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Manabe Daito: Pushing the Boundaries Between Art and Technology
[2018.05.22]

We sat down with Rhizomatiks chief Manabe Daito to talk about his work with drones and augmented reality and how he is using them to push the boundaries of artistic expression forward.

Manabe Daito

Manabe DaitoMedia artist, programmer, DJ, and executive at Rhizomatiks. Born in Tokyo in 1976. Attended the Tokyo University of Science before entering the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences. Cofounded Rhizomatiks after graduating in 2006. Since 2015, has also been running Rhizomatiks Research, the company’s creation and technology team. Creates works that utilize the human body in conjunction with programming, securing him various awards both in Japan and abroad. His personal website is www.daito.ws and the Rhizomatiks website is rhizomatiks.com.

During the closing ceremony of the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in August 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, dressed as Mario from the popular Nintendo series of video games, made a surprise appearance at the flag handover. This was followed by a live broadcast of performers in the Rio stadium overlaid with computer-generated images of the 33 events planned to be held at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, making for a performance the likes of which the world had never seen.

A photo of the AR performance from the Rio de Janeiro closing ceremony, where Rhizomatiks combined elements of live performance with CG images of the 33 events to be held at the next Summer Games in Tokyo. (Photo courtesy of Rhizomatiks Research)

The team behind the AR production was Rhizomatiks and Manabe Daito, one of its cofounders. The company, launched in 2006, tackles everything from software programming to hardware architecture, user interface design, and the artistic aspects that productions like these call for. Rhizomatiks Research, which he helms, is the research and development branch of the organization.

Rhizomatiks has made itself known throughout the entertainment industry through its contributions to projects including the world’s first 360º virtual reality concert, streamed in real time for the Icelandic singer Björk, and performances by the Japanese techno-pop band Perfume, which relied on Rhizomatics for the technical support necessary to coordinate lasers and drones. As part of his dizzyingly varied career, Manabe also produces artwork on his own and has won awards at several international media art and advertising festivals.

“People sometimes ask how I keep my artistic endeavors and entertainment industry work walled off from each other. Sure, there are certain projects that I’m only be able to achieve working solo as an artist. But there are also projects that wouldn’t be feasible without the backing of corporations or public institutions. And there are some things initially conceived as pure art projects that, through advancements in technology, eventually come into common use all over the world five to ten years down the line. One example of this would be games played on touch screens. But media art that relies on little more than technological novelty is destined to be consumed quickly and to fall into obsolescence after that novelty has worn off.”

From Experimental Art to Entertainment

Technological leaps like big data, the Internet of things, and artificial intelligence are all drastically changing the way society functions, and Manabe is eagerly applying these concepts to his own work. One project that helped to propel him into the public eye was a series of works in which he affixed medical-use electrodes to his own face, and then to his friends, and electrically stimulated the facial muscles. The videos of this experimental work that he uploaded to YouTube proved to be a turning point in his career.


Manabe Daito’s 2008 Electric Stimulus to Face—Test 4. (Video courtesy of Rhizomatiks Research)

“While I was at the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Sciences, I started experimenting with expressing myself through programming. Still, I wasn’t ever able to show off my work on any platforms that garnered significant attention from the public. There is, after all, a limit to the audience you can reach by holding exhibitions and distributing DVDs—so for me, YouTube was a big step up. As soon as I posted a video, people all over the world were talking about it in what seemed like minutes.”

And with that, all of a sudden Manabe found himself getting offers for jobs and collaborative projects from all around the world.

“Still, developing new business fields really isn’t my goal here. The reason I produce art is to shine a spotlight onto the possibilities and the dangers that new technology brings with it and to fuel discussions on those issues at a societal level.”

What, then, brought Manabe’s experimental efforts into their close juxtaposition with mainstream entertainment today?

“From around 2004 to 2009, I helped out with a production that involved Fujimoto Takayuki of the artist collective Dumb Type, a group known for performances melding video, sound, and contemporary dance. It was then that I invited the director and choreographer Mikiko, with whom I’d wanted to collaborate for a while, to a Dumb Type show. We started working together after that, when Mikiko came to us and said: ‘For Perfume’s next gig, I want to do something that uses technology.’”

A photo of Perfume’s March 17, 2015, performance at SXSW in Austin, Texas. (© Amuse Inc., Universal Music LLC, Rhizomatiks, and Dentsu Inc.)

That idea eventually coalesced into Perfume’s 2010 Tokyo Dome performance, which included balloons floating around the stage being shot down with lasers, members of the group being scanned in 3D using industrial-grade cameras and projected during the show, and numerous other technological displays that took fans completely by surprise. News of the production quickly made its way to the ears of other cutting-edge creators, causing quite a stir despite this community being one that typically showed little interest in the mainstream entertainment world.

“Since we were using new technology that had no precedent of being used in a live performance setting, we had to run tests over and over to make sure it would function. We couldn’t get this sort of work just by pitching our ideas to concert organizers. But once we got a successful run under our belt, then other outfits opened up to the idea of letting us do a show for them. It’s our accumulation of small successes that has led us to these big productions.”

  • [2018.05.22]
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