Alan Fraser has been a MacJams member for over 4 years, a steadfast defender of the rocker culture and an early participant in many of the online community experiments. He currently spends more time at Second Life under the name Silas Scarborough, but continues to check in regularly and share his insights, especially in the MJ Forums.
I can always count on Alan to give me his truthful opinion, which is a scarce commodity in the entertainment world. Even so, Alan is a self-described “corporate slut.” Silas Scarborough, on the other hand, is a virtual rock guitar god, at least according to Alan, and since I am not a first hand Second Lifer, I must take his word for it. (And, as I said before, his word is usually true.)
I was looking at your website (My Duck Soup) and couldn’t find “Alan Fraser” anywhere. Has your alter ego taken over?
“My real name really is Alan Fraser but I’ve eliminated all traces of that from my Web site in preference for my Second Life name Silas Scarborough.”
So, should I call you Silas?
“I’d much rather be known as Silas Scarborough. Alan Fraser is a corporate slut in a bank and Silas is the guitar player. Prob’ly sounds schizo but it’s become hugely important to me to separate the two. How about ‘Silas Scarborough, known on MacJams as alanfraser….’ or something like that??”
How has Second Life affected your musical aspirations?
“I very much enjoy the pleasure people get from my Second Life shows and it’s great fun making animated videos in that environment as, despite the cartoonish appearance, all of the ‘actors’ are individual humans and it can be quite engaging to work with people in this medium to develop video. I have no musical aspiration other than to give pleasure to those around me. I don’t want a band. I don’t want real life gigs. At this stage of my life, it would be ludicrous to go out and run bars and I never really wanted a bar band anyway.”
A handful of MacJammers have migrated over to Second Life, mostly because of the “live performance” aspect. Do ex-patriat MJers in Second Life ever talk about MJ (and recruit for it) while they are on SL?
“Yes, the connection is equally strong in all the ones who flew into SL toward MacJams. There isn’t much connection between jammers in SL as most are either playing or setting up to play. I haven’t pitched it in a while and it’s about time I did. For others I’ve heard, it’s pretty much the same as me in which there will be a thank you to MacJams that will occur off the cuff and then it will be a while before another one.”
Do you imagine yourself continuing to spend most of your online music time with Second Life?
“Yes, I have no interest in forming a real band as I (Alan Fraser) would look ridiculous on-stage playing metal man so the virtual performance (as Silas Scarborough) is ideal. I tell people straight-up what I am but my avatar is gorgeous and I get groupies galore. It’s unbelievable, really unbelievable! I tell them I’m an old guitar bum and it doesn’t matter at all. In that world, I’m some kind of rock god but I think it’s more because I charm them than anything else. I don’t think it really matters how I play – what woman ever said Rod Stewart has a lousy voice? His sound his great but he ain’t no technician, is all I mean.”
When you mention groupies, may I ask – and please don’t take this wrong, I just don’t get it completely – what exactly is the virtual groupie experience?
“The flirty talk in SL is charming and it can be highly amusing. Groupie types know that I won’t pursue them for pixel porno but the thought that I might is titillating and keeps a friendly sexy vibe going. There is surprising adulation as some really do regard me as a rock god. It’s all in a virtual sense but there’s almost a reverence that is astonishing to me. I know I can be charming but I’m not that charming so that part is a bit of a mystery to me.”
How does the virtual chat / groupie relationship work in SL?
“The relationship with fans can be at multiple levels as there is an open text chat that anyone can read. Most conversations take place here unless you decide that a bit more privacy is needed in which case you’ll go to a private text chat. Something that is also available is actual voice and this works in open chat and in private chat but it sees far more use in private than in public. People will often use Skype as an alternative as it may be a bit more reliable. In both cases, one of the huge advantages is that you can talk to people virtually anywhere in the world for nothing.
“Once a relationship has escalated to private chat, there is no limit to how far it may evolve. The stories of sex in Second Life are mostly true as the pixel simulations are incredibly detailed and realistic. It’s not simply a porno movie but rather with a virtual interaction with a real person for whom you have at least some kind of regard. The involvement in SL sex may vary anywhere from people who simply enjoy the titillation of watching their avatars make love to those who are seeking and getting actual physical gratification. The fascinating part about this isn’t so much that it takes place but rather it’s the larger view of how people behave when there are no moral constructs. No-one cares if other people are gay or, for that matter, even if they’re even of the same species.”
You mentioned that your groupies know you won’t be asking for virtual sex. How do they know this? Is it a setting or relationship goal that is visible on your profile page, or do people know because Silas Scarborough has a reputation for not crossing that virtual line?
“There’s no overt indication of what if any limits someone may set. I have a relatively small number of people with whom I’m close and we’ve learned about each other over the years. They aren’t groupies in the line of let’s go back stage, get wasted, and get down to business. It’s more like intimate friends who know that pixel porno would just make a mess of things.”
What did Macjams (which pre-dated Second Life in your virtual experiences) bring to your musical experiences?
“I’ve never considered myself a musician and still didn’t even through the time in MacJams but there was tremendous encouragement and it has been, by far, one of the most musically nourishing environments I have ever known.”
Did you learn anything specific at Macjams?
“My experience with Macjams has been quite helpful in recognizing and being more objective about my limitations. My first inclination is to believe that my sound is somewhat worse than a cat in a wood chipper but the encouragement at MacJams has helped me with that. Objective and technical advice have been two very important things to come out of MacJams but most important of all has been the relationships with the MacJammers, some of whom have gone on to Second Life and play there to this day.”
Has your virtual experience changed your approach to music?
“My approach is completely the opposite of what it was when I began as I use very little programming equipment to create sequences. I play all the parts except for the drums which are otherwise commercial audio loops but my preference is to work with Vicki Nilsson for real drum trucks, plus she generates outstanding drum sounds.”
Did you meet Vicki Nilsson in Second Life? How do you collaborate with her?
“I met her through SL as she is the drummer for Virtual Live Band, the only truly live band in SL in which all of the members of the band are online at the stage at the same time and all are playing in close to real-time through coordination software called NINJAM.** Almost all of them are in different countries and yet they play together one measure behind real-time. Ninjam jiggles the timing such that you are hearing the music one measure behind whoever played it. Ninjam somehow jiggles it so whoever played that measure hears you one measure behind your response. Seems to me that it takes a time machine to do that but it really does work. My explanation of it is likely fairly ditzy but do know that the technology works. So far Virtual Live Band is the only group to really exploit ninjam but the potential is enormous.
“My collaborations with Vicki are not through ninjam but rather the same ol’ way of sending her an MP3 of a song in which she can hear it with my loopy drums and then she can record against an MP3 of the same song without drums. She sends back the AIFF or WAV so I can import her high-resolution track back into the master and then mix it back down with her in it.”
**NINJAM: What is NINJAM? (taken from NINJAM’s website)
NINJAM is a program that allows people to make real music together via the Internet. Every participant can hear every other participant. Each user can also tweak their personal mix to his or her liking. NINJAM is cross-platform and compressed audio universally. You can sing, play a real instrument with whatever effects you want, anything. If your computer can record it, then you can jam with it (as opposed to MIDI-only systems that automatically preclude any kind of natural audio collaboration). Since the inherent latency of the Internet prevents true realtime synchronization of the jam, and playing with latency is weird (and often uncomfortable), NINJAM provides a solution by making latency (and the weirdness) much longer. Latency in NINJAM is measured in measures (intervals), and that’s what makes it interesting.
The NINJAM client records and streams synchronized intervals of music between participants. Just as the interval finishes recording, it begins playing on everyone else’s client. So when you play through an interval, you’re playing along with the previous interval of everybody else, and they’re playing along with your previous interval. If this sounds pretty bizarre, it sort of is, until you get used to it, then it becomes pretty natural. In many ways, it can be more forgiving than a normal jam, because mistakes propagate differently. Part tool, part toy, NINJAM is designed with an emphasis on musical experimentation and expression.
Wow. That’s an astounding conceptual revolution. Although the whole latency thing would impact on the kind of music that is being played, I suspect, and the amount of “interaction” depends on who gets to be the one playing the first or last feeds – this is a very cool idea…
“I believe that an entity such as SL is the way of music, particularly live music, of the future. The ability to reach anywhere in the world is virtually effortless. The only constraint is bandwidth and more will come. The quality of the streamed audio will increase significantly and the capability to play in real-time with other musicians will also jump up in a big way. All the most vital ingredients are there: accessibility, quality, and flexibility.
“Take it beyond that and consider streaming video as well as audio. Visualize each member of the band streaming video and audio to a super-ninjam that mixes it down and then serves as the repeater out to the Internet. Some type of videographer magic would be needed to assign perhaps certain quadrants of the screen to the video source from each band member but that shouldn’t be any big deal. The part where this kicks up to the brave new world is that people won’t be watching this on their computers. They’ll be watching on their high-res, big-screen TV sets and listening through the surround sound that’s connected to it. If you really want to take this out to the Jetsons, swap out the TV and instead use your favorite holographic device to present the band in 3D. This is not unreasonably far-fetched. Given sufficient bandwidth and multiple video streams from each band member sufficient to capture a 360-degree view, the only piece missing is the holographic display device and how far off could they be. I have no doubt whatsoever you will be seeing live bands in your living room / entertainment area within five years and it will be in 3D or damn close to it.
“The trick, as anywhere in history, is to get that stream out to people to listen to it. If they like what they hear, they can push their little console button and send you some jingle. The way to make a lot of jingle is to get onto a big-league audio stream that may contain millions of listeners. They’ll be very selective about who they present as their people could be subscribers who are paying a monthly fee for the best bands. Assuming you’re good enough to get picked up on one of these streams, the potential in tips is astronomical. Even if they only give you a penny a piece, you’re playing for a worldwide audience.
“This works as the record execs get fat because they’re managing these massive subscriber networks. Maybe they’re going to get a percentage from you when you play on their stream. It’d be fair so why not. There would be such an absolutely outrageous amount of money in this that it cannot help but happen and kids will look at you when you talk of CDs like kids today will look if you tell them about a Victrola.”
“The problem for your start-up band is that you’re one audio/video stream out of millions so inevitably networks will arise that will broadcast your stream for a fee. It’ll be worth it because you get in front of a lot of people and hopefully some significant percentage of them subscribe to your band’s stream. If you’re good, presumably a few pay gigs like that and you’re built a subscriber base that is now growing by word of mouth. They’ll know when you’re going to play because they’re subscribed to you and they’ll come to your show and throw tips because they like your jams and want you to keep doing live shows.
“What the hell, just a wee bit more Jules Verne. Make your gig part of a reality show. The big-boy networks can offer an option to be selected at random to either hang with the band in the show or play with them. The network people send out their whizzy audio/video satellite truck to the winner’s house and then that person can be streamed into the show right along with the band. Maybe they’d want to talk or play or just be seen with you in front of a million people. Can you even begin to imagine how much people would pay to do that: Push this button for fifty cents and buy a chance to hang out with the band in the next gig?
“My description has been deliberately avaricious as that’s what drives a whole lot of innovation. All in all, I’d say the wonderful people of MacJams are in an excellent position to greet this new world. The knowledge of digital audio processing with multiple channels will serve all of us well as it extends into video and beyond. It’ll be exciting for us all!”
A brave new world for musicians, for sure. Thanks for sharing that.
Back to you… How old were you when you got into playing music?
“I couldn’t afford a guitar and finally got a modest Yamaha acoustic guitar as a gift for my birthday from my mother when I was about 22. It gives her great pride to know that something that has sustained me through my life came from that one event.”
You didn’t start playing guitar till you were 22?
“Right. A friend in high school let me hold his electric guitar and the feeling of the vibration of the body when I strummed it was magical. I was captivated from that moment on but it still was some years before I actually owned one.
“I didn’t have the money until I got out of the Army and really not even then as the first guitar was a Yamaha acoustic that came as a gift from my mother. Other than a recorder back in grade school, that was the only instrument that ever came into the house. I’m not sure why there was so much resistance to it give my father’s tremendous love of virtually all kinds of music but that’s how it was. The irony was that he couldn’t keep time to save his life. He would try to tap out a drum beat with his hands and he’d be constantly stopping and starting trying to sync up with it. The musician was my mother as even today I remember her singing in the kitchen while she cooked. ”
Tell us about your first band?
“My first real band was The Freezebirds and we were a party band which only meant that playing and getting high was a whole lot more important than getting paid. Ophir Shur was the keyboard player and he was classically trained. We would spend hours jamming together and this was the first time I had ever seriously tried to talk in music with anyone so, there was any actual education in my musical life, this was it.
“When the Freezebirds got together for the first time, it was Jack Anzinger on drums, Dave Bosse on bass, and me on guitar. The event was a party and we had no set list so we just jammed the entire time. We knew it was going to go like that and we set a recorder to capture it. People had a great time with what we were doing and this was the first time, after years in the basement, that I ever really came out to play in front of people. Everyone has this experience at one time or another but the part that may not have happened in the lives of other people is that someone stole the tape. While that was flattering and amazing to me, I would still dearly love to know what that jam really sounded like but it was many years ago and the chance of the tape resurfacing is not too good.”
What happened after that?
“Everything went dormant for many years when my bandmate and dear friend committed suicide. But I discovered MIDI through Bob Jones in Cincinnati. (I’m not sure if anyone knows his real name) This was back when he was using a Commodore 128 to drive his synthesizers and I was fascinated by the technology, perhaps in part because it allowed me to keep an emotional distance from the ‘band.'”
Was the bandmate who committed suicide Ophir?
“The Freezebirds lasted for about year, mostly getting wasted in the basement of the Klemmer House while we jammed or going out to play parties. Ophir Shur, everyone thought he was a nutbird and he was, but he was also a brilliant nutbird and dead loyal. We became great friends and he asked me before leaving to take a shot at L.A. if I wanted to go with him. He had asked me multiple times before but this was the last chance as the van was loaded and this was the moment. Staying in Cincinnati was one of the worst decisions of my life.
“Ophir was out there for a year or so and he was running with some very, very cool people but things didn’t click and there were troubles. He came back one time and sat in on one of my hall gigs and at first it was really bumpy but then we found our sync and people were calling out that The Freezebirds were back. It was pretty cool but he couldn’t stay and the next news I got was when another friend swung into my cubicle at work and just blurted out that Ophir was gone.”
Sorry. I interrupted your discussion about when you started using MIDI…
“There were some years of learning technology and watching it evolve through to Opcode’s Vision on Apple systems. By this time, I had an enormously complex hardware environment with six or seven synthesizers / sound modules, MIDI-controlled effects processors, MIDI-controlled drums, and a MIDI-controlled guitar effects stompbox. One of the most intriguing devices was a Digitech vocalist that took MIDI input in combination with analog vocal input from the singer and used those sources to generate digital harmonies.”
Vision was the first integrated music software for consumers, right?
“Vision was amazing as you could run it on the original all-in-one Macs which made it perfect for recording and also for gigs. Vision was capable of the same type of recording as GarageBand, either MIDI or audio, so this permitted using commercial MIDI songs to do songs my wife wanted to cover. I’d strip out the guitar track and probably any melody track and then send the other MIDI tracks out to an array of synthesizers but a crucial piece was to ensure each track sent out the appropriate patch information as there was no-onboard software synthesis in those days, everything took place in the external synthesizers. The computer served essentially as a MIDI / audio editor, a patch librarian, and a MIDI output router.
“Vision was a wickedly complicated piece of software to use relative to GarageBand but it was also incredibly powerful, even by today’s standards, and there are people who still use it. There were six or seven synthesizers plus drum synth and effects boxes so it made for a pretty impressive sound.”
Do you still remember the first song you ever wrote?
“My first song was ‘Don’t Bury Your Dead’ and nothing remains of it (sorry! I couldn’t resist). The band was called The Rot and it lasted for one night in one outstanding party. I remember some snippets of the lyrics but that’s about all. The song was a protest against ‘Oprah think’ that closure really means something and/or that keeping dead people somewhere really serves some purpose. It amuses me no end that my father’s ashes are in a box in my mother’s living room although I appreciate that it gives her some comfort.
What year was in the The Rot? Was the name your idea?
“The Rot had its one night of existence somewhere in the mid to late seventies. There were all kinds of punky bands playing badly deliberately so we thought we’d be part of the musical rot. That may even help place the year as those ones were all-out Hunter Thompson king hell crazy years and it’s anybody’s guess what really happened! The lyrics were deliberately trivial as in don’t bury your dead, just throw them by the road. There’s nothing spiritual at all about the song as we were young, immortal, and really didn’t buy this business about death. Even more, we didn’t buy all this bizarre behavior when people do croak. Plus we were drunk and synergized by at least one or two other intoxicants. So, don’t bury your dead, just throw them by the road!”
Speaking of satire and social criticism, I loved your social-political satire that you did through the character you developed named Reverend Silas T Sasquatch. Where did the name come from?
“The name was supposed to sound kind of southern but with a ridiculous combination of names and it was definitely to mock the tv and radio preachers who I hold in pretty low regard.”
What did you want to accomplish with that project?
“The object wasn’t to be overtly blasphemous as someone else’s spiritualism is none of my business but the lunacy of dogma in religion or anywhere is very funny to me. There wasn’t any particular objective other than to voice a dissenting opinion without being combative about it, hopefully delivered with enough comedy that people might listen to it. The time it took was enormous. Even though every podcast was ad lib, I’d spend quite a bit of time considering various themes and I’d map them in my mind to see first if it was funny and next whether there was five minutes of material in it. I was doing them every day and there just wasn’t time to keep it up.”
What does Alan Fraser “do for a living”?
“I was a mainframe programmer for many years and swore I would never go into management but I changed the play six or seven years ago and discovered that I’m pretty good at it. My intention had never been to do more than use the programming environment to make enough money to get musical equipment but programming was another fascination and it competed with music rather than augmenting it for quite a few years until I discovered MIDI.”
Do you ever do music at work, listen in, log on to Second Life or Macjams at work? Or use your programming equipment or people for your music?
“There is no music at work and I need total silence for virtually any computer application, even email, as I find music so compelling that I must either listen to it or not listen to it but I cannot have it in the background. I do get to MacJams to read the forums from work when I can. Unfortunately, the pace of things has become a bit frenetic in my role as a corporate slut so there isn’t much time for it. Second Life is definitely in the ‘not safe for work’ category so I wouldn’t login there from work even if I could. Besides, it’s incredibly absorbing and consequently time-consuming so it would make an easy career destroyer if you could get to it from work.”
How old is Alan Fraser?
“I’m 57 and live in Rhode Island, USA. I’ve never considered the US home as I grew up in Australia and even today I can get homesick for it. My current circumstance is effectively living in a musical mine shaft (Rhode Island) but this has forced me to become even more self-reliant and this hasn’t been a bad thing at all. This is one of the biggest reasons for getting involved in Second Life as there are really only two options here: play Beatles songs for nostalgic New England clam-eaters or go virtual and play whatever I want.”
When did you move from Australia? Still keep up or go back and visit?
“The family came to the U.S. in 1962 as my father had invented genetic population modeling on computers so he was some kind of rock star in the world of tenured biologists. I don’t really know anyone in my family beyond my immediate family here. The only one I really remember is Uncle Bill but it turns out he was a Spitfire pilot from WWII and he and my father were buds, we weren’t related at all. (Uncle Bill had stones the size of Mt Everest. He looked like some quiet, rummy old guy and he always wore a cardigan sweater. You would never guest he had fought in the Battle of Britain and been shot down in flames not once but twice. Big, big stones.
“One really great reason to go back would be to find out what became of Pamela Langdon Jones. She was my first 12-year-old crush and it was ludicrous as we didn’t even know each other and couldn’t talk because of rigid separation in the elementary schools through, at least, sixth grade. But we were grown-up sixth-graders and our eyes would play with each other in that goofy way that 12-year-olds will do. She was so beautiful but my family was preparing to leave and we flew out of Sydney at the end of the school year so I never met her.”
If Alan Fraser is 57 and lives in Rhode Island USA, is a former Aussie, etc… how old is Silas, where does he live, where is he from, and what does he do for a living?
“Silas looks to be about 28 and he’s a gorgeous professional hard rock god who melts hearts with a smile! His history is mine and that still works because Silas is an emergent rock god so it’s expected that his history to date would be relatively mundane. The object is to push credibility as far as you possibly can without turning everything into a cartoon while at the same time letting your ‘true self’ manifest itself. So the short answer is that Silas really doesn’t live anywhere!”
What obstacles have you overcome in your musical endeavors?
“The first one was my father who was adamant that, despite his tremendous love of music, playing an instrument was a complete waste of time as my ‘true’ destiny lay in going for the PhD and living a life of science. This battle went on for many years but ultimately he came around and became a supporter.
“The next next one was a major motorcycle crash that totaled a Harley and very nearly me as well. There was tremendous damage to my left shoulder and there was some danger that I would lose the arm but several years of intensive physical therapy and multiple surgeries eventually restored most of the function although it is still painful to agonizing to play.”
What year was the motorcycle accident?
“The biggest crash was in ’91 when my Harley was totaled due to someone turning a car left in front of me. That one really smashed my left shoulder. There was another one in ’72 when I broke my left collarbone. There was also a really stupid ski accident in which I tripped while I was yakking with my brother in the lift line. I cleverly broke my left thumb in that one. There are multiple other broken bones but these ones are most illustrative of the cosmic conspiracy that wants to stop me from playing guitar. It is one massive screaming bitch to play but I broke the First Biker Law: Don’t let the bastards hit you.
“I was using a Mac Classic II with System 7 at the time. I couldn’t play the guitar because of all the damage to my shoulder but I could do the synth programming. After I began to recover use of my arm enough to play, I had Vision sending the patch changes to the guitar effects stompbox so I’d have just the sound I wanted for whichever tune it was.”
When did you dad “become a supporter”? In what way(s)?
“My father became a real supporter after his stroke. It’s a devastating way to finally reach each other but it did happen and, happily, he lived for at least another fifteen years after that. The paralysis faded relatively quickly but it took quite some time before he could speak at all. When he could say something about my jams after that, it would be encouraging as if, despite his immense love of music, he was seeing for the first time why there really isn’t a choice to do it. No-one has ever supported me financially on my equipment or anything. I was incredibly shy about anyone hearing me and it took many years to come out of the basement. All I was really after from my father was something like, well, you didn’t suck. He came back way past that after the stroke and I’ll never know if that was because he really liked it or understood that I didn’t have a choice but it’s ok either way.”
Did you ever get a PhD (like your dad wanted)?
“No, I didn’t go for the PhD as I didn’t come up with anything interesting that would happen if I did it. I had some interest in field work for cultural anthropology (yeah, yeah, so 60’s) as I find the differences between people quite intriguing when we can easily see that we’re really all the same. It was mixed in part with some spiritualism as I was interested in seeing what answers other cultures had derived as I didn’t and still don’t see any connection to a spiritual world in western religion. However, I realized that the likelihood of funding was minimal and I’d end up studying trailer parks around Kentucky coal mines. I don’t mean to sound elitist as there is a place in Kentucky where the people are reputed to speak English as perfectly as Prince Charles. I knew one of them and I never knew if he was playing with me or not as I never caught him in a failed accent and Americans are notoriously bad at imitating English accents. It would be fascinating to me to understand that too but I was a kid and wanted to do something that would be really exotic.”
What is your main instrument?
“Godin xtSA MIDI guitar is my primary instrument although I sometimes play a Fender Stratocaster XII (electric 12-string). I use an Ibanez bass and also a MIDI keyboard controller for other types of sounds.
“Software amplifier simulation has permitted me to greatly reduce the complexity of my hardware environment by eliminating all amplifiers other than amped studio monitors. Software synthesizer emulation has permitted the elimination of almost all of the MIDI-controlled sound modules.
“My recording software of preference is GarageBand although one day I’ll learn Logic Studio. For emulation software, all of the software comes from Native Instruments. This has included all releases of Guitar Rig and also Pro-53, a Prophet 5 emulator. I had previously used Bias Inc’s Deck for 5:1 mixing but the support has been poor and I don’t think it even runs on the latest Mac operating systems.
“My studio setup hinges on a Presonus Firestudio Project as it permits me to record multiple channels simultaneously over Firewire. There were some initial difficulties with it but these turned out to be due to incompatibility with the Leopard release of Mac OS. I also have a DigiDesign 003 Rack but their support for Leopard was so poor that I finally gave up on looking and the device has sat in a box for months. The irony is that the problem is with Pro Tools LE and I don’t even need that software. All I wanted was a high-quality audio interface but, without their software, the device is useless. I doubt I will ever buy so much as a can opener from DigiDesign ever again.”
“I tried to learn as much as I could from Ikhabod Pain on MacJams and his lack of enthusiasm for effects, particularly reverb was a lesson well taken. I still use effects, sometimes quite a number of them, but I try to keep it somewhere near the bounds that Ikh would approve. Other than that, all I know to do is to give as much headroom as I can because I’ll often use tremendous distortion in the guitar so any clipping is very much unacceptable.”
What gear is needed for performing on Second Life? (You are a resident expert, so please be specific)
“My Mac is a beast with an 8-core processor, 8 GB of memory, 8800 graphics card, 2 TB of disk, blah, blah. This is extreme overkill for streaming but it’s a requirement for video editing, etc. I know people are successfully using MacBook Pros to stream into SL. Note this is very much contingent on what exactly you’re going to stream.
“Nicecast software is required to stream audio to the Internet. You can specify whether it will treat a single application, such as GarageBand, as the audio source or if it is to stream all audio output from the computer. In the latter case, it’s something you might want if you’re streaming from iTunes and you also want to keep a live mike going. The least complex way to do it is to run the output from a mixer into the Mac and don’t re-process the audio at all. This is the least CPU-intensive and the one most likely to work.
“GarageBand works very well for the type of music I present as it permits multiple live record channels I can use simultaneously. I will also sometimes use one of the pre-recorded tracks for backing. Each other track in my SL live file is a mix-down of one of my tunes without lead guitar or vocals in it. In this way, I can mute all of those tracks and un-mute them one at a time to work my way through the set in which each track is a different song. GarageBand will eat up as much of the CPU as you want as you pile effects onto all of your channels.
“Presonus Firestudio Project is used over Firewire for the audio interface. It permits eight discrete channels that can in turn be fed to eight different tracks in GarageBand, all of which know what’s coming as you would have a mike on channel one, lead guitar on channel 2, guitar synth on channel 3, keys on 4, looper output on 5, etc. In this way, you can apply audio effects such as reverb or whatever specifically to vocal or you can use it to isolate the guitar to send it to Guitar Rig without having an effect on the vocal. Guitar Rig and other amp simulators are the types of products that can put your computer to the wall as some use an enormous amount of CPU power. This is where a MacBook Pro may not have sufficient juice but I did successfully stream audio from GarageBand with Guitar Rig on a Mac dual with 2.6 gHz processors so that would be roughly equivalent.
“Outbound from the Presonus, it’s whatever you might like. In my case, I have two relatively inexpensive condenser mikes, one of which is on reserve but is still taking a channel. The guitar has a MIDI (extended) that goes to a Roland GR-20 guitar synth device. The synth output goes to another channel and the guitar sound goes to a Boss GT-10 for effects and subsequently to its own guitar channel. There is also a Boss RC50 looper that has its own channel as I never want its output to receive the same processing as the guitar lead, etc. There is no input to the looper as I don’t use it to create loops dynamically. Besides, the GT10 has got a looper in it too. An Ibanez bass owns another channel and an eMU keyboard controller has two, one is for when I have MIDI output going to an intermediate Korg sound module and audio goes to its own channel. The other is direct MIDI from the eMU to the Presonus so the MIDI information can be passed through to GarageBand to perform the sound synthesis there.
“In GarageBand, I’ve built a number of tunes with my bass, lame keyboards, guitars, and sometimes vocals along with sampled drums. For live performance in the Second Life virtual world, I strip out the lead guitar and vocal tracks and use the remainder as backing tracks for my virtual band. This has been criticized massively by purists who know best that there is only one correct way to make live music but I’m not looking for anything but the joy of playing so it really doesn’t matter what they think.”
What is your strongest point, musically?
“I very rarely memorize anything.”
“I very rarely memorize anything. I don’t mean to be facetious relative to the previous response but it’s true. I know many people who know every song they ever heard and I alternate between envy at their wondrous capability and relief that I can’t do it as there’s less chance, I hope, that what I do will be something I heard somewhere else.”
How do you come up with a song? What do you write first, lyrics or music?
“Lyrics, if I write any at all, will start as a poem. That will require some consideration as to whether it actually deserves to be a song and the theme of the poem will define the type of attack in the musical presence behind it. Typically, I’ll do it the other way around as I’ll listen to something I’ve done and it will be clear to me that it needs words. I’ll then play the song and mumble words that occur to me into a mike until they do – or don’t! – gel into something coherent. Once I have some words and a theme in mind, I’ll turn off the music to write the poem based on the existing structure of the song, sometimes modifying the structure if the poem develops to the point of needing it.
“For me, a sound will evolve from a melody I’m trying to devise. I don’t approach it as though a certain segment of the song requires a piano and therefore I will develop the melody for a piano. Recording the melody with one voice does not at all mean that it will keep that voice in the final version and it’s quite likely that it won’t. This is one of many reasons that I like MIDI so much.”
Is your wesbite MyDuckSoup.com named after the Marx Brothers?
“Yes but not because of the content of the movie. It’s more kind of a tribute to them and their inventiveness.”
“One thing I see immediately from mining is that MacJams could send a whole parcel of rock gods to SL! Ziti, Norman Goodman, and ronnielong are the guitarists with whom I’m most familiar but SL wouldn’t even remotely know what to do with Suzanne when she starts blazing with her axe. I’m under no misapprehension about my guitar skills and any of the guitarists I’ve named here and likely many more from the rest of the list could clear my clock to the point of making it spin backwards. However, technique is not always the most important thing as stage presence is a very big part of success in SL. As in real-life, charisma counts and the most successful in SL are not necessarily the most technically-gifted.
“As always, if anyone is interested in getting started in SL, I’ll be more than happy to help you get started and I’ll stage you at Eden Park to get you in front of people / avatars for the first time. Usually what happens after that is offers for gigs start coming in and you’re on your way. The last one to try that was Chance Rampuler who is the same Alex / Chance you know from MacJams. The very best resource for learning about the SL musical environmental is at http://slmc.myfastforum.org as it features multiple forums with contributions from SL performers, venue owners, and fans. To contact me in SL, send an IM to Silas Scarborough.”
Any additional comments, anecdotes, interesting stuff I never asked about?
“Whew! No, I think I’m exhausted now…”
Silas and the Dangerous Beauties DVD (unreleased)
Silas – Live (unreleased)
Illusion of Gravity (CD Baby and iTunes)
Illusion of Gravity DVD (unreleased)
Hellbound Train by Reverend Sasquatch (CD Baby and iTunes)
Inherit the Mirth by Reverend Sasquatch (CD Baby and iTunes)
Finding My Way (unreleased)
Greatest Hits of Alan and Judi (unreleased)