floor" is rezzed for just a short while on the new Brooklyn is Watching floor (teleport directly from here). Oberon describes it thusly: "A quick piece converted from the 'Storm Cells' scripts, It's a plaza where the pavers rise and fall, and change color from white to gray to black. Also, they randomly rez chairs which are physical objects that often fall or get disrupted by the changing design of the plaza."

The Tunguska Event (teleport directly from here) simply bowled me over. Oberon has harnessed Second Life's winds and physics to portray his vision of a powerful explosion that occurred near Russia's Tunguska River on June 30, 1908.

To get the overhead effect, sit on one of the red "cushions" at the arrival area or on one of the four corners of the installation, and then hit "escape" a couple of times to enable Oberon's special viewer. It helps to maximize your draw distance and particle effects, too

It is believed that an air burst caused by a large meteoroid or comet fragment about 5–10 kilometres (3–6 miles) above the Earth's surface, estimated to have the energy equivalent of 1,000 times the Hiroshima bomb, knocked over approximately 80 million trees spanning 2,150 square kilometres (830 square miles).

Curated by Zachh Cale, who will perform a piano piece he has composed especially for the public opening at 2pm SLT, Sunday, September 20th, the installation was sponsored by Project Z Gallery.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Franco Brambilla's cute aliens (and pirates)

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Impossible IRL'er and über virtual explorer Molly Montale wrote to share Franco Brambilla's Flickr stream and "sci-fi imagery Photoshopped on to retro Swiss postcards," and because we are always interested in Real Life artists who inspire us, we had to follow up with him.

Where are you, Franco?

Franco: I live and work in Milano, in the north of Italy, a decadent, conservative post industrial city. I'm a free-lance illustrator, specialized in sci-fi. Since 1999, I have been working every month for URANIA, the Italian sci-fi book collection by Mondadori that began in 1952. I do a lot of "post production" with Photoshop and Painter but I also use some 3d programs such as 3ds Max, Poser and Bryce. You can find many of the book covers I created for them here.

Are you a resident of any virtual worlds and have you considered using these as a platform to create your art?

Franco: No, I don't visit virtual worlds too often, but I did shape a virtual asteroid attacked by space pirates for club NEVERDIE.

Why this obsession with cute aliens?

Franco: Obsession?

If you had the opportunity to spend an entire day alone with a friendly alien, what are some of the highlights that you would show and share with it about our planet?

Franco: First, I would ask him to show me Earth from orbit, and maybe take a little detour to the moon. Then I think I would invite him to meet my family and friends before asking him to take us to a better place... his planet maybe? Italy is full of fantastic locations and art that an alien with superior technology probably visited and appreciated already... Maybe, before going, I would ask him to vaporize our Parliament with all the politicians inside... Mars Attack style :)))))

Forget text, forget voice. EMOTE!

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Polish Olza Koenkamp (aka Piotr Kopik) is a full time artist with two full lives: one as a human and another as an avatar in Second Life®. His virtual self operates a store where he sells freakish avatars of his own creation. In Real Life, he paints and is a co-founder of szu szu, a group that creates art for public spaces.

Now Olza has made this charming seemingly animated machinima in which his avatars speak not with text, or voice, but with emoticons.

Olza is fascinated with the inside of his body. He doesn't care what it looks like, but concentrates instead on his feelings, how his body works and its relationship with his mind and psyche. His interest in Eastern philisophies and practices such as yoga, led to his "realization" that he needed to REBUILD himself.

From that point forward, he gave his Real Life works the moniker PSYCHOSOMATIC REBUILDING. In Second Life, he refers to his activities as PSYCHOSOMATIC REBUILDERS.

You can teleport to Olza's PSYCHOSOMATIC REBUILDERS shop from here. Hat tip: Cutea Benelli.

See also:

Sneak peek: Feature length machinima VolaVola

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Nearly two years in the making, VolaVola / FlyMe is the Italian feature length machinima shot in Second Life® and directed by Berardo Carboni, expected to have its debut in a few months.

Pre-production work is now in effect for the same screenplay to be shot in live action in Rome, Italy. Two films, two mediums, but the same story.

The plot aims to disorient the viewer and make it difficult to discern what is real and what is not.

Director: Berardo Carboni (aka Finally Outlander)
Machinimatographer: Evo Szuyuan
Assistant Director: Fau Ferdinand
Editor: Simone Bellonio
Screenplay: Berardo Carboni and Frank Koolhaas
Music: Andrea Gabriele
Builder: Stella Costello
Costume, Hair and Makeup Design: Honey Fairweather
Production Assistance: Liz Solo

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Remember the chimp? Well now it's gone APE

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Some of you may recall my utter fascination over Ripped Winkler's chimp. I had run into someone who was doing precision animations with a baton, but wearing this fantastic avatar. I snapped a couple of pics, crashed and then logins were disabled. I could barely sleep that night. I know, I know, get a grip Bett. It's an avatar! But yeah, I just loved it. I blogged it and by the time I woke up I had all the answers I could ever hope for. (Thanks again, you guys).

For five months now, Ripped has been laboring away, learning to script and making custom animations for his newest: MONGO KOKO, a giant gorilla avatar that pays homage to the legendary great apes "Gigantopithecus blackii" of prehistoric times. These apes inspired tales of giant ape men from the time of the first spoken word to the folklore about Bigfoot (North American), the Yeti (Himalayas), the Moehau (Nz), Yowie (Australia), the Afghan Barmanou, and the Vietnamese Batutut, to name a few.

MONGO KOKO stands 20 meters tall and has 30 HUD-driven animations. "The animations are mine, though some have motion captured data mixed in to add noise and realism," explained Rip. "None were easy to fit to his over-sized nature," he added. And he can carry an avatar in the palm of his hand!

This gorilla costs a pretty penny: L$4,000, but he's worth every dime in my opinion. The quality of the work astonishes. Have a look.

Machinima by Branco Merlin

When I asked Ripped if he was from Australia, he replied, "Shure as a Roo's got a pouch!"

Teleport to Ripped's store, New MonkeyMoon, directly from here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Giving new (hawt!) meaning to virtual dancing

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

When fine jeweler Random Calliope wrote to say that he was onto something really novel that would transform the way couples dance in Second Life®, I hardly knew what to expect. Standard procedure has required that each partner hop on a set of pose balls (traditionally pink for her and blue for him). More often than not, each set has enabled them to dance one kind of dance, such as salsa, tango, or the waltz. Some time ago, people began packing several dance animations into one gizmo that when touched, offered a HUD from which couples could choose between salsa, tango or the waltz, for example. Typically, the avatars begin to dance while their typists become engrossed in conversation, with an occasional glance at the whirling dancers.

Random was right. Through avid collection and study, his friend Ashen Coalcliff has organized the best couples dances in Second Life in a new way that enables us to communicate with our partner through dance, while we are dancing. I'd call it "active" virtual dancing. The gist of it is in the naming of the dances, or rather the mood and tempo of the dances.

In the accompanying notecard, Ashen explains it this way:

The first part of the name refers to the tempo (speed of the rhythm) which is expressed as:

S - Slow
MS - Medium Slow
M - Medium
MF - Medium Fast
F - Fast

In order to discover the tempo of the song you are listening to, just start tapping your toe. Most songs are Medium tempo. Once you have a feel for what "medium" means all the other tempo speeds reveal themselves. Simple enough.

The second part is choosing the mood of the song, or what you want to communicate to your partner. Is it a sexy song or a fun, fun song? Or is it a fun song and you just want to be sexy? You can choose that, too. As long as you choose your tempo correctly you will choose right.

Dance is interpretation. There is no wrong way. But finally you have control of the dances and you will never again have to remember the name of a dance or accidentally grind up against that new dance partner you want to impress.

Most of the best ideas are the simplest ones, aren't they? I shared Ashen's SyncDancer with machinimator and Second Life veteran Osprey Therian and wondered out loud if others would find it as innovative as I did and if there was a way to demonstrate it via machinima. To my delight, Osprey's reply was "yes," and "yes." Then Straylight/Botanical creator of the wonderful trees Kriss Lehmann agreed to be my dance partner, we donned outfits by his Real and Second Life partner Shai Delacroix (Casa del Shai) and this is what happened...

Many, many thanks to Elizabeth Tinsley who represented Ashen and the SyncDancer during the production, helping out in numerous ways

I think that's some of Osprey's best work, don't you?

I've never met Ashen but we exchanged emails.

To what do you attribute your fascination with virtual dancing and how many animations do you have?!

Ashen: My friend Random Calliope is the first dance collector I ever knew. He had all the couples dances dating back to when Second Life started. They were not good at all by today's standards but at that time they were fascinating. Singles dances actually moved my avatar so I became hooked on them, but I didn't know back then what quality was. When Sine Wave brought motion capture (mocap) dances to SL, I was giddy just like everybody else. I already had hundreds of the "other" dances and had become frustrated at some vendors' dishonest duplication of them.

I have 987 singles mocap dances, and another 300 or so that aren't, and they are often duplicates from various vendors that they sell by other names. They are mostly free uploads that someone has turned into a business and the quality is nowhere near motion capture. There has been a kind of renaissance in motion capture dance this last year. When Henmations came along, they set the bar higher than Sine Wave had. Then Studio 4D came behind them and pushed it even higher.

I don't know how many couple's dances I have. I have all the motion capture and Bits & Bobs ones. I include Bits & Bobs in there because they are of similar quality to motion capture, although Craig Altman masterfully puts them together frame by frame in Poser.

Who made most of the dance animations now available in your SyncDancer?

Ashen: It is a toss-up between 3FX and Henmations. They are different styles, but together they have set the standard to beat in motion capture couples dances.

Empowering a couple with the ability to communicate their moods with each other through dance is certainly an innovation in SL.

Ashen: I think this is what everyone wants to do on the dance floor anyway. Dance is communication like any other art.

Will it be available in a chimera or something that one of the dancers might wear?

Ashen: That has been a dream of mine for a long time. There just is no dance HUD in SL that can handle what I have all the information for. I am told that it would be a significant challenge even for the best known scripters, and I am not even a novice scripter. All I've done with the SyncDancer Couple's Dance configuration is apply what I know about SL dance to the popular Intan Eksotics product.

What's next for Ashen Coalcliff and the SyncDancer?

Ashen: I really want to see the day when everything I know about singles dancing will be at everybody's fingertips. I want people to experience that next level that dancing gives us and feel the music with SL.


The SyncDancer is pricey, to say the least, but if you like to dance with a partner in Second Life, I can't imagine being without it. There are four versions: Platinum, Gold, Silver, and the Light Fantastic.

Ashen: I couldn't bring myself to put dances in these dance balls that did not meet the highest of standards. There are only 58 dances in all of SL that meet the high standards I demand. The Platinum SyncDancer Ball contains all 58 of those.

The average couple's dance in SL costs L$500, and with 58 dances, plus the dance ball, plus the singles dances that play when you're waiting for your partner to join you, just one of these Platinum balls is a commitment in Linden Dollars (L$39,900). That said, it was important to create something that anyone can own, not just the biggest clubs. So the Bronze version (L$9,900) with 15 dances was created, giving the owners something that will match any song, but without the intensity of the more expensive and expansive collections.

You can try out the SyncDancer and order your own copy by teleporting directly from here. Each SyncDancer is handmade as the dances need to be purchased on your behalf or, alternatively, your own dances can be loaded and customized.