Live concerts have looked different over the past year and a half. They’ve been robbed of the fanfare. Artists, who once walked out to arenas packed by thousands, now perform out of their living room, waiting for the livestream to fill up before getting the show started. Listeners, who once returned home deafened by the pulsing bass, now try to convince themselves that their phone speaker can provide a similar experience.
It can’t. Let’s be honest, virtual concerts will never be quite like the real ones. I mean, where’s the utter disregard for personal space? Where are the flying solo cups raining down beer over the masses? Where are the people sitting on shoulders, making sure no one behind them can see a thing?
On second thought, perhaps it isn’t the worst thing that virtual concerts are a bit different. Sure, they leave you to set the atmosphere yourself, and the logistics of bedroom pyrotechnics can be tricky to navigate, but there is a bright side to consider.
“The world’s becoming less physical,” Japanese recording artist Miyavi says. “The pandemic forced us to embrace innovation in live music sooner than we expected.” At the turn of the millennium, Miyavi was starting his solo career, playing in theatres in Tokyo’s Shibuya. Success soon followed, and with that came his travels to South Korea and Taiwan. Then a world tour—eight of those, in fact. But just as they were starting to feel like routine, a pandemic interfered with the plans for number nine. The shows were still live, and they were watched by people from around the world, but Miyavi himself? He never even left Japan.
“I think I performed more virtual shows than anyone else in 2020,” he says. “It started off with me streaming from my room, then we gradually built up the production level and ended up with these full-fledged concerts created using VR and AR technology.”
Miyavi’s latest show, Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis, employs elaborate visuals and set designs which tell their own story in conjunction with his music. Three individual acts combine to paint a picture of the world as it is—worryingly close to apocalyptic, but not completely devoid of hope. Miyavi’s signature hard-rock riffs come accompanied by raining fire and dramatic explosions, while his softer ballads conduct flower petals and shooting stars gently through the sky.
EEG artist Bora Aydıntuğ contributes to the canvas with his visualisations of Miyavi’s brain waves, which were recorded while the guitarist meditated on the world’s future. “The idea behind Synthesis was to explore the fusion between technology and nature,” Miyavi explains. “We wanted to use this platform to promote a message of sustainability and emphasise the impact which climate change is having on our world.”
Miyavi’s virtual concert had about as many moving parts as a real one would. From the dynamic visuals and camera movements to him singing and playing the guitar live, there was an immense amount of preparation needed to bring this vision to life. “There are so many variables when it comes to producing a project like this, and because it’s all live, our margin for error is very thin,” he says. “It was even tougher because we had to work around Covid restrictions and a lot of our team was working remotely from Italy or the United States.”
Although he’s looking forward to the return of real shows, Miyavi believes that the virtual experience isn’t one to be overlooked. “As an artist, I want to be able to interact with fans in person, but some type of hybrid dynamic still interests me. We’ll have to see how this technology advances in the future. For now, there are still some ways to go.”
Miyavi’s Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis can be streamed on Amazon Music.