angrybeth shortbread

Last week I finally met miss Angrybeth Shortbread. I had already come across her name several times but I never actually got to talking to her. Angrybeth works in her rl as an artist and teacher at Leeds College of Art and Design and does in fact the same in sl. The reason for talking to her now was my visit to PLAY, an exhibition of several of her sound installations at The Collective, the island of the Leeds college. These installations were made between 2006 and 2008 and they have been put together on display to accompany a lecture she performed at FACT, the Liverpool based Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. This lecture was done for the People: Place: Presence event at FACT which was a one day mix of seminar and demos by a range of audio-visual artists. Angrybeth showed her sound pieces and talked about the properties and potential of a place like second life. What I like about her is how serious she is about virtual worlds, the development of (the use of) those worlds and how she wants her students to explore them. She teaches Design for Digital Media and she therefore considers that only logical but still, she told me the UK artworld is, like the Dutch one, very reluctant in embracing Second Life. However the Leeds college has their own island in sl where the students can work and experiment. Angrybeth showed me the work they have done for book publisher Penguin. With sl being hyped in Europe in 2007 a lot of commercial companies jumped in without understanding what sl really is and how to use it. Penguin, contrary to those companies, indicated that what they wanted was anything but a giant bookstore or office. So what they have now is a giant typewriter, a headphone and pda. The typewriter has a twitter account and whichever you decide to write with the machine shows on the twitter page. Sitting under the headphone gives you some special selected penguin podcasts and the pda gives you the penguin website. Angrybeth stressed that it was built more than a year ago, almost as if she was apologizing for the place not being completely up to date. I don’t think it mattered, nor does it matter if penguin decides to continue being in sl or not, the fact is that to me it was a nice example of how presence in a virtual world can be done using the characteristics of these worlds instead of just copying a rl office into sl. To me it showed vision, even if it was a one year old vision and considering how hard it can be building a stable thing in an environment that is still so much subject to change and development. Angrybeth: ‘Thats another problem for companies in sl, things break. Virtual world marketing has still a long way to mature’. But, back to Angrybeths sound installations. I thought they were pretty great. The different installations were called names like ‘stretch’, ‘push’,

‘collide’ and ‘sense’, this is a pic of ‘push’. What it does, see the blocks hanging above my head? You can change their size and thus decide on the tone you want to hear. Each block has the complete C scale and by clicking it you can hear all the notes. So, once you have set the tones you can go and push the thing on the ground which then makes a controller trigger the notes. So you can vary in the notes by clicking the blocks but you can add even more variation by pushing slower or faster, forward or backward. The ‘mechanics’ of the thing are actually a lot like those of an oldfashioned musicbox. And like Strawberry Holiday’s journey (see this post) this also can be used as a training practice where avi locomotion is

concerned. A nice video with a demonstration can be seen here. Anyway, next pic is my other favorite one called ‘stretch’. This one measures the size of your avi and converts it to a tone. It is not an installation that is best experienced on your own since hearing only one tone could easily become boring. So when Angrybeth joined me I could fully understand the working and fun of this installation. If you have 2, 4, 7 or 10 different avi’s with different heights it gives you 2, 4, 7 or 10 different tones. And then the note order is based on whoever is closest to the pole in the middle. So, thats nice right? But now think of the possibilities. In sl I can not only put on heels or take of my shoes, I can also grow and shrink! And so can my fellow avi’s! And then we can change position. Lots and lots of possibilities.

Angrybeth: ‘you need friends to play this, so I suppose it also encourages people to be social in a social online world’. This is me and Angrybeth being 1.35 and 2.0 meters long which gave us the high and low C. Short being the high one and tall being the lower one obviously. I must be honest, I was a bit reluctant changing the height of my avi and I don’t really understand why, since I do know how to work the sliders. I guess it has something to do with me getting a bit attached to my sl shape. Angrybeth: ‘what I like about this piece is seeing how many people WILL not alter their avatar’. And that brought us to one of the most important ingredients as to why this piece can not be done in rl. Angrybeth:’you can make sensors to calcute height, but I can’t grow instantly, and also you’re in the Netherlands, I’m in UK. Yet it feels like we’re interacting within the same space.’ She couldn’t be more right. Exactly that last point made me almost

forget about the rl impossibilities and asking the fairly stupid question why this work could not be done in rl. Last one I want to show here is ‘sense’. What this does is it takes the unique key of your avi, which is called a UUID and can be considered the equivalent of our rl DNA I guess. Angrybeth: ‘This unique number is translated into a 16 note scale and so these data are transposed from numbers to a phrase of music which is unique to your avi. That phrase is then stored in a bank of the last 50 people that visited the installation. So what you hear is in fact the traffic of the place.’ So, all and all I was pretty impressed with Angrybeth’s work and really enjoyed the few hours I spent with her talking about her work which I think is really great. Unfortunately the PLAY exhibition has only been up for the month of april but mostly everything can be found on the Pencil Factory, which is Angrybeths gallery, or as she prefers to call it, her sketchbook.


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