Niko Donburi - The Weird Al of Second LifeNiko Donburi is not a real person. He is an avatar originally created in 2006 to help me perform live music in the virtual world known as Second Life. It worked something like this: I would be in my home in Iowa, playing guitar and singing a song whilst the audio from my performance was being streamed from my computer to a central audio server. Meanwhile, other individuals would be sitting at their computers elsewhere across the world listening to my live performance. Both I and the listeners are also logged into a virtual world wherein we each have 3D virtual replicas of ourselves (or what we choose to look like at any rate) and via those avatars we could all interact. Listeners could dance with each other, communicate with me or one another via text chat or IM, give me a tip if they like a song or do just about anything else that they’d like. It might sound strange, but at times I was able to put food on the table for my family from the donations I’ve been given. Think of it as cyber-busking.
As I said, I was somewhat successful at it. One of the secrets to my success was that I rarely played cover songs. I realized early on that if I wanted to make a name for myself I needed to do something unlike what others were doing. So, in addition to playing my original songs I would take well-known songs and rewrite them into parodies of the original, while at the same time commenting upon some aspect of Second Life. For this reason I was often referred to as “the Weird Al of Second Life.” Here’s an example of one of the songs, “Second Life Is Where I Want To Be” that not only parodies the Cheech & Chong song of “Up in Smoke,” but tries to teach you a bit of the specialized terminology used in virtual worlds:

Virtually Famous

My songs about Second Life were well known through out much of the virtual world community during the rush years of 2006-2008, when Second Life seemed to be everywhere and everyone and everything seemed to be coming into Second Life. The songs were such a staple of popular Second Life podcasts such SecondCast and SL Under the Radar, that in 2007 Niko was selected to be a live performer at the Second Live Community Convention in Chicago, Illinois, at which time he released an EP of songs about Second Life called Tales from the Grid. I’ve had a lot of fun experiences while being a minor celebrity in virtual world, from making the rounds of the virtual reality talk shows such as Tonite Live with Paisley Beebe and treet.tv’s Music and Arts on the Isle, to being the selected musical performer for an event celebrating the opening of a virtual version of the real world German DIY store called Plus. Niko even made a bit of virtual history with the release of his second collection of songs about Second Life, The SL Man, when his live music performance was streamed to parcels of land located on more than 400 individual sims, or Second Life regions, making it the largest musical event ever held in a virtual world to date.

In 2009 and 201o stopped doing regular performances and instead started to spend a lot of time roleplaying throughout Second Life. On a few occasions I managed to merge the worlds of roleplay and live music performance by performing in character as Mindar Bandalora, a traveling bard in the desert Gorean sims. I also had active characters in a number of other RPing sims using alternate accounts.

In 2010, I accepted a request to be one of the subjects of a doctoral dissertation research study of crafted identity inside of Second Life among virtually performing musicians entitled “Life as Art: The Interplay of Identities Among Virtually Performing Musicians in Second Life.” The study was undertaken by Dr. Deborah Wise/Flameheart Sol of the University of Colorado at Denver. In her dissertation she focused upon six popular Second Life musicians (Juel Resistance, Frogg Marlow, Jaycatt Nico, Arimo Teixeira, Louis Volare and myself) and studied, among other things, how we musically and relationally interacted with our respective audiences in Second Life. Part of her interview of me concerning my experiences performing can be found here on a short documentary. I learned a lot about Niko, myself and how the two interacted with each other by taking part in Dr. Wise’s studies.

Back to the Virtual World

I spent most of 2011 and 2012 out of Second Life, concentrating on other pursuits. I still wrote and performed music, of course, but this time in the real world rather than the virtual. Contrary to what you might think, I do in fact have a first life. Quite a busy one, actually. My job duties and life obligations kept me away from the computer for the most part until the start of 2013, at which time I was beginning to make arrangements to spend some time in a local recording studio to make a proper recording of some of my songs. While practicing the songs I stumbled upon my book of Second Life songs and spent an enjoyable evening remembering how to play them. Curious as to how things were back in the virtual world, I tried to log in and found that the viewer I was using (the program to access Second Life) was out of date. Once I was able to get in-world, I discovered that the virtual world I had known and loved was gone. It had not stood still whilst I was off doing other things. That got me wondering what life had been life for Niko Donburi. This blog tells that story.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s