This post was written to the sound of “Sign 0”, by Chouchou – and, while you read the following lines, you can hear it in the embedded player I placed here:
Whenever I feel sad, I go to Chouchou and find peace there. When I want to be completely taken by beauty, I go to Chouchou and beauty is there. When I’m so heavy that I cannot bear myself, I go to Chouchou and get dissolved in the whole world around me, in those magical sims, in that music that completely fills me and then leaks from every pore on my skin.
Chouchou is a music group created in Second Life, in 2007, “to search for new possibilities of music”, as they say on their blog (where you can listen to their music and buy their albums). They are juliet Heberle and arabesque Choche, who accompanied their compositions with places, virtual places, three impressive sims. That combination – music and a virtual environment – cannot be put aside as being one of the most important sources of the impact that Chouchou causes. Chouchou is both sound and visual, beautiful pictures for our ears, melody for the eyes.
Something that is particularly interesting about that combination is that a certain “translation” is performed – but not a normal one. It is not a matter of finding corresponding words or expressions between two different languages. It is more like a movement, a moving addition – music to the sims, 3D paintings to the music – that enhances something which is not meaning, but, above all, affection.
It can be said that music is not a “full” linguistic system. Different musical traditions do not form bodies of well articulated “signifiers” and “signifieds”, and the chances of a certain piece of music being “understood” more or less the same way by those who listen to it are remoter than the chances of a text being interpreted more or less the same way by its readers. For that matter, music is highly “undetermined” if compared to a written text. Of course, there are cultural or social constraints to music and one can learn how to appreciate a certain musical tradition. Still, unless we are talking about ritual music, which is linked to a certain act that is performed by a community and thus generally has to do with some collective experience, the “meaning” of a certain piece of music is, to a great extent, particular, individual, personal. Each one of us will build our own connections, our particular net of sensations, feelings, memories, experiences linked to each music we hear, and those nets can vary even to the same individual listening to the same music in different moments or contexts. This is only reduced if we are talking about songs, accompanied by some text, a poem – and will be more or less reduced according to the openness of meanings created by the poem. Or by a title: Chouchou has a piece called r.i.p. (track 12 from the album Vinculum), which arabesque composed to his father, who had recently passed away, and such a name drives us to a certain way of “understanding” it.
Even considering titles and lyrics, though, it is fair to say that Chouchou’s music is open enough for us to fill it with our own experiences. Those musical pieces do not bring us a complete and closed meaning; they rather point towards some direction, indicate something, without fully defining it. I’m not a critic of music, so I cannot add much more to what others have said about Chouchou’s pieces: that they are dreamy, ethereal, delightful, heavenly…
The Chouchou sims, as well as their music, are composed as art. One of them, also called Chouchou, is a landscape which reminds me of a painting, a 3D painting. It is made as a somewhat desolate landscape – desolate but peaceful, like a calm succeeding a storm – and from there you can access Islamey, a second scenery, at the sim border, to get inspired from. Another one, Chouchou V, also known as Memento Mori (a Latin phrase that can be translated as “remember your mortality”) transports us to a Gothic-inspired cathedral built in the sky with a sense of sacred beauty, an architecture made for some spiritual elevation. And the third one, Chouchou XVI, homes Babel, an experiment, a visual one, made for another experiment, a musical one. Babel may not host the most haunting pieces of music, but it does something magical: it brings us boxes, lots of them, with the sounds of both different instruments and juliet’s voice. You can touch them and play how you wish, creating some sets, different musical sequences or juxtapositions – and you can even buy them, some of them, the ones you wish, and place them on your own sim.
Being composed as art, the Chouchou sims point to a certain representation of what is pictured there: a tree, a broken cage, a church, a stairway going up in the sky; but they also have a “musical” propriety. When I say so, I’m not only referring to the obvious fact that the sims are a scenery for Chouchou’s music. I also imply that, such as a musical piece, those sims have a very particular “meaning”, that each one of us may connect to our experiences, our affections, our memories. Also, they have a hud that may totally change our experience there. At this point, I would like to quote Bettina Tizzy/Beverly Millson: “you haven’t really experienced all that SL has to offer until you’ve used the free Chouchou HUD, which delivers panoramic views and deliciously slow camera tracking for a brilliant cinematic effect.” Just be aware, it is hard to walk using the cinematic hud… but, damn, it is so beautiful!
So, the “translation” I referred to in the beginning of this post, I think it is clear now, is not the one of materializing music as a 3D sim or representing a 3D environment as a sequence of sounds. It is, rather, a way of making music translate deeper or further into affection by means of embedding it in a poetic environment which, by its turn, has its own poetry made stronger by music.
That and the fact that both Chouchou’s music and sims just point somewhere but allow us to fill them with our own connections are, together, what makes me feel so “taken” when I visit Chouchou. It may be sometimes painful, sometimes liberating (“if you are scared to open your eyes,/I’ll be your eyes to show you a thousand skies/if you are scared to release yourself,/I’ll be your wings to fly you away/If you cry alone in the dark,/I’ll be your moon with a hundred stars […] can you still hear me say, ‘I love you’/but now I have to say goodbye to you/with my love/without you/I will go”, says spira), but it is always involving: Chouchou embraces me, holds me in velvet arms and puts me to sleep. In peace.