Thursday, November 16, 2006

So You Want To Be A Professional?

We're having another 'naval gazing' round of snippy emails on the VRML/X3D lists. The artists who were making money selling goods in Second Life discovered CopyBot this week, an application that is the audio equivalent of using the speaker wires on your stereo to heist DRM-protected songs. They are upset about that and they assert that Linden Labs contributed to the development of CopyBot. It doesn't make sense to me that LL would piss in their own economy, but who knows? I've seen lots of weird business moves on the World Wide Weird. I've worked for nightclub owners that burned down their clubs with the band's equipment in it to collect the insurance. They don't do it themselves. Too risky. They hire professionals.

It's just business, or so they tell me. You want to protect your content, you build your own server farm and then you get to make the rules even if it means burning it down to collect the insurance. There are professionals for that too, no doubt.

What I don't understand is that any group of professional artists can have plied their trade on the Internet would be shocked that they can be ripped off this easily. Ask the musicians. When they cried foul, the web responded with 'how dare they withhold their content from us?' When the police showed up, they didn't protect the musicians. They protected the music labels.

So if you make it digital and put it on a server farm, expect that someone somewhere will rip it off if it has value. By the way, the very fact of the closed nature of SecondLife and the exchange rate for Linden Dollars give it value. Thieves don't steal free stuff. Welcome to the real world.

What an artist professional or otherwise should care about is that their works last, that they will still work over a long long time. The best option you get for that is true unencumbered open standards.

Make it simple.

If you spent weeks, months or ever years creating a symphony and then came back to it ten years later, you would want it to still be playable by competent musicians. Right? So over some centuries, they created a common notation they all learn. There are others such as guitar tablature for specific instruments, but professionals learn the common piano tablature that is modern music notation.

Some 3D artists want the same thing and today, the best deal they have for that is VRML/X3D. I still have the Irishspace CDs. My son pulled them out to test his new computer. He downloaded a Blaxxun Contact VRML/X3D client for free. He put the CD on. Guess what? It all still works. The difference is, it looks better and runs faster.

Ten years ago I started work on the River of Life world. This week after a long hiatus, I'm working on it again. I haven't changed any of the geometry. I've retextured, I've added new features. It all works. I put a proto in it for a sky simulation that Braden McDaniel wrote so long ago that he'd forgotten he wrote it until I showed it to him. I plopped it in the middle of ROL. It works. It just looks better and runs faster.

I don't want to rely on a closed system like a Mac or SecondLife. I don't care what professionals doing work for hire tell me about how much money they made this week only to have all of that work disappear behind a firewall with knockoff technology contributed by the server farm owner. I don't want to have to pay middlemen to place the songs I've written or recorded on iTunes because Steve Jobs decided I have to do that to play in his world.

I want to play in mine. And if I put it down for ten years and then decide to come back to it, I want it to still work. Faster. And look better.

I get that with VRML/X3D. Show me where anyone gets that with the other 3D technologies vieing to be its replacement. If you can make good money reliably in these closed systems, I say do it. If you don't care that your customers may not be able to keep that content alive by their own initiative, sell it to them. Otherwise, use your money and your influence to see to it that the customer and the content are protected.

Today, 3D artists on the web have pretty much one option for that in virtual reality applications: VRML/X3D.


Anonymous said...

Fellow VRML'rs, I say Amen to that. VRML & 3XD aren't dead, closed technologies ARE DEAD. At least they are after the next build release.

Rev. Bob said...

A small quibble: there ain't no such animal as "piano tablature". There is an organ tablature (some of Bach's Orgelbuchlein was written in it, I just discovered), but it's pretty much a variant of solfege. Tab (for stringed instruments) tells you where to put your fingers. Staff notation tells you what notes to play. I've seen some of Maria Schneider's scores, and she writes her guitar parts in staff notation rather than tab or "chord symbol plus top note" notation. Which says to me that people who play guitar in her band are some seriously scary readers.

There's a notation piano players in Nashville use, but that's closer to chord symbols than to tab, if I recall correctly.

len said...

Hi Rev!

Or so the piano players claim. :-)

Modern music notation in its fully enscribed glory evolves from at least three attempts to create a common note notation, or at least that is what the university music history professor taught. Unfortunately for some, the dominance of the Italian composers of the day meant a lot of Italian phrases are there for phrase and dynamic marking.

True, guitar tab tells you where to put your fingers but without the fingering notation, there are multiple ways to play the same notes and vanilla tab doesn't tell you which one will work or which fingers will work. That is why automated transcriptions from midi don't provide a playable score for guitar tablature. The fact of parallelism (a guitar is six pianos laid side by side and shifted by five) means there are multiple ways to play a sound, but only a few are playable and the software doesn't pick them out.

I call it piano tab because the geometry of the notation matches the notation of a keyboard and that is the instrument it matches except for a harp. One can argue that the piano evolved to match the notation, but the truth is, it matches the notion of a 12 tone scale, which any Indian musician can tell you is an awfully impoverished pallette. Western notation isn't in any way 'the true music notation' because there is no such thing. The term 'common notation' is the compromise because it reflects the common practice of the Western music tradition.

But if you look around for the instrument for which it is most advantageous, you find it is the piano because the geometry is closest to that.

Nashville studio musicians invented a numbers system which is approximately like figured bass. It allows fast transposition and it enables fast improvisation in a genre where not a lot is written down prior to getting in the studio and where guitar players, notoriously bad readers, dominate the composer/songwriter staff: country western. That has been changing now that country isn't country anymore: it is Seventies rock plus pedal steel guitar.

But yeah, it is the common notation for that common practice. Now that we have computers and the drudgery of notation is gone, even guitar players like me and I am a notoriously bad reader, can write for choir and orchestra as long as I remember to move the clarinet's part up and the horn players part up, and so on because well, this is piano tablature and they have to cope just as the rest of us do with the fact that piano players used to be the masters of the chicken coop.

Our choir mistress, a very dedicated sweet gal was listening to the piano player complain about all of the sharps and flats in a piece. (Heck, lady it's in E major. How hard can that be? You were trained to read this stuff.) The choir mistress shook her head and said, "Because all of these new pieces are written by GUITAR PLAYERS and all they do is move that bar around."

And so it goes. Musicians are just programmers without the QWERTY keyboard, or at least, they used to be. Maybe we need a new notation to reflect the dominance of yet another instrument master: the desktop.

Anyway, back to VRML. That's coming along splendidly. Drop by!

Rev. Bob said...

Nashville studio musicians invented a numbers system which is approximately like figured bass.

John Mehegan in his classic books on improvisation notated chords in what I thought at the time was a particularly bloody-minded way: Imaj7, V7, and the like. One problem was that in any song worth playing, you had to modulate at least twice (before and after the bridge) and often more, so "V7" stood for different chords depending where you were in the piece.

I thought it was madness. Oh granted, it helped you transpose, but I'd been transposing since I was 6 (Mrs. Ferrier was a heck of a piano teacher), and I'd done enough improvising already that I didn't have to think about I - vi - ii7 - V7 to know what I was hearing was "Heart and Soul". And I had to ignore something (the pitch) that (a) I knew perfectly well (thanks to a tonal memory that verged on perfect pitch) and (b) was important in getting ready for the scale I'd be playing in next.

So I decided to hell with the Mehegan books. That's why I'm not one of those rich Nashville cats. Sigh. Ah well, they "get work before they's two", so I probably started too late.

Wrt the de-countrifying of C&W, I heard Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas the other night. I'm encouraged.

len said...

It's back to the Real Book for me these days. Jump Street is rehearsing again after 25 years. It's fun to be back to the fat chords 4 to a bar.

Otherwise, VRML all day and most of the night. I really need to Chisel this thing and move on to X3D though. Inline event opaqueness is a nasty restriction at times and it looks like the new nodes and sensors will be a brave new world indeed.

I'm looking forward to Brutzman and Daly's book. It should be out in late January they say.

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