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Thursday, February 24, 2005

MOE, FEW, AND THEIR CONTINENTAL JAZZ COMBO (UPDATED)

Coming to you live from two states and two countries, a night of smooth jazz in Clyde (bandwidth permitting)...

Though her name suggests otherwise, Jazz Gillespie wasn't actually a fan of jazz or the chimpmunk-cheeked trumpet master, before she came to Second Life. A resident from the American South (her in-world home is a replica of a traditional plantation estate), Ms. Gillespie's tastes in music actually ran more to classical, oldies, and country. (She originally chose "Jazz", she tells me, because that happens to be her real life granddaughter's nickname.)

"I never really listened to it," she acknowledges, "but was invited to one of Astrin's concerts." She did, and prompty fell in love with the form. "Now I... play jazz on my land at times," she says laughing, "and have started collecting it in real life."

By "Astrin", she means resident Astrin Few, and by concert, she means just that-- a live jazz guitar performance, streamed from Astrin's home into a Second Life space, played before a live audience of residents. Astrin has been playing live shows since last April, and moreso since June, when the release of version 1.4 enabled streaming audio in-world. (Though Astrin's experience with performing music online preceded even that, such as the songs he produced with a vocalist via Internet Relay Chat.)

In the beginning, his in-world gigs were solo shows-- until a resident with a named inspired by The Simpsons and a post-graduate education in music stumbled into them.

Back in October, says Flaming Moe, "I searched Events for 'jazz' one day... and found 'Astrin Few, Live at Clementina'. I had to check it out to see if it was some sort of joke or the real deal. Sure enough, he was streaming live at the park and sounded great. He even took requests!"

Moe and Few shared notes, honed their chops, and two Sundays ago, debuted an in-world first, from a forest-shrouded stage in Clive*: a live combo performance, with Astrin in the Midwest, Moe on the East Coast, and their sound engineer Catja LaFollette in Canada. The show was attended by a capacity crowd dressed in their night life finest. A striking redhead named Nethermind Bliss whirled alone for awhile on the dance floor, but was quickly joined there by some dozen jazz enthusiasts, including a green-eyed panther in a tuxedo.

I was on hand to take some video footage of the show-- very short clips here and and here. (Since I shot these in FRAPS, a third party video capture program, you'll probably need to download and install the free version, to view them. Though as with all third party programs, caveat emptor.) With the simulator that hosted the performance so crowded, lag tended to bring interaction and graphics down to a crawl during the concert. Fortunately, as the videos also attest, the lag didn't impede audio quality.

"I use a high quality 24 bit soundcard with many inputs," says Moe, "so I have a lot of control over my sound interface. I use a Shure SM57 microphone with a Digitech RP-7 effects processor (normally used for guitars, but that's where my source for reverb, delay, and various other settings come from that I use to tweak sound quality.)" On hand near this setup are his three saxophones, a clarinet, and flute, and an Alesis QS 8.2 keyboard. "It's not a complicated setup," concludes Moe, who in real life is currently completing a Masters degree in Studio Jazz Saxophone at a nearby college, and maintains a site showcasing his real life music career here.

For Astrin's part, "My studio has a computer against a wall under a stained glass window." Near that, a four track and mixer. "My guitar pre-amp is on the desk to the right of the monitor," he tells me. "It's a bit cramped, and some day I'd like to get set up so I could play more erect on a stool with a music stand, like I do in real life performance, but having to focus on the computer for Second Live forces you to scrunch in a bit." Few has played live (and in person) with a trio around his town, and features his own original music here, and keeps track of audience attendance at his Second Life performances via his Shoutcast streaming server here. "You'll note that interest has been steadily building, especially since the beginning of Fall," he says of it. "Also note that club gigs tend to have more 'listeners'-- that's because there's a lot more turnover, people coming and going. My Clementina Park shows, and of course the Sunday night duo concert, tend to have a smaller number of people that come explicitly to hear the show, often in its entirety."

As that suggests, their performances have developed a dedicated and sizeable in-world fan base, over the months.

"Astrin and I started a Jazz Enthusiasts group," says Moe, "which is open enrollment for anyone to join. All we did was plug the group every show, and when Astrin played I would invite people. We now have over 150 members, plus over 150 members with the other related groups, like the Astrin Listeners, Sunset Jazz group, and various other people that we have met. Live music in Second Life is a special thing and I'm glad people recognize that."

All of this, of course, leaves unexplained how they managed an in-sync performance, triangulated across the distance of thousands of miles between several states and two countries.

"Well, if I told you," Flaming Moe warns me, "I'd have to kill you..." He laughs. "This is the last thing I'll say about it... it's something that Second Life doesn't provide. Not your fault. It's very hard to create."

Now I'm begging. "Gimme a hint!"

Moe just laughs again. "You're hilarious. Thanks for the interview, though."

"The process is similar to streaming a solo performance," Astrin tells me, equally obscure, "just more complex. We'll leave it as a homework problem to the reader to figure out how we do it-- it's a good puzzle for Second Lifers, and Internet junkies in general, and we enjoy the mystique." When I ask her, engineer Catja LaFollette is similarly demure, affirming only that she did, indeed, mix the session from Canada. (My own theory, for what it's worth, involves nothing more complicated than the three of them on a cellphone conference call, the musicians' phones propped up near their instruments, while hearing each other play via the phone's ear bubs. But again, just a blind guess.)

Most of the duo's playlist are classic jazz standbys, but on that Sunday, Astrin and Moe closed the show with an original composed by Few-- "Padova", which, thanks to the musicians, cua Curie who filmed it, and the DMCA which allows it, I'll be able to feature later this week. (Soon as Linden Lab can upload it to their site.)**

"I wrote 'Padova' during the summer of '92," say Astrin, "when I was working in Padova, Italy, and just getting into bossa and jazz. I'm not sure what inspired it other than just the mood I was in one day, sittting on the balcony of our apartment, feeling like things were kind of picking up as the summer was heating up-- that's the feel of the song."

*2/24, 12:30PM: The combo show was in Clyde, not Clementina, as originally implied in the subtitle (now changed). Astrin writes in with the correction: "The duo concert was actually in Clyde, at Clovers, hosted by Drift Monde and cua Curie. My weekly solo show is at Clementina Park. [Drift and cua] worked very hard on that build, so I'd want to make sure that the location is correct..." - HL

** 2/24, 12:35PM: And "Padova" is now available here, in Windows Media. Enjoy!

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