Holograms

I have done two projects on musical events featuring hologram ‘performers:’ one on holograms in J-pop and one on holograms in American hip hop. Here are the abstracts of these conference presentations.

“Blackness, Telepresence, and the Carceral State,” Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, British Columbia, November 2016.

My paper addresses a recent series of concerts and installations presenting deceased American artists in artificially voiced, 3D-animated, hologram-like form. The late rap artists 2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur), Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones), and Eazy-E (Eric Lynn Wright), as well as pop artists Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, are among the black American musicians rendered as hologram since 2012. To unpack the complex relationship of Blackness and telepresence in the American musical imaginary, I also draw on recent multimedia installations by Pamela Z, Kevin Beasley, and Laurie Anderson and Mohammed el Gharani. I argue that this emerging music-technological tradition hinges on the fact that black life in the United States is always implicitly haunted by death. Tracing the figuration of the hologram as deathly in American popular culture, I draw on critical histories of sound recording to theorize listening to voices from “beyond the grave” (Sterne, Théberge, Stanyek, and Piekut). In hip-hop hologram performance, death appears in many guises: as overdose, AIDS diagnosis, murder, but also as conviction, imprisonment, second class citizenship, and the very policing of black life. How, then, do we listen to these performances through the prism of death, both literal and social? Beasley’s I.W.M.S.B., a 2012 electronic composition that digitally blends the voices of dead rappers into a nebulous flow, provides a point of access for my discussion of artificial vocality in hologram performance. I also draw on recent theories of musical Liveness to address the participatory character of rhyming and singing along with the hologram as well as the political stakes of the not-so-live performance of Blackness (Auslander, Sanden, Porcello). On the surface, I conclude, the hip-hop hologram appeals to the Afrofuturist tradition, but the corporate interests at play betray, at best, a partial exploitation of black performance with a strong footing in American music.


“On Liveness and Labor in the Era of Hologram Singers,” Bone Flute to Auto-Tune: A Conference on Music & Technology in History, Theory and Practice, University of California, Berkeley, April 2014.

Hatsune Miku is a humanoid hologram pop star voiced by Vocaloid software. She regularly signs in front of large audiences in Japan, complicating the concept of Live performance. I discuss how the ideology of Liveness perpetuates the cultural inequality of performers and audiences, and the dualities of gender, race, and class that govern musical culture. I show that Hatsune’s position within the Manga/Anime genres enables the radical redefinition of the valued sites of labor in her concerts and focuses attention on audience intimacy rather than on the stage.

Hatsune sings the songs of independent songwriters who participate in online communities and so she participates in a utopian-futuristic creative ethos uncharacteristic of the modern music industry. Her fan communities consistently foreground the traditionally invisible labor of songwriting and make transparent the step-by-step vocal, visual, and animated assembly of the pop star on music-sharing websites and in online discussion forums. And yet, Hatsune’s undergroundism rubs elbows with major corporate stakes: Yamaha/Vocaloid, Crypton Future Media, and SEGA all profit from her brand.

Building on Philip Auslander’s critique on Liveness and Nina Eidsheim’s exposition of Vocaloid’s interpretation of race, I argue that post-Live musical practices are technologies of Otherness. de Beauvoir’s maxim “one is not born but rather becomes a woman” gathers new meanings in the post-Live era when women are literally programmed – complete with unlikely legs and floor-length teal ponytails. Hatsune does not have a body, she merely represents embodiment; she does not perform gender, she is only a representation of its signifying practices. The audiences of Hatsune thus enter intimate attunements that eschew subject-object relations. I propose that Hatsune’s Manga aesthetics only encourage this redefinition of concert relationality because the genre commonly experiments with representations of subjectivity, biology, and genealogy. The familiarity of Manga in Japan then practically ushers post-Live musical agent into mainstream pop, while at the same time lending them a certain radical edge.

Here is a pared-down version of this conference presentation: Hatsune Miku – Liveness and Labor and Hologram Singers.

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