Replicas: Personal Digital Twins in Music

The German electronic music pioneers “Kraftwerk” (started in 1969) had since decades the idea to retire as human musicians and instead let robots perform on the stage. This with the vision to abandon the organization of a classic tour including travelling from one location to another, but instead perform concerts at the same time in various locations. Interlinked Artificial Intelligence could bring us one step closer to this vision, especially as the robots could learn from the feedback from crowd A, and include this in their performance for crowd B and C. A positive concert experience for the fans requires a certain level of interaction between the artist and the crowd. A centralized computer, connected to the robot musicians, which include a smaller AI to autonomously react to the fans, could make this possible.

Fiction creates reality. Originally used by Jack Finney in the 1954 science fiction novel “The Body Snatches” (also known from the various movies based on this book), the term “pod people” describes today a type of person who behaves in strange and mechanical way, as not fully being human. The founding members of Kraftwerk could be described as such, as they avoided human contact as much as possible. For example, they used life-size mannequins for photo shootings and other kind of public relations. Since 1991, they replaced the four original dummies, with more robotlike moving ones, this also for their concerts.

In 1979, the British New Wave band Tubeway Army published its second album, called “Replicas”. The band’s singer and head Gary Numan described it as inspired by the ideas of transmutation, man and machine growing together. A concept influenced by Kraftwerk and their ’78 album “Man-Machine”. “Replicas” should had been the soundtrack to Numan’s dystopian novel with the same name, where the so-called Machmen (androids with cloned human skin) followed the orders from the Grey Men. A vision inspired by Philip K. Dicks work, in particular his 1968 book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which later became the base for Ridley Scott’s movie “Blade Runner.” A relevant difference between book and movie, the first had been androids, while in the movie the “replicants” had been described as bio-engineered life-forms (“more human than human”). Also, the book never used the term, as Blade Runner came out in 1981, the term “replicants” may had been came up independently, but also could had been inspired by “replicas”. Fitting, as Numan never finished his book.

Another British electronic band played in its first time as opener for Numan: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (started in 1978). The group is famous for catchy synthesizer sounds, often combined with dystopian texts. Their 2017 album includes the song “Robot Man.”

Going away from robotics, Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” presented the idea to use a hologram of Elvis Presley for virtual performances. An idea to be used by an unlikely candidate: Swedish pop group Abba teamed up with Industrial Light & Magic (founded by George Lucas) to create avatars of themselves. Motion capturing  scanned “every mannerism and every motion” of the four musicians. This to be used as projections in virtual concerts to take place at a special equipped concert hall. This allows the spectators to perceive the group, similar to their performances in the 1970s or early eighties, even if part of the songs are new.   

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