Friday, July 11, 2008

Whispers, Soundscapes, and Being Sound

Whispers help avatars navigate space in SL; they appear as suggestions in the Local Chat, not heard at all, but written and read.  The whispers were the main thing I noticed in response to one of the questions Nettrice asked us tonight on our two field trips to art installations that we explored as possible models for our class final project. What about real whispers, talking, and other aspects of sound in SL, though? I found myself (or L1Aura found herself) musing on sound, especially in the first installation we visited, by DynaFleur, which had a tube that you could travel with cool sound in and around it.  
The tube experience came soon after someone at Berklee had asked me if he could be only sound in SL, no visual presence, only a sound when he moved (the answer is sort of yes, an avatar could be a very small object and sound could be scripted), so I was already thinking of movement and sound, being and sound.  
This led me to consider: What kinds of relationships are there between sounds, images, movements, and experiences in SL?  There are sound effects, of course, and the ambient sounds of birds and the wind (most of which I find annoying and that take me out of my suspension of disbelief, especially in the more natural landscapes).  There are soundtracks of music that are what I would call diegetic: the music and sound that comes from the world, like in the SL Beatles museum.  There are non-diegetic soundtracks or soundscapes, much like an underscore of a film.  And then there are some contrapuntal,  dissonant, or jarring relationships between the physical environment and the sound, such as the lovely Victorian house with weird rock playing in it.  I have been in many Victorian houses with all kinds of weird music playing, and even live in one now that emits some pretty strange sounds on any given day, but perhaps a deliberately constructed landscape and soundscape begs for a thought-out relationship between the two.  What is the purpose of the clash?  Would it be good to have a dialectical relationship between sound and image, like the one theorized by the Soviet filmmakers moving from silent cinema into sound in the late 1920s?  Is that a 'sound' relationship between the aural, the visual, and the virtually-kinetic?   What is the purpose of the music in that Victorian house: to support the experience of being in the environment/installation, or is the music the point and the space is where the avatar hangs out while the person listens?   What would it mean for it to be both, equally?
If there were audible whispers instead of written ones, to return to my initial idea in this post, being in SL would be even more like a dream than it already is, maybe too much like a [whispers] almost already lost dream.

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