Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 May 2021

(p. 167) Second Life

Second Life was launched in 2003 as an immersive real-time social space. It offered musicians a new and creative approach to performance, one that involved both live and prerecorded music, animation and audience socialization/interaction, and so returning, and reflecting further, on the questions raised in Part One: What is real, what is virtual? As Trevor S. Harvey observes, “Audiences have long been entertained by—and scholars and historians have critically examined—the constructed identities and performances of personae that are fundamental to mass-mediated musical culture” (Chapter 10). Musicians performing in Second Life are no different, relying on “carefully crafted personages in mediating live musical performances among global audiences and for establishing successful performing careers in virtual worlds” (ibid.). Harvey’s ethnographic exploration of “Avatar Rockstars: Constructing Musical Personae in Virtual Worlds” offers a personal insight into the virtual world of Second Life, “where the musical experience is fractured by the disconnection between the perceived sound (the music) and its paradoxical source (the unseen person singing and playing the music represented by a 3D avatar within the virtual world)” (ibid.). His description of live music concerts and interviews with musicians and audience members opens with Collyier Heberle1 visiting “Moonshines, a popular rock-and-roll and blues club located in the Montego Beach region of the virtual world of Second Life.” The live musician (Don Ray Houdyshell from Austin, Texas) is performing as Bluemonk Rau, “a blues and rock-and-roll keyboardist and singer,” while “the audience of avatars dance—some as couples, some alone—while others stand about or lounge around in wooden rocking chairs.” Questions are raised as to how and why musicians are attracted to the virtual world. For some, it seems, it is body image: “Second Life avatars are almost always younger, slimmer, taller, trendier, and generally more attractive than their real-life counterparts (Loke 2009; Messinger et al. 2008), while nonetheless adopting certain defining features of one’s real-world identity—what Heider refers to as (p. 168) the ‘replicant’ effect (2009, 136).” Others blend their real-world and virtual-world musical personae. Avatars also present “an opportunity for Second Life musicians to virtually embody the past, present, and future of music,” but as Justin Gagen and Nicholas Cook caution, although Second Life continues to sustain a substantial musical culture, the music itself is conditioned by two major constraints. First, it is nearly impossible to create music in-world, through the real-time actions of avatars, so raising the question of what “liveness” might mean in a virtual world when “virtually all the music in Second Life is made in the real world and brought into Second Life.” The second constraint concerns “the streaming in of sound files … whether prerecorded or live” and is the central topic of their chapter. “Performing Live in Second Life” is based on a case study of the virtual band Redzone, which began life as an Internet band in 1997 before making the transition to Second Life in 2006, and of which Justin Gagen is a cofounder. As such, it provides a personal insight into both the problems and the pleasures gained from performing in Second Life. The authors agree, for example, that “the most effective approach to creating liveness within virtual reality is not to replicate the conditions of live music in the real world, but rather to recontextualize the signifiers of liveness” through the technological affordances of virtual reality. As their surveys reveal, “Lag is a permanent dimension of the Second Life experience.” “There is no single ‘now’ in Second Life: the present moment is blurred, smeared over a period of several seconds.” Rather, it is the social context, “the network of interaction between audience members, and between them and performer, [that] represents a performance of liveness.” As such, in words Gagen and Cook quote from William Cheng (2012), “Even though the production of the music itself is not live, the production of the musical performance in its totality is demonstrably live.” It is also interesting to note that “most performers in our survey reported a close correlation between how they performed in and out of Second Life,” but just how easy is it for an opera singer to engage with the virtual world, and what problems does this present? The problems inherent in playing in “real time” and the dynamic relationship between decisions that are preplanned and those that are made on the spur of the moment are explored in Marco Antonio Chávez-Aguayo’s chapter, “Live Opera Performance in Second Life: Challenging Producers, Performers and the Audience,” which describes in first person the experience of becoming a virtual opera singer and creating a parallel artistic life. As he discovered, producing live classical music in a global virtual world presents both challenges and opportunities, not least in the interaction between performer and audiences. There is the challenge of introducing new audiences to opera, of finding suitable repertoire, and of establishing a responsive and interactive relationship with an accompanist who can meet the problems inherent in a virtual performance. Success has meant attracting a new and dedicated following, and as such, the time and energy involved has opened the door to a dynamic global relationship between the performer and his audience. Chávez-Aguayo’s chapter provides a thoughtful introduction for readers interested in becoming a virtual classical musician in Second Life; how and why this affects developing a relationship between fans both real and virtual; and how and why his virtual performance differs from being a real-life opera star.

(p. 169) Note

(1.) Harvey’s avatar name in Second Life.

Books, Articles, and Websites

Cheng, William. 2012. “Role-playing Toward a Virtual Music Democracy. The Lord of the Rings Online.” Ethnomusicology 56: 31–62.Find this resource:

Heider, Don. 2009. “Identity and Reality: What Does It Mean to Live Virtually?” In Living Virtually: Researching New Worlds, ed. Don Heider, 131–143. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Loke, Jaime. 2009. “Identity and Gender in Second Life.” In Living Virtually: Researching New Worlds, ed. Don Heider, 145–161. New York: Peter Lang.Find this resource:

Messinger, Paul R., et al. 2008. “On the Relationship Between My Avatar and Myself.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 1(2): 1–17. (p. 170) Find this resource:


(1.) Harvey’s avatar name in Second Life.