Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Exotic World of Music

In centuries past, a merchant or caravan would travel from village to village or cross a continent displaying and offering exotic goods. Often, the arrival of a merchant would be a major event, whether his visit was to a castle or a village square. Nobles and peasants alike would be fascinated by the connection with the unknown. Storytellers and poets fulfilled a different if similar role, creating new worlds and characters for their audiences.

In one way, our world has changed radically. The 'Silk Road' and 'Spice Routes' have become meaningless in terms of our access to foreign goods and cultures. Where once only books brought strange and exotic locations into the lives of their readers, now television and film reaches every one.

This notwithstanding, the exploration of new worlds still is an exciting pursuit, whether in the world of edged weapons or the world of music.

When I was looking for a sistrum in the real world, I found 'Lark in the Morning', a business that specialises in exotic instruments from all cultures and periods. Even if I never purchased any more instruments from them, it still is fascinating to study the catalogues they send to me periodically.

They have all the well-known instruments, of course, but they have pages of items that are virtually unknown to the general public. For example, from Nepal, they have Table Chimes, flutes and singing bowls. From Western culture, you can find a Viola da Gamba or Hurdy Gurdy. If you are interested in drums, there are hundreds of varieties, from Dumbeks to Tupan. Every conceivable varity of instrument is represented in the catalogue.

In the virtual world of Second Life, there is at least one aspiring equivalent to 'Lark of the Morning'. His name is Paul Ge.

I discovered him quite by chance. I was not on a quest to find an instrument, oddly enough. I was opening a box that contained a replica of Anduril, Flame of the West, the sword of Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings.

I have to confess that I always have been enthralled by drums. I love any and every type of drum, from contemporary drum sets to simple shamanic drums. My family is musical and it was expected that I would learn to play piano as well as another instrument. I wanted to play the drums.

My stepfather was very old-fashioned and forbade it on the grounds that it was not proper for women to play the drums. Too bad really. I pursued the passion in a small way by learning to play traditional drums. I never learned to play a drum set.

To me, drumming is more directly connected to the human psyche than any other musical activity. The sound a drum makes is the sound of a heart beating. Drumming affects the human heartbeat, in fact. To me, the idea of a drum that is made from the skin of an animal lends additional power to the instrument.

I knew that Second Life contained a wealth of different activities and embraced all the arts. Nonetheless, when by accident I encountered a drummer performing on a full drum set in the middle of nowhere, I was rather startled.

He was absolutely marvelous. He performed with rhythm and style with a surprising number of variations.

I was amazed. Within a few minutes, quite a crowd surrounded him. It was a 'Sandbox', not a tourist destination, but rather a place where people go to practice or create. Even so, the location became quite a social gathering within a short time because of the dazzling performance of the musician who was trying out his new drums.

I spoke to him and he told me that he had not created the drums himself, but had purchased them from Paul Ge. Paul Ge has a shop in Second Life called 'Mainland Musical Instruments' in Nonsan.

I immediately visited the shop and found it to be spacious and wide with an intriguing selection of musical instruments from different cultures. Unfortunately, no bodhrans or shamanic drums were in evidence.

The artist when contacted told me he would meet me at his shop. He made a very dramatic entrance, arriving in a helicopter that landed rather cavalierly in the centre of his shop.

He was very interested in the idea of creating a bodhran, and said it would be a nice addition to his inventory.

We spoke about the potential for music of different kinds in Second Life. I asked about classical music and instruments. He has not created any yet, but has plans to make a flute.

I then asked about concerts. Not surprisingly perhaps, there is live music in Second Life. The very first live concert in Second Life was performed by Dutch band, 'Frame'. On 11 October 2006 the first 'live' concert by a British band was performed in Second Life.

The SL group is the Hedrons from Glasgow, and their video can be seen here:

They performed simultaneously in Glasgow and in Second Life. Both concerts were an immense success.

'It was amazing to be making history by being the very first British band to perform a virtual gig live on Second Life given that we’ve all been on there as individuals. We were actually set up just like at a normal gig and we just got on with playing our set, however we could see a monitor showing what was going on at the Hedro Dome in second life and it was really strange watching our avatars play along with us.'
- Tippi, The Hedrons

Paul Ge probably is not the only artist in Second Life who creates instruments. I have encountered organs and pianos in almost every church, cathedral and manor house. They can be played, but usually there are few selections in terms of music.

I found a set of 'Elven' instruments in a medieval square. They were playable, and
their definition as 'Elven' to me was a little arbitrary. Again, though, they were limited to one or two sounds each. They were beautiful, but not true functioning instruments.

I really liked Paul Ge's shop because it is a concept that is on-going. He has not settled for a few objects, but truly wishes to expand his 'stock' in every direction. Artists like these may wish to make some money in Second Life, but they are driven more by creativity than any desire simply to generate cash.

There is far more to Second Life than people playing a computer game. It is a venue for creative endeavour, a place where imaginations can meet and take fire from one another. It could be the ultimate 'think tank' for human creativity.

Realities within realities...

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