I couldn’t resist pointing out a coincidental connection that reaches almost Disney-esque proportions in terms of how perfect convenience and amusing twists are a common occurrence in Disney’s classic films and this story that I read browsing my usual arts sources this morning. Many of the Disney plots are based off of pre-existing, happily ending fairy tales after all.
The decline of the music industry in terms of respected and credible creativity, innovation, aptitude and authentic character has many a time, brought up the discussion that the people in said industry are, in a way, only hurting themselves. The firmly traditionalist musicians are forced to deal with “in-fighting” among their more short-cut embracing counterparts. From profit-powered pop stars to creating/maintaining public gossip, not everyone in the business is really about that thing called music.
Well it’s 2011 and every year the music world experiences new phenomenons, trends, failures and successes. Yet back in 2004, not even half way through the last decade, the Disney Corporation’s take on an imaginative, unreal concept has managed to come to fruition and is being noticed by the sales and music industries alike. The idea I speak of is an artificial rock star.
In the beginning of 2004, the Disney Channel debuted their 50th original, straight-to-TV movie called “Pixel Perfect.” The basic premise tells the story of a guy with a girl best friend, a band the girl is in, (that is far from any amount of stardom at the movie’s start) and the inevitable conflict that ensues as a result of the guy trying to help the band’s popularity by making a digital pop-star/lead singer/dancer (capable of live performance,) out of various features combined from multiple girls –including the best friend. The age old Disney fundamental element of “guy and girl must get together by the end of the story,” is absolutely in play but this particular plot also addresses issues that, if the idea of synthetic pop-stars were common practice, seem plausible and relatable within the given context. (e.g. Would an artificial singer, with the capability to learn, be treated as a singular piece of record label property or is there a more complicated moral/legal situation involved?) See a clip from the movie below, and watch from 4:02-5:11 to see Disney’s fictional premise on the cyber singer.
That last question is a bit beside the point but not entirely. Despite the very fantastic nature of the plot I just relayed, one article from NewScientist.com poses the ‘food for thought’ statement that “…advanced digital human techniques…are increasingly cropping up on our screens.” The site’s specific reference point elaborates on the talk about Aimi Eguchi, a completely virtual, composite, persona affiliated with the Japanese female band/theater group, AKB48.
Although the group and its attached history boast dozens of previous members, who are broken up into four teams of “A, K B and 4″ with 16, 16, 16 and 10 members” respectively, (Cit. HERE) Eguchi-san’s appearance is derived from only six members. They provided “[her] nose, hair, mouth, eyes, eyebrows and body shape.”  The voice of this ‘seventh member’ is that of “merely an auto-tuned actor’s.” (Cit. HERE)
Even though Eguchi is meant to portray a flesh and blood looking human being using real people’s appearances, there has thus been little to no emphasis on her vocal source/ability, with her unveiling as a digital creation being through a recent commercial for a Japanese candy rather than music by the band.
Ironically, another, older existing, synthetic J-pop-star sensation, Hatsune Miku, has been sucessfully showcased and promoted emphasizing singing and performing; to the point of her appearing on large arena stages in front of mass audiences. Oh, and did I mention that on top of being a synthetic creation, Miku is not modeled after realistic human appearance but more toward an anime style look, which makes her persona even less connectable to human success in terms of comparability to real people and ways real people gain fans/sell albums/gain an image, etc.
Knowing that at the relative drop of a hat, Miku could be given a drastic makeover, pull off some anatomy defying dance move or sing in an entirely new range does show an incredibly different and intriguing dimension to add to the methods for gaining appeal in the music industry. What cost would continued trend in this position really accomplish though? Hatsune Miku might be at least doing what she is created to do, which is sing, but her ability is not hinged on human vocals whatsoever. Everything from word articulation to pitch reaching capability and vocal expression is a programmable feature in the singing synthesizer application, Vocaloid, developed jointly by the Yamaha Corporation and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain.
Here’s the thing: Should these premises from AKB48 and Yamaha ever solidly combine, we may end up with a result at or very near to the one imagined by the people of Disney. And short of no one (yet) claiming their digital stars can compose the next Grammy winning hit, if a completely digital star can already sell out a stadium, real human singers with genuinely impressive voices could theoretically be slowly reduced to showcasing via radio only, since their voice may be the only thing that will separate them from composites; and that’s if the general public takes a liking to their voice, which is hard enough to attain, even if you are supposedly “perfect.”
Below is a high definition clip from a live concert featuring Hastune Miku. And yes, people are really dancing and singing along.