Whitney Houston is about to go on tour again, which is pretty amazing considering that she died in 2012. But she still packs a wallop - even as a hologram.
Agence France-Presse, in reporting on the boom in hologram concerts by major (dead) stars, doesn’t come right out and say it, but Soopsip will: Music sucks these days, so we need to dig up the deceased if we want to enjoy the far superior tunes of the past – and see them performed “live” again, so to speak.
Houston, Billie Holiday and Elvis Presley are among the big draws unearthed by technology for upcoming shows thanks to the three-dimensional light projections.
The Coachella festival got the ball rolling in 2012 when it projected the late rapper Tupac Shakur onto a stage alongside his former collaborators Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg. And Michael Jackson was reincarnated in light beams for last year’s Billboard Music Awards.
There’s obviously big money in ghosts, so a firm called Hologram USA is bringing Billie Holiday (died 1959) back to Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. Will Sinatra soon be revisiting Madison Square Garden?
Recent technological leaps afford greater realism. Tupac and Michael Jackson were projected onto transparent screens. Whitney’s going to be projected onto a living actor onstage, so she’ll be “able to interact live”, says Hologram USA founder Alki David. Another US firm, Pulse Evolution, is giving Elvis the same tender treatment for a full-length stage musical.
The performers mentioned thus far seem somehow suited to this sort of rebirth, but it’s hard to imagine fans wanting to see a hologram John Lennon, for instance, or Janis Joplin. The Grateful Dead considered reconstituting guitarist Jerry Garcia (died 1995) for their reunion shows this past summer but then decided, “Yuck!” Garcia would presumably have been grateful.
Virtual-reality technologists also warn of the “uncanny valley” – the more perfectly an image resembles a real being, the more the audience will notice the imperfections. But, for Pulse Evolution chairman John Textor, that bridge has been crossed. He used to run Digital Domain, which won an Oscar for the backward-ageing effect it created for Brad Pitt in the 2008 movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. Early in that film, he says, the audience believed it was watching Pitt, when in fact it was a virtual image.
Beyond concerts, Textor has other ideas for the technology. He hopes to “reinvent karaoke” by letting amateur crooners perform alongside their favourite singers. He also sees great possibilities for video games by allowing players to create virtual doubles. “We’re working with gaming companies to bring them out of the Stone Age,” he says.