20 September 2016

Preiddeu Annwn: A Puzzling Poem Brought to (Second) Life

This blog post is much delayed, as the sim-sized installation Preiddeu Annwn ("The Spoils of Annwn") opened back in July. I had intended to blog it then, but never managed to. Perhaps that's just as well, however, for after a couple months, a fascinating and beautifully-wrought installation such as this merits a little boost.

Preiddeu Annwn, a collective creation by Prof. Sarah Higley (Hypatia Pickens in SL) and her students at the University of Rochester, visualizes a mysterious medieval Welsh poem of the same title. The poem draws upon a tale, now lost, of an ill-fated sea raid led by the fabled King Arthur upon the netherworld (or in any case, an otherworld). But beyond that, the poem has defied interpretation -- and for that matter translation, as debates continue over words with multiple meanings, possible textual corruptions, and other difficulties.

The installation isn't an altogether literal representation of the poem; given the uncertainties of the text itself, that would be impossible in any event. Rather, some objects in the build portray select images in the poem, other items are related to the poem more associatively, and still others seem to be framing devices to help evoke the poem's tone. So, for example, one verse reads "They do not know the brindled ox, thick his headband." The installation shows us the ox, bridled in thick bands, but in front of it are two huge hands cupping a glowing orb -- an image not to be found in the poem.

The installation is mainly underwater (catching the theme of a doomed sea expedition) and is largely organized as eight wedges around a central hub, one wedge for each of the poem's eight stanzas. Most of the individual pieces occupying each wedge were created by well-established Second Life creators, such as Haveit Neox, whose signature centaurs appear in various locations. A few items and the overall structural elements are by Hypatia. Dogs (and a few wolves) are recurring images. They line the pathway to a floating shipwreck where we find the entry to the main installation, and there, they also appear in a few places in small packs. They allude to a couple of lines in the poem which deride monks ("Monks howl like a choir of dogs" and "Monks pack together like young wolves"); thus monks, although scorn-worthy as dogs, become our guide dogs into parts of Preiddeu Annwn.

Bridled ox behind glowing orb

Centaurs (by Haveit Neox) and wolves
Click to enlarge

The wedges don't occupy the whole of the space: there are places beyond their perimeter, and -- importantly -- sections wholly outside the main area, which visitors should find and explore. For instance, in one spot, little "men of letters" surround a tree where books float about and a monk sits cross-legged; rings of mystical symbols encircle the ground below the tree. Books and related images can be found throughout the installation, starting with the librarian at the landing point -- fitting symbols of monastic book culture during the Middle Ages, but also the magic of books. One piece recites a short poem in open chat.

Dogs point the way to the most important external section, which lies beyond the Door to Hell. Although the Door is situated in the second section (I'm not sure why), I recommend leaving that exploration to last.

Click to enlarge

Be sure to have media playing so you can hear a rendition of the original Welsh in song, and a reading in English translation. Graphically, all shadows should be on as well.

Prof. Higley provides a helpful discussion of the text at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/preiddeu-annwn

A couple of kvetches: The entry to the main installation involves sitting on a tiny island, which can take a few tries because sometimes the rain gets in the way. The installation includes a couple of puzzles which I couldn't figure out (or if I did figure them out, I didn't realize it) -- but I'm lousy at those things, so that may be more a comment about me. Since as far as I could tell all the objects were built either by long-time SL creators or Hypatia, it isn't clear what the students' contributions to the installation were (design ideas?); personally, I'd also prefer an explicit recognition of the creators (one can use Edit to identify them, but a less curious visitor may assume they're all by the students and professor).

Those comments aside, Preiddeu Annwn is a highly intriguing installation, and if you've already seen it, you might find it worthwhile to visit once again.

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Sunray/32/20/278

16 September 2016

Travels with Cherry: Fest'Avi 2016

I wrote last year about Fest'Avi 2015, a grand festival in FrancoGrid, one of the many OpenSims in the larger virtual universe. (OpenSims are much like SL.) These festivals are led by Cherry Manga, who for many years was active in SL. Last year's Fest'Avi consisted of an artistically spectacular dance performance, easily worth joining FrancoGrid, but only staged on one date. When Cherry returned to SL recently to build an installation at Split Screen called The Path, she created a glimpse of the coming Fest'Avi ... as it turns out, a tiny glimpse. This year Fest'Avi consists of a complex installation covering a sim and rising over 3000m, and it will be available to visit indefinitely.

One might call the installation a "travel build": you explore it (at least initially) not by walking, flying, or camming, but traveling on a programmed tour which also controls your camera. "The Path," indeed. This approach has several advantages -- you become acquainted with the many different parts of the installation, you don't inadvertently miss any major parts, and the tour provides a sense of narrative or flow. In addition to its artistic value, when you consider how often visitors to installations pop up, look around for three minutes, and then teleport away, having a programmed tour is a sensible way to get people to experience the entire work. Having your camera controlled has its drawbacks, of course, but you can return to explore the installation without the ride (which I recommend, as I missed one or two things myself).

The installation has a huge variety of settings: abstract, geometrical, schematic, spiritual, underwater, planetary, biological, futuristic, architectural, and more. Elven, human, and other humanoid beings (some only partly humanoid) appear throughout the space. One location reminded me of neurons with their network of synaptic connections. There's even a sort of political demonstration in which Cherry recalls the hippie generation. At the end, there's a bonus: numerous boxes of free avatars, some of which appear in the installation. All told, it's quite a trip -- in perhaps the psychedelic sense as well as the typical meaning -- well worth venturing over to FrancoGrid (if you haven't before, see below).

Click to enlarge photos

Although Cherry was the primary person working on the Fest'Avi installation, she credits a large number of people for their contributions (music, animations, some of avatars and objects, etc).

Cherry's work seems to have taken a lighter tone compared to when she worked in SL. At that time she tended toward surrealism which ranged from slightly disturbing or ominous, to the outright desperation of her sim-wide build, Insanity. The work I've seen of hers in FrancoGrid has been sunnier.

How to Get to FrancoGrid and Fest'Avi

FrancoGrid is free, and easy to join. First, go to the FrancoGrid website and click on "Inscription" to sign up. Although the site is mainly in French, the basic sign-up form is in English (you can almost certainly use your SL name).

Next, choose your viewer. The Linden Lab viewer won't work, but you can use Firestorm and many other viewers. These viewers have grid managers so you can pick the grid you want.
  • Some viewers -- Firestorm, Kokua and possibly others -- already have FrancoGrid (and other OpenSims) listed in the grid manager. If so, select it, log on, and you're off! (You'll need to switch back to Second Life again later.)
  • In other viewers, like Alchemy and Singularity, you first set up the grid access information manually. That's pretty easy: basically the viewer just needs this URL: http://login.francogrid.org:80/. You may have to tell the viewer that the grid uses the OpenSim platform.
Finally, once you've logged onto FrancoGrid, teleport to the "FestAvi 2016" sim. (Note the absence of the apostrophe in the sim name.)

Follow the instructions for graphics and sound settings. Look for the arrow on the ground pointing the way to the green poseballs. Once you sit on one, you'll get a message asking permission to take camera controls, which you should accept. When you're ready, click the "Click" sign. You'll get a dialog asking which tour you want. Choose "Complet" (i.e., complete). The tour takes about a half hour.

03 September 2016

More Coverage of Oberon Onmura's "The Pillars"

Oberon Onmura's "The Pillars," which was selected as an SL Destination Guide Editor's Pick, has continued to receive coverage:

New World Notes (James Wagner Au aka Hamlet Au)

Caitlin Tobias's blog

As Annie Brightstar noted in a comment to my previous post, there are also blog posts by Oema and Maddy Gynoid.  If you know of any I missed, please let me know.

My thanks!