I was five years old the last time Michael Jackson hit the road with the HIStory Tour. I never got to see the man who was arguably the greatest performer of all-time do his thing in a live setting. And that kind of sucks. For most of us, there's that one artist we wish we could see on tour one last time, but whether they're retired or they died before we got the chance, that wish will remain unfulfilled.
Except maybe it won't, because Billboard have reported that a company called Hologram USA have dreamed up a fairly insane plan to employ some very clever technology to broadcast live concerts by holograms of musical acts who are very much six feet under, beginning with Whitney Houston in 2016.
The hologram itself uses a combination of CGI and existing media (photographs, music videos etc.) to reproduce an image of the person in question. The Greek billionaire Alki David, who probably has too much time and definitely too much money, is behind the scheme, and plans to beam Whitney into all of our homes via a live concert to be broadcast on filmon.com next year.
Of course, creating an image is one thing, but there's no method of recreating vocals, so presumably the songs that the Holo-whitney is "singing" will actually be older live recordings, or just taken from the studio versions. Let's be honest, nothing about this plan seems particularly well thought out, and I'd be pretty skeptical about the chances of it actually happening. But let's assume for a minute that we will indeed be serenaded by a holo-whitney in 2016 - is that honestly something to get excited about, or is just a bit gross?
Not that this is a first. Gorillaz memorably used holograms to bring their cartoon aliases to life on stage several times, including a duet with Madonna (the real-life version) at the Grammys once. Check out their performance of Feel Good Inc. at the MTV European Music Awards - the tech might be impressive, but there's no atmosphere. It feels completely flat. It's only when the two actual human beings come on stage that some kind of live atmosphere is created - before and after that it's just like watching a music video.
Using tech to bring back the dead is a practice which is spreading into Hollywood too: the new Star Wars spin-off film Rogue One will use advanced CGI to animate the actor Peter Cushing, who died way back in 1994, so that his character Grand Moff Tarkin can play a role in Rogue One's narrative, rather than being written out completely. I kind of understand this. It seems like it's happening for a reason.
Michael Jackson already performed as a hologram at the Billboard Music Awards and honestly, it was no more interesting than if they'd just screened a video of one of his old concert performances. Holograms feel like answers to a question nobody has asked. The best technological advances give us something we never knew we needed, but subsequently could never live without, like the Walkman, or later the iPod. But to create these holograms in a performance setting needs concert material that already exists, so what's the point?
Maybe the point is just to make money for Whitney Houston's estate and Mr. David's hologram company, and maybe people will actually attend this concert or watch it from their living room and get some enjoyment out of it. But the bottom line is that these holograms will never recreate the actual experience of seeing a living, breathing human being perform for a live audience. Technology is amazing, but sometimes it goes too far. I draw the line at the Holo-whitney.
Here's the real Whitney singing the incredible I Learned From the Best. Enjoy.
Are you a believer in bringing the dead back to life via hologram tech? Is it the future of the live music experience, or something that will never take off? Share your thoughts in the comments!