Dancers transform into birds and trees on a journey through time and space.
In the video for HAAi’s ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ – the title track from the DJ and producer’s debut album, made in collaboration with Jon Hopkins – sweeping melodies, soaring vocals and a hardcore-inspired rhythm are brought to life by a combination of real-life dance and AI technology. Choreographed by Akira Uchida and animated by Tom Furse, the visual is both a kaleidoscopic interpretation of the track and a stunning technical achievement in its own right, in which three dancers seamlessly transform with flowers, birds and trees.
“I worked with Tom on my entire album, including the ‘Purple Jelly Disc’ video, the AI clouds on the digital album cover, my Mixmag cover and now for this,” says HAAi. “He is also creating some bespoke looks for my bigger shows this year, which I am very excited about.”
“I met Akira virtually when he choreographed a dance piece for an old track of mine called ‘Feels’, which surprised me. His interpretation of my music and translating it into motion was really exciting to watch. It was a no-brainer for me to work with Tom and Akira on the video.”
Furse is best known as a member of The Horrors and as a solo musician in his own right, but more recently he has been inspired to try using AI to create visuals and animations. “I had seen examples of the technology before with things like the famous ‘avocado chair,’ but after hearing about VQGAN+CLIP on the Interdependence podcast, I woke up a few mornings later and thought, ‘OK, I’ll give this a shot. Go today.’ That morning opened up all my creative practice. I wasn’t just making music anymore. It also changed the way my eyes saw the world.” When Furse first heard the track, he wanted to convey the feeling he says he has with many of HAAi’s songs, “a kind of rushing feeling, a feeling of being propelled by the atmosphere into force.”
“So there is already that feeling of flight, and married with ideas of ascent it felt natural to explore avian forms. In all my work so far, there has been a lot of botanical exploration, so I also incorporated that into my instructions for the AI, knowing that I would get some interesting results when trying to figure out if any part of a dancer should be a bird, or a flower, or something. in the middle. But also, as Akira pointed out to me, ascension is also about change, and a flower’s life journey illustrates change in a very poetic way.”
Uchida had a similar response to the track, which he wanted to communicate through choreography. “The first thing that struck me when listening to the track was this feeling of being heavenly and ethereal. The peak of the song gave me a very specific feeling of falling into the sky and beyond (not to be confused with flying) that inspired some of the visuals towards the end of the video. There’s also an immensity to the sound that I felt was important to capture, as well as a powerful feminine energy that I wanted to channel into motion.”
The production of the video was a collaborative process, with Uchida filming the dancers in front of a green screen in a New York studio, and Furse processing the footage with conventional means before executing each scene through a process of learning synthesis synthesis. machine called Guided Diffusion.
“This is still an emerging technique and I believe this is possibly the first time it has been used on this scale,” says Furse. “I’ve seen 5-10 second clips before, but it’s such a lengthy process that I’m not sure anyone really had the freedom to take the time to do something longer. Personally, I can’t wait to start using and seeing this process in more conventional narratives. There are so many possibilities.”
“Collaborating with Tom was a really enriching experience,” says Uchida. “While I’ve worked with green screen before, working with AI in this way has opened up a whole new world of possibilities and challenges as well. As we were both doing a new process in our own way, me working with AI and Tom working on dance, a lot of our collaboration had to do with problem solving and creative solutions.”
Although Uchida and Furse were in close contact throughout the process and communicated about revisions before reaching the final edit, the unpredictable nature of the AI rendering presented some challenges in developing the choreography. “We did some testing along the way, so I had a benchmark of what might work better than other options, but at the end of the day I was choreographing without having an exact idea of what that would look like,” says Uchida. “I knew we wouldn’t be able to see some of the finer details in her expression, so I focused on creating big, powerful movements that convey a strong intensity, while focusing on the form, so the feeling would still translate and remain present regardless of the outcome.”
In its first iterations, the results of machine learning algorithms trained to create images created some strange and variable results, but recent developments have allowed Furse to create visuals with some degree of predictability. “The results can be unexpected, although not enough to be completely unrepeatable,” he says. “The details may be different each time, but your overall output will still be in the same world if you’ve designed the prompts and process well enough.
“I would love to train my own models, but there is a lot of time and processing power needed to do it and get impressive results, so I used several open source models for this video. The openly available nature of this technology is an interesting component, it’s just waiting for people to use it. Who will emerge as the Bach of promptism and AI image synthesis? Someone is about to come along and really impress some people, and I’m excited for them.”
Baby, We’re Ascending is now available on Mute Records – pre-order and stream here. Follow HAAi on Instagram and SoundCloud.
Follow Akira Uchida on Instagram and learn more about her practice on her website.
Follow Tom Furse on Instagram and explore more of his visual work in Foundation and Versum.
Baby, we’re ascending credits:
Video directed by Akira Uchida and Tom Furse
Choreography by Akira Uchida
Tom Furse animation
Produced by Box Artist Management / Ben Totty
Production Assistant – Julia Norman
DOP – Ethan Stupp
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