FreeWee’s Lab: the magic of sound, light, physics and colour

The power of projected lights at FreeWee's Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27
The power of projected lights – neither of these figures is textured; the colours and clothing on them is created purely be projected lights. FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27

FreeWee Ling is perhaps best known for her tireless work on behalf of the University of Western Australia (UWA), and co-organiser and curator of the UWA’s art-related projects, activities and galleries within Second Life. She recently – and rightly – gained recognition from the Australian Department of Education for this work when she was awarded her an Endeavour Fellowship at the end of 2014. This has allowed her to travel from her home in the eastern United States to spend four months at the UWA in Perth, Australia, where she is based with the UWA’s Department of Physics.

In conjunction with her time at the UWA in the physical world, FreeWee has been granted the use of a LEA Artist in Residence region, where she has established FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, a unique combination of workshop, study space, laboratory and gallery focused on helping her demonstrate the potential of virtual worlds to students at the UWA.

FreeWee's Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27
FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27

When you arrive in the region, it may look somewhat chaotic and perhaps even feel half-finished. Don’t let this put you off; this is a workshop / lab, and what is on offer more than makes up for chaotic the appearance. Keep in mind as well, that elements within the installation may change over time in order to meet FreeWee’s evolving needs as a part of her work at the UWA.

As FreeWee is working with the Department of Physics at the UWA, many of the items within the region explore the nature of physics in Second Life, be it through movement, light or colour.  Just up the ramp from the landing point, for example, is her award winning nanoprim physics lab from 2010, together with a rocket that will take you up to her Solar Observatory, which I’ll have more to say about anon.

FreeWee is a musicologist by education, with a specialist interest in the history, use and physics of music. Together with fellow musicologist Oriscus Zauberflote, she formed the Kithara Associates, which is focused on the creation of musical instruments in SL that are reasonably authentic in appearance, in order to enhance the immersive experience of the platform for the purpose of learning and research, and this work is also present within the installation, in the form of the Theatrum Instrumentorum.

FreeWee's Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27 - Tthe Theatrum Instrumentorum
FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27 – the Theatrum Instrumentorum

This is, in essence, a museum of musical instruments featuring photographs and information boards of the instruments in the physical world, and samples of instruments built in-world, some of which extend to the creation of hybrid / fictional instruments depicted in works of art. Several of the pieces are playable, and I particularly enjoyed using the carillon to play a melody I’d had to learn many, many moons ago when starting to learn to play the piano. Also on offer within the Theatrum is a teleport up to Swingtones, a demonstration of the effectiveness of sound in helping to create an ambient, immersive environment.

The Solar Observatory mentioned earlier, and which can be reached by rocket, is spread over two levels. The lower level presents visitors with both an introduction to elements of solar and stellar astronomy and also provides insight into the peculiarities of the SL “solar system” and day / night cycle, with interactive demonstrations throughout, as well as well-written information cards and links to external sources.

FreeWee's Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics - the lower floor of the Solar Observatory
FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27 – the lower floor of the Solar Observatory

The upper level, reached by elevator, offers the chance to study the Sun first hand, complete with coronal mass ejections (CMEs), sun spots and the flow of the solar wind. The elevator is guarded with a firm caution about the risks of blindness and exposure to gamma radiation should you opt to take the elevator, but both both sun screen (SPF 1000) and sunglasses are thoughtfully provided to mitigate the effects of both 🙂 . At the top of the elevator is a platform allowing you to view the Sun Sunshine-like, or if you’re feeling particularly daring, you can rez a chameleon flyer and fly yourself around the Sun. However, if you opt to do the latter, do try to keep in mind the story of Icarus, and what happened when he flew a tad too close to the Sun …

Elsewhere in the region you can find a novel “get away from it all” rezzer system, interactive art pieces, a gallery of FreeWee’s own art and, in what is another superb demonstration of SL’s capabilities in the Projection Room (a large white building on the east side of the region.

The power of projected lights - the image on the left shows an untextured figure; on the right, the same figure, lit entirely by projected lights. FreeWee's Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27
The power of projected lights – the image on the left shows an untextured figure; on the right, the same figure, lit entirely by projected lights. FreeWee’s Laboratory v.8.0: Music, Myth, Magic, Light, Shadows, Physics, LEA27

This focuses on the use of projected lights in Second Life. As such, you will need to have the Advanced Lighting Model graphics option enabled on your viewer (you do not need to enable shadows, so any performance hit you may experience shouldn’t bee too great), and keep in mind that none of the figures in the room are actually textured. What you see as you move around and active the lighting sources is purely the result of using projected light sources and textures.

All told, the Laboratory makes for a fascinating installation, one in which it is easy to become absorbed in the individual elements on offer, allow of which are provided with informative note cards which not only provide insight into what they are and how they work, but often explore the creative processes involved in creating them, and provide a glimpse into FreeWee’s mind and thought processes, further enhancing the time one takes in exploring the installation.

Highly recommended.

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