What is the future of the pop star? For the masses, it's listening to their music digitally while observing them virtually through pics and videos on social media. Far less often are these pop stars seen performing live. So, if this star-to-fan experience is for the vast majority of people a mostly virtual exchange already, would it be so very different if the pop stars of the future were completely artificial entities—virtual reality avatars with songs, speaking voices, patterns of behavior, and so on? In a way, this is what artist Mari Matsutoya did this past Friday with her Still Be Here performance staged at the art and technology festival Transmediale’s "conversationpiece" edition in Berlin.
A collaboration between Transmediale and CTM (a Berlin music festival), Still Be Here finds Matsutoya deconstructing the digital Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku, exploring the “multiplying realities of a 21st Century pop star” and tracing the dynamics at play between fans, corporations, and social desires. At the performance, the teal-haired pop star held a standard pop concert, as Matsutoya tells The Creators Project. To pull it off, she enlisted virtual avatar and artist LaTurbo Avedon, and musician Laurel Halo for the soundtrack. Award-winning choreographer and visual artist Darren Johnston also lent his talents to the performance, which was produced by digital artist Martin Sulzer.
“The performance format refers to a classic pop concert, where the singer performs and some footage of interviewees interject,” Matsutoya says. “But the content is more subverted, as we make a point in using only existing lyrics randomly re-ordered and slogans for companies for which she already stands for, outlining the generic and standardized nature of pop music.”
“One of the many facets that fascinates me about Hatsune Miku is her fluidity of form,” she adds. “The creative commons licensing allows for the distribution of her altered image, called ‘secondary creations,’ which means the character gains exposure through sharing. Her ability to incorporate so many different voices and views makes her very good at giving us a reflection of ourselves. This is also the main reason why she is a very effective marketing tool.”
Matsutoya says that with each new Hatsune Miku illustration, animation, or song created by users, she is deconstructed. That is, a new interpretation of the words “Hatsune Miku” are made each time. The team’s interpretation is an amalgamation of all the other interpretations, so they tried to make this process of her “becoming” more transparent. As Matsutoya explains, this seems to have been helped along by LaTurbo Avedon’s involvement.
“I thought it would be an interesting layer to have an avatar take on another virtual character, and she would have good insight into image-making,” Matsutoya says. “She mentioned at the beginning of the project that she considers Hatsune Miku as one of her closest peers.”
“We were literally starting from zero and to bring a multi-faceted virtual entity onto a stage, music, choreography and animation were good places to start,” she says. “I really liked Laurel`s music and the diversity so I thought this would work well in a collaboration. Darren deals mainly with the body on stage and works a lot with illusions using lighting and staging, and Martin is the one who pulled everything together in terms of animation, video, and motion capture.”
Despite this division of labor, Matsutoya says that all involved went outside of the bounds of their profession to chip in with narrative, and to produce things that they normally wouldn’t have for this live Miku performance. Matsutoya likens the collaboration to a kind of free expression, since there were no limitations in terms of expectations.
While Matsutoya believes there will be more virtual reality stars in the future, she’s not certain if they will be able to enter Uncanny Valley territory, where they can almost fool humans.
“There have been other attempts in the past and I am sure that this won't be the last, as the developments in technology will allow more uncanniness,” she muses. “What I think is interesting about this is the further this develops the further we learn about ourselves and our desires.”
For now, Matsutoya will be pleased if the audience and online viewers take the Hatsune Miku of Still Be Here and remake her with even more deconstructions. The idea is that it will become an incentive for others to create a snowball effect for her existence, where new dimensions and contexts are added along the way.
“The community behind her plays a very important role, with many Miku models, motion data and stage settings being downloadable for free,” Matsutoya says. “Seeing as we are making use of this and borrowing from other creators, we intend to give back by publishing the motion data for example. The collaboration process itself also makes a large part of the project as well. Her identity not being represented by one mind but by the thought flows of many, and then to bring that into the one form on stage was an exciting challenge.”
Click here to see more of Mari Matsutoya’s work.