In the TN back channel, Nate called our collective attention to today's Washington Post, where Sara Kehaulani Goo writes an article, "Hear the Music, Avoid the Mosh Pit." The piece is primarily about the appearance of Suzanne Vega in Second Life on August 3, 2006. I wasn't "there," but you can watch the You Tube version (and listen to John Hockenberry) here.
My main take-away from both the video and the Post story, I think, is amazement at the intricate cross-currents of hype generation over the event.
I hope I'm not being too jaundiced about this. I'm a fan of Suzanne Vega--I still probably have my old casette tapes of Suzanne Vega (1985) and Solitude Standing (1987) in my basement somewhere. Suzanne Vega, being an artist, has something of a duty to self-promote (read: hype) and experiment. So kudos to her for riding this wave.
But the driving engine behind the hype is virtuality, not Vega, leading me to wonder who is pushing that angle. I was thinking this might have been another feat primarily attributable to the awesome Linden Lab marketing machine, but The Infinite Mind seems to claim credit for most of it, and apparently Reuben Steiger was working this too.
Goo's article in the Post seems to be both playing up and played by the virtuality hype. Though the article notes that Second Life has "400,000 registered members," it leads with the fact that "about 100 lucky fans" were in avatar attendance. It later claims, though, that this is a big shift:
Marketing and record label executives say Web sites that put users into video-game-like virtual worlds are a unique way to reach out to audiences, who are increasingly spending their time and money on the computer instead of at concerts and music stores. Although still experimental, such sites offer fans more ways to interact with one another and band members directly.
Hmm. Then later, we hear (from the president of a brand marketing firm, no less) that this kind of thing has "elements of a gimmick to it." That's quickly qualified:
But "the whole interplay between online and offline is something people that Second Life is targeting don't have a problem with," he said. "With the online-offline divide, they see it much less as a gimmick than as a real thing."
Uh-huh -- glad we cleared up the confusion there over that word "gimmick." Of course, the "real thing" inevitably gets kind of surreal in Second Life, where Vega's avatar and guitar were created and controlled by someone other than Vega. Goo later says:
One drawback is that avatars can't keep up with humans' real-time pace of facial expressions and gestures. In Vega's performance, the virtual guitar would not appear on cue and, at first, appeared to stick out of her elbow. The number of attendees at some concerts is limited because crowds take up too much processing power. Sometimes, planners of virtual-reality events ask attendees not to bring too many accessories, such as big hairstyles, because they take up too much bandwidth.
The "bandwidth of big hair" observation almost redeems the article and the guitar foibles are faithfully recorded on YouTube. But rather than end this with a glitch report, Goo sums up her story (or a copy editor crops it to meet word limits?) by swinging back to the breathless enthusiasm of the promoter explaining how trippy it is that Vega is performing in a virtual world:
"There's a quality that doesn't exist in any other medium," said Bill Lichtenstein, president of the company that produces "The Infinite Mind," the radio show that put on the Vega performance, built a radio booth on Second Life, and plans to broadcast more interviews and performances. The virtual world, he said, simulates the real world in a way that tricks the brain into thinking it's real. "Sitting there in the audience, waiting for Vega to start, you got this feeling -- a sense of excitement."
So what's the real story here? What was it like to be "in the audience" for this? Was it great?
Honestly, I really don't know. Perhaps it was really super. I assume, like Mulder, that may people who were virtually present in Second Life really wanted to believe that they were attending a concert in cyberspace.
My brain, on the other hand, wasn't much tricked by the YouTube version. I had the sense I was listening to Suzanne Vega sitting in a studio somewhere watching a screen. The sound was only vaguely related to the images: a mix of camera angles on an avatar of Suzanne Vega and her recalcitrant guitar in a room full of other (quasi-famous "FIC"?) avatars that was more or less backdrop. For The Queen & The Soldier, a video would have probably been better for the eyes -- maybe even a slideshow of those Waterhouse paintings that Thomas likes.
A little while ago, Profoky Neva had a blog post about Julian's recent appearance in SL where he was promoting Play Money (</hypeon> which is a great book, btw! </hypeoff>). The review was titled "The Trouble with Dibbell" but, Neva claimed, the trouble really wasn't with Julian, it was with the disconnect between the wonderful concept of this sort of "live virtual appearance" thing as opposed to its clunky and jarring (virtual) reality. Hockenberry's lead-in to Vega claims this is "Radio 6.0", but according to Neva's report, it can feel more like "Virtuality 0.2"
But perhaps that's inevitable: Virtuality is, by definition, something which is almost but not really. In other words, could it be that when this sort of thing really takes off, maybe there won't be a lot of hype about the fact that it is all so virtual?