Reviews and Media



Avatar Orchestra makes magic

Avatar Orchestra Metaverse performance March 27, 2010 at Sea Turtle Island in Second Life. Review by Michael Peters on his Time Stands Still blog (Photos by Jeff Duke)

The concert was organized by AOM member Flivelwitz (Tim Risher) and was performed by

Flivelwitz Alsop (Tim Risher, North Carolina)
Bingo Onomatopoeia (Andreas Mueller, Bavaria)
Humming Pera (Tina Pearson, British Columbia)
Maxxo Klaar (Max D Well, Bavaria)
Zonzo Spyker (Vivian Corringham, Minnesota)
North Zipper (Norman Lowrey, New Jersey)
Gumnosophistai Nurmi (Leif Inge, Oslo)
BlaiseDeLaFrance Voom (Biagio Francia, Agropoli)
Paco Mariani (Chris Wittkowsky, Bavaria)
Lizsolo Mathilde (Liz Solo, Newfoundland) 

The four compositions performed were Bjorn Eriksson's Fragula, Tina Pearson's PwRHm, Tim Risher's Ritual and Andreas Muller's Aleatricity.

Time Stands Still: My Avatar is Not Blue
by Michael Peters

"I went to an amazing concert yesterday - while sitting at home. Or shall we say, as my 'real' body was sitting at home? I was watching the performance while sitting in some kind of amphitheatre, surrounded by two or three dozen of very strange other people. Maybe I was the strangest of all because I didn't even look like a human - for some reason, the avatar that I had chosen looks like a fox.

Since my first login to Second Life a couple of years ago, I had not spent much time there - I always thought it was a nice thing in theory, but disappointingly clunky in reality. I had originally come here with ideas of cyberspace (as William Gibson coined it) or the metaverse (as Neal Stephenson called his version), some other kind of immersive reality full of wonder (as if our regular reality wasn't full of wonder).

Second Life was obviously inspired by these ideas, and even though we still can't directly plug in using some kind of firewire plug in our heads, and instead have to type on keyboards and look on screens, and even though the graphics are far less perfect than I had expected, it has evolved (since its launch in 2003) into an amazing huge parallel universe full of people that interact in many ways (I read that about 60,000 people are logged in at any given moment) , and more places than one can ever visit.

Usually while my fox avatar had explored SL, he was more or less alone - I seem to be drawn more towards the lonely island than towards a busy bar full of strangers. It was nice yesterday though to be in the audience with at least one person that I knew (Jeff Duke, a fellow loop musician from Florida, who also took two photos during the performance - see below).

The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse is a collective of musicians from all over the world, one of them being Pauline Oliveros, to my surprise, a key figure of avantgarde music, livelooping, and deep listening. The orchestra has weekly rehearsals and performs in Second Life, but sometimes also in "First Life". For their Second Life performances, special technology has been developed such as virtual instruments and interactive animations.

The concert yesterday lasted for about one hour. The orchestra consisted of about a dozen musicians this time (with funny Second Life names such as Flivelwitz Alsop, Bingo Onomatopoeia, Humming Pera, Gumnosophistai Nurmi, BlaiseDeLaFrance Voom), playing four compositions by four composers who also did the conducting. The performances were a mixture of very different kinds of electronic sounds, movements, and animations, and I found that I was quickly drawn into their special virtual reality kind of magic and the astonishing dynamics of the pieces.

Something interesting, but hard to describe, happens when one suddenly forgets about the virtuality of this, and gets drawn into this world, which is, after all, populated by avatars of real people. Amazing how quickly the brain gets adjusted to something that is so different to our usual reality. It felt similar to sitting in a really fascinating movie and forgetting about sitting in a movie theatre.

Getting out of this, and back into ordinary reality: the brain switches back, but it takes some minutes. Until then, I wonder about the amazingly high resolution of the trees on the hill and how smoothly I can move across the terrace."



Avatar Orchestra Metaverse

Written by Zubbie Capalini., 2007

Images courtesy of AOM. (Image 1) Loop Luo, (Image 2 & 5) Bingo
Onomatopoei, (Image 3 & 4) Sugar Seville.

Avatar Orchestra Metaverse (AOM) are a core group of composers, musicians
and sound artists who come together to perform live gigs on instruments they’ve
built themselves. So far so oh hum you say, except that in this case these guys
perform exclusively in the virtual world of Second Life, through their avatars.
But rather than trying to recreate Real Life (RL) instruments to perform RL music,
AOM are adamant that “we try to concentrate on the strengths of SL, that is
spatial sound, worldwide communication and immediate contact to potential
collaborators. The composition itself usually means that somebody has an idea,
generates some samples, we see how they sound when played by the orchestra
and then Bingo will build an instrument to play them, together with some means
of visualising the point when the single avatar plays back a sound. And: yes, we
often have scores, but more in a modern John Cage way. Most of the time we
follow a conductor, but this is also done in a more modern, improvisational

According to AOM member Gumnosophistai Nurmi, “an apparent factor
distinguishing Avatar Orchestra Metaverse from other musical events within
Second Life is that they realize that the common props, the look alike instrument
the performer looks like it is playing on, will never be anything but props in
Second Life. This gives them the opportunity to also employ other ways of
visualizing the sound performance, and indeed the orchestra counts among its
members programmers, architects, visual and performance artists as well as
musicians and the entire possible mixed breed. The visual aspect of a Avatar
Orchestra Metaverse concert can be a bewildering experience.”

As Bingo Onomatopoeia explains, the orchestra uses tools afforded by the multiplayer gaming platform to play together from remote locations:
“The instruments are seen and operated by the performer as controls on the
screen, in vehicles and games this is commonly named a HUD (Head Up
Display). The single notes/sounds are triggered with the mouse. For most
instruments we have visualisation-devices - a gadget worn on the back of the
avatar that changes shape and color when a note is played. The latest
improvements are animations that move the avatar in sync with the notes. This is
not necessary for generating the music itself, but it is an important clue for the
audience about what is happening: We usually mix into the audience, so there is
no stage/audience situation with known instruments or orchestra-roles that
makes it clear who is doing what at which particular moment. I think this is one of
the big advantages of SL: We can create completely new settings for our
performances and are in direct contact with our listeners. “

And because of the nature of the internet, whilst the orchestra performs
composed pieces, there is always an element of improvisation since, as
Gumnosophistai points out: “the ever present time delays affecting all use of
broadband cooperation will also add to the indetermination here. Simply put, it
takes time from playing the sound to hearing the sound. Even if the orchestra
perform composed pieces and do attempt to follow a score and a conductor, all
the factors in live performances are dependent on both the performers and the
environment. It will never achieve the same piece sound exactly the same each
time. By not only accepting these limitations, but also embracing them, the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse approach Second Life as the instrument itself. “
The result is a blend of acousmatic and electronic music, experimental in every
aspect, and it makes for a great listening, and interactive, experience.

Second Life is providing a new platform and a new audience for musicians, and
many are embracing it as an opportunity of streaming Real Life musical events.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has recently announced such an
event, and we will be able to see and hear a Real Life live performance in a
virtual philharmonic hall in Second Life. AOM takes the opposite approach.
Their live concerts in Second Life are usually timed to be part of a Real Life
festival somewhere, so that the Real Life audience can watch the performance
on screen in real time.

But it’s not quite the same as being “inworld” as Gumnosophistai explains: “The
audience experience in Second Life is essential to the performances of Avatar
Orchestra Metaverse. As a listener to inworld performance you will hear the
music according to where you place yourself with respect to the performers. You
will hear the performer close to you better than you will hear the performer further
away. With both the performers and you the listener moving around in space, you
practically engage in a live sound installation, making a concert very much a
three dimensional listening experience.”

Taking that one step further, Miulew Takahe tells us “maybe the future plans
include playing live with all orchestra members on a Real Life location - with
some RL copies of our SL instruments.!!! Yes - truly we are discussing this, and
it would be a very nice thing to do.”

The core members of the Avatar Orchestra Metaverse are: Maximillian
Nakamura (in RL Shintaro Miyazaki in Germany), musician, composer founded
the orchestra in February 2007. Hars Hefferman (aka Harold Schellinx in RL in
France), composer, writer who was originator of the first publicly performed piece
called Vicky´s Mosquitos #13. Miulew Takahe (in RL Björn Eriksson in Sweden),
musician and sound artist, Bingo Onomatopeia, (in RL Andreas Müller in
Germany), musician and programmer, Wirxli Flimflam (in RL Jeremy Owen
Turner in Canada), composer and performance artist, Gumnosophistai Nurmi (in
RL Leif Inge based in Oslo, Norway), sound artist, composer.

Find out more (and have a listen!) at:
Avatar Orchestra Google Group: