- The arresting soundtrack to a film about a world dominated by AI.
- "Beware your fans, Diva. One day they need you, and the next they'll delete you." That's the stark warning received by the washed-up singer Diva in AIDOL爱道, the first feature film from the multidisciplinary artist Lawrence Lek. This album is a condensed soundtrack to the film, which was first shown at Hyperdub's Ø night and the Sadie Coles gallery in London, as well as online by Unsound Festival. While the soundtrack, out on Hyperdub, doesn't have the visual majesty of the video (or the pushy label boss, voiced by Kode9), it underlines Lek's ambitious vision and musical talent, exploring the tension between human and artificial intelligence effectively enough to make its own statement.
Let's back up and explain the story. Diva, a has-been, plans her comeback at the halftime show of the 2065 eSports Olympics, an event that pits Bios (humans) against Synths (superior artificial intelligence bots) in a game called Call Of Beauty. Diva comes under immense pressure from her label, and is eventually aided by an AI satellite named Geomancer that has descended to the earth. Geomancer pines to be an artist—something far beyond its means—while Diva wants fame, which she sees as immortality. When Diva performs a new song at halftime, rogue AI bots destroy the stadium and Diva goes missing. As a result of the publicity, her music goes viral and becomes more popular than ever, while Geomancer floats around the earth in solitude.
Essentially, AIDOL爱道 is a tale about how AI and humans coexist, and how technology influences our world. (It's part of a series called Sinofuturism inspired by the global perception of China.) The human protagonist wants to make music that pleases an AI algorithm, while the AI yearns to make real art. The soundtrack created by Lek and composing partner Seth Scott for this world is suitably uncanny, full of vaguely '80s synthesizers, drum machines and gauzy textures. It's like if the ideas of early vaporwave—hyperreal landscapes, shining edifices, futuristic malls—were properly mapped out and explored. Lek and Scott create a sonic language where emotions ring true and hollow at the same time, and everything sounds a bit artificial.
This feeling is compounded by Diva herself, who is played by a vocaloid synthesizer. (In the film, you never see her face.) On songs like "Followers" and "Call Of Beauty," her synthetic warble is poignant yet cloying, and the lyrics are sometimes unintelligible, their syllables blurred or stretched together in unnatural ways by the vocal synth. (Luckily, there's a bilingual lyric sheet.) It helps, then, that Lek's melodies are memorable, the kind of swooning balladry you'd hear playing at a karaoke bar in the off moments, when no one's singing.
When Diva isn't singing, we get ear candy with snippets of speech in Mandarin. Some of these interludes, such as "Chance Encounter" and "Unreal," feature sculpted sounds as beautiful as the snowy jungles and glitzy architecture of the film. The "eSports Reprise" of "Call Of Beauty" even approaches trance, working the melody into something triumphant and rousing. The dialogue might be lost on those who haven't seen the film, but it does add an air of drama, like a radio play.
The ambiguity is what makes this project so fascinating. Every detail is uncanny and somehow in-between. Diva's voice might be unmistakably fake, but it resonates with us. She works with an AI to revive her career, yet the AI is the artistic one. But how could an AI be artistic if, by definition, it just regurgitates what it's been fed in the past? In presenting such a plausible and unsettling vision of the future, AIDOL爱道 interrogates the very nature and value of art itself.
01. Intro (My Single Isn't Finished Yet)
02. Deep Blue Monday
03. In The Game
04. Chance Encounter (Jungle Theme) feat. Seth Scott
05. Call Of Beauty
06. Welcome To SoMA feat. Seth Scott
09. One Nation
10. Beware Your Fans, Diva
11. Call Of Beauty (eSports Reprise)
12. Followers (Diva's Theme)
13. Farsight's Greatest Star
14. In My Prime (Bonus Track)
15. Apocalypse (End Credits) feat. Seth Scott