Sunday 26 August 2007

Stage Designs

After another summer of supremely illusionistic film, of young wizards and fallen stars, labyrinths and pirates, magical fantasies created by artists and animators, and of the daily fantasy we inhabit in Second Life, I thought back to my own age.
The Baroque was the supreme age of illusion. Sumptuous spectacles marked every turning point in a sovereign's life. The stage offered princes and kings vast dream palaces free from the "vulgar solidity of stone". The Bibienas, a remarkable family of eight theatrical designers, were the undisputed masters of the Baroque stage set, and Giuseppi Bibiena (1696-1756) was the happy inheritor and brilliant exploiter of the family's skills and inventions. (adapted from A. Hyatt Mayor, Curator of Prints, Mertropolitan Museum of Art)
I have used Giuseppi's proscenium arch and other bits, plus a little of my own invention, in these three designs, preparatory to the construction of my Doric Theatre in Orion.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Dear M____.

You have asked how is it that I call myself Young Geoffrion, and yet claim to be so old. The answer is a long tale, and this journal is not, perhaps, the place to tell it. Will you accept a more modest offering of incomplete notes, occasional jottings and broken scribbles? I would that my pen flew like my sword, so these words might thrust and fly. Instead I push it like a ploughsman, turning over the ground and finding only stone and clay watered by a torpid trickle from the channels of my memory. It will be a slow and disjointed business to resurrect for you all the men and women I once loved who long ago became ash and dust.

I was born two hundred and eighty-five years ago and am most certainly as alive today as you who read my words. In the year of my birth, Louis XV entered his majority and was crowned king. James Gibbs built Saint Martin in the Fields at Charing Cross, Bach wrote Das Wohltempierte Klavier, and Daniel Dafoe published Moll Flanders. In London, the drinking of chocolat fell from fashion; the drinking of gin replaced it.

I do not know the day of my birth, and never afterward marked it, for my emergence in that world hastened the departure of my mother to the next, and my father, whose grief led him to drink and dice, followed her soon after. I was raised by my maternal uncle, a confirmed bachelor who celebrated every day without prejudice. Privately I chose the eighteenth of March, sharing my birthday with that of the World, according to the Venerable Bede. I inherited from my poor parents nothing but a good name, an empty purse, a worthless estate, and an appetite for learning.

To say that I was born two centuries and fourscore years ago is not to say that I have been alive for all that time, as my life on this earth cannot be measured in continuous years, and yet neither have I died. Rather I have lived intermittently, hoc intermisi, and while I breathe I retain my suspended youth and vigor which is now that of a woman entering her middle age.

Where I go when I do not walk among the living is a mystery: it is neither heaven nor hell, for I do not believe in the former and I have escaped from the latter. It is a desolation, a cold emptiness populated by shades and half-remembered images, whipped by a gritty wind and oppressed by the smell of charred things, like the barren memory of a forest that has burned to the ground and left nor leaf, nor branch, nor trunk. It is my prison, where I serve out a sentence imposed on me for my sins, and the less said of it the better. My story will arrive at those unhappy deeds in time, and you shall weep with me as I tell it, if blood and not ice runneth in your veins.

I prefer first to recount happier times, my childhood spent with books and drawings, with dolls and marionettes, masques and costumes and ribbons in my tresses; of the stage and backstage and dressing room; of the coffee houses with mine uncle and his sweating band of actors who ate and loved and swore sempre con giovialità; of how we met Farinelli and Senesino, and joined the Beggar's Opera, and became foot soldiers in the great Opera War before Handel was bankrupted. Of penniless Samuel Johnson and his friend David Garrick, of sweet Casanova in Venice, of Antonio and Giuseppi Bibiena and their magnificent theatres, when the orchestra played as brilliantly as the stage lanterns burned and we were applauded by kings and emperors.

I was no great beauty but had a fierce mind and happy imagination and was adored by a company of adults who were better companions than any child might want. As I approached womanhood, I was courted by dreaming youths with empty pockets, a great thinker with a restless mind, a few noble men with empty lives, and last of all by the Devil himself, whom I married and later escaped, fleeing in terror across the earth to China, where I lost my fear and was consoled with philosophy. In the East I was taught the great alchemy of the circulating five elements, and incurred a debt of honour to a strange creature at the court of the Ch'ien-Lung Emperor. I was shipwrecked on my return to Christendom and was rescued by the Devil, who forgave me my infidelities but punished me to my deathless, interrupted existence. Since then I have returned to the world when I can, to feel the sunlight upon my face and bask in the innocent folly of a youthful world. Artists of every ilk continue to fascinate me, for they approach God in their prodigal creativity and unfulfillable desire. Thus I have lately found an entrance to Second Life and made a home among the disembodied and anonymous actors who there inhabit, and love them for the things they make and discover.

I trust this letter will satisfy your curiosity and forestall your questions for the moment. Now that I have at last taken up my pen and sketched you the briefest of outlines I will not stint in my tale if you agree to be a patient correspondent, willing to forgive my frequent absences imposed by circumstances beyond my control.



Thursday 16 August 2007

Love and Beauty

Woman who is by nature wild
Dull bearded man encloses;
Of nature's freedom we're beguiled
By laws which man imposes,
Who still himself continues free;
Yet we poor slaves must fettered be.

A shame on the curse
Of 'for better, for worse'
Tis a vile imposition on nature.
For women should change
And have freedom to range
Like to every other wild creature.

So gay a thing was ne'er designed
To be restrained from roving;
Heaven meant so changeable a mind
Should have its change in loving.
By cunning we could make men smart
But they by strength o'ercome our art.

A shame on the curse
Of 'for better, for worse'
Tis a vile imposition on nature
For women should change
And have freedom to range
Like to every other wild creature.

How happy is the village maid
Whom only love can fetter
By foolish honour ne'er betrayed
She serves a power much greater,
That lawful prince the wisest rules,
Th'usurper honour rules but fools.

A shame on the curse
Of 'for better, for worse'
Tis a vile imposition on nature
For women should change
And have freedom to range
Like to every other wild creature.

let us resume our ancient right
Make man at distance wonder,
Though he victorious be in fight
In love we'll keep him under.
War and ambition hence be hurled,
Let love and beauty rule the world.

A shame on the curse
Of 'for better, for worse'
Tis a vile imposition on nature
For women should change
And have freedom to range
Like to every other wild creature.

Thomas Shadwell, The Libertine, 1675

I understand the modern woman is no longer fetter'd by man and man no longer bound by honour, yet when shall Love and Beauty's reign commence?

Tuesday 14 August 2007

From my sketchbooks

None of these quick sketches are recent. But they serve to tell you a little more about myself.

The room in which I spent my childhood, its toy theatres, marionettes, dolls, magic lanterns, books, kites, costumes and furnishings removed before moving to Venice.

In Rome.

Another stage design. A drummer boy who noisily courted me when I was twelve.

Friday 10 August 2007


Intrepid Electron continues her string of inventions. Yesterday she invited me to the Crash Me Sim (which I found to be quite a novelty) to show off a script that generated a three-dimensional cartographic representation of the sim it surveys, using nearly 10,000 prims. It goes without saying the sim is otherwise empty. She then showed me a fractally generated tree. I don't know if she is the first to try this in SL (I have seen no other, though I should be surprised if no one else has tried to create them), but it seemed a fairly straight forward application of Lindenmayer systems (I may have been born in the Eighteenth Century, but I do keep up with my reading). No relation to Linden Lab as far as I know, Lindenmayer systems were conceived in 1968 as a mathematical theory (really just a formal language) of plant development by Hungarian biologist Aristid Lindenmayer (1925-1989). Lindenmayer systems define complex objects by successively replacing parts of a simple initial object using a set of rewriting rules. A beautiful book in my library describing the theory and its many applications titled The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants is well worth perusing, and I discovered the 1990 print edition is available online in its entirety (scroll to bottom of linked page for the pdf) !

I have always understood the taxis, genera, parataxis and entaxis of classical architecture (no, I refer not to cabriolets for hire) form an L-system, and by replacing the entire space a building occupies with it major parts (building -> roof, walls, floor), and each of those parts by its component parts (wall -> column, window, column, door, column, window, column) , and so on (column -> entablature, capital, shaft, base) down to the elements themselves (ionic capital -> abacus, volutes, echinus), one can describe an entire grammar of classical architecture. Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre at the Technische Hogeschool, Delft, explored this underlaying grammar in their Classical Architecture: the Poetic of Order (1986). I am not confident the same could be said for modern or contemporary architecture, which appears to me generated by different rules.

Further one might automatically generate a variety of buildings (as easily as Electron generated her tree) by encoding the grammar into lists, replacing list elements with other lists in a recursive fashion, and applying simple rules to resolve the resulting list as a set of prims.

Returning to trees, my only wish would be that it look more like a natural tree! This of course means matching carefully the angles of the generated components to what one observes in nature, and perhaps replacing some generated terminals (smaller branches, or clusters of leaves) with alpha matted images on flat prims.

But it was an inspiring presentation!

Ponderings on Osprey's Post on Karma

I believe the world exists but is empty of attributes, that my mind causes it and all things in it to appear good or bad, of benefit or a danger to me, useful or not, worthy or not of my attention, beautiful or ugly, of me or not of me.
Nature gives the infant a mind that desires self-preservation, that perceives some as an aid and succor, others as a danger and threat. This manner of thinking creates desire and fear, category and division, suffering and joy. But these are not intrinsic qualities of the things perceived.
When I react as a child to the sound of an angry voice (one I perceive is angry) I protect myself. When I react as an adult, I reflect that the speaker may not be angry, or may be angry because he has misunderstood me, or may sound angry only because I have not eaten yet today. To reflect I must exercise a certain patience, must think before feeling, must understand the speaker not as a threat but as another creature worthy of my compassion.
But if I have been filling my head all day with angry thoughts, and think the speaker of angry words only as an annoyance, I will hear an angry voice whatever the reality is, as if I were a child. Perhaps I am angry with myself. Perhaps my desires have been thwarted and I am deep in self-pity or rage. Then I cannot hear others correctly. Even a helpful utterance will sound like an attack. This is karma at work in a small way. Such thoughts accumulate and create our entire world view. Indeed the things that happen to me, neutral on their own and without value, appear to me as good, bad, ugly or pleasurable, as they by degree accord with my desires.
I think it is a mistake to see karma as an divine arbiter of justice, impartially sending back to you as good as you give. Karma is the principle by which thought (and word and action) creates the reality around us. So take a care for your thoughts for you shall live with their effects!
Second Life is the perfect place to see karma in action, for we know it is at its core a reality made of bits and pixels, whose meaning and value is created solely by mutual agreement and willing suspension of disbelief. As Osprey and Salazar and Enjah and I all found one day backstage after a show, even our visual perceptions of reality do not agree. How much less so for our emotional perceptions?
I cannot say if one is reborn as another creature after death, or if karmic cause and effect carry between lifetimes, for I cannot remember any previous lifetimes. But I can see its operation in my present Life.

Thursday 9 August 2007


O Solitude! where are the charms that sages have seen in thy face?

Ours is a particularly unpopulated land, an empire of cold hearths and empty homes. One travels for miles upon its avenues without meeting another soul, looking into lonely shops and abandoned assemblies. The street lamps glow behind the swaying boughs of quiet trees, where no one sleeps and no dog stirs. An uneasy silence haunts tombstone cities, whose unrestful citizens flit through the skies like shades on errands in the afterworld. I miss the warm sunlight on the smiling face of a young companion, the smell of grass and the grit of the road sparkling in the afternoon light. Here one's friends vanish without a trace and leave behind a bereaved regret that accumulates in barren corners. I have journeyed alone over most of the world; yet there are few places as still and sad as these empty islands, these monuments to idle fancy, these half-eaten leavings on the board after the wedding party has left.

We are a withdrawn race leading lives solitary, longing for touch and smell and sound and warmth. Do not fail to greet me when I pass by: our happy conjunctions are like stars in the empty firmament, tiny and bright, that trace constellations of wonder and meaning upon the void.


I love all waste
and solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.


And pomp, and feast, and revelry,
With mask, and antique pageantry,

Such sights as youthful poets dream

On summer eves by haunted stream.

John Milton

Lest ye think modern man claim monopoly over gatherings of costumed revelry, such balls were long ago seen as allegories of the World, for each is masked in whatever reality she finds herself, and as much a stranger to the person next to her whether incarnate or disembodied. Maschere is the native costume of social man, whether worn as a suit of worsted or an animal avatar. One must play a role or withdraw from society. Even withdrawn one must be a hermit, an anchorite, a misanthrope, or a wild child, and society will value one all the more for the rareness of the role.

Dreams, books, are each a world; and books, we know,
Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.

picture thanks to BiblioOdyssey

Saturday 4 August 2007

On Stage!

Dedicated to our audience:
Poets are kings of wit, and you appear
A parliament, by playbill summoned here.
Whene'er in want, to you for aid they fly,
And a new play's the speech that begs supply.

Undergrowth with nearly the entire company. It's a bird eat spider eat fly world out there!

Maxie Schneider, Osprey Therian and Salamander Maroon, the three Latifas at the Oasis, complete with jingling jewelry.

Nice Headphone, Lucy Tornado and an appreciative audience (hecklers will be recycled).

The audience from a passing Linden airship.

Droplettes (five of us, plus Enjah as a swizzle stick)

As Osprey said, this was one of the best Shows ever. Low lag, only a rare costume mishap, and what the audience doesn't know about what we do not wear inside our costumes will do them no harm (voyez, Enjah, I did post that to my blog!). Even Osprey was smiling. One heckler in the audience of more than thirty (whose comments could not be heard backstage) tried the performers' composure but they continued, unflappable, excepting those that had wings. Even as an occasional actor (and my first time on stage before a breathing audience in more than a century - they were breathing, weren't they?), I was so proud I feared I would burst green phlegm in all directions. Well, once infected, you shall never wish to do anything else but act, act, act. Or leap like a jack-on-a-stick wearing a jiggle of punch to disguise the utter loss of all your dignity. Back on stage tomorrow...

The Stage Crew Grows

All you possest with indepressed spirits,
Indu'd with nimble and aspiring wits,
Come consecrate with me, to sacred Night,
Your whole endeavors, and detest the light,
No pen can any thing eternal write
That is not steept in humour of the night.

We are now deep into rehearsals and workshops. Doctor Fluxus has added numerous props, including a column of burning skulls(!) and a revolving field of stars. Pantalone, my Stage Manager, returned to his duties (he had fled to Renaissance Island when he heard that the Doctor was conjuring ghosts), but much worse for the wear after the long journey. He reached his limit last night, with over four hundred lines to remember (for he prompts all of Doctor Fluxus' speeches and choreography, moves the sceneries and stage properties, all while keeping the stage illuminated. The Stage Manager began to make errors, then gave up and refused to store any more lines in his small mind. So I went out in search of an assistant and found Fritellino strumming a guitar beneath a balcony. Offered the choice between paid service and a costly mistress, the penurious lover abandoned his suit and followed me back to Orion. Our tasks are now divided: props and stage are hoisted, hauled and heaved by Pantalone; lines and choreography are declaimed, directed and deployed by Fritellino, while yours truly makes sure they start in time together and stay out of the Doctor's way. The Doctor has granted me charge of costumes and makeup. We ran through a few scenes this morning, and I am happy to say we are working as a team at last. Scenes 1 through 3 are blocked out, and the curtains close properly. Scene 6 has been removed, and scenes 7 and 8 are almost ready.

Thursday 2 August 2007

A time for work, a time for play

I had a few hours available to accomplish some work on the Doctor's act, but Electron contacted me almost the instant I arrived to show off a new trick. "Don't be alarmed," she warned. What she did I shall never understand, but when I clicked on the steps of my Tempietto, my body was twisted into knots, eviscerated and drawn out like rope. Electron joined me in this novel tortured state, and I was so delighted by the unnaturalness of it I called Osprey and Enjah over to witness the magic. "It's a griefer attack" Osprey reassured us, not realizing perhaps we had perpetrated the mischief on ourselves. Well, I was deflated on the spot, feeling like an infant who has found a bowl of spaghetti for the first time and created a messy noodle masterpiece. General laughter all around, but I was quite red in the face from embarrassment.

Enjah and Electron stayed to preview the Doctor's act, and I imposed on Electron's patience to create some sparkles, smoke and fire, which shall enhance the Doctor's entry and exit. Fortuna est caeca, the inscription on my Miracle Stage, means "Fortune is Blind" but when Enjah asked about it, I realized what an unfortunate phrase it is in scatalogical English. I shall have to think of another or suffer raised eyebrows and worse from the cheap seats.

Electron lent me some moving picture house seats until the rest of my theatre is built, and Seppuku Packbiers, an old friend who shared his first conversation in Second Life with me, dropped by to see what the devil I had been up to in the eight or nine months since. So I was able to do another workshop.
Scene by scene, prop by prop, Doctor Fluxus progresses, but Oh! he is sloooow.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

Uncanny Valley

I discovered Second Life through the writings of Hamlet Au in New World Notes and it remains the one broadsheet I read with regularity. I admire his ability to remain even-keeled while running in the most tempestuous issues. Even Voltaire, for all his charm and talent, was too proud to turn the cheek and declare, "fair enough" when his point of view was challenged. Hamlet first introduced my home to the world in a The World From My Window column last year. So it is with especial pride that I discover my face peering out from his Uncanny Valley column.
One must not attach too much importance to appearances, however, for we communicate our humanity in this Life through our works, our words, our deeds, and sometimes, our thoughts. These are the masonry upon which that uncanny bridge depends.
Thank you once again, Hamlet!

Shades and Lanterns

How else does one tame a ghost? Capture it on film! As I ran about quite beside myself in alarm, Osprey Therian calmly pointed her Combat Card Camera and froze the monster in his tracks. But after several days there is still no sign of the Doctor or Pantalone! I have resumed work on the stage props, and push ahead with my conjurations and spells, ever mindful of the Doctor's debut.

I paid a visit to the NMC Theater. What an impressive curtain! What a magnificent venue!

The avenue that proceeds in front of my land comes to a stop not far away, from which point I look out on the slopes of Pegasus and Azhar. Some kind soul has placed a lanthorn there, so the stroller preoccupied with the beauty of the landscape will not fall off the end. There is something magical about the place where the sidewalk ends that is full of wonder and promise, a domestic symbol of a distant frontier, the beginning of adventure.