808s and Holograms


How long is it until we get a holographic Justin Bieber?

Dietrich Neu

Technology has done a great job of eliminating human effort. Countless tasks have been simplified, and thousands of once-useful objects have been driven to extinction in favour of smaller, smarter, more effective inventions. Now it appears that singers and live performers are experiencing the preliminary stages of extinction – at least in Japan, that is.

The Japan-based companies Crypton Future Media and Yamaha have combined their engineering forces to create something that has been labeled as disturbing by some, and brilliant by others: A completely computer generated, 3D holographic performing artist named Hatsune Miku, who performs using a voice synthesizing technology called Vocaloid – and “she” is blowing up in Japan.

That’s right, this fully 3D “singer” is a projected hologram that performs on stage in front of thousands of fans with the click of a button. Miku is completely artificial: no blood, no bones, just light and energy.

Hatsune Miku is a digital avatar created by Crypton Future Media to be the face of their voice synthesizing program that runs off of Yamaha’s Vocaloid engine.

Vocaloid is a voice synthesizer that allows its users to simply type in lyrics, choose a melody, and spit out a song. It’s so simple, in fact, that thousands of everyday Japanese citizens have jumped on board and are making chart-topping hits in their home country – some of which have sold as many as four million copies worldwide.

The goal of the technology is to allow online users to create their own songs, and post them. The developers at Crypton simply customized the Vocaloid technology to produce a unique sound, created the Hatsune Miku avatar to be the face of the program, and poof – a digital pop star was born.

“Our goal was to turn it into a character,” one of the Crypton visual artists said, “But we didn’t expect [her] to become so widely accepted.”
After the program was released in 2007, the fan base exploded and legions of armchair songwriters jumped at the chance to create their own music and share it with the world.

Images of Hatsune were published on billboards, magazines, and racecars, and she also started creeping her way into videogames and Japanese television. All the while, fan-made songs such as “Melt” were reaching download numbers in the millions.

Just a few months ago, the artificial celebrity took the next step into superstardom, performing live shows in front of thousands of crazed fans; appearing on stage as a dynamic 3D hologram as capacity crowds cheer and sing along.

Before you try to wrap your mind around the absurdity of a computer program reaching this kind of popularity, just take a moment to think about how incredible this whole thing really is.

The capability of modern day technology is simply mind-boggling. If a hologram appeared on stage just fifty years ago, it would no doubt have been greeted with screams of “DEMON!” followed by gunshots and outright hysteria about the end of the world. But today, artificial performers like Hatsune Miku are skyrocketing in popularity, and allowing fans to be actively involved in the creation process.

Although it seems very unlikely that programs like Miku could possibly replace real musicians, the community involved views this as a creative movement, with goals of reaching around the globe.

If nothing else, this is a testament to the incredible power of technology in our current day and age. The potential for future programs melts the mind. Today, it’s a holographic singer, and tomorrow it could be holographic theatre, movies, or videogames. No lame 3D glasses required.

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