“We could begin with a music called enka,” he said, “although I doubt you’d like it.” Software agents did that, learned what you liked. “The roots of contemporary Japanese pop came later, with the wholesale creation of something called ‘group sounds.’ That was a copy-cat phenomenon, flagrantly commercial. Extremely watered-down Western pop influences. Very bland and monotonous.”
“But do they really have singers who don’t exist?”
“The idol-singers,” he said, starting up the hump-backed incline of the bridge. “The idoru. Some of them are enormously popular.”
– Idoru, by William Gibson.
I’ve been a William Gibson fan for many years. In terms of style, he’s like a cyberpunk Faulkner, and while I’m no fan of Faulkner, I find his consumerist, tech-ubiquitous vision of the future fascinating. And often enough, he gets a number of things right. One of my favorite Gibson books has always been Idoru, with a plot line I can’t succinctly summarize here (so go read Wikipedia on that if you’re interested.) Point is, the book revolves around the idea of a mega pop-star, a Japanese singer who is nothing more than a construct. She exists as a hologram, a mashup synthesis of the looks, voice, and talent of others, powered by an artificial intelligence that gives her an awareness of her own.
The idea of celebrity as a manufactured thing is nothing new. A look at the latest bands appealing to adolescents reveals no small amount of calculated artifice. But it seems that in Japan, an actual Idoru has arisen, and her popularity is not insignificant. Her name is Hatsune Miku, and she is a singing, dancing, Anime hologram:
Her voice is synthetic – the product of a piece of Yamaha voice software. (For more about the tech behind the hologram, go here.) Nothing about her is real, and yet the concert-goers seem remarkably enthusiastic. In the strange Venn Diagram between reality and virtuality, the overlapping section continues to grow larger. The appeal of this sort of thing, beyond the novelty, eludes me. If the cult of personality surrounding celebrities is nauseating, at least it’s a cult of personality. These constructs can’t have anything like a real personality, because they’re not persons. They’re simply an orchestration of anthropomorphized parts. And yet, something tells me that if we can continue to customize our celebrities to be exactly how we want them to be, the popularity of these idoru will only increase.
Gibson himself weighed in on Hatsune Miku on Twitter this week: “Hatsune Miku doesn’t really rock me. I want higher rez, less anime.”
Still, it’s got to be weird to watch your stories coming true.