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Music Without Musicians Pt. 2: Live Performances By Digital Pop Stars In Japan

MikuThough my initial post on the possibility of a world of music without musicians was framed in a somewhat sensationalistic manner, thinking about current tech's influence on music through that lens casts certain phenomenon in a different light. For example, what are the implications of Japan's virtual pop stars to musicians who emphasize live performance as a core revenue stream?

The use of various projection technologies to present a digital replica of Tupac Shakur in live performance with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre heralded not only future appearances by dead superstars but related experiments by such artists as Usher.

Kagamine Rin / Len Migikata in Live Performance - Butterfly On Your Right Shoulder

But achieving as exact a replica as possible of a living being leads many into a state of unease referred to as the "Uncanny Valley." Japan's vibrant anime industry may have found the solution for removing such elements from virtual pop star performances.

The above live video features two of a growing rank of virtual pop stars that are loved, in part, because they aren't human. Another, Hatsune Miku (see above thumbnail) was recently profiled in Wired:

"Not even her fans know, or care, how to taxonomize her. ('She’s rather more like a goddess: She has human parts, but she transcends human limitations. She’s the great posthuman pop star,' one fansite reads.) Her bandmates are all actual people playing real instruments, but Miku is projected onto the stage, avian-robot trills."

Fans idolize her and many create outfits like Miku's (see gallery). There was also a crowdsourced fan creation aspect from the beginning:

"Miku was 'born,' as Itoh puts it, on August 31, 2007, with the launch of her software...from the start Miku attracted her own fans, and they began riffing. Crypton set up a site where they could post their creations, and by that first afternoon...illustrations of her had appeared. Thousands followed. Fan sites proliferated. Creation myths were assembled."

"Today the crowd creates material on a vast scale. About 3,000 fan-made Vocaloid songs are now on Japanese iTunes and Amazon, Itoh estimates, and hundreds of thousands of Miku-related videos have been uploaded to YouTube. Miku songs are regularly among the most-requested karaoke tunes in Japan."

There is also work for emerging musicians, artists and programmers:

"Aspiring apparel designers, collectibles makers, and online-game designers went to work. People wrote songs for her to perform. Someone uploaded a free animation program, MikuMikuDance, for choreographing her routines in music videos."

"She’s helped launch the careers of in-demand producers and DJs and animators. A few fans saw a homemade Miku music video in which she plays a fictitious instrument, a kind of keytar with a touchscreen interface. They took a screen capture, blueprinted the thing, and built it. Now it’s a real instrument."

It's an interesting phenomenon one that suggests the possibility of a second life for the declining lot of the American movie theater and new creative music and animation studios modeled somewhat like film production companies.

So maybe a wave of virtual performers could lead to more work for musicians and other artists rather than less.

In many respects seeing the above video strikes me like a scene from a science fiction movie as do many of the more interesting developments in Japanese pop culture. But it's the present and, like any potentially disruptive development that intially seems a bit inadequate in comparison to the richness of live performances by living musicians, raises interesting possibilities for the future of pop music performance and, conceivably, more "serious" forms of music as well.


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/ blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians (@CrowdfundingM). To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.