My Avatar Is Not Blue


 
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.

The Back Country

coming home from my mother
she refuses to die … at 89
deep in dementia
her own world,
unable to speak …

coming home at noon, to the back country –
sit for half an hour in the sun
a poppy-seed cake and a coffee
a book of poems (The Back Country)
“the berry feast”


 
cool wind but sun,
spring around the corner
quiet Thursday noon
the neighbour cat sees me
comes down from the roof
and curls up on my lap

purr

sparrows on the hedge
chirping cat alerts
we see you!
crow on the old apple tree
crows three, four times
too large to be bothered by cats


 
the book cover is faded
bought it when I was young
I am fading
but something that is beyond time
never ages

purr

Sahara Of Snow & Other Places

Fragments today as there is a slightly fragmented, slightly surreal feeling – I just read something surreal, and something slightly surreal was there after a short nap in the early afternoon today.


SAHARA OF SNOW

The Sahara Of Snow we saw today was a perfect white surface that covered the hills; mostly perfect, gleaming in the early March sun, but here and there, a trail made by humans and a dog, trails made by deer who had galloped across the open field, maybe in the night or the early morning – leaving groups of four indentations in a row, then a wide gap to the next group; and mysterious small trails that began nowhere and ended nowhere, trails by large birds that had landed for unknown reasons, doing unknown work on the ground, thinking bird thoughts.

 
ZOOMING

Tomorrow Craig and Trinity will fly back from their short concert tour / vacation in Portugal to their home in Idaho. How wonderful that one can easily feel so connected to people from faraway even without knowing them very well. I wish we’d have more time. How wonderful also to play music together in front of a small audience. Some more about this later.

I looked their house up in Google Streetview and loved the large blooming lilacs all around – followed the street for a while without being able to see the mountains in the east. What a strange kind of spyhole I looked through, an unsharp kind of warped virtual reality consisting of frozen frames with cars standing still on the street, but me zooming from one frame to the next like a ghost in a world where time stands still while a sun shines that never moves.

How long until we’ll have telepresence robots that will allow us to walk and talk, representing us in faraway places?

 
TREE RINGS

Long rows and columns of numbers that represent tree rings and their sizes, created by an ancient Fortran software that is as old as my car – 23. The time we looked back to: 7000 years in the past.

How strange to think of the people who lived then, not knowing about Fortran, impossibly far removed from the faintest idea even of the concept, just as we are removed from their concepts. Long rows and columns of numbers, measurements, places, realities, landscapes, real lives, births, deaths.

I’ll write a software for these numbers that will reverse their sequence, and group them in a different way: In the Heidelberg format, maybe invented in this city in Germany that was also home to a factory that built the famous printing machines that I used to work on in my early youth, helping my father.

They had a black thing going forwards and backwards – it looked like a slightly eerie robot head, with one eye, and it had two arms, one taking up the next sheet, one putting the printed sheet down on a stack. I always wanted to record the sound they made but I never did.

 
SIDEBURNS

The impossibly fast minimalist patterns played by Keith Tippett on a grand piano (one that I’ve played myself for a few minutes last year), at times prepared on the fly with objects that I couldn’t see from my place. Never having seen him live but in love with his style of music since the early seventies, Lizard, Centipede.

Julie Tippetts (I forgot the story behind the “s”) somewhat aged visibly of course but with a voice that hadn’t. The drummer from Germany who I hadn’t heard of before, catalysing the piano/voice duet, leading and following with an astonishing degree of sensibility. An hour of hardly ever looking at each other because it wasn’t necessary – going to many faraway places together, totally in blind sync, rhythmic and dreamy, musical box and mbira, stately Purcell chords on the prepared piano that suddenly sounded like a cembalo. The audience was stunned and in awe.

“I understand that some people would like to hear more but this was all that we know.” The Britishness, the sideburns, the dry humour. What a genius. His playing took me to many places that felt totally right, taken directly from what I imagined I would have played without knowing it, without even beginning to have the musical vision for. And the idiosyncrasy that made me feel even closer to him.

 
BACKYARD

I took a friend out from my office room and showed him around the yard in front of the house, some patches of snow left here and there (that was days before we got new loads), blue sky, a promise of lilacs. I carried my notebook around and talked to him, he sat in his living room in Hamburg, hundreds of miles from here.

Then I went back in and he showed me around the flat, a street lined with large trees, a backyard. Sometimes the skype connection broke down and we had to reconnect. While he talks to me often his face turns into a modern painting when the software grapples with the low bandwidth – then sometimes out of the blue, the image freezes, the hissing freezes, and he is gone and we have to dial in again, continuing the exploration of the depth:

His experience in the moment, my experience in the moment. The moment is shared, some mysterious kind of energy is shared, the very fact of someone listening (without judging or valueing or commenting) creates a palpable difference in the atmosphere that changes the way we feel and think. Magical moments when we sync looking at the same thing.

A closeness, a conscious sharing of this, the hard-to-describe reality of what is simply here, something tangible that is obviously in the air and in the body, something impossible to describe that nobody can understand who has never done this, transported by tiny amounts of electricity across hundreds of miles.

 
DOG EYES

Early morning, Orion is already setting in the west beyond the hills, tiny dots of light from distant stars – the one on top of the constellation (al-Dhira, Bed Elgueze, Yedelgeuse … “hand of the giant”, 600 light years from here) is hundreds of times larger than our sun, a wobbling, oscillating, unstable red giant, something much more vast than we could ever imagine with our petty mammal brains, and destined to explode – hopefully, in many thousands of years, and not tomorrow – covering our skies with the flash of its death.

So it vanishes beyond the hill, winter is definitely over although there is snow all around. The clocks will be set to summer time soon. Another round, all things different, all the same.

Later in the morning: The shivering legs of a small dog that has to wait with his owner in the cold outside of a supermarket, probably for the owner’s wife to come back. The trust in the dark dog eyes when I talk to him. We are both here, different brains, but not different in what we are, and in a way, we both know it: Always on the cusp, on top of the wave, riding the mystery.