Tuna Oddfellow: How Odd Can It Get?

By Traci Nubalo

How odd, indeed? It was a Monday night - early at that. I’d been in Second Life for just a short time. I was still walking into walls and entering chat into the wrong window. But I was on a mission. I was exploring this new virtual world to see what forms of musical and entertainment species lived and thrived here. And one person I spoke to told me that I had to - HAD to - see a show by this Tuna Oddfellow character.

At that point I didn’t know that Tuna (who has been called the “Peter Max of Second Life”) was already a longstanding inworld favorite.

I hadn’t heard that Tuna had won a million lindens in a popular NBC television series “America Has Talent”.

And I really didn’t know that Tuna (and his “Beautiful Assistant” Shava Suntzu, also his rl significant other) were busily working at the very cutting edge of the science of performance art.

So, armed with such a pathetic base of knowledge (and with no warning that one day I would be called upon to write this article!) I appeared in Tuna and Shava’s theatre standing nervously under a huge magician’s hat along with a couple dozen other avatars. Then, in an instant, as Shava admonished us to keep our hands inside the car, off we went into my first experience of the Tunaverse.

The printed word could never do justice to what is to be experienced at the Odd Ball, other to say this: you are totally immersed in - drenched in! a 3D visual imagery experience heretofore unknown to even the most ardent dance club fans. The music - primarily streaming trance/dance/techno, first rate - provides the sonic impetus while Tuna, manning a coliseum-sized control console, deftly improvises the imagery to fit the musical changes. It’s truly art in it’s most creative and intense form!

Let’s let Tuna and Shava fill us in a bit more:

Shava Suntzu: We call it the Cathedral Effect in our documents. There are elements of sacred architecture that use some of the same geometric tricks we use - statically, of course - to get that hushed awe when you walk into a cathedral or a mosque. It's also the feeling you get looking out over a valley from the top of a mountain.

What we are working on is a set of neurotransmitters that are all based around vision, proportion, the internal model of the body (proprioception) and those are also the systems that hallucinogens work on.

Tuna Oddfellow: I'm a performer in my first life and when I came to SL, I thought, how can I connect to people? How can I get that "WOW!" that I get from a crowd with my magic in a world where people learn to fly the first day?
Traci Nubalo: *smile*
TO: I mean, cutting a lady in half doesn't do much for folks here. So one of the things that dazzles people, virtual/real space, is fireworks. It started with fireworks and effects
and then Shava came into the picture. We got the award from NBC, and people started hiring us for sim openings and such. It made it worthwhile for me to learn to make my own effects, and commission what I couldn't make.
And for the first time, it really started to feel more like, you know, my art.

TN: So - when someone shows up at your theatre what will they experience?
TO: Oh, that's hard.
TN: Sorry *smile*
TO: Well, I like to say, "I blow minds for a living."
I'll create a texture, and then find 20 ways to reinterpret that texture, and get new filters and twists, and there's a lot that get thrown out. In order to generate these textures I use a variety of tools, like TextureMaker, GIMP, FilterForge, BluffTitler (makes animations) - we're doing more of those into the future. Various little toys and gadgets.

TN: Very often there is a sort of tubular X-shape that appears.
SS: Yes, those are toruses.
TO: I've been trying to find similar processed textures and do the animation by hand, because that's easier on everyone's computer than doing actual animations a lot. I have a few animated PNGs I use, with a script that makes them come to life as people watch them.
TN: The immersion aspect is important.
SS: There's a sense of immersion that's intense. LOL! We said it at the same time.
TO: But it gets to you. I'm the artist, Shava's the science geek, but I know what grabs people. So I do things intuitively and then she spends library time figuring out what we just did.

Back in the studio, avatars were blissfully whirling about the sim, making utterances in Open Chat that seemed to be taken directly from an arcane Hindu spiritual text. Clearly, all of this torus-manipulation (or whatever they were talking about LOL) was having a deep and positive effect on those present, including me. I felt a great sense of ease and an almost giddy style of happiness such that I couldn’t tell what was causing it, the music, the images, or the combination of the two? And you know what - I really didn’t care and I still don’t.

TO: Sometimes it'll be an entirely different style of texture that just grabs me, and sometimes new shapes and ways to manipulate things.
One of my behind the scenes projects is to double the amount of hypercubes (rezzing devices) we use in the show.
Currently I'm using 9 channels of rezzing devices, and I want to use 18. It'll take a few tricks to make it work but some of the visuals will blend and pop and go together more easily for me
TN: In the madness of the show it can be easy to miss the fact that this is absolutely cutting edge art. There's also a very evident "here/now" component to your work
TO: While it's all happening, the music is always there, and the music moves me to keep effects slow, or speed things up, color, mood. People give me textures and I've manipulated the texture on the fly and thrown it up into the balls. I'll look for images relating to conversations and manipulate it, mash it up, and put it in the show, just right then. It's like graphical jazz, juggling, and magic all together. It's crazy!
TN: Yes - wonderfully crazy. wonderfully crazy

By the end of the evening I was exhausted! I mean seriously physically spent! I had only pixel-danced but my body felt like I had been grooving and whirling for the entire two hours. I’ve since experienced dozens of Odd Balls - each wonderfully different from the others. I’ve probably taken more than 100 friends to the Tunaverse and not one has ever been less than enthusiastically complimentary.

Like my new friend tried to tell me early on - this is an event that simply HAS to be seen!

LadyScarlett Farstrider: A View From A Tree

By Traci Nubalo

During my time reviewing groups here in Second Life, I have pretty much limited myself to singer-songwriter type performers. This was not due to a prejudice of any kind - I just have not had a lot of experience writing about groups who play to track. So I was kind of excited when fate conspired to change this for me.
I had been chatting with a friend of mine who manages an act or two in SL and she had gone on and on about someone named LadyScarlett Farstrider. Now, people tell me about performers all of the time but this manager happens to be one whose taste I usually admire. And the first name LadyScarlett kinda sticks in the mind.
So - a few weeks down the road - there I was minding my own business. In fact I was wandering through a shop that sells top of the line skins and shapes, at the very beginning of a mission that I really didn’t feel like doing. But that’s another story for another day. *smile*
As I wandered around, my eyes glazing over from all of the images of avatars that I would never look anything like, I walked past a lovely being whose name tag read LadyScarlett Farstrider. I tried to put on the brakes but ended up in one of those things where you just keep moving and you fly out the through the wall and into the next sim a few thousand meters. When I had finally popped back into “reality” I checked out her profile and sure enough it was the very singer I had been pointed toward.
So we spoke - then we spoke another couple of times and I found her to be just the sweetest and nicest person. I promised to get out to see her sing. I guess I was at first a little surprised when I learned that she sang to track, but it was mostly a pleasant surprise. I not only LOVE her voice, but I learned that not all tracks make a singer sound like third-on-the-list at the Friday amateur karaoke scene.
I popped out to see her perform a couple of times and then we spoke for a while in my office as I tried to get to know her personally. Here’s how it went:
Traci Nubalo: So tell me, Lady, were you performing before Second Life?
LadyScarlett Farstrider: Only occasionally - at karaoke bars with friends.
TN: Where are you from?
LF: Tennessee
TN: Yes, I remember your lovely southern accent. I’ve been through Tennessee and it’s a very pretty state. What were your musical choices growing up?
LF: At first, oldies, like the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis because that's what my dad listened to. Then country because that's what my mom listened to.
TN: And later on?
LF: Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Def Leppard...
TN: How fun! So you were a rocker chick as a teen?
LF: Yeah, pretty much. Rock and country.
TN: May I ask your age?
LF: 31
TN: Excellent. I really admire your interaction with your audience. That’s something that usually comes with professional maturity. With such little stage background how did you learn to do that?
LF: Honestly, when I first started, the majority of the people who came to my shows were my friends. So it was easy to get up there and goof off with them, be silly.
As I've done it more - and people I don't know come - it’s pretty easy to just pull them into the circle and treat them like my friends.
TN: Yes. Friendly is the perfect word to describe your stage presence. And your fans seem to react in a friendly way, too. That must feel good.
LF: Very much.
TN: Another thing I like about your show is that you have a rather eclectic song list. Can you describe what material you do - for the new readers?
LF: I do covers of songs that in some way have touched me. Evanescence is one of my faves to do - and Pink. I have fun just throwing random stuff that the audience throws out at me during a show to see if I can. That‘s how I got convinced to sing “I'm Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred.
TN: Excellent
Eclectic perfectly describes Lady’s live work. At one recent show she brought the house to a whisper with a totally gorgeous piano-driven version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” from the great Bonnie Raitt, then blew them down with her rich, clear vocals on “Zombie” from The Cranberries, a request from the packed house in attendance. Then - without letting the dancers catch their breath - Lady launched into an amazing version of “My Immortal”. Her voice held clear and steady against the nicely-orchestrated version of the hit from Evanescence.
LadyScarlett also does a killer job when she ventures out into a capella territory. On this night she pulled out Hanson’s “Use Me Up” and delivered a gorgeous, breathy version sans tracks, a great device that she also uses very effectively on Honey Honey’s “Thursday Night”.
And is she eclectic? the Lady with the Voice also crooned a superb take on the Patsy Cline chestnut "Walking After Midnight" that was full of soulful sass and twang.
I have to tell you, I was thoroughly enjoying myself! And just then my cover was blown!
The gig was at a fantastic tree house called Fantasmagoria. I had decided to take notes while I watched the performance, so to avoid having to chat with a lot of people I - well, I just sat hidden in the tree itself rather than landing on the dance floor. So I was really surprised when this sweet little voice appeared in my IM window. “Ummm, is everything okay? Would you like to join us?” I almost fell off the branch in surprise! Turns out it was Poison Foxtrot, one of the grid’s best and sweetest club hosts. We chatted briefly; she gushed about how huge a fan of Lady’s she has become; and I thanked her for checking on my wellbeing. It really was a lovely little scene - one very much in keeping with the super-good vibes I saw in all of the Farstrider shows I attended.
Back in my office, LadyScarlett was taking me to school. I recreate this fascinating part of the interview for the reader who - like me - had no clue where things like backing tracks come from.
TN: Lady, how do you select your material?
LF: If it's a song I love, like one I can't get out of my head, I try to find the music for it, then play around with it for a while to see if I can actually do it. Then I force my friend, Nanners Guardian, to listen to it and tell me if its okay or not.
TN: Where does one go to find the backing tracks?
LF: There are several websites where you can purchase them. I also use YouTube and a program called Zune.
TN: I see. Are the tracks key-specific?
LF: Some are, but most aren't.
TN: What do you look for in a track that feels right for you?
LF: I want it to sound as much like the original as possible. Some of them tend to sound very...childlike would be the best way I could describe it. I generally prefer it not to have backing vocals, cause those sometimes are very scary sounding.
TN: I've noticed that the tracks you use tend to be on the leaner side - not overly-produced. Is that to better highlight your amazing voice?
LF: No. The ones that sound overly produced tend to be too loud. I have to turn it up pretty loud on my end as it is, in order for my voice not to drown it out. If I have to crank up something that’s overly produced, it deafens me.
TN: Fascinating. One thing that I really love about your vocal delivery is that you have a great sense of pitch. You sing on key - even when not using vibrato - which is a difficult thing for many singers to do. I've also noticed that you tend to avoid the very fast vocal runs that today's hip hop singers use. Is that a conscious choice on your part?
LF: Yes. I'm southern, so I can't keep up with the fast stuff.
TN: *smile* Well, I think it works very much to your advantage, Lady. How long have you been performing in SL?
LF: Hmmm. A little over a year.
TN: How have you seen your presence here grow in that time?
LF: By small margins. LOL. It's taking me awhile to get comfortable with things. I'm really just now seeing an increase in show attendance and bookings.
TN: Yes. It can take some time. Well, you certainly seem very much in control of your act at this point. You exude a wonderful sense of confidence onstage.
LF: Oh! I'm not! LOL I still get nervous every time.
I guess I just control it better.
This has been a lesson for me. I’m no longer so simplistic in my thinking about virtual performers who choose to sing to track. Watching LadyScarlett Farstrider work her onstage magic has shown me that there is, in fact, an art in using backing tracks. When those tracks are chosen carefully and utilized skillfully the resulting show can be as joyful and fun as any other.
For those who have heard my new friend LadyScarlett Farstrider, nothing need be said; for those of you who are about to become new fans of hers I can't say enough. Get on out and support this rising star!
TN: So, what's next for LadyScarlett?
LF: I'm just going to keep doing this. I really love it. It's a way for me to realize a dream I always had in RL - to sing. And I have such fun with it.
TN: And I can say for a fact that the readers who check out your show will also have a lot of fun. So, in closing, this is your chance to speak directly to your fans.
What would you like to say to them?
LF: I'd love to thank them for all their support. I truly have never felt like much of a "performer". I'm just doing what I love to do. And the fact that people want to come listen and have fun with me is amazing to me. I've made some wonderful friends doing this, and several of them have become my family.
TN: LadyScarlett, thank you so much for chatting with us today.
LF: Thank you. *smile*

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