It took a lot of work to adapt synthetic Japanese open-source pop-star Hatsune Miku for her performance before the picky crowd at Berlin’s mythic, ten-day long CTM and transmediale media art festivals.
Initiated and coordinated by artist Mari Matsutoya, Miku’s brand-new performance, Still Be Here, is above all a strong collaborative effort partially created within a one-of-a-kind residency format at UK artistic laboratory Metal. Together, music producer Laurel Halo, choreographer and visual artist Darren Johnston, and digital artists LaTurbo Avedon and Martin Sulzer provided the forever-young rendered vocalist with a unique identity, each one contributing their own aesthetic and vision.
This time, the vocaloid superstar not only offers a mesmerizing holographic audiovisual performance—she also raises contemporary social questions. By investigating and examining Miku’s properties and possibilities, Still Be Here emphasizes the diva’s musical repertoire and the community-sourced aspect of the virtual singer. By critiquing what it means to exist in the highly controlled body of a female popstar, virtual or real, the performance-installation questions appropriation and exploitation.
To learn more about the creative process and the workflow that brought the vocaloid superstar to the German festival’s stage, we asked Mari Matsutoya a few questions.
The Creators Project: We would love to know how this collaboration emerged. What was its genesis?
Mari Matsutoya: The beginning was when someone from transmediale and I got excited discussing the possibility of bringing Miku onto the stage a year and a half ago.
From there it was pretty quick, we went through a list of possible collaborators and ended up with Laurel on music and Darren on choreography. We were going to try for the festival last year, but that ended up being a little too tight with budget and timing so we decided on this year. This also allowed us the space to really think about what would constitute an appearance by Miku in a slightly different context than usual.
How and why did you assemble such a team, and who did what on the project ?
Roughly speaking, the team consists of Laurel on music, Darren on choreography, LaTurbo on visuals, Martin on the Miku animations, and he and myself pulling it together, although everyone went beyond what they are used to. Basically I was asking four established artists to withdraw their own identities and assume that of Hatsune Miku collaboratively—“inhabiting” her in a way.
In essence [this is] not dissimilar to what LaTurbo already does, so it was great to have her on board as well in terms of taking on an identity different to your real one. But Miku is an amalgamation of many identities and is the monument to which countless users have already contributed, so we wanted to stay true to this on the one hand, whilst on the other hand adding to it our own interpretations.
Can you give us some detail about the workflow in the residency format?
My feeling is that this is very much process based. Almost like an experiment if you will, in the sense of the true meaning of “experimental,” which has along the way somehow lost itself to a kind of genre. It has involved a lot of testing out and finding the best solutions, as there has not been a precedent. So finding a good workflow was a challenge, especially as the starting point for everybody was zero, and we were all starting from scratch.
We had regular Skype sessions to discuss narrative content and technical details and a folder where we keep uploading material. Because we wanted the music and visuals to feed off each other as much as possible, the piece was divided into sections for ease of discussion. However, it was really at the residency that it started coming together. To have the real-time co-working space was obviously markedly different to the Skype meetings we had had so far, as we could experiment, produce and feedback pretty much there and then. By this time, the music backbone was more or less finished, so it was a question of sequencing and editing image.
Hatsune Miku – Still Be Here © Image: LaTurbo Avedon/ Crypton Future Media, Inc. 2007
How did you succeeded in keeping true/stay so close to Hatsune Miku's signature work ?
We tried to stay true to her essence by reflecting as many different variations of her as possible. Her signature for me is this diversity. So the collaboration itself between disciplines is already an attempt at this.
The other aspect is language. Miku sings in Japanese and this is subtitled. In the end, she is a marketing tool devised by the Japanese community, so this was a conscientious decision to portray her this way. It also just sounded better in Japanese, so also an aesthetic choice.
Transmediale/CTM's crowd will be very different than the public Hatsune Miku is used to perform for. How did you adapt the content?
Miku concerts are usually visited by avid fans just like any pop idol concert. But precisely this interested me, that her omnipresence arouses interest in so many different disciplines.
We wanted to use familiar structures seen in pop concerts and music documentaries in order to create a space where you can contemplate on the implications of a virtual pop star used as a mascot for their own companies and who sings for anyone who has bought the software. But at the same time, not to lose the empathic quality such a personification can have.
What kind of performance can be expected? Can we have some details about the final artwork?
It is still a work in progress, and without giving too much away, I can say that it will involve familiar formats like the pop concert, or a documentary with interviews in order for her to analyze herself. Much of the lyrics she sings will be existing lyrics of hers lifted from online and put in a different context. But I hope that audiences will form their own opinion as to who Hatsune Miku is and what she signifies.
To learn more about Hatsune Miku's Still Be Here, click here.
Commissioned and produced by CTM Festival and transmediale, in collaboration with Donaufestival, the Barbican and Metal.
This work features adaptations of Hatsune Miku, a character originally created and © Crypton Future Media, INC. www.piapro.net. Hatsune Miku is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC.