The Greatest Sound Sculptures in the Metaverse

or sounding-out the Metamatic Neighbours

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It’s been over a month now since myself, Jjason Jedburgh, Adam Ramona and Mashup Islander bought a sim together. It is called Marni and is attached to the south of Esperance and is now growing to be a great hive of artistic, business and social activity. I terraformed the island to give the four of us a great environment and some privacy for our various expoilts.

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I have talked before about Jjason and his splendid architectural visions so now I wanted to interview Adam and Mashup (whose quarter sim plots are visible above) about their work and passion, real-time spatialised sound sculptures. I have been watching with glee as both of them get used to the possibilities in this world being relatively new to Second Life and create what I regard already as major, innovative pieces. Firstly a little about the Metamatic Collective piece.

Cantata Park 1 by Metamatic is an interactive, spatialised sound sculpture built in Second Life. The sculpture is made from 256 individual nodes in a 16 x 16 grid. Each node is embedded with a single word, triggered by a participant’s movement through the work. Each participant creates a random narrative, assembled on-the-fly, and in real-time. The work explores the possibilities of metaverse art, limitations of Second Life’s construction tools and scripting language, and the ability to appreciate conceptual art by proxy of an avatar. Cantata Park was produced in December 2006 Copyright 2006, Metamatic Collective

Adam and Mashup collaborated on this piece which is the first part of the interview below and then I met with Adam seperately to discuss five of his other works. We were also joined by Lisa Dapto, who is a close colleague of both of them. We met firstly at the site and then inside Adam’s self made garden retreat.

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You: Who is the collective and what brought them together

Mashup Islander: The collective is Adam and myself for the moment. Adam was doing some funky 3D art on his land and I was inspired by this. I guess we found (Adam and I) a similar liking for abstract real-time art and decided to work on a project together

You: You mentioned that there are limitations to achieve what you want to in this world could you explain what these are in more detail for the readers

Adam Ramona: The technical limitations of Second Life are significant but this makes it a challenge, and often the best work is done in restrictive environments

Mashup Islander: It helps define boundaries for the work too

Adam Ramona: Relatively speaking the scripting language is an impressive achievement

You: And what are the benefits of this world for contemporary expressive 3D art?

Adam Ramona: Given the environment, collaboration is also a major plus of this space

Mashup Islander: Also the audience is large and open to new forms of expression

You: Yes I was going to ask about the methodology of collaboration how did it work for you both on the Cantata Park piece for example

Mashup Islander: It was really easy actually. Adam and I seem to think the same thing at the same time.

Adam Ramona: There are the usual teething problems getting used to the process but its a joy to be able to work collaboratively *within* the environment that the work will be consumed in.

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Adam (left) and Mashup pose inside Cantata Park 1.

The work is now permanently installed on Mashup’s land and there are already many word-of-mouth visitors coming along to try the piece. I list some direct SLURLs at the end of both interviews for you to pop along yourself. I asked more about the background to the work.

You: What actually inspired the creation?
Mashup Islander: I was fooling around with basic prim sculptures and getting off on the whole ordered nature of basic 3D design. After a visit to an early version of Adam’s Bell Park, I saw a possibility to incorporate spoken words into the architecture. The randomness of each participant’s experience excited me and we explored some possible narrative structures before settling on a Burroughs piece, which was appropriate given the subject matter.

You: The 256 spoken fragments triggered by motion through them? What is the intention behind that and what experience is it meant to invoke?

Mashup Islander: Its a fractured narrative inspired by the Beat poets of old the actual passage is a Burroughs piece appropriate given the context

You: Each person has a different route through the piece of course – do you think there will be any shared experience?

Mashup Islander: Yes, the participant makes their own narrative and it was interesting just then with four users simultaneously that a layered narrative with many intersections can result. In specific answer to your question, I can’t put feelings into other people’s experience. Its up to each person to explore and take away their own assumptions

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Above Lisa Dapto flys above Cantata Park 1 while Adam and Mashup introduce Pix (a visitor) to the piece. We talk more about the narrative, semantic elements of the work.

Adam Ramona: people make their own narrative always, and probably people who have similar outlooks will create similar experiences?

You: But presumably given that it is Burroughs excerpts there must be a common narrative that everyone can take away? Not completely random fragments

Mashup Islander: Burroughs believed all narrative had hidden meaning, each iteration of disassembly can provoke further insight and messages

Lisa Dapto: He and tristan Tzara before him were the lightning rods for the cut-up technique

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Adam Ramona: Tzara was definitely about disassembling the dominant narrative

Mashup Islander: From paper, to tape recorder and now real-time 3D

You: I wonder if you see a kind of art renaissance developing in this world?

Adam Ramona: The art itself is thoroughly contemporary for me, it is a matter of using the medium for its strengths, and not trying to have it imitate some other medium. A new technology is always used first to do something that can already be done. Going with the native strengths of the medium as the basis for the formal decisions which makes it very simple to process. It’s the same thing with Hyperformalism if i understand DanCoyote Antonelli’s work correctly, it is using the ‘native’ qualities of the medium to make the formal decisions

Lisa Dapto: the involvement of the “audience” as co-authors of the work makes Adam’s and Mashup’s work fascinating and challenging, it reflects the ultimate potential for users in this world to generate their own scenarios

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Adam Ramona: One of these “native qualities” of which i spoke is indeed the interactive nature of the audience/residents and this art is ‘for’ those people

You: Are you going to allow people to come and explore the work/s at this stage? If so can we publish the SLURLs?

Mashup Islander: Absolutely. The work is open for public viewing, with more on the way. Metamatic as an experimental playground for our artworks and we’ll be cycling new installations across both Adam’s and my land as they unfold.

So just for readers of JustVirtual a world exclusive a direct link to Cantata Park 1. Marni 205,53,25

Adam’s Place

I went back the next day to Adam’s quarter sim (which is actual adjoining mine), to talk to him in more depth about some of his latest pieces. I am particularly fascinated by the strong primary colours developing ‘over the hedge’ and the strange, exotic sounds floating on the wind across to my place. Adam has a rather unique appearance that I will save until another post, but below you can see him posed by his latest and greatest creation Anahat, The Mute Swan. You actually enter all these pieces by either teleporting in or just walking through and The Mute Swan is interesting in that it morphs from being attactive sculpture into a full surround sound and phantom prim experience. But I will let Adam explain.

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Adam Ramona: The four pieces completed here are: The Bell Garden, Pure Absence, Anahata the Mute Swan, and the Blue one. (there is also a white one recently finished)

You: What would you say are the common elements between them all?

Adam Ramona: As we talked about yesterday, I would say their commonality is that they use the ‘native’ qualities of the medium to suggest the formal considerations of each piece.

You: As these are more sound and music orientated than Cantata Park 1, are there any common elements in the way you use sound in the pieces

Adam Ramona: Generally, I try to approach the work as an ‘audiovisual’ piece, and wherever possible apply the same formal rules to the sounds as to the visuals. It is not always possible, so sometimes the sonic formalities are decided through real life (ed: bio world for regular readers) considerations of a ‘music’ or ‘sound’ basis. For example, the Bell Garden is in the key of E flat Major, just because I think that is an excellent key for a bell sound 🙂 Once I’d decided that, then the manipulation of the sounds was the same as the visuals – no textures, just the geometry so to speak, which in sonic terms means a very dry synthesised, unadorned sound. I think it works well in the Bell Garden (ed: night pic below)

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You: One of the remarkable things about all the pieces is the synergy between the visual and the sound – in that they are inextricably linked and reinforce each other. Could you talk a little about that process?

Adam Ramona: Yes, well I have always (since 1996 when I was first introduced to real-time 3D art) thought of this medium as a “composition” medium – in that previously when I was “writing” “music” I would have a very similar sort of thing happening inside my mind as a real-time 3D scene. I would have particular shapes with particular colours making particular sounds which were animating around in the space and when I saw VRML, i thought “yay, this is the medium for me!”

You: I notice that the five pieces here are all based around subtle variations of the same colour or tone – based on primaries like blue, red, white. Because you have graduations of that one tone is this because you don’t want the visual to overpower the sound?

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Adam Ramona: Yes, this is the way I work. I think of each piece as a “song” if you like and just as you don’t put every note or chord into a song, similarly, the sounds suggest the colours (and vice versa) and they always end up being like this – graduations.

You: You have your pieces on show in a wonderful zen like garden and the works are indeed very powerful but meditative and tranquil to a great extent. Would you say you are about the balance between visual and sound so they are both, equally important.

Adam Ramona: Yes indeed, I would go further and say that I don’t really recognise any distinction between sound and vision

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You: Ah very interesting and that would include I suppose the amount of authorship you give the participant in your pieces so they travel the sound and visual journey on their own path?

Adam Ramona: Yes, that is definitely part of the rationale of the work – these things exist almost independently of their consumption, a little like theoretical physics or something, and therefore, any mode of consumption, temporal visual sonic is valid.

You: We talked earlier also about many of these pieces being 4 or 5 art forms in one piece – sculpture, surround installation, performance piece, interactive and even architectural. Is this intended or a by-product or the medium?

Adam Ramona: That is this medium (RT3D) – these distinctions are valid in the real physical (bio) world, but not so in RT3D, so in that sense, I guess it is a by-product, but it is also an anticipated, welcomed, part of this medium in fact. That is one of the very main reasons why I like to work in this medium.

You: To discuss a level of detail. What is the difference in your mind between a piece that is triggered by the audience or one that they just move through picking up variations in sound level and direction, without triggering the various components within?

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Adam Ramona: Not really any difference, other than a pedantic one in fact, you could say that a piece that is constantly sounding is actually only sounding when an avatar moves near it and in that way it’s always triggered by an avatar, but that is true of this entire medium.

You: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?

Adam Ramona: You are right when you call it LOD, it’s the ultimate practical existentialism, because it literally doesn’t exist (for you) when you are not looking at it, unless the LOD has been coded badly 🙂

You: Very true! I always ask this next question and it is difficult to answer but are there any specific emotional responses that a viewer may get from some of these works. I noticed for example in the Mute Swan I felt much more relaxed and quite passive after a while whereas Pure Absence with it’s strong reds and high pitched sounds quite confrontational.

Adam Ramona: Good, interesting, difficult question. I definitely aim for an emotional response because I am emotionally engaged with all of my works and that is what leads me to create them. But as for audience response, I think it is tricky to second guess, but there are probably certain things you can aim for. For example, I am glad that you felt that about Anahata, the Mute Swan, because that is what I was aiming for, emotionally, an attempt to invite the audience to reflect on the nature of silence. In fact that piece specifically asks the question “If there is a sound playing when you are born and after you die, would you hear it?”

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You: I was particularly struck by the combination of words and sound in that piece and it had more impact perhaps than the Cantata in the Park work because the words were more subtle, enigmatic and mysterious?

Adam Ramona: I’m very happy to hear that. I always try to keep them impressionistic, or as you say “equal to sound”, so that they represent more the signifier of meaning rather than meaning itself, and then the listener will more than likely provide their own meaning

You: One thing that you haven’t yet incorporated into your pieces and in this world it is a significant layer of course is our beloved ‘chat/IM text’ – is there a reason for that?

Adam Ramona: Yes, I did that in a bio piece, Scorched Happiness (2004), which was a multi-user VRML piece, where the chat text was typed live by the performers based on excerpts from the work by Julia Kristeva that formed the basis of the work. So, I am definitely interested in it, since it is a part of the medium but I would rather work out a way to make it similar to the way I use words that we discussed before, IE, without actual meaning, which is harder to do in text of course. But, now you’ve mentioned it I’ll get onto it straight away 🙂

You: Finally Do you think it easy to explain or recreate these works outside our environment or is that the basic point of formalism, that they are rooted here and here only.

Adam Ramona: Absolutely the latter in, of and for this medium. However, it doesn’t mean SL specifically, it means multi-user real-time 3D, of which SL is a very, very good example and one that is very popular and therefore provides and audience.

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You: Finally, finally. If you had 3 ‘sound feature’ wishes from Linden Lab (our creator!) what would they be?

Adam Ramona: Ah, yes, the first one is easy and obvious: generative sound synthesis in the SL engine should be simple to do, since they’ve already using Havok for physics. Second would be 5.1 out (as we mentioned before). Third would be increase the sample time limit to *at least* 60 seconds.

You: Totally agree with all of those and maybe much more control over sound spread. Adam, for now thank you, and as we are neighbours I don’t really need to say goodbye, rather look forward to hearing from you again very soon.

Adam is also happy for visitors to come and explore and discuss his works. This SLURL drops you in the middle of the Zen sculpture interactive garden and next to some teleport points to take you to the skybox creations. Adam’s place can be found at Marni 220,199,23

Posted by Gary Hazlitt from inside Second Life

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