Beats of the future

Keiichiro Shibuya, Music Composer
Keiichiro Shibuya, Music Composer

Alter3, a humanoid, is taking the world by storm as it performs in operas as the lead singer in a futuristic sign of collaboration between art, music and science, as well as humans and robots. And behind this breakthrough is the acclaimed musician Keiichiro Shibuya


Rhonita Patnaik

Published: Fri 11 Feb 2022, 2:19 PM

When I think of robots, Japan stands out in my mind. The nation has been the undisputed leader in creating androids as well as their inclusion in real-life scenario for decades — in our homes and workplaces (picture robots carrying our trays or papers) as a support staff. But now the technology has surpassed limits with androids taking centre stage. One notable example today is Android Alter 3 that is creating waves in the music industry. It has gained a reputation overseas for Japan for its singing capabilities.

Alter 3 is an android developed for the purpose of examining the potential of communication with humans. It is part of a new Artificial Life (Alife) research project. The goal is to explore the future of human communication, and new forms of entertainment. mixi, Inc., Tokyo National University, Osaka University, and Warner Music Japan Co. Ltd are behind the project.

Bringing the Android to life is Keiichiro Shibuya, famed Japanese composer and musician. Shibuya has created musical works for live performances, films and sound installations. He continuously pushes the boundary between human and technology as he creates works ranging from piano solos to electronic music and opera. Given his work of interest, the composer has been working with artificial life for five years now. After the performance ‘Scary Beauty’ in Germany and the UAE, the composer is all set to present a new composition ‘The MIRROR’ by Alter 3 as a singer and conductor to the world at Expo 2020 Dubai.

A confluence of communication

Alter 3 is more than just a performer, says Shibuya. “It is a communicator who is singing harmoniously with humans.” Also, with improvisation possible with android on spot, Shibuya is excited to be in this unchartered territory.

The Opera is not just about composition by Shibuya but also the inclusion of artificial intelligence that speaks the language of the android. Explaining how he creates music with Alter 3, the composer adds: “The musical notes are created by AI and Alter 3 follows suit, and sometimes even improvises on spot for the better. That is the kind of collaboration that I have created between science and art,” he adds.

And this collaboration works in harmony, Shibuya says. As Alter 3 takes the stage, human orchestra moves in sync, bringing everything together beautifully.

Android Opera ‘MIRROR’

After ‘Scary Beauty’, Shibuya’s next presentation is ‘The MIRROR’. Explaining the concept, he points out that the new musical with the android is all reflecting your mind. The android is devoid of any emotion while singing but its vocal expression will reflect your thoughts. If the listener is feeling sad, the performance will seem sad; and if happy, the performance will seem so. “You cannot achieve this end with a human being. Simply because humans bring their own emotions to art,” Shibuya adds.

Elaborating, he notes: “The android doesn’t have its own emotions. So the listener can just deduce the music as they listen to it. That’s the concept of ‘The MIRROR’. The experience is very personal.”

The MIRROR at Expo 2020 Dubai

Touting to be one of the best, Shibuya, who has been relentlessly working during the practice session, says that the performance will be on-of-a-kind, a fusion — mixing the new with the traditional. As the world comes together under one roof, accompanying the Opera is the UAE-based the orchestra NSO Symphony Orchestra (UAE) will join the stage once again since the last performance in Sharjah, UAE, in 2020.

In addition, Buddhist monks will chant sutras to create a symphony. Shibuya reveals that for the performance, with the help of technology and programming, the android will be able to hear the vocal of monks as a signal in real-time. Based on that signal, the android can create his/her own melody of singing in real-time too. We are very excited to bring two different voices under one roof matched from both technical and musical aspects.

As the stage is set at the Japan Pavilion to celebrate its National Day, Alter 3 will be at the centre of attention as the whole world will witness what a marvel human and androids can create together. Will you be there?

Coexistence with AI is the future

As Alter 3 gets ready to unveil its latest work, Khaleej Times also spoke to Visiting Professor Yasuaki Itakura, Department of Performance & Composition / Composition / Music Theory, Kunitachi College of Music, about the students working on this futuristic project.

Is this the future of human communication?

As it had been in the past, I believe that by carrying out this project, new means of communication in human society will be born, by furthering our understanding on what we can create together with AI, and what only human beings are capable of accomplishing.

What are the future prospects for Alter 3 students?

By collaborating with this artificial life, one’s performance expression opens up to a new level; the outcome being positive or negative, it is a result of being inspired by its unique behaviour.

What are their main takeaways in this field of study?

The possibility of realising the potential of one’s western music instrument such as violin, flute, etc. by encountering with the unusual. Also I wish for them to learn the way to express their feelings accordingly.

How are students being able to express new kinds of entertainment through Alter 3?

In modern society, coexistence with AI is done regardless of awareness or of non-awareness. Thus, one can find a new method of expression and present one’s music, without particularly being aware of the presence of an AI.

What are the prerequisites for students interested to enter this study?

A high level of ability to be able to easily adapt to change, and to follow; as well as curiosity towards new things, and courage enough to self-express without being captivated by presumption.

Android Opera MIRROR by Keiichiro Shibuya at rehearsal in Japan
Android Opera MIRROR by Keiichiro Shibuya at rehearsal in Japan


- Android Opera "MIRROR" by Keiichiro Shibuya at rehearsal

- Alter Series Hardware and Software Architecture Design & Programming: Hiroshi Ishiguro, Kohei Ogawa, Takashi Ikegami, Itsuki Doi

- Alter 3 Software Architecture Design & Programming: Shintaro Imai, Takashi Ikegami, Kairi Nagashima

- Alter3 Simulator Development: mixi, Inc.

- Alter3 Presented by: mixi, Inc.

- Executive Producer: Koki Kimura (mixi, Inc.)

- Special Thanks: The University of Tokyo, Osaka University, Kunitachi College of Music, mixi, Inc., Warner Music Japan Inc., ALTERNATIVE MACHINE Inc.

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