‘Scary Beauty’: Japanese robot opera comes to UAE

Alter 3, an android, will conduct a human orchestra for the performance in Sharjah on January 31

Android opera 'Scary Beauty' will come to Sharjah as part of Sharjapan. Kenshu Shintsubo
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A humanoid robot with artificial intelligence (AI) will be leading a human orchestra in the operatic performance Scary Beauty, which is set to have its Middle East premiere on Friday, January 31.

Conceived by composer Keiichiro Shibuya, the piece examines the relationship between humans and technology, and considers our growing dependence on our own technological inventions. Shibuya composed Scary Beauty's music and developed its lyrics based on literary texts, including those by William S Burroughs and Michel Houellebecq.

During the performance, the android – named Alter 3 – will decide on the piece’s tempo, volume and singing expression. Alter 3 will also add its electro-vocals to the mix, singing alongside the musicians. With a mechanical body and a human face and hands, watching the android in motion is rather uncanny and something out of a sci-fi movie as it leads the orchestra with machine-like movements combined with facial expressions.

An early version of the piece was first performed in 2017 by a prototype android. In 2018, Alter 2 made its world premiere in Tokyo at a conference on artificial life. Robot scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who teaches at Osaka University, created Alter 2, which runs on an AI programme by Takashi Ikegami from the University of Tokyo. For the android’s latest iteration Shibuya has worked with Warner Music Japan and mixi, Inc to add software developments to Alter 3.

Scary Beauty is part of Sharjah Art Foundation's Sharjapan exhibition themed Inter-Resonance: Inter-Organics Japanese Performance and Sound Art. Now in its second year, Sharjapan highlights performance art and sound-based installations from Japan that examine the interactions between nature, technology and human life.

Other performances in Sharjapan's programme include Locus Focus, an improvised dance presentation by Min Tanaka, who will react and build on his movements based on his surrounding environment. It will take place on Thursday and Friday, January 30 and 31. In Nature's Rhythm: Heartbeat from Japan on Friday, January 24, Eitetsu Hayashi will demonstrate his innovative drumming technique on traditional Japanese Taiko drums.

The performances are free and open to the public. Details on sharjahart.org