Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 30 September 2017
Scary Beauty is a vocal performance like no other as, backed by the Australian Art Orchestra, the audience is sung to by a human-like android called Skeleton in this ground-breaking sample of what the future of vocal performances may possibly hold.
As the lights rise on the stage, the orchestra begins, and Skeleton’s bright, white face blatantly stands out from those of its human co-stars. Placed next to its creator, Japanese artist and musician, Keiichrio Shibuya, who is sat at a grand piano, Skeleton stands perfectly still as the swirl of music from the orchestra behind it begins to rise. A beam of light hits Skeleton’s face and for a moment the scene is almost blinding, and then it starts to sing.
The songs within Scary Beauty are a varied blend of electronic and orchestral sounds that form slower paced ballads within which Skeleton sings about the natural world and its relationship with people and modern society, as well as its own place within today’s society as an android. The songs then jump from slow, measured beats to fast-paced, rave-like music within a matter of seconds, creating a level of un-predictability that mainstream music just doesn’t have and shocking the audience’s senses.
Similarly, to the music, the lighting varies alongside the songs, and can be dim and calming one minute, and then, as the orchestra changes its pace, feel like an intense psychedelic rave the next as multi-coloured lights jump from left to right in split seconds on the performers.
To enhance the experience of Skeleton’s presence on-stage, a live close-up of its human-like face is projected onto the screen behind the orchestra, allowing the audience to get a close-up look at the animatronic performer. This close-up also allows a better analysis of the quality of animatronics as the audience has a clearer picture of Skeleton’s mouth and facial movements as it sings. The android’s hands, arms and neck are all in motion throughout the performance as Skeleton compels the audience to feel the emotions that can be presumed a human would feel while singing similarly emotional songs. Although somewhat convincing in place of a human singer, not surprisingly there is still an obvious level of stiffness that can be observed, reminding the audience that this is not a human, but another man-made creation alongside the orchestral instruments behind it.
Shibuya, the mastermind behind the performance, has a history of working with a combination of music and androids. In 2012 he staged THE END, the world’s first vocaloid (vocal-android) opera which combined both imagery and music, but did not star any human performers. Shibuya produces some of the most progressive electronic sounds in Japan, and in 2002 began his own music label, ATAK, which focuses on releasing cutting-edge electro-acoustic works by artists from all around the world.
This show is part of Meeting Points, a range of ensemble settings that bring together two different countries and samples of their traditional music. It is curated by Peter Knight, who is a known best for his fascinating approach of integrating jazz and the experimental genre with world-wide traditional music.
Scary Beauty is a one-of-kind vocal and orchestral performance that entrances the audience with its animatronic lead singer. Step into what could be the way of the future for vocal performances.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd