INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Drum SEPTEMBER 21, 2016 - by Charlotte McEleny
FROM BJÖRK'S VR TO BRIAN ENO'S ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: HOW DENTSU IS REWRITING THE MUSIC
Björk and Brian Eno count among two of the most progressive and imaginative musicians to have broken through to the mainstream. While many agencies are struggling to find the work to keep creative teams happy, instead turning to scam work to flex their muscles and win awards, Dentsu's been working with these two arrists on projects that re-imagine what music videos and performances could be.
After Björk's first foray into 360-degree video last year, Dentsu started in discussions about who the technology could be used next. The final collaboration was a 360-degree VR streaming of a live performance of Quicksand at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Japan, as part of a total collaboration project. The agency is currently producing a 360-degree VR music video of Quicksand based on footage taken at the time and the content is being toured as part of Björk's exhibition.
Last week the agency launched its work with Brian Eno on a music video that uses artificial intelligence.
The project stemmed from a statement from Eno about his song The Ship, the title track to his new album. The statement is about how humankind teeters between hubris and paranoia.
Led by creative director Kaoru Sugano, Dentsu Lab Tokyo created a bespoke artificial intelligence that uses news stories and photographs to create a collective memory of humankind. It uses machine learning to create a 'generative' film that interprets its own 'memories' by associating them with current events.
Sugano admits that working with musicians is different to commercial briefs but allows the agency to use technology in way that's important and interesting for the agency overall.
"The common aspect to both of these was the sense that they were a joint creation of works that involved collaboration between artist and creators and not just a simple commercial relationship. We at Dentsu Lab Tokyo are a team that researches and develops technologies and expressions through implementing actual production projects. While Björk and Brian Eno are artists with totally different personalities, they are both pursuing the aesthetic fusion of new technologies and expressions," he says.
To translate this to the work they do with brands, he says technology just becomes a tool in which you are expressing something to an audience.
"The important thing is to be conscious of the fact that this could not be achieved if the aim was just the utilization of technology itself. Technology is only a means and a tool for the purpose of expression. In musical terms it is an instrument. The most important thing is how to capture emotion and a connection with people within that expression. That that doesn't change regardless of the people we work with and what kind of work we do with them. The vital thing is how we leverage technology within that work," he adds.
As a creative, this brief is about as good as it gets in 2016 as it fuses pure creative expression and the limitless use of new technology. Most agencies, however, don't get their hands on a brief like this, or would be able to financially support the development of such technology. According to Sugano, having the lab-like setup means technology such as this is being worked on already but he says creating something that doesn't have a tried and tested format has been a challenge.
"Our predecessors have given us magnificent precedents in shooting videos, editing and rendering them, and in creating designs and printing them on paper. These actions are based on confirmed methodologies which are widely taught. There is hardly any sure-fire method in existence, however, that will assure success in creating expressions using artificial intelligence and 360-degree VR video. It is incredibly difficult to find a totally new expression for conventional videos and printing on paper, but in a different sense, while it is equally difficult to find an expression that leverages new technology, it is also a very worthwhile endeavor.
To undertake something never before experienced, there is never enough time between receiving the request from the client and taking on the project, and it is very risky," he explains.
In terms of how that plays out in reality, he says his team are constantly creating solutions to internal problems and briefs.
"Dentsu Lab Tokyo is a team which accumulates experience in order to learn new methodologies before it even receives requests from clients. We typically pose issues ourselves and then conduct research and development by actually producing the work and are constantly preparing so that we can make pertinent suggestions when we do receive a request from a client," he says.
The ideal situation for creatives and creative technology teams in the future would, of course, be to find commercial clients that had the excitement to create new art, like Björk and Eno. The challenge in this is the risk-averse attitude that brands have to anything new, according to Sugano.
"Brands are constantly seeking new ideas but they will never approve a risky idea. What they are seeking are new ideas premised on a firm belief in success at the planning stage (which is why it is easy to choose ideas which are easy to explain on paper), and on absolutely not failing. In fact this is a contradiction. Because a new idea means something that no one has ever yet done. The strangest thing is that they will ask us to describe precedents which will make them feel more secure. The very existence of a precedent means that it has already been done. It is not new and there is a great potential for it to be derivative," he argues.
The issue of encouraging brands to be less risk-averse is an industry-wide problem but in the meantime, if an agency such as Dentsu Lab Tokyo can use its talent to create art, it proves that the industry is holding some of the best creative minds within it.
The AI experience for The Ship launched last week and can be found at TheShip.ai.