Monday, September 28, 2009

Chouchou's new and virtual musical instrument: The Babel

Sometime this October, Chouchou, the Japanese musical group that exists only in Second Life®, will unveil The Babel, a new virtual musical instrument that harnesses their uncommonly fresh sound and makes it possible for anyone in SL to play and compose with it.

Arabesque Choche and Juliet Heberle are Chouchou, and together they have released two albums and several Machinima, and their live and streamed music wafts over its mostly virtual listeners like tropical oxygen, restoring their equilibrium after the agitations of the day.

What's all the excitement about? Check out this recent and stunning live performance, shot and edited by tadakuma Koba, featuring their new piano piece - r.i.p. - which Arabesque composed for his beloved father who recently passed away from a brain tumor. "His father taught him piano and the beauty of music," explained Juliet.

Chouchou - the sim - is possibly the chill-est spot on the grid to unwind, and you haven’t really experienced all that SL has to offer until you’ve used the free Chouchou HUD, which delivers panoramic views and deliciously slow camera tracking for a brilliant cinematic effect.

While the music industry may be dying a little death with each new Napster clone, virtual worlds are enabling new technical and artistic possibilities for composers and performers. Chouchou’s new Babel marks a novel step forward in that interplay. It is a towering and sculptural staircase in a pure-as-driven-snow white setting surrounded by contrastingly black boxes that hang mid-air, each endowed with a pre-loaded mini-clip of Chouchou’s trademark sounds.

Touch a box to hear a few keys of Arabesque’s fingers dancing over a piano keyboard or some harp strings, for example. Touch a percussion box and Chouchou’s unforgettable static and cymbals are heard. You can mix these sounds any way you like to create your own compositions, or purchase a full set to take home with you and play there.

The music in this video was created with "The Babel." Chouchou hopes that visitors to the Babel will record their compositions via Machinima and upload them as a response to this video

Here’s Chouchou’s tutorial for how to use the Babel:

I met with Chouchou at the Babel to learn more.

“In the Bible,” explained Arabesque Choche, “before the Tower of Babel was destroyed, all people could speak same language. In our Babel, people from all over the world can communicate through music."

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”- Genesis 11:1-9 (King James Version)

Arabesque Choche studied classical music and majored in piano study: “I often play Russian post modern music, but when I listen, Ravel is my favorite composer”

Each floor at the Babel is a different “track” or composition by Arabesque, and the boxes are grouped as elements with specific codes and chord progressions, and organized according to musical rules. Beneath each grouping of elements, there are boxes that have chords that can serve as accompanists. Each box in the same "element" is compatible with those chords. Some of the stairs have sounds embedded, as well.

Chouchou expects to add floors and “tracks” featuring new compositions over time. “The tower is growing,” said Juliet. “It's alive. Those sounds – our sounds – are born in a tidy room like a laboratory at the top of the tower and fall down below to make the tower of sounds. They might look scattered and random, but they are all kept where they are meant to be with certain rules. The tower is like our virtual music album. Each level is one track of the album and people visiting the Babel are making the album with us... together. ”

“When we play music in C major, it has a strong connection with G major, which is known as the ‘perfect fifth.’ In the Babel, I made every effort to ensure that elements that are close to each other have that perfect 5th relationship,” explained Arabesque. “This prevents the cacophony of many people playing the boxes simultaneously,” added Masami Kuramoto, Chouchou’s trusted friend and promoter, “so even if there are boxes near different elements, it still works, and this is what most other sound sculptures don't get right.”

Juliet, whose ethereal voice was surely dipped in honey, adds so much to each song but had never studied singing, and instead prepared for a career in fashion. “For me, designing fashion and singing are not so different,” she said. “I just do whatever feels right, but I need good music to feel something and sing to it, and Arabesque's compositions have that effect. I'd never taken singing seriously until Arabesque asked me to sing for him.”

It turns out that Juliet’s voice is Arabesque’s instrument, too. “I had initially made additional synthetic voice elements for the Babel in the same scale as Juliet’s voice,” added Arabesque, “but then I decided not to publish those because Juliet's original voice is just perfect for the melody."

I became insatiably curious about that first moment when Juliet sang for Arabesque, and what his reaction had been. Juliet had always loved his music, “so when he asked me to sing to it, I felt like my dream had come true. Then I wrote the lyrics for Chouchou’s first song: utakata.”

“To tell the truth, I didn't expect her singing to work well with my compositions,” interjected Arabesque. “I was aware that she was talented and that she understood my music, but hadn’t anticipated that she would perform so smoothly. My feeling during that discovery was... so happy. I was so glad.”

Chouchou has just released a new song, Sputnik. Their MySpace page can be found here. You can join their in-world group in Second Life: Chouchouholic for all their updates and news. You can teleport to Chouchou, the sim, directly from here.

See also:


Sowa Mai's dog said...

thanks for this, I am blown away not only by the music and interactive composition facility but the presentation of the music video and the general aesthetic in their art is gorgeous. I have sent this story to some FL artists I think oughta give SL a shot

Dizzy Banjo said...

This is great and important work and its really good Chouchou are doing it.

Whilst a number of people have explored interactive music in SL. I think Chouchou are doing two things differently.

Firstly they are maintaining a very high quality level across productions and spending the time to ensure that every part of their presentation, audible and visual is immaculate. This has now extended into the preparation of the audio sample realm too.

Secondly I think they are forging a way that conventional music can be presented in a reactive form within virtual environments. On the whole, most other virtual sound and music installations are more experimental or even avant garde in nature - sometimes an easier choice. Making conventional music work in a collaborative reactive way across the network in SL is a significant challenge, especially with the file architecture limitations of SL ( at present )

I hope that work like this encourages the development of new tools for delivering this kind of reactive music environment more effectively. The LL Media API is a golden opportunity to enhance SLs audio capabilities, in a way similar to the great work Adam Ramona / Nash did recently. Increased audio handling, synthesis, MIDI in and out and OSC would be great. Maybe someone should wrap Pure data as a SL media plug in.

If something like this happens I think that VWs including SL could become a seriously viable platform for the distribution of interactive 3d music as software.