Miso is unusual among SL artists because sound is a -- perhaps the -- primary element in her work. (Her discussion of this is one reason her post about "code dreams" is so valuable.) It's crucial to turn up the volume on sounds, and probably the master volume control as well (you may want to turn down the UI volume if you do that). If you don't, you won't hear much of anything, which is how I missed almost everything in this piece the first time I visited it. Wearing earphones is a good idea, since the installation has stereo effects. Note that some objects play sounds only when you're nearby (camming isn't sufficient, though it's often valuable in order to increase volume); sometimes there is a bit of a delay before sounds play, probably due to SL sluggishness. Also, there are a lot of objects with sounds, and you may find it helpful to adjust their volume or turn one or two of them off temporarily (a click usually opens up a menu).
At first glance, "code dreams" looks like a random jumble of plants and objects and odds and ends, and perhaps not very interesting. But once you've adjusted the volume controls, "code dreams" clearly emerges as the immersive environment it is meant to be. It should be said, this quality is less pronounced in the first part of the installation, on the right side, which Miso identifies as the "input" side. (True to form, the first time I went, I unwittingly entered on the wrong side. The installation works better her way.) Here Miso introduces the most explicit codes in this work, starting with a cube at the entrance which gives a notecard about the piece, and has an image hidden within it.
Aside from the soundscape here, which is wonderful, I have some mixed feelings about this part of the work. The focus on Miso's personal "codes" is problematic since there's not much to elucidate the context or the references, or even to indicate that these are references; Miso's post identifies them, but that provides only a little bit of help and one can't expect most people to read it. On the other hand, that focus fits with one of the work's other themes, identity. However, as if to alleviate this very problem, the bed table holds the "key" to the work, in the somewhat literal fashion of a golden key which delivers a poem called "code dreams." (It also tells Miso who touched it.) In the poem, Miso tells us that she both dreams in code, and codes dreams.
Miso's post calls the last section "output"; I'd describe it as "out into the world," where one can think big. The section is dominated by large "blossom tree," above which is a model solar system. Sit on the sun, and click planets on and off in order to play Miso's "Solar Symphony." The music is similar to Steve Reich's (especially his "18 Musicians") in its use of repeated and layered musical phrases and rhythms. (I love Reich's music, so frankly this was my favorite part of the installation.) Another piece on this side of "code dreams" is Shijin, a mechanoid "poet" who utters a number of poems into chat. And near the exit there's a "data" cube (with the word "data" repeated everywhere on its sides) that shrinks when you approach it to reveal an "information" sphere that will give you a copy of Miso's painting "The Artist as a Binary Process" -- a parallel to the cube in front of the entrance. These three pieces seem oriented toward the question of finding and expressing one's place in the world.
The soundscapes of "code dreams" are impressive. However, I have to say, I'm not enthusiastic about computer metaphors for human thought and experience. Our minds are not computers: scientific research into cognition increasingly demonstrates that thought is emphatically an embodied activity -- the body is very much in the mind. Cognition and experience are emergent capabilities, simultaneously different from flesh as such, yet deeply rooted in it and existing only on its terms. We do not process inputs and produce outputs the way a computer does: our environment and our physical interactions with it structure the conduct of thought itself, in particular the way we create associations and metaphors (which are, it turns out, intrinsic to human cognition). The close of Miso's poem "code dreams" epitomizes what bothers me: the statement "physical world / only masks on the core of self" (or in the version in her blog, "the core of experience") articulates a dualistic view of the body/mind relationship, positing a deep division between them, in which our thoughts are Cartesian ghosts in the machine, our corporeality a mask shrouding our selves. I don't believe that.
And I'm not sure Miso really does either, precisely because she's an artist. Art depends on materiality just as the mind does. The codes dominating the first part of "code dreams" are more or less isolated abstractions rather than the ground of the work (although they are important to the theme of identity). They actually have a more concrete quality -- functioning less as interesting curiosities, and more as integral components -- in the dreamwork of the middle section, surrounding the bed of the little girl; and I say this, despite the problems of having work that alludes to but does not represent private experiences. So the codes and dreams of "code dreams" are in a difficult tension; perhaps the point is irony, though it feels more like ambivalence. In either case, when the codes become the background and not the focus of "code dreams," the work takes off. The dynamic is exemplified by music itself: yes, you could say that in music, "here's a note, here's another note, here are three at once" ... but you would be wrong. Thus the two strongest moments of "code dreams" are the most symphonic: bed and planets. The artist's professional code is to dream big.
It should go almost without saying that I'm poking at "code dreams" because I think it's a really stimulating work and I think you (O Reader) ought to haul yer ass over to the Pop Art Lab pronto, because the installations are supposedly going to be removed on 4 Oct. And there are seven more besides this one. So go -- NOW!
There are a number of interesting issues regarding the theme of identity, which is central to "code dreams," but I'm leaving the subject aside for another time.
Oh, and in tribute to Miso's themes of codes and identity, the alternative title to this post is an invented snippet of Second Life script (LSL). It means, "If the current avatar is Miso, set the program into the state of Identity (and do whatever you do in that state)."