Japanese composer and pianist Keiichiro Shibuya premiered an updated performance of Scary Beauty, the innovative orchestral project featuring an android equipped with artificial intelligence, in Germany.
The groundbreaking opera was featured as the opening program of the Hi, Robot! Mensch Maschine Festival that explores technology and art through exhibits, moving images, and conferences.
The performance debuted “Alter 3,” a superior version of the lifelike Alter humanoid robots developed to investigate the potentials of its communication with human beings. Osaka University, University of Tokyo, mixi, Inc., and Warner Music Japan have contributed to this endeavor.
Alter 3 was upgraded from Alter 2 that autonomously conducted and sang in the Japan premiere of Scary Beauty last summer. Alter 3 was enhanced and improved in many ways from its predecessor, now equipped with an actuator with increased output, harder body, cameras in both eyes, and a speaker module that enables it to vocalize directly from its mouth. “Its expressions and movements are more seamless,” Shibuya explained.
About a thousand people filled the Robert Schumann Hall in Düsseldorf in anticipation of witnessing Alter 3 in action. After Bettina Masuch of tanzhaus nrw, the festival organizer, introduced mixi, Inc. president Koki Kimura and artificial life researcher Takashi Ikegami of the University of Tokyo, Shibuya opened the show with a solo piano and computer performance.
Then the members of the Japanese Philharmonic Düsseldorf, a local amateur orchestra, entered the stage and took a moment to tune their instruments before launching into “Third Mind” with Shibuya, the first piece conducted by Alter 3 that evening.
At the mercy of the baton wielded by the autonomous android, the musicians diligently followed Alter 3’s directions and filled the venue with a chaotic soundscape. The robot, with an eerily humanlike face and hands attached to a mechanically skeletal body, then moved on to “Fragment” and conducted the number with both vigor and serenity, mesmerizing the audience with the resulting intense performance.
During “Scary Beauty,” conducted by Shibuya, Alter 3 suddenly whirled around to face the audience, continuing to sing in the spotlight while seemingly looking in different directions. The expression on its face gave off the impression of elation from an artificially intelligent being, and the crowd looked on with bated breath as Shibuya and the orchestra collaborated with the android that acted more and more excited as the evening progressed. When the piece ended, there was a moment of silence before thunderous applause broke out from the audience.
The following two pieces, “The Decay of Angel” and “On Certainty,” placed greater emphasis on the alienness of an android opera featuring a “conducting and singing” robot, and at one point during the segment, Alter 3 turned toward the audience and bowed.
The evening came to an end with a performance of “Scary Beauty (Alter 3 & Piano ver.)” for the encore. Alter 3, Shibuya, Prof. Ikegami, and techno musician Hikaru Kotobuki, who handled the electronic system, appeared onstage during the curtain call and were showered with enthusiastic cheers and applause for their efforts in bringing the novel project together.