Mixed reality Melbourne: Seventeen Unsung Songs

It's one of those little Melbourne bars, not so much wider than the bar that runs much of the length of it, with some seating near the front for the smokers (who are nearly out in the cold, literally), and a smaller lounge area in the back with a tiny little stage.

It's poorly lit (too dark for clean photography), and the cramped space is moderately crowded. The focus is, strangely, two men, and their laptops. Their laptop screens are projected against the walls, and strange ambient music is circulating through the room. This is a living performance in Second Life created solely for an audience in the physical world.

The men at their laptops are Australia Council for the Arts grant-winner, Adam Nash and his partner-in-crime from the University of Melbourne, Greg Wadley. Initially, the pair had the notion of a kind of guerilla performance, by stealth -- quietly invading a coffee-shop or bar, and creating ambient music using Second Life as a medium. For various reasons, the art-by-stealth approach was discarded in favor of a scheduled performance.

Ironically, the men, their laptops and the projected screen images have become a large part of the focus of the audience -- something which they really did not intend.

On their island of art in Second Life, the two men have a series of sculptures called Seventeen Unsung Songs that respond to the proximity and motions of avatars with a variety of pre-recorded sounds. Nash and Wadley are guiding their Second Life avatars through and among the complex and surreal sculptures, and creating a living form of music, never intended to be beheld by a Second Life audience.

The sounds are sourced through the two moving avatars, which would make the virtual audience unable to fully appreciate the dynamic work without it being remixed and streamed back into the virtual world, plus the performers themselves -- intentionally or not, forming a visual component to the performance, would be in constant motion around the simulator.

Some of the audience of warm bodies were just a bit agape at the visuals of the world of Second Life and the two avatars flying through the surreal landscape. Others seemed a little unaware of the exact nature of the performance, and talked over what was intended to be the focus of the performance, the dreamy and almost serene ebb and flow of the background music.

As experimental performance art goes, this one may require just a little more work, and expectation management for the audience -- although perhaps the art-by-stealth approach might end up working out well after all. Still, it was a singular and interesting event, and we hope to see more of Nash and Wadley's inventive work in Melbourne in the future.

This article was originally published on Massively.