Hatsune Miku turns 6 this month, the ol’ gal, and she’s celebrating with another global simulcast concert event — the Magical Mirai 2013, a concert at Yokohama Arena broadcast on delay to movie theaters around the world, including Los Angeles and New York. Fans gather in each venue to watch the same show at the same time — a world tour without the performer having to travel. But why is a “hologram” like Miku the only performer regularly doing this?
Because she can, of course. Digitally animated performers like Miku, or 2.0Pac from last year’s Coachella, aren’t actual 3D holograms — but they aspire to be. As such, they’re paving the way for a future (not necessarily the future) of live concerts. They hint at the possibility of one day alleviating the extraordinary stress of touring, for both musicians (oy, the schlepping) and fans (the sound sucks, the sightlines suck, the beer sucks, and would y’all shut up and please put your freaking phones down?). The alternative: intimate shows for those who want to be there, and beaming it into living rooms — seriously beaming it, in 3D — for those who don’t.
I’ve seen a lot of great shows, to be sure, including many transformative experiences. But here’s a heresy I rarely admitted while employed as a critic: Records are always better than concerts. The control of the studio, to whatever degree of fantasy that may be, routinely results in a level of art that produces greater and longer-lasting impact than the volatile performance art of a show. When people speak of music changing their lives, I contend (actual data may deny me) that most of the time they’re talking about records. Records are portable; they are present with us to the point that we often claim them as soundtracks to the movie-fantasy of our lives. The impact of concerts, visceral though it can be, is fleeting and can be reconsidered usually only in memory (the DVD wasn’t your particular show and the YouTube video, like all fan-shot concert video, is unwatchable). Concerts are a date; records are a marriage.
Too bad touring is basically the last means remaining for a musician to earn much of a living. But the holo-wannabes may show us the way to satisfy both camps — and make concerts available to all.
James Rock, one of the heads of Musion — a UK company behind the projection and display technology that presented 2.0Pac at Coachella but that now is using it to beam performers onto physical stages anywhere in the world in real time — explained it this way in a speech last fall: “So if we can get the Rolling Stones to come and perform in front of our camera … for an afternoon, do five songs, ‘Mick, you don’t have to ever go out on tour again and you’ll be earning a revenue.’” Bad news for Dr. Feelgood and Penny Lane.
I posted earlier about finally enjoying Lollapalooza from the comfort of my couch, raising my glass all the while to the miracle of streaming technology. Of course, the live concert had to be happening in order for it to be streaming to my comfy, controlled circumstance. I was just thankful for once not to be the weary schmuck standing in the mud with sunstroke and trying to hear the music over all the chatty fans, most of whom on such an occasion are interested in making their Foursquare presence count more than their physical one. (Outdoor music festivals, in particular, are some of humanity’s worst experiences.) So don’t bring the Stones in to perform to a camera — a performer requires an audience — bring them into an intimate, sold-out venue. Lots of people want to be there (though this particular example had difficulty selling out its latest tour), but then stream it Hatsune-style to other venues or, better yet, onto the Musion-tech wallpaper in my living room.
I once interviewed Andy Partridge of XTC, one of many bands that early on saw the wisdom of ditching live performance in order to concentrate instead on studio expressions. I asked him about that decision, and he answered with a poignant analogy: No one demanded that Picasso travel all over the world to paint the same painting over and over in front of audiences, so why did music become subject to such cruel and logistically difficult demands?
In my current research, I ran across a lengthy feature article about Devo, by Paul Morley in the NME from 1979. Morley mentions that Kraftwerk had an idea “to do a world tour in one night by having robots in every major venue in the world,” and Gerald Casale responded:
“That’s good. We have a similar idea. We’d like to use holograms in the major venues. I think it would be better; if I was in the audience I’d actually prefer hologram projections of the performer than the performer. I think it would be a more valuable experience. I think it’s more human all the way round.
“The artist can contemplate what he will show you more thoroughly, show you something in fact better, more intense, imaginative, and not burn himself out doing so. So that his energy is conserved to give you more. When you think of it, the physical act of touring is really a punishment, it’s not even twentieth century. I mean it’s just so crude, to go around 40 cities in 45 days, the amount of money and crew and equipment, the logistics involved. All the things that can go wrong. It’s just archaic.”
Archaic for the fans, too, particularly in a tech-connected world that can offer so much more.
Here’s to a future of more intimate, telepresent performances, with artists and fans both staying where they are, enjoying their illusions of control, but still experiencing and eventually even interacting with each other via the holosphere. Morrissey performing “25 Live” on my back patio! Folkies can continue playing “house concerts” from wherever they are, reaching individual homes one at a time or by the thousands! Arena shows and, yes, Lollapalooza can rage on for those who want to be present for the spectacle, but they can also beam it out for those of us who’d prefer the camera angles and close-ups. (It’s like newspapers — print will survive just fine as a boutique product, but the rest of us are quite fine with the omnipresent new media.) Best of all, when it’s done we can rewind it. Even better: holo-remixes! holo-duets! holo-mashups!
I'm THOMAS CONNER, Ph.D. in Communication (Science Studies) and culture journalist.