Add Violence: My Journey With Nine Inch Nails

Challenged by friends, I set out to answer the question: “Why do I love Nine Inch Nails?”

It is a puzzling question, for sure. Anyone who knows me would never guess my favorite band. I am a classical musician by training, and a quiet person by nature. Even more puzzling is why I like Nine Inch Nails, but have never found a single other band in the same genre that I can tolerate. For me NIN is, apparently, unique.

[A note: This is NOT an overview of Nine Inch Nails, or a Greatest Hits compilation. Let me just note that although I am a decent musicologist in my own field, I am 100% not qualified to judge rock music. So I am only offering my own subjective reactions, not opinions.]

First I’ll tell you how I discovered Nine Inch Nails. That will probably reveal some things about why I like this music.

Picture it: Second Life, early 2007. I was a few months old and had fallen in with a community led by an artist and builder named Baron Grayson. Baron’s creativity fascinated me. The things he could pull out of his imagination were amazing. He was sort of Goth, which was a new thing for me. The worlds he created were dark, beautiful and rich with narrative.

Baron Worlds Collage

 

Baron and Trent smallBaron streamed NIN as the background music on his sims. The music was a perfect match. As you can see, he even modeled his avatar after him.

So NIN was the soundtrack of my life in 2007. This also tells you at what point in Trent Reznor’s evolution I joined the stream. It was firmly post-sobriety. I love all music by NIN but for this discussion I’m going to focus on music from 2002 on.

When I first heard NIN, I admit I recoiled from the more violent, screaming stuff. But Baron also played the moody ambient NIN and the acoustic and stripped down songs from the album Still. All the music on Still is pretty quiet, so it was easy for me to listen to.

[Adrift & At Peace – Still, 2002 – 2:52]

I remember thinking how much it reminded me of Arvo Pärt: meditative, hypnotic, and gently repetitive, like a mantra. The gentle repetition gives the music a feeling of stasis, of being suspended in time. At the same time, one can sense a subtle sadness underneath the serene sounds. I think I connected with that sadness, even more than the serenity.

Then Year Zero came out. At the time,  my life was in a place where the album’s message that “the world is fucked” totally resonated with me. All that despair in the lyrics, and the more violent sounds, started connecting with the darker places in my head.

Drawn by the darkness, gradually I found myself more willing to listen to the louder songs. And I was surprised by what happened. It was almost as if the music created a container, and instead of trying to push away my black thoughts and emotions, I discovered I could pour them into this container… and they wouldn’t destroy me.

For example, the last half of this next song just explodes in a violent tidal wave of noise – and somehow I found that instead of shrinking from it, I could fucking swim in it. I felt this exhilarating mix of primitive rage and elation.

[The Great DestroyerYear Zero, 2007 – 3:17]

I can barely tell you how liberating it was, after 50 years of trying to deny my dark side, to finally embrace it.

When The Slip was released the following year, I was embroiled in a really twisted relationship in Second Life. I was massively depressed, and one song on The Slip seemed to have been written especially for me. I played it over and over. Like many of Trent Reznor’s tortured torch songs, it’s very bleak and yet very tender.

[Lights in the SkyThe Slip, 2008 – 3:29]

So that’s the emotional underpinnings of my love of Nine Inch Nails.

But there are also some more objective things I like.

I like that the music sounds transparent, even when it’s loud; the various electronic sounds are separated so that it feels like there’s space between them, and you can hear them, instead of having it all blend into one big soup of noise.

I like how he layers all the sounds, building layers and then stripping them away. If the sound was full out all the time, I would become numb. But he controls the level of intensity, letting it rise and fall so it’s never too much for too long. That actually serves to make the intensity even more intense. It is really true that nothing is so loud as when it is surrounded by silence.

[Copy of aHesitation Marks, 2013 – 5:22]

I like his use of dissonance and distortion, not gratuitously, but sparingly, to make a point, like the pain represented in the opening notes of Hurt, or the distorted bending as the world begins to come apart in the second verse of The Great Destroyer.

I like that he uses motifs that appear in several songs. They are like clues that connect ideas. Sometimes he will invert the motif, or harmonize it differently, sort of teasing the listener into following him into the maze. He refers to it as a “trail of breadcrumbs.”

I like that the music is intelligent. It’s emotionally raw, for sure, but it’s not mindless. It rewards thoughtful exploration.

As a singer, I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and I find his lyrics very affecting.

And I love the energy and the pure physicality of the hard beats. It’s part of what creates the container for my darkness, capturing my body and making me get involved. I can’t sit still while listening to Nine Inch Nails. It compels me to respond.

I’ll stop talking now and simply offer three songs that illustrate these points.

[Less ThanAdd Violence, 2017 – 3:30]

[While I’m Still HereHesitation Marks, 2013 – 4:02]

[Just Like You ImaginedThe Fragile, 1999 – 3:49]

to be continued…

 

What Is Your Virtual World Type?

Find out which of these 12 virtual world personalities best describes you.

What type of virtual world person are you?

In a recent discussion, someone said, “What people want in the virtual world is…” They proceeded to describe a world of zero interest to me. Within a few minutes it became clear that the virtual world cannot be summed up so neatly. Not everyone wants the same thing in virtual worlds.

I’ve identified at least 12 types of virtual world people. Most of us are a combination of these types, but I believe we tend to identify most strongly with one or two of them. Which one(s) are you?

The Chatter — Your main interest is conversation, and to you, the virtual world is a big chat room. You participate in several chat groups. Your favorite people are witty, talkative and convivial; you don’t care much what their avatars look like, only what their text looks like. You have lots of friends and relationships. You enjoy hanging at clubs and social events, but usually your avatar is parked somewhere while you chat. You don’t pay much attention to your surroundings because your screen is usually covered with multiple IM windows.

The Aesthete — In contrast to the Chatter, the visual element of the virtual world is exactly what draws you to it. Your pleasure comes from what you see. Exploring places that evoke deep feelings and real sensations, dressing your avatar in stylish and beautifully crafted clothes and accessories, collecting exquisitely designed things – these are your source of delight. Your thirst to have them is what fuels the virtual economy; you depend on The Craftsman and The Artist to supply your bliss. You don’t need as much interaction as The Chatter; you can be just as happy spending time by yourself, making outfits, posing and taking selfies for your blog.

The Engineer — You are fascinated by how the virtual world works. To you, it is a toy to be taken apart, analyzed and manipulated for fun. You don’t get very immersed, because you are always thinking about what makes it work. The visual element is only important to you insofar as it tells you what is going on underneath. You script, you build, you may even run your own grid, and you take pleasure from things working right. We depend on you to make the world work. Aesthete types irritate you because the visual splendor they crave causes lag. And they don’t even seem to care.

The virtual world stubbornly refuses to be summed up as one thing. It is many, many things.

The Glitterati — A combination of Chatter and Aesthete, you love bars, clubs, dances and events, but unlike the Chatter, you aren’t just there for the talk; you also revel in the visual surroundings. You especially like how sexy and stylish you (and your partner) look, and how great you feel to be surrounded by the grid’s social elite. You have a charismatic personality and your presence is the magnet that attracts others to the scene. At your best, you use your popularity to energize charity events.

The Artist — You are a graphic artist, designer, photographer, painter, writer or filmmaker. The virtual world is your inspiration and your canvas. You spend most of your time creating scenes to photograph or video, then retreat to editing software perfecting your artwork. You may create giant 3D art installations. You create for your own satisfaction, not for the market. You may be part Engineer, using technology as a tool to expand your artistic palette. You may have friendships, but art is the one love you can’t live without.

The Craftsman — You make stuff. You have the soul of the Artist but the practicality of a business person. You make the things others need to make the virtual world feel real. You build houses, you create clothing, you make furniture and décor, you design sims, you make trees or vehicles or adult toys or body parts. With a little luck, you also make money. Everyone needs you; Aesthetes worship you. You probably began with a starry-eyed appreciation for the virtual world but now you spend all your time alone on a platform making stuff. But you’re okay with that.

The Horndog — For you, the virtual world is a way to create your own porn. You hang out at Sex Island or any place with a large number of willing partners. You’re really only there long enough to persuade someone to go to RL voice and cam sex, so you aren’t that interested in virtual appearance. If you are male, you may be attracted to female avatars with enormous boobs and as little clothing as possible, who agree to sex without too much effort on your part. Good thing, because you probably have a noob avatar, a free plastic penis and verbal repertoire limited to “mmm” and “harder faster”.

How we relate to others in the virtual world, the effect that the visual element has on us, what we find important, and how we think of our avatars are all variables that differ dramatically from one person to the next.

The Player — The play’s the thing… role play, that is. You are an actor and a storyteller, and you want to inhabit the stories you create. Both interaction and aesthetics are important to you, for the sake of immersion. You think of your avatar as a character, a separate person from yourself, as you would regard a character in a story you are writing. You need a community of fellow storytellers, so you seek out writers and groups like Steampunk, Gor, Elves, SciFi, historical recreations and post-apocalyptic wastelands.

The Domestic — While others are role-playing in fantasy worlds, you are most content with a virtual life that looks very traditional. Maybe your RL is stressful and you need some relief. You want to create your happy place. You use the visual element of the virtual world to its most positive effect. You have a lovely home that gives you great pleasure. You may be content with solitude, though you probably have a partner, who has become an essential component of your happy place. You spend most of your time fixing up your private home, and simply enjoying being there.

The Dreamer — Your imagination takes flight in the virtual world, more than most others. You immerse so completely that you forget the “real” world. You crave experiences and you eagerly soak up everything the virtual world has to offer. Your curiosity is boundless. You want to see strange new worlds, meet intriguing people, and see what it’s like to live as someone – or something – else. You may have a non-standard avatar, perhaps an animal, kid, robot, monster or supernatural creature. You want to dream it and be it.

The Gamer — You like online games, and your main interest is turning the virtual world into a game. In RL you probably played Farmville, Skyrim, Call of Duty or Pokemon Go. It’s all about the game for you. You probably can be found in the virtual world playing Greedy, collecting breedables, fighting in a combat zone, racing vehicles or solving a MadPea quest – as long as it yields points and prizes, levels and achievements. You might form friendships with your competitors, but you probably just think of them as NPC’s.

The Publicist — You are here with a message to share. You are devoted to a cause; you may champion a charity, or perhaps you are a survivor, an enthusiast or a scholar. You use land in the virtual world to create exhibits and educate people about real life things like health, religion, social issues and history. Your work adds value to the virtual world. You participate occasionally in festivals and charity fundraisers but your primary interest is in the “real” world and you rarely let down your guard in the virtual one.

I think it’s great that there are so many different perspectives on the virtual world, and that it stubbornly refuses to be summed up as one thing. It is many, many things. I find it fascinating that others look at the virtual world so very differently from the way that I see it. How we relate to others in the virtual world… the effect that the visual element has on us… what we find important… how we think of our avatars… all are variables that differ dramatically from one person to the next.

I’ve intentionally omitted a few types like griefers and spammers. But I know there may be some others. What else have I left out? What type of virtual world person are you?

Shop Design Tips

What’s the best way to design and lay out a store in the virtual world? One of my responsibilities in our virtual world is building most of the shops, so this is a topic always on my mind. In search of some fresh ideas, I recently visited the Hair Fair in Second Life. Although the hair creations showcased at the event are interesting, I am always more fascinated by the venue–the design of the sims and the individual shops.

I complain that I struggle with creativity, that I am more of an engineer than an architect. But instead of just whining about my deficits, I do my best to try to learn what I can about design, style and composition, so that I can become a better builder. For my own education, I photographed all 60 shops at the Hair Fair, and made notes about what I liked and didn’t like about each design. I was struck by how each tiny shop was uniquely and meticulously designed, and how lovely they all were.

I decided to share some of my observations here, for the benefit of my friends on Littlefield Grid. We are blessed on Littlefield Grid to have a lot of creative people, who generously share their creations with other members, so we have lots of shops. While there is nothing wrong with pasting vendor signs on the walls of a rectangular room, it can be fun to challenge yourself to think creatively, and come up with new and different ways to arrange a store. Please allow me to support you, by sharing some of my observations.

1. GET OFF THE WALL!

There is no law that says you have to paste vendor signs onto a wall. Sometimes someone will complain to me that they have used up all their wall space. While making a bigger store for them is not a problem, there are lots of other ways to use the space. Use the middle of the room!

This shop sported hotel lobby luggage carts:

HairFair_002

Here the signs were hung from the ceiling:

HairFair_038

Products and vendors can sit on various types of tables, shelves and racks. This also allows you to use the wall for other things, like windows, to enhance the appearance of your shop.

HairFair_011

HairFair_030

HairFair_029

HairFair_052

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2. BREAK THE BOX!

Frank Lloyd Wright famously waged war against the tyranny of the “box.” When every room is a rectangle with corners, it gets pretty boring and can feel confining. Although the space assigned for your shop may be rectangular (as all these examples were), you can take steps to make the shape more interesting. When the corners disappear, the room feels more spacious.

These shops varied the shape of one end of the room, making it round instead of square.

HairFair_026

HairFair_018

Who says that the floor has to be flat? Or the walls or ceiling, for that matter?

HairFair_032

Here they made the corners vanish into darkness.

HairFair_010

This shop got rid of the corners… and the walls and the ceiling and the floor… leaving nothing but product.

HairFair_042

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3. USE A MOTIF

You can make your shop more interesting with a theme or motif that reflects your style and the style of your products. Here are a few interesting ones I saw:

Parking Garage:

HairFair_006

Make the indoors outdoors – go to the beach:

HairFair_060

HairFair_023

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4. FRAME WITH ALCOVES

If you have to use the wall, consider creating alcoves to frame your product.

HairFair_051

HairFair_047

HairFair_024

HairFair_020

Above all, make the experience of visiting your shop an interesting one for your guests. It’s a great way to make life more enjoyable in our virtual world. Your creations are and should be the center of attention. I hope this shows you some ways to make them stand out!

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When dreams are more real than waking

We speak of “real life” in contrast to the virtual world, as if the physical world is more legitimate, more authentic. The virtual world is relegated to the status of playful fantasy. A dream.

When I entered the virtual world, I dreamed the person I wanted to be. I thought I was fantasizing. Some would say I was creating a character. That it was “playing.” I thought so too.

I immersed myself into the dream. It was rich with color and feeling, alive with relationships and possibilities.

The woman I dreamed was me inhabited a boundless world. There were no constraints on her. She could be anyone she wanted to be. She didn’t become anyone. She became someone. She blossomed, becoming an authentic individual with a unique personality and style. She was not a character. She was not a fantasy.

One day, I realized that this dream person is the real me.

The physical world that my flesh and blood body inhabits is confining. I am trapped inside walls of limitation. Not only physically, but in terms of just being who I am. I have never been able to be myself in the so-called “real” world. But I didn’t even know it, until I had the opportunity to dream myself into existence in the virtual world.

There are still a few who choose to look through my virtual self, ignoring me as if I were not real, or just some kind of placeholder, or at best, dismissing me as a fantasy character. They consider my physical self to be the “real” me.

That makes me sad. Because those people have chosen to limit me. They have chosen not to see the real me.

Dream the real world with me.

to dream

The appearance of niceness

Back in the 1990’s, when it was still new to many people, my work involved conducting workshops about online communication. Twenty years later, most of what I taught then is common knowledge. But there are still a few points that might usefully be revisited.

One principle is that “silence cannot be interpreted.” When we are missing information, often our imaginations fill in the blanks with our fears and suspicions. Alternatively, our imaginations might fill in the blanks by creating a fantasy of that which we wish were true. Neither tendency is reliable. Without solid clues, you can’t know what is in those blanks.

Without the cues of body language, tone of voice, facial expression, and observing real-world actions, written communication leaves out a lot of information. People feel very deep emotions through the written word and very deep connections to other people. Thoughts put into writing can go very, very deep and be very expressive. But they are still only partial.

Imagine the phrase, “Thank you,” as said by the following:

  • Growled by a surly clerk at Motor Vehicles after stamping your paperwork
  • Squealed with glee by a child who just received a wished-for toy
  • Sneered with sarcasm by someone calling an insult to your attention
  • Whispered tearfully by your lover in an intimate moment

The words are the same, but the meaning behind them could not be more different in these situations. You discern the meaning—and the sincerity—not from the words, but from the non-verbal cues—cues we don’t always have available online. Without that information, our imaginations make assumptions that may or may not be correct.

Some of us compensate for this lack of information by trying to add expression to our words through emoticons, or just by writing more elaborately. That can be very helpful. Unfortunately, it can also be a trap. It’s helpful when you are communicating something genuine. It’s not so helpful when one is communicating something false.

From time to time, one will encounter a person, quite skilled in the use of language, who seems to be very friendly, courteous and kind. Sadly, based only on their words, we cannot know for sure if they are genuine. They might say to you:

  • [Name] smiles softly. “Thank you, my friend.”

At first glance, this seems to communicate warmth, and friendship. It might inspire trust. Alas, you cannot really know whether this person really is smiling softly, or if they are blank-faced, or yawning, or laughing derisively behind the screen. I hate this, because words like those above appeal to my own fantasies about warmth and kindness. I really want them to be true.

For my own self-protection, over the years I have learned not to form opinions about people online based on what they say, or how they say it. Instead, I form opinions based on what people do—how they treat people, the choices they make, the actions they take. I love words. But actions mean more.

I admit I am disappointed when I meet someone whose words project an image of kindness and nobility, but whose actions reveal them to be manipulative, self-serving and deceitful. I really want them to be that kind, warm person, and it is a big disappointment to learn otherwise.

It is far better to place my trust in someone whose real-life actions repeatedly demonstrate generosity, honesty, kindness and real caring.

Being “nice” is only a façade if it goes no deeper than words and expressions. Buying into the appearance of niceness is a great way to get hurt.

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How to compliment a builder

I just learned that one of my projects, the Chinese Garden on Qoheleth, and its owner will be featured in a Second Life magazine. I call it a project, rather than a build, because although I designed the layout of the property and landscaping, I chinese gardendidn’t do the heavy lifting of actual building. The remarkable Chinese architecture on that project was the work of the fabulous Ryusho Ort. I just deployed it. Nonetheless people still think of me as the “creator” of the place, which is very flattering.

I am blessed that so many people take pleasure from things that I have built. It gives me pleasure to build them, so it’s good to know that I can share that good feeling with others.

From time to time, people will express their appreciation to me. Of course it always feels good to hear nice compliments. It’s also important to get feedback from the people who use the builds, so that I can continue to improve my skills and make even better and more enjoyable spaces. So I’m always grateful to hear from people.

But there is one compliment that gives me the most pleasure of all. It is Moon Gate frames the Tang Dynasty style mansion of the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second Lifenot “You are a wonderful builder, Camryn!” or any other compliment about me. As nice as it is for people to think so, that’s not what a builder like me longs to hear.

The best compliment may not even be expressed in words. It is shown in actions. The best compliment is when it’s clear that the build works, because people use it. People hang out there. People enjoy life there. They bring their friends, and tell people about the place. That’s when I know I did good.

When it is put into words, the best compliment is, “I love being there.”

The Chinese Garden gets many such compliments. People who do not know I created the place have said to me, “I love hanging out here,” and “it’s so peaceful.” A group of Chinese members did a photo shoot there. A magazine wants to write about it.

That’s what I like to hear.

Architecture and Personal Growth in Littlefield: How I Spent My First Year

One year ago, on April 6, 2013, Littlefield Grid was born.

With the birth of the grid, we embarked on an amazing adventure. In just one year, Littlefield Grid has attracted a wonderful, active community of over a thousand members. In our very first year we have become one of the most active and popular Opensimulator grids. We have a fabulously talented group of people making this grid what it is. It makes my head spin to realize how much has been accomplished already. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

For me the first year has been a frenzy of building: creating the spaces to be the theater for the friendships and relationships that are the lifeblood of our grid; making something out of nothing. The occasion of the first anniversary made me sit back for a moment and take stock.

I am impressed with how much the grid has grown. But I am also impressed with how much *I* have grown. At my advanced age (rapidly approaching a milestone) I have developed a completely new interest – architecture. This is all because of my Master, Walter Balazic, who encouraged me to build a very BIG thing: a reproduction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. I had never tried to build anything of that magnitude before, neither in size nor in significance. It was a daunting task. But he inspired me and encouraged me and before I knew it, not only had I built it, but I had won an award, built a whole city covering nine regions and immersed myself in learning several new styles of architecture. Imagine! Truly, one is never too old to grow.

We are just getting started. But I just want to take a moment to reflect on a few of the architectural projects I have completed for Littlefield Grid. This is basically the web version of my in-world exhibit for the Littlefield First Anniversary Expo.

 

PAINTED LADIES are American Victorian homes in the Queen Anne Revival style painted in three or more colors to enhance their architectural features. First used to describe San Francisco’s colorful Victorians, the term also refers to Queen Anne Revival homes in other American cities such as Cape May, New Jersey. Distinctive features of American Queen Anne Revival style include a wraparound front porch, a corner tower (often round), painted gables, spindles and balustrades, windows crowned with pediments or gables, bay windows, and combinations of patterned wood shingles in a fish scale design.

Littlefield Victorian Store, American Queen Anne Revival Style

My build: Littlefield Victorian Store

Famous RL Examples of “Painted Ladies“:

 

 Painted Ladies: American Queen Anne Revival Style houses in Haight Ashbury district, San Francisco  Carson Mansion, Eureka, Calif., American Queen Anne Revival Style

 

STREAMLINE MODERNE was a late type of Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s, stripping Art Deco design of its ornament in favor of an aerodynamic expression of motion and speed. The style emphasized long, sleek profiles and rounded corners. Applied to everything from automobiles and trains to toasters and radios, the futuristically aerodynamic style of Streamlining was associated with prosperity and an exciting future.

Littlefield Adult Mall Store in Streamline Moderne Style by Camryn Darkstone

My build: Littlefield Adult Mall Store

Famous RL Examples of Streamline Moderne:

Pan-Pacific Auditorium, later used as design for Disneyland entrance Joseph Stalin Locomotive, example of Streamline Moderne

 

MINIMALISM is a trend in architecture in which unnecessary elements are removed to achieve serenity in design. Basic geometric elements of lines and planes are organized as simply as possible to define the space. Unnecessary interior walls are removed, creating open floor plans. Where walls are necessary, glass is used as much as possible to unite exterior and interior space. A single shape or the connection between two intersecting planes may be used as a design motif. Furnishings are often predominantly white, leading to the nickname ‘white chic.’

Architecture Exhibit, Littlefield Grid First Anniversary Expo: Minimalist Design

My build: Exhibit – One Year of Architecture in Littlefield Grid

Famous RL Examples of Minimalist Architecture:

Mies van der Rohe: Barcelona Pavilion: Minimalist Architecture Tadao Ando: Church on the Water: Minimalist Architecture

 

BRUTALIST architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Examples are typically large buildings, massive in character, fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, used for its raw and unpretentious honesty to communicate strength and functionality.

Littlefield Engineering: Brutalist Architecture

My build: Littlefield Engineering

Famous RL Examples of Brutalist Architecture:

Boston City Hall: Brutalist Architecture Delft Technology University, the Netherlands

 

‘PARKITECTURE’ is the nickname for the style National Park Service Rustic that was employed in the National Parks of the U.S. to create visitor facilities without visually interrupting the natural or historic surroundings. The style matured in the 1930s with the construction of the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. To attract Eastern visitors to the National Parks of the ‘wild’ West, America’s railroads built grand hotels like the Ahwahnee, offering every amenity of the era, in the guise of a rustic mountain lodge.

Littlefield Conference Center: Parkitecture Style

My build: Littlefield BDSM Workshop Center

Famous RL Examples of Parkitecture:

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic Grand Dining Room, Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic

 

Littlefield, grow old with me. The best is yet to be!