Photo credit: Mark Allan
Imagine a world where the next big pop star is no longer found through talent shows, they are made to order. Imagine a completely synthetic pop character, perfectly crafted for mass appeal that can play over 100,000 different songs. The only rider they require is a power source and a laptop. This is not “Ex Machina 2: The X Factor Years”. This isn’t even science fiction. It is in fact, a “Vocaloid” by the name of Hatsune Miku. Celebrating 10 years of stardom, Miku regularly performs in hologram form to packed stadiums in her homeland of Japan.
Birthed in 2007, Hatsune Miku is the personification of a voice synthesiser originally produced by Yamaha and developed by Crypton Future Media. By licencing Miku with Creative Commons, the character became a fluid entity that anyone can programme to perform. As an avatar fixed only by only a handful of prerequisites, she is infinitely customisable, a projection of the collective fantasies of her own worldwide fan base. As her popularity exploded, she became something much greater than her creators ever imagined. When we heard that Miku would be in town as part of an unofficial hybrid art performance piece called “Still Be Here” at the Barbican, we had to go see what the vocaloid was all about.
Still Be Here is a collaborative effort between artists, musicians and choreographers to dive into the Miku phenomenon, featuring song performances, interviews and plenty of visual cheesecake. It is by no means a run of the mill concert. The diehard J-Pop/anime/vocaloid fans expecting back-to-back Hitsune hits will have left disappointed. But when Hatsune does sing, her sweet-yet-haunting voice dances over growling basslines and deep mechanical clatters courtesy of the brilliant Laurel Halo. We later learnt that the lyrics she performed were sourced form a randomised “word soup” of previous Miku works, folk songs, corporate slogans and fan mail. At times they are oddly poetic – “My heart and entire body are mirages.”
As the show progressed it explored the personification of the immaterial; the unsettling concepts of obsession, adoration and idolisation of such a fictional character. It’s uncomfortable but fascinating. At times, Hatsune turns to watch the big screens along with the audience as her creators discuss with apathy her own vacuous existence as a “character product… suppressed of life… akin to a sex worker” . They describe her as the mindless, doll-like product of the male-centric consumerist world. You start to feel sad for her.
Photo credit: Mark Allan
This introspection into Planet Miku seems to peer deeply into our own futures. With A.I. edging slowly closer and the line between organic and digital blurring, do we need to consider how humans find and direct their emotions in the electronic world? On the other hand, the Miku phenomenon does hold some light to human kind. While her pixels and soundwaves lack the soul of a living creature, she has something much more fascinating; an entirely crowdsourced spirit, protected and preserved by thousands; a cumulative projection of a million different imaginations, taking a piece of the users soul as her own every time.
Words by David March.
Still Be Here is a hybrid performance piece featuring Hatsune Miku, collaboratively created by five artists from various disciplines: sound artist Mari Matsutoya, composer Laurel Halo, digital artists Martin Sulzer and LaTurbo Avedon, and choreographer Darren Johnston.
Read more about Hatsune Miku here.
We look forward to many more boundary-pushing performances within the historic chambers of the Barbican Centre in 2017, here are our picks for the coming months…
Max Richter: Sleep – 6 May 2017
Max Richter brings his highly regarded “Sleep” experience to London. Drift off to sleep at the Old Billingsgate while your subconscious mind absorbs eight hours of ambient electronic music, soundtracking your thoughts and dreams. Click for info.
Jeff Mills: From Here to There – 8, 9, 10 & 12 June 2017
The godfather of techno brings a run of shows pairing live music, film and dance like no one else can. Click for info.