If you’ve been following the scheduling and mass cancellations of concert tours in the last year, you must have heard of legendary Swedish pop group ABBA’s upcoming live music adventure – the London ABBA Voyage residency. What has people really hyped, though, is that Voyage is set to be the first ever virtual residency, performed by so-called ABBATARS in a purpose-built, “immersive theater” arena in Stratford, London.
Wait, what’s an ABBATAR?
To say that ABBATARS are avatars of ABBA members Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha would be a ridiculous oversimplification of the matter. The life-like renderings of 1979 digital versions of Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha were created over several months with 160 cameras and by over 100 digital artists and technicians from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Björn himself has called the whole experience “weird” and audiences don’t really know what to expect come May 27th, when the virtual residency is set to kick off.
A new era for live music
Though the Swedish quartet will certainly be remembered as an international phenomenon across multiple generations, they may go down in history as the pioneers of a new era of live music. The London virtual residency has been announced as “indefinite” – because the show could very well go on forever.
No complicated logistics, tedious travel, dozens of crew members to organize and insure or venues to book months or years in advance. And no cancellations. While major cities with major music venues may have a way to go yet in meeting this new challenge, ABBA and team have already proven that the technology is there and that audiences, so far, are open to the experience.
ABBA Voyage director Baillie Walsh says it’s not so much about the technology. Though he’s excited about the creative new applications that are being implemented for the show, Walsh doesn’t expect audiences to be geeking out with him. Instead, he says it’s all about the “communal” experience and good old-fashioned entertainment. “The show is the music and I think that the visuals, at the end of the day, are going to be the cherry on the cake,” Walsh said in an interview with Time Out.
And a new era for home entertainment
And the technology isn’t just there for large venues and budgets in the millions. In January of 2022 at the annual CES event in Las Vegas, a little startup from Los Angeles by the name of PORTL Inc. unveiled a terrific new life-sized gadget called PORTL Epic. The PORTL Epic is a holoportation device that allows folks to beam themselves to locations thousands of miles away and connect with people in – pardon the pun – virtually any location.
But before you start with the Star Trek dad jokes, just imagine what small venues that don’t have room for live music or musicians who might find fame and fortune halfway across the world could do with devices like the PORTL Epic. ANd this 7-foot device is just one of countless similar devices related to the streaming and events industry coming into markets in the next few years.
ABBA Voyage creators claim that holograms were a consideration but just didn’t pass muster when it came to staging the virtual residency in London. They say they needed something better, because holograms don’t have the right interaction with light. And we can’t ignore the fact that the kind of technology and skill used for ABBA Voyage requires hundreds of team members and millions of dollars. For now.
Just like any technology and innovation with a mass market appeal, all of this will become easier, more accessible, and significantly less expensive over time. (The first commercially available cell phone to hit markets in 1984 was priced at $3,995, which is equivalent to $10,720 in 2022.) This live music performance concept could easily become affordable and accessible to a whole new generation of musicians within the next decade. AT this rate, you could be watching ABBATARS perform a full live concert in your living room before too long.