Monday, March 28, 2011

Synthetic Tunes, Synthetic Performers

The idea of an artificial performer isn't exactly groundbreaking; hell, considering the degree to which modern pop stars are manufactured by the big entertainment companies, it barely needs any projection in order to become visible. What's more groundbreaking is that this concept has already left the realm of science fiction and entered reality, to a degree - and, unsurprisingly, it happened in Japan. Her name is Hatsune Miku, and she's software.

But software can still perform, and has. Despite Japan's place on the technological frontier, it still doesn't have the ability to create Hard Light holograms, so instead this artificial performer appears before the audience by being projected onto a wide pane of glass onstage. Check it out below.

Sure, I'll admit it's weird. The warbling voice is sampled from an actual singer, but sounds more like autotuned speech than anything sung. It's got that synthetic flaw. But keep in mind that this is a pioneering effort. Future artificial performers will sound less like synthesizers and more like actual people, though I doubt they'll all look real as well: things like the stylized anime look of Hatsune Miku can't be replicated in reality without a lot of tradeoffs. Colors don't look like that under real light, and some clothes just refuse to be worn that way. It'd be a selling point.

Whatever they look like, I fully expect to see attempts on the part of the companies to make them the new normal - to displace human actors in favor of synthetic performers. There are plenty of reasons for this. Money, of course, is a big one: a computer program won't demand millions of dollars per show or brown M&Ms at every gig. Tour schedules would be far more flexible - hell, the whole nature of tours would change, since you could have different iterations of the same program performing at the same time in a dozen or a hundred different cities at the same time.

The big one, though, is control. I don't follow entertainment news, but the whole Charlie Sheen issue has been spun up enough in the papers that I can't help but absorb some awareness of it through osmosis alone. A synthetic performer would be beyond all that, because a synthetic performer would do only what its owner wanted. A synthetic performer would, aside from the possibility of BSODs, be perfectly reliable; it would not jump around wildly on the set of Oprah and it would not be bi-winning. It would be predictable, and perfectly under control: now that I think about it, an excellent channel to feed propaganda into the memescape.

The actors' guilds will fight tooth and nail, of course. Once it starts up I doubt the dust will settle for decades. But it's going to be an interesting thing to see.

1 comment:

  1. You should check out William Gibson's Idoru. It's about a celebrity like this who can learn and falls in love. More connected to what you're writing about, she can be adapted to her viewer's preferences.