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Are holograms the real deal? Musicians confront questions of ethics, quality

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Bringing back late guitarist Jeff Healey as a hologram might seem like sacrilege to many of his fans, but the possibility intrigued one of his former bandmates.

Tom Stephen, one-time drummer and manager of the Jeff Healey Band, says he was of two minds when an Australian entertainment company approached him several years ago with a proposal to incorporate Healey’s likeness in a blues revue.

The show was pictured as a celebration of the genre’s icons, with other names like B.B. King floated as holograms who might appear.

The company suggested the Canadian blues-rock outfit’s two surviving members reunite alongside a hologram of their star player, who died of cancer at age 41. It would give audiences a chance to witness Healey’s unconventional live performances, which involved him laying an electric guitar flat across his lap to play it.

But Stephen was reluctant to hop on the hologram bandwagon.

Jeff Healey of the Jeff Healey Band performs in New York’s Central Park on July 1, 2000. Several years ago, an Australian entertainment company suggested the two surviving members of the band reunite with a hologram of their frontman on stage. Healey died of cancer in Toronto in 2008 at age 41. (Stephen Chernin/File/Associated Press)

“It felt a little exploitative,” he says of the pitch.

“Are you really getting to see that musical experience you missed?”

He imagined the soullessness of performing a set of favourites like Angel Eyes with a digital version of Healey. The comradery would be missing, he decided.

Are you really getting to see that musical experience you missed?– Tom Stephen, one-time drummer and manager of the Jeff Healey Band

“How would it be to interact night-to-night with a hologram of a bandmate you spent 18 years with?” he remembers thinking.

“Personally, I would find that very difficult.”

Stephen declined the company’s offer, but acknowledges the possibility of a Healey hologram could be revived again as the technology seeps further into the mainstream.

In the coming year, both musicians and concertgoers will confront the growing presence of “hologram” shows at local concert venues.

The experiment has already dipped into some North American venues where the virtual likeness of deceased crooner Roy Orbison received mixed reviews a few months ago. Opera singer Maria Callas was also resurrected in a performance some critics say looked more like she was a floating ghost than a physical entity.

3D moving images 

Glenn Gould will be added to the hologram circuit in 2019, with the late Canadian pianist accompanied by live orchestras as part of a tour organized in co-operation with his estate.

Around the same time, Amy Winehouse’s hologram is set to embark on a multi-year run with a backing band, while Swedish pop superstars ABBA will launch a digital reunion.

These shows aren’t true holograms in the technical sense, but rather three-dimensional images projected through mirrors onto a transparent screen, kind of like a movie.

Levels of artificiality

And most performances aren’t just an illusion on the stage, they’re also part of an elaborate studio production where the faces of the deceased performers are transposed onto the bodies of living actors. In the case of Orbison, another musician imitated his performance before the singer’s famous face was digitally pasted onto the body of the stand-in.

So many levels of artificiality can be difficult to pull off convincingly, suggests Kiran Bhumber, co-creator of Telepresence, a recent virtual reality experience at Vancouver’s Western Front arts centre that merged a live trumpet player with visuals displayed on a VR headset.

“[The challenge is] how to create a meaningful experience that stays with audiences,” she says.

“Because it risks becoming a gimmick.”

Last summer at Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square the perils of a virtual performance were on full display. Casual onlookers gathered for a showcase of famous faces converted into holograms, including a young Michael Jackson circa his Jackson 5 years, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and members of the Black Eyed Peas.

Most people watched the holograms like they might a television screen and occasionally held up their smartphones to capture footage for their social media feeds. But the smattering of applause suggested the excitement was muted, even as real-life hosts encouraged more energy.

Intrigue of evolving technology

While audiences consider how to respond to holograms, some performers are fascinated with the potential of the evolving technology.

Walk Off the Earth singer Sarah Blackwood was intrigued after she witnessed a projection of Feist that was beamed simultaneously to crowds in three Canadian cities as part of a smartphone launch in 2012. She says the moment inspired her to think about the benefits of a holographic future.

“As an artist, one of things we always talk about is how we’re going to leave our legacy,” she says.

“I don’t want to disappear into the pile of musicians that aren’t remembered. So to have the possibility to come back and share music with people, and live on like that, I think that’s a really interesting concept.”

Serena Ryder says she thinks holograms might have a more practical application for living artists like herself who aren’t fans of long tours.

Serena Ryder performs White Christmas on stage at q Live for the Holidays at the Great Hall in Toronto on Dec. 12, 2018. (CBC)

The pop-rock singer considers herself a “reclusive” performer, so replacing some of her live shows with a virtual rendering of herself sounds appealing, she says.

But Ryder is not convinced her hologram would recreate the thrill of a live performance in the flesh.

“I don’t think there’s really anything that can replace actual human skin — the feeling of actual human emotions,” she says.

Even Stephen admits that he’s still captivated by the technological possibilities, even if he didn’t warm to the idea of a Jeff Healey Band hologram show.

I don’t think there’s really anything that can replace actual human skin — the feeling of actual human emotions.– Serena Ryder

There are a few shows he’d shell out cash to see, if the circumstances are right, he supposes. One of them would be seeing the Beatles play their Liverpool hometown, if that hologram ever took shape.

“I think that would blow my mind and be a really interesting experience,” he says.

Stephen reflects on his experiences in the Jeff Healey Band in his recent book Best Seat in the House, but recognizes that one day he won’t necessarily have control over the band’s narrative, or whether they’re recreated as holograms.

“My suspicion is as we move into the future this will become common, whether it’s right or wrong,” he says.

“I don’t know if you can stand in the way of that.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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