Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In the virtual mosh pit

On Sunday afternoon I caught the Pet Shop Boys playing Secondfest, a virtual music festival in Second Life that was sponsored by U.K. news outlet The Guardian and Intel. While the lag was so intense I couldn't even get my avatar to move (and dared not anyway, lest I crash my CPU and not be able to get back in), I did manage to take a couple of snapshots of the headline act as the PSB closed the concert:

There may be a lot of legitimate skepticism regarding the hype surrounding Second Life, but I think something which isn't so easily dismissed is the potential for SL to serve as a venue for musicians. Virtually every band with access to a computer and an internet connection already has a MySpace page, and while the popular social networking site has been instrumental in exposing the world to regional and indy music through free MP3 downloads and easy links to vendors, Second Life offers musicians the possibility of playing to a "live" audience in-world.

Having attended a couple of SL concerts now I have to say that due to the experential nature of virtual worlds there is a palpable difference between going to a concert in SL and merely watching one on television (and a live concert), as the awareness that despite the computers and the animations and the everpresent lagginess that inevitably accompanies any well-attended event you are actually sharing the same virtual space with this performer. Even at a large concert such as Secondfest there is an intimacy that underlies the whole experience and suggests that as the audiovisual interface with virtual worlds gets better and better we may very well come to regard this kind of telepresence as a legitimate substitute for the real thing.

Mind you, who wouldn't rather just be there in person, but the point of Second Life and events such as these is that you now have the ability to be present at things that you couldn't have possibly attended in Real Life. I'm not going to England anytime soon, so I really doubt I would have been able to catch the Pet Shop Boys in any other venue than Secondfest. The same thing was true of another artist I recently heard, Georgia-based folk singer Grace Buford, aka Cylindrian Rutabaga. Thanks to Second Life I know now that she rocks mightily and is fantastic live in concert, something I would never have had a chance to learn unless I shlepped down South to see her.

What's really interesting is that there seems to be a growing amount of musicians who are using not only MySpace or Second Life but both platforms in tandem to cross-promote their music in both the virtual and real worlds. Because music has that special energy that comes from live performance, having an electronic touring presence in Second Life becomes a natural complement to one's MySpace page. This is a kind of synergy that an application like Facebook is still missing (though that hasn't stopped it from becoming the darling of the new media elite), and one that might help MySpace carry the day as we move from a text-based 2-D Web into a wider Metaverse that is as visceral as it is content-rich.

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