Interview with CellShader

I met CellShader at Shivers a club I had visited a few times in past to see other great artist, there he was with his synth on the stage performing live. As a electro-head I usual leave but this time I stayed to hear his performance, a real cool guy that also is a great artist. I though you might would like to learn more about him as an artist in Second Life and in his real life, I hope you enjoy reading what he had to say.

*How did you find second life?
A friend gave me a copy of the book Snow Crash, whose author first coined the term “metaverse”. The book ended but I wasn’t finished, so I went searching for more… and here I am!

*What country are you from?
The United States. But really, the internet.

*Did it take long after you arrived to second life did you decide to start performing?
It was a gradual process – I mostly did scattered, irregular shows until I moved out of California. Now that I live relatively in the middle of nowhere, I’m free to perform online with little distraction.

*What was the name of the first club you had your first gig at?
Empty Chaos, run by Maul (mael lorefield) and Toy (criseyde clary). Wonderful people, super supportive! They’re a big reason why I stuck around and kept doing shows at first. Constantine Radio was still around then, and they’d let me use the radio stream for the shows. There were random sims all over the grid playing my shows – I made some great friends that way. Good times.

*Who are some of your biggest influences?
I had a strongly classical upbringing, beginning with piano lessons at a young age. Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Grieg, and Chopin are among my favorites. My father’s also huge on jazz – he was a career big band trombone player in his youth. While I’m not much into jazz, there’s an attitude of refined musicality which carried over from my father. I’m not as good as him, but we have similar values in a lot of ways.

My single favorite band by this point is probably Mr. Bungle – and I like a lot of other projects with Mike Patton in them. Nothing is sacred, nothing is static. That resonates with me.

Of course, there are several producers of electronic music who I look up to and admire. BT, Perturbator, Sonic Mayhem, Frontline Assembly, Skinny Puppy, all masters of their craft. They all value sound for sound’s sake, which is something very important to me.

And lastly, I’ll say that I’m one of a very lucky group of people who got to see an obscure band called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Look up a live performance of Angle of Repose. I hate their studio recordings, not because they’re bad, but because there was an incredible magic in seeing them live which no recording could ever capture. The first time I saw them was by accident – I was into the opening act and had no clue who they were. But I was a changed man after seeing them. I arrived as one sort of person, and left as someone else. For me, it was like seeing the face of god. I don’t believe in any god – but on that night, I sure did.

*How does performing in SL compare to your RL shows?
I notice the physicality of it, or the lack thereof. Nobody says, “I went to hear this band”. They usually say, “I got to see Tool”, or “we’re going to see NIN next week”. Why such emphasis on sight if we’re going for the music?

Physical presence is a huge part of the musical experience. We like to dance. We like to feel our hearts beat along with the drums. We like to feel present with everyone we’re sharing the experience with. That’s as true for a performer as for anyone in the audience. In SL, I have to consciously put myself in the right frame of mind. If I’m lucky, maybe I can drag some people in the audience into that state of mind with me. In RL, that can happen automatically because you’re just… there.

*Before you start your set how much do you prepare for it?
I warm up religiously before each show! The risk of injury goes up a lot for singers who don’t warm up. I also like to spend time reviewing my set list, and of course there’s a good chunk of time for setting up and doing promo. All together, it often takes about an hour.

*What type of software/hardware are you using?
I do everything in software that I possibly can. I usually crave a more digital sound, though there are exceptions to the rule.

At this point, I use FL Studio for initial songwriting, then send tracks over to Reaper for finalizing. FL Studio weirded me out at first, but it’s amazing for working with virtual instruments. And Harmor is the single best synth I’ve ever used, period. Reaper is better suited for handling straight audio files and live performance. It’s rock solid and it can do just about anything imaginable.

Some virtual instruments I’m particularly fond of are Art Vista Grand Piano (my baby!), RealLPC/RealEIGHT, Amplitube 4, and Superior Drummer 2. I also have a hodgepodge of free synths, all kinds of stuff. For effects, I love basically anything by Izotope. I am an Izotope fanboy! I don’t know how they manage to make their stuff sound so good, but there’s a lot to be said for their “all in one” approach. I got Neutron specifically because it’s the only plugin I’ve ever found with a zero-latency dynamic EQ – so I can use it live! My vocals tend to be erratic and unpredictable, so having a dynamic EQ makes sure they gel more consistently with the rest of the mix.

I do have *some* actual hardware, of course. I picked up a Nektar Impact LX88, which is now my favorite keyboard to date. It’s a great compromise between feeling like a synth and feeling like an actual piano. It just feels good. That’s the most important thing with any instrument, I think.

For vocals, I’ve got an Audix OM1 plugged into a Cloudlifter, which then goes into my PreSonus 44VSL. It’s a relatively cheap setup which lets me go from whispers to screams in a moment, while keeping volume levels stable and avoiding feedback. I use this setup for RL performance too, where things are much crazier. It’s solid!

I built my computer from parts – I’m a PC guy, just because I know how to do all the fine-tuning required to make it perform almost as well as a high-end mac. So it’s much cheaper. The main thing is to get a motherboard chipset with good USB controllers. I have a z77 chipset board with an i7-3770k processor on it. I’m quite happy with it. It’ll probably be years before I feel a need to upgrade, and I’ve had this setup for several years already. I highly recommend this combo to other aspiring producers, and you can get the parts for pretty cheap on ebay these days.

*How do you see your SL in 3 – 5 years, still performing, or have you left this world by then?
That depends on how quickly VR evolves. Whereas many in SL are very loyal to SL, I’m very loyal to VR in a broader sense. It’s going to be at least a few more years before VR headsets become truly accessible and usable to the average person. And for performing musicians, we’ll need way more than some animation playing while we plug-in an audio stream. But the challenge excites me and I can’t wait to be at the forefront of virtual music performance. That may eventually take some of my time away from SL. But I think I’ll continue to come to SL so long as there are people who want to hear me.

For more information about this artist you can visit his Facebook page.


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