Musical Space: Post-Mortem Holograms

Jan 29, 2019


Amy Winehouse

The late Amy Winehouse will be going on tour this year. More accurately, a company called Base Hologram has created a digital 3-D representation of the singer, which will be presented all over the world, backed up by a live band. There are plans for other holographic acts, too: Roy Orbison, Billie Holiday, Elvis. Being someone who always lobbies for hearing living, breathing musicians in the flesh, you can probably guess my opinion on this, but please allow me to tell you exactly why.

The technology I’m talking about is admittedly a cool stage effect, like when the virtual band Gorillaz appeared in hologram form at the 2005 MTV EMA awards. And though morbid, it was striking to see an image of the late Tupac Shakur rapping with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at Coachella in 2012.


But a computer-generated hologram is not live music. There’s no genuine, two-way communication between artist and audience. It’s ghoulish, too, watching dead people made to move. But my main objection is that the artists aren’t around to be a part of the music-making process. It’s more like they are being turned into puppets, with a software company pulling the strings. 


Music: Frank Zappa, “I’m the Slime,” Over-Nite Sensation (1974)



Perhaps some artists would actually like having a computer perform for them. Pianist Glenn Gould famously hated giving concerts, but a company called Eyellusion will be bringing his gigabytes to concert halls this year. They’re also presenting digital versions of Ronnie James Dio and even Frank Zappa, who I’d bet money would not approve of this sort of thing.


Listening list:

Billie Holiday, “Yesterdays” (recorded 1939)

Teddy Wilson on Piano, Lester Young on sax. This cut was featured on the film “Fritz the Cat.”


Maria Callas, "Vissi d'arte" Tosca (Puccini) -- Victor de Sabata, cond. (1953)


Glenn Gould, Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4, Gould & Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic 1961)

Also going “on tour” this year. He stopped playing concerts at the age of 31 to concentrate on studio recording.


Roy Orbison, “Crying,” Crying (1962)


Amy Winehouse, “A Song For You" (Leon Russell, 1970, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, 2011)

Other covers of this tune: Ray Charles, Donny Hathaway, The Carpenters, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, etc.