Pop Leviathan

By: Matthew Battles
April 15, 2011

At Singularity Hub, Aaron Saenz provides a thorough introduction to Japan’s thoroughly virtual pop star, Hatsune Miku:

She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s immensely popular…and she’s not real. Hatsune Miku the virtual popstar creation of Crypton Future Media in Japan, has sold out another concert. Her much anticipated second annual March 9th (39) performance was seen live by over 2000 attendees, watched by thousands more in theaters screening the concert around the country, and streamed in real time to over 160,000 fans via Nico Nico Douga. That is a level of attendance reserved for world class entertainment, and Hatsune Miku didn’t fail to deliver.

Backed in concert by live musicians, Miku appears in animation and print as well as in translucent, projected, augment form. (Exhibiting a full measure of the kind of leggy, creepy, schoolgirl sexuality familiar from Japanese pop, she’s also an object of cosplay and graphic imagery.) But if you’re thinking you’ve seen this with the Gorillaz, think again. Hatsune Miku performances are the product of Vocaloid, a voice-synthesizing application developed by Yamaha. Fans can purchase the software to create their own songs for Miku to sing — and popular ones rise to the surface, eventually finding their way into videos and Miku’s concert repertoire. No human voices Miku’s music or performs through her avatar. Or perhaps it should be said that no one person controls the strings. Reifying the collective cathexis of pop, Miku is a leviathan, the concentrated, compressed, refined issue of her fans’ distributed dreams.

Aaron Saenz’s post offers up a full collection of videos and thorough coverage of the software behind Hatsune; it’s fascinating stuff, very much worth a visit. Here I want to share one more performance, when Hatsune Miku is joined by a virtual colleague Promise Rin:

It’s striking how these creatures seem to occupy their own virtual worlds — even as they dance with one another, each seems bathed in the light of her own world.

We’ve long wondered whether we ever would face the question whether artificial minds would arrive to claim a place in society. But we’ve always imagined those minds as fabricated individuals. But what if the first androids to vault into personhood aren’t monads, but borg-like agglomerations — crowdsourced souls? Imagine software contriving algorithms meant not to synthesize a charismatic musical performance, but a political will. Could a Miku-like creature run a corporation, administer a research program, or run for office?