The creeping influence of AI on the cultural community is becoming invasive.
This week, according to a press release, we learn that Scouting for Girls may have got it right when they released their catchy single “Elvis Ain’t Dead”. To prove the point, the release promoting the launch of Elvis Evolution with a London opening date in November, before expansion to Las Vegas, Berlin and Tokyo, was headed “AI Elvis to premiere on UK stage in world’s first Elvis immersive experience”.
Elaborating further, a part informed us that, “state-of-the-art AI & holographic projection will bring the musical icon to life using thousands of the global megastar’s personal photos and home-video footage”.
Elvis is certainly on a posthumous roll at the moment, since Baz Luhrmann’s biopic of the rockstar is now being countered by Sofia Coppola’s equivalent for his wife.
The idea of replicating famous folk on stage has been going on for centuries. Indeed, it was regarded as such a threat in earlier times that there were periodic bans on the depiction of individuals during their lifetimes, primarily to prevent ridicule of the Royal family and politicians. In those days, and even in today’s high-tech society, the vast majority of representation was achieved through the talents of actors, whose ability to impersonate other folk can be a highly valued part of their skill set.
The idea of combining artificially-created simulacra of the rich and famous has also been around for some time. There was a show featuring The Rat Pack, with Frank Sinatra and Co. apparently performing live, even though they were long gone.
Even straight plays would experiment, with a fine example being Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde which, at the Royal Court 20 years ago, was said to be the first time that a hologram had appeared on stage (although Laurence Olivier appeared in Time the Musical in 1986 as what was referred to at the time as a hologram). Ironically, this was not resurrecting Hitchcock but his ubiquitous blondes and the picture quality would now probably be regarded as woeful by teenagers with average technological know-how and the appropriate software.
The most recent breakthrough has come in the form of ABBA Voyage, which, rather than resurrecting stars of the past, rejuvenates them. Such a project inevitably raises a number of interesting debating points.
Is it better to see octogenarian Rolling Stones playing live or artificial ABBA rejuvenated from their 70s back to their heyday close to half a century ago? This might not seem of immediate interest to the average theatregoer, but the implications could be earth-shattering.
For example, Lord Lloyd Webber has always been keen to have his productions meticulously replicated as they travel around the globe. In future, rather than risking the letdown of a poor performance, could we find every production of (say) Les Misérables delivered identically by avatars?
This principle would also offer the chance to have great stars appearing at the same time around the globe, potentially at the same time as filming their latest movies. Imagine, Daniel Ratcliffe opening in a sensational musical revival opposite Margo Robbie, not only on Broadway but in the West End and half a dozen other venues with opening nights occurring simultaneously.
The nature of jukebox musicals, which by definition are little more than songs strung together with a weak plot, could change forever as well. Many might as easily and effectively be delivered by avatars as humans and, to be honest, many drunken fans might not even notice the difference.
Such developments could also be very bad news for tribute bands and impersonators, who will struggle to compete with AI versions of the real thing.
There is one obvious problem and it is amazing to many that shows of this type can succeed. Ultimately, despite incredible amounts of research and technical wizardry, all that viewers are actually watching is an upmarket movie, not a live performer delivering a unique experience combining their highly desirable talents and quaint foibles.