Last week saw me turn the ripe old age of four in SL years. I’d forgotten my rez day was in February but Linden Lab kindly sent me an email to remind me. Well I never expected to last four weeks when I first signed up so I’m amazed four years have passed and I’m still here. I know some of you are far older than I and probably consider me a noob still, but I have noticed a lot of changes in that time. For example back then there was “camping” as a way to make money – I tried it once, sitting on a bench to earn $1L every 5 minutes. I lasted all of 4 minutes before deciding camping, with none of the excitement of drying paint to watch, wasn’t for me. There was also “teh sex” pretty much everywhere you looked. You couldn’t go shopping for a new pair of shoes without tripping over some naked cavorting threesome rolling around in the sandals aisle. And the avatars looked way more basic. Noobs really looked like noobs back then, you were spawned looking like a badly drawn Ken doll waddling around like you’d followed through in your underkecks. Of course this was before mesh too, the best you could hope for was sculpted collars and cuffs on your shirt. As you can see from my first attempt at an avatar above, times were hard! However despite its crudity the SL of 2009 had a raw charm to it.
Now Shauna mentioned in a recent article that we’ve both been feeling a bit uninspired by SL in recent times and our writing has leaned towards our first lives. I think that is in part to our relative old ages in SL terms (although Shauna is ancient and remembers SL when it was in sepia). When you’re new to SL it’s all a big adventure, lots to discover, things to learn, and most importantly an avatar to build (see my first effort above.. heaven’s to Betsy!!). We’ve all seen those hyperactive noobs, over-excited like spaniel pups leaping around sticking their noses in everyone’s crotch. But when you’ve been here a while it takes a lot more to impress you. You’ve been everywhere, tried everything and probably made the t-shirt.
And I think the advances in the technology behind SL has played it’s part in making the virtual world LESS inspiring. Let me explain… Before new fangled mesh hit the streets people mostly built stuff with simple geometric shapes. Stacked together and made more realistic with textures you could download from the interweb and nip and tuck in any old image manipulation software. It didn’t require any special skills, and certainly no financial outlay. Anyone could have a go, even me. Yeah I built a couple of Art Deco houses, stuck them on Marketplace and made a few Lindens to finance my Haribo cravings. My building creativity peaked with a recreation of Liverpool’s Cavern Club which, with help from AAI owner Mericat Ireland, I opened as a venue for DJ nights. It was all a bit Heath Robinson but it was fun and most importantly ANYONE could do it.
The same thing could be said of making clothing. Back then clothing was essentially body paint. OK you could bolt on sculpted prim accessories to add some realism but the bulk of everyone’s outfit was just a texture wrapped directly onto the avatar’s skin. Not that I ever got any further than making a couple of simple t-shirts myself, but all around me friends were turning out very original and respectable clothing. Shauna at Subculture, Meri at Gafia and Eden And Kim at Mod Squad to name a few.
However for all meshes advantages I can’t help feeling that it has stifled a lot of that primeval creativity. Sure, mesh looks so much better than what’s gone before, buildings and furniture with detailed shapes and clothing that actually moves with your avatar, but making a mesh requires technical skills way beyond all but a select few. If any of you have ever downloaded Blender, the free 3D modelling software, you’ll understand just how steep a learning curve is required just to fudge together even the most basic mesh objects. If you can’t make a mesh of your own your only option is to buy one pre-built from the Marketplace and colour it in yourself. Fine, but I’ve started to see the same shaped clothes all around SL, obviously all made using the same 3rd party meshes. To be honest I can’t be arsed with all that. So I’ve hung up my hard hat and tool belt and consigned my builder ambitions to the recycle bin.
Of course there are other reasons to stick with SL, and it may sound like a cliché but for me that’s friends and “I is here fo teh muzic”.
Take a sad song and make it sadder
In the 1990s I worked in a recording studio and I remember receiving an invitation from Sarm Studios in West London to attend a product launch. It didn’t say what the product was but it claimed it would change the way we worked as sound engineers. So with the promise of free prawn sandwiches and an afternoon off work I went along. The studio was packed with engineers, producers and record company execs and there was a buzz of excitement in the room. Eventually out came producer Trevor Horn who played us a recording of a female singer singing VERY out of key. He then pressed a key on his Apple Mac and as if by magic the vocal snapped into perfect pitch. There really was a stunned silence in the room, followed by gasps of amazement. This was the birth of Auto-Tune, real-time vocal tuning in a box.
Whatever your opinions on the use of such “cheating”, pretty much every pop record made in the last 15 years will have had this applied to the vocal. Often without the singers knowledge. It’s become the norm to iron out even the smallest imperfections, even on the very best singers.
Well Auto-Tune is now showing it’s age and has been superseded by a new generation of software aimed at manipulating pitch AND timing. And this week I took delivery of some new software called “Melodyne”. The main difference between Melodyne and Auto-Tune is that Melodyne is polyphonic. This means it can distinguish all the notes that make up the audio passed through it and manipulate them separately. Imagine being able to change a minor chord to a major chord on a piano recording? Or tune a guitar even after the guitarist has left the studio. All possible now, and I have to say it is a little scary.
I found an interesting example on YouTube this week. Someone has taken the Beatles “Hey Jude” and used Melodyne to transpose the song into a minor key. I’ve always found the original a bit soppy so I quite like the melancholy feel to this version :)
This week’s musical recommendation
Is “Suedehead”, lads with some catchy RnB tunes to tickle the fancy of anyone with modernist leanings. There’s a hint of late era Jam about them, and I can hear an Elvis Costello influence too. I also like ‘em because the guitar player looks like my drummer mate Steve, you probably don’t know Steve but I reckon you might love em too. I’m posting two videos because I like them that much. The videos were shot entirely on an iPhone and on “Small Town Hero” they’ve given it a very “This is England” mood. Love it!
Lastly thanks for everyone’s kind words about our singer’s illness last week. It turns out he had a brain bleed caused by Meningitis. A nasty and random disease which can be fatal. Fortunately he’s now at home recuperating and isn’t expected to have any permanent problems from it. Sometimes life gives us little wake up calls like this.