Thursday, November 09, 2006

The River of Life

I have released my new virtual reality world, The River of Life.

This is a Hindu influenced world of temples made of design information I found on the web and in some cases, textured from photos. I have tried as best as I can within my limited understanding to honor the Hindu religion of which I am a sincere admirer. Not having been born Hindu, I cannot be Hindu but I can love the light I see in the faces of the devotees. Ekam sat. It centers around the goddess Saraswati because she is the goddess of learning and of music, both the central themes of my life. I am always her student and doubt I shall ever become more, but that is quite enough.

This world was created because of a woman I met many years ago who practiced her faith with deep devotion giving me a painful but very necessary mirror when my world view and my faith were being stripped away and reborn in her luminous eyes.

To Mrs. Singh: This is to repay your kindness to me and and to honor your unfathomable beauty born of your love of God. The light within you both enlightens me and gives me joy to this day and those that follow. Namaste, Alka ji. Shukriya.

I’ve applied several animation and sensor techniques to make this more fun to move around in. There are also poems attached but you’ll have to find them. The rule of thumb is to click on things that move. Over time, I will hide more cookies.

Turn on your speakers or put on your headphones. The world is an experiment in animation and sound to progress toward what I call an “immersive album”. Real-time 3D spatialized sound combined with real time 3D visuals provides unique ways to combine motion and sound sources such that the music mixes depending on settings and one’s location in the world, or the objects one is near. I am just scratching the surface of this new unique art form. For this world, I used samples of Hindu musicians for reasons of theme and because raga-based music is very suitable for this application given its basis in scalar constructions (ragas are scales) over Western-influenced harmonic construction. Think loops if you must, but really, it is a matter of how distance and motion combine to create ambient sound in virtual space just as it does in meatspace. For download bandwidth reasons, these are 22khz mono samples and not very long. Because 3D sound is spatialized, stereo is redundant.

If you want to visit The River of Life, you need a VRML97 conformant browser. I use BS Contact. You can download a Contact browser at I suggest version 6.1 or higher. Since I will later convert this world from VRML97 to X3D format, the new version of the VRML language, you may want the Bit Management beta version of Contact (7.n). Note that it displays an irritating floating logo that will try to take you to their site if you click on it, and is otherwise a nuisance. But free is free.

Once you have the browser, I highly suggest you go to the VRMLWorld site and download River of Life into the lobby function of that chat server. It is great fun to tour one of these worlds with friends in multi-user mode as can be provided by Rick Kimball’s ABNet software. This link will take you there.

I will register this world there soon and I encourage other VRML builders to do the same so that we can create a true metaverse that is open to both authors and the public without paying rent. I never liked rental property. It builds no equity for the tenant. Besides, the VRMLers invented virtual reality on the web and ought to get a bit more boo for it. The press only notices big investments so Linden Labs gets a lot of press these days, but VRML looks better and it is free to develop. I suggest we pick up the prize.

Some notes for the newbie to VRML:

  • In Internet Explorer, VRML plug-ins are usually Active-X controls. Because of the EOLAS lawsuit, you will get the annoying security warnings about scripted content. Select the option in the yellow bar to accept the content. It is scripted but it is safe.

  • This is not a small download when it first starts up due to the heavy texturing and the sound files. So it is good to have broadband but if you are still on dial-up, expect about 10 minutes of downloading. I have not compressed the files yet (I will) so that those who like to poke around the code quickly can. If you take things and use them, please give propers where due. That is the only way any of the VRML artists can afford to share their code to ensure the growth of the art. Otherwise, it’s all going to be binaries.

  • Because scripts start to run as they download, you may open up in a foggy world or not. The fog will go away when the skies change. The skies are not synced to the time of day. They just change. I am having fun with these and may make them more natural over time, but why bother with virtual reality just to make it more real?

  • If you are not familiar with VRML, you can get a menu by a right click in the window. This allows you to select viewpoints and to select your navigation mode. In WALK mode (the default for the world) with gravity enabled, you move following the ground. In FLY mode (more fun ) whatever height you are at remains the height until you collide with something; then you will climb to its height and remain there. This mode is good for jumping off tall buildings or hills with a single bound. More people like to fly than don’t. It’s the brachiating monkey blood in our genes.

  • Viewpoints in VRML worlds can be jumped to using the right click menu or by using the PAGE UP/PAGE DOWN keys on the keyboard. Some viewpoints are animated and you travel with the object to which they are bound. Try clicking on these but if you move away from them while bound to them, you will fall to the ground unless you have set your browser to FLY mode. You will begin to hallucinate that you are being pushed through the Earth where the view is very strange. 

  • This has been a long haul project. I’ve been working on it on and off for ten years. I’ve received an enormous amount of help in the last few weeks from the VRML community that always pulls together and helps out when a new world is being released. Many many thanks! You are still the best online bunch of crazies and artists on the web. Inside the world, there is a WorldInfo node that gives propers as due. Other artists have been leaving samples up for people to use for a decade now and I’ve incorporated and adapted some of these. That beautiful sun is Paul Hoffman’s work from our IrishSpace project. Chakor and Chakori are Robert St. John’s Dove from his Temple of Love project that was released as a sample with the V-realm Builder editor (sadly no longer available).

    To build this world, I used the V-Realm Builder, Professional File Editor and the demo of Internet Space Builder from ParallelGraphics. These are old tools but they do a good job when one knows the language.

    I hope you enjoy The River of Life. It is purely art for art’s sake which is fun for fun’s sake. As my mentor in VRML, Paul Hoffman used to tell us, “keep on wrl’ing”.



    Monday, November 06, 2006

    The Elves and the Shoemaker

    God exults in creation. Give voice to this.

    I read that religion is a pernicious practice that is ultimately bad for the mammals. I dispute that. It seems to me that anything that brings them together in hope and joy as fellows is ultimately good where it is not a means to suborn their spirit to some other cause. The small country church is often the center of a community, the place where they come to raise their families, try to set good examples and find in fellowship relief from the torrid political climate of work and economy. I’ve never worked at a job that gave as much cheer or wonder as I find at the church and I am not exactly a devoutly formal worshipper of any faith. I like the company and I like the way they handle themselves in that setting. That’s all I need to know about it.

    Last weekend the children performed “The Elves and The Shoemaker” at church. Even small country churches build community halls with stages any civic center would be proud of these days. Where city facilities would be too expensive and sometimes too dangerous given their locations in city centers for keeping and corralling 30+ small ones in full dudgeon, these church centers are better secured, adjacent to the sanctuary and kitchens, so safe. When working with children, safe is a major consideration.

    I was asked to write and record the music for the show. Most of the time my music is composed for myself or my band of the moment to perform, so when it is performed, I am inside that performance. It is a different experience to sit anonymously at the back of a theatre and watch others perform my composition or act their roles while it provides the emotional space within which they perform. I quite like it. Children don’t know when something is hard. They only know if it makes them feel good. When the tiny 14 year old soprano was given a piece written in 5/4 time that my professional trained soprano friends gasp at, she just stepped out and did it beautifully. When the ballerinas spun on stage to the short ragtime, they were amazingly funny and precise. As all the smaller children who were the elves tittered through the shoemaker song, “shoes made by elves are REAL NEAT”, I realized this experience is an infinitesimal glimpse of what it must be to be the creator of a universe, to create an emotional space within which others can feel and share their feelings. That joy is inexpressible.

    God exults in creation. Give voice to this.

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