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How Japanese artist Miyavi’s Amazon Music series merges global creativity with technology

With eight successful world tours totaling over 250 shows in over 30 countries behind him, Japanese singer, songwriter and record producer Miyavi (Takamasa Ishihara) understands the unique power of live, in-person musical performances. Known among fans as “Samurai Guitarist”, the Los Angeles-based international entertainer is known for his unconventional guitar playing technique which has built his popularity and caught the attention of brands like Toshiba and Nissan for the television commercial music production.

Now Miyavi is redefining the virtual performance that has gone mainstream during the coronavirus pandemic. His latest collaboration with Amazon Music

last week culminated in a free and exclusive performance, “Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis”, on the Amazon Music app. Originally premiered last year on Amazon Music’s Twitch, the archived performance has been re-released as a series of eight music videos, or songs, available to stream on Amazon Music as single performances or a list. playback similar to a live visual album.

As Miyavi evolves the way groundbreaking technology and music merge, his series of live virtual performances with Amazon Music sets a new standard for live music performance, one in which innovative creativity and international collaboration thrive.

“This year, the unprecedented spread of the disease has transformed the global economy in which we had become comfortable…as a result, it has become a year for musicians to reconsider the message we convey in our music,” Miyavi said.

“Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis” was created using Unreal Engine, a real-time 3D game engine developed by Epic Games and used for fortnite and The Mandalorian. Miyavi performed in a green-screen studio with cameras, lighting, and performances reflecting virtual sets and tracked in real time by a Reality Engine tool. So when a camera moved on set, it also moved in the virtual world.

The producers also collected electroencephalography (EEG) data, or the electrical activity of the brain, from Miyavi and incorporated it into the visual performance. Since all sets and effects like explosions and fires were virtual, there was no physical waste of setting construction.

The entire production was produced by an international team in quarantine with almost all crew members working in tandem from their respective homes in the United States, Italy and Japan. From his home in Tokyo, Miyavi was able to pull off the same kind of visual experience he would in person.

Miyavi and his team produced virtual live performances using various technologies including VR and XR/AR. Similar to how listening devices have evolved over time, the artist believes it is crucial to evolve live performance using new technologies to meet consumer demands.

“Will virtual performances ever replace live shows? Not entirely, but this pandemic has forced us to explore new mediums and accelerate innovation in live music delivery,” says Miyavi.

Taking pandemic precautions, Miyavi halted filming a live music video and instead turned to using volumetric capture technology for his track “Need for Speed.” He filmed his performance at a studio in Tokyo with the creative team filming remotely from their homes in New York, Los Angeles and South America with post-production completed in Unreal Engine.

Miyavi enjoyed using Unreal Engine so much that he chose it again to produce his livestreamed show “Synthesis” on Twitch. However, while the audience sees an engaging virtual world, artists only see a green screen during the performance and face the challenge of imagining performing in front of a live audience in a virtual environment.

“My job as a musician is to rock, but it’s the platform’s responsibility to make my energy felt by the audience through the delivery of the performance,” Miyavi adds. “I want to be at the forefront of that, to keep aiming higher to deliver my performances in new ways that no one has ever done before.”

With no flights or equipment transportation required for the completion of “Miyavi Virtual Level 5.0: Synthesis”, the team was also inspired to redefine live production around a sustainability mindset. The show offered Miyavi the opportunity to speak out on current social issues around the world. As an actor (Uninterrupted, Kong: Skull Island and Bleach) and philanthropist, he regularly uses his music and messages as a platform to bring cultures together across the globe.

“Climate change, refugee issues, hunger, poverty, inequality and the pandemic… how can we address the global issues we face, how can we engage for the future of the planet through music and art? There may be a limit to what we can do, but we can find a new way of life by merging with technology,” says Miyavi.

Head of technical production for Miyavi’s Amazon show is David Cihelna, co-founder of R&D studio Pyramid Three and production company with artist and filmmaker Dyan Jong (renowned director and gif artist for Billie Eilish, Miyavi and Kali Uchis, among others). Jong served as co-director and co-creative director of Miyavi’s Amazon show with Annie Stoll, senior art director at Columbia Records.

“Artists strive to find new limits for technology. It opens so many doors for how artists can interact with fans and how audiences can feel closer to an artist,” Cihelna says. “We are only seeing the beginning of these types of experiments.”