“I hatched the idea of a system to visualize the expertise of Japanese creators and the scale of Perfume’s huge fan base. We saw a lot of works posted and it was interesting to see young aspiring creators and professionals being given a theme (in this case 3D data and music) to customize freely and publish. But after fiddling around with motion-capture on computer screens the fans would go to Perfume concerts and experience this cathartic exhilaration of ‘live is best!’ Typically you would have footage of real people dancing to spark secondary creations, but we turned it around by providing data first to whet the imagination, then bringing out the real thing. It was our paradoxical way of communicating Perfume’s charm.”
As Manabe says, the project may have paradoxically enhanced Perfume’s charm. Some works among the rich variety of those posted were verging on tasteless- dancing dessert monsters of macarons and puddings, a trio of sumo wrestlers whose bouncing steps gradually morphed into sumo stomps, and a silent dancing combination of Gachapin, Mukku and Shuzo Matsuoka (famous tennis player/TV personality) that was just plain baffling.
By definition, Japanese idols have always been a “fantasy device” of pretty face and body with added-value elements of dance, music and costumes. What sets Perfume apart from other idols is that they inspire other artists.
“It worked because the material was good. In particular the choreography and music needed to be distinctive so that people looking at Gachapin dancing would still recognize it as the Perfume dance.”
In the past, Manabe has done work as an independent programmer for contemporary dance and other performances, starting with collaborations with Dumb Type members such as Takayuki Fujimoto’s representative piece “true” and works by Shiro Takatani/Takao Kawaguchi.
“true” is an attempt at contemporary “integrated art” employing myoelectric sensors attached to the performers’ limbs to link the impeccable “physique” of dancers (Tsuyoshi Shirai, Takao Kawagachi and others) to “light” “sound” and “image” devices. Manabe participated in the early stages of the series, engineering and programming a system to meticulously synchronize the acoustics, vibrations and lighting, as well as producing the music for the stage.
The performance was evaluated as an “experimental media art installation into which the dancer was incorporated as one of a number of stage elements”. But an actual viewing indicated that in a live dance performance, the audience’s gaze is automatically drawn to the movements of the living dancer. Manabe was well aware of this risk as he went about the challenge of creating a complex system to convey the subtle coordination of elements. In this sense, “true” was truly an ambitious and progressive endeavor.
“I felt I did all I could with 'true'. I was in charge of everything from producing music to developing systems. I wasn’t alone as Saito, Horii and Ishibashi (members of Rhizomatiks) all helped me out in my challenge. And I felt the genre wasn’t too far from what I was doing individually. So around then, I got interested in collaborations across different fields.”
Contemporary dance is indeed an intriguing field; albeit a constant challenge on the part of the dancers who must push the limits of physical expression in order to live up to the borderless choreography.
“The boundaries of what we can do is often reliant on the data we obtain. When I was working on “true” with Fujimoto-san, Kawaguchi-san and Shirai-san, we used myoelectric data from the arms. That’s not a lot of data but it was easy to adapt into sound. If I changed the program, the dancer would adjust their movements accordingly. It was quite engaging to see programs and algorithms influencing the motions of human beings. In that sense, with Perfume, we pretty much knew the content was going to be awesome by the time we secured the data- whether it be motion capture or 3D scan. But that also meant I had to handle it wisely. I try to maintain a keen awareness at all times.”
To be continued in 3/3.