Right now, not only are Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly very dead, but they’re also on tour. In two places at once — as holograms.
The company BASE Hologram is running a tour with the two singers’ technologically-reanimated forms, after a run of Orbison dates with orchestras in 2018. They added Holly for this tour, which visits 32 U.S. cities and seven European cities in about two months. The show, titled "The Rock 'N' Roll Dream Tour," will be in Missoula this weekend.
“Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly really are at the essence of the creation of today’s music,” BASE CEO Martin Tudor said. “Today’s audience is very nostalgia-connected. So we try and give that fulfillment to the audience.”
Tudor said they’ve combined some cutting-edge technology with a serious dive into both singers' histories to create the holograms, which are technically made with ultra-high-definition projectors combined with other secret technology.
Schaeffer and the BASE team worked with the singers’ estates to view archival footage and map Holly and Orbison’s faces for the projectors.
It was a particular challenge for Holly, who was only really famous for about 18 months, although he did make several TV appearances during that time. One strange challenge: there were no true color pictures of Holly, Tudor said.
“People are in for a surprise to see what he looks like in color,” Tudor said.
The archival footage also helps with programming the holograms so they act and move like Holly and Orbison would in real life. Orbison famously didn’t move much at all on stage, whereas Holly has a little more hip-shakin’ going on.
“We rely heavily on (the estates) to give us an idea of what they would and wouldn’t do,” Tudor said. “We really try to be authentic.”
BASE then found a body double for Holly, who rehearsed for eight to 12 weeks (“so it’s literally perfect”) before being recorded and digitized. Holly’s digital face is added over the top, and the hologram version exists, in full color, if not corporeal form, to be projected with high-powered digital laser technology.
Promotional videos are available online of Orbison and Holly’s holograms and they are impressive. There is an occasional see-through leg, but the holograms have life-like mannerisms and the sound is crystal-clear.
The show loses a little bit of a feeling of accomplishment when you realize it’s all pre-programmed, although, to be fair, who among us hasn’t seen an aging rock band perform with a locked-in set, repeating the same banter, stage movements and all?
“We look at these as shows, not concerts,” Tudor said. “They do have a beginning, middle and end and an emotional throughline.”
The company brought on a Broadway director, Eric Schaeffer, who worked on “Million Dollar Quartet,” a musical about a legendary recording session featuring Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Schaeffer helped craft the show with arcs and storytelling interludes.
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“We create these shows much like one creates a Broadway show,” Tudor explained. “These shows are fully scripted.”
After the holograms themselves are programmed, BASE brings in a backing band. The five musicians and two backup singers rehearse — with the hologram, of course — and then hit the road for back-to-back sets, night after night, from Montana to Belgium, lead singer packed up in a projector.
“It’s a very complicated process that makes this easily tourable,” Tudor said. “The whole thing is a unique challenge ... we are really cutting edge here, and really bleeding edge.”
BASE Hologram doesn’t just traffic in rock oldies. They’re working on putting together “An Evening with Whitney,” using Whitney Houston’s likeness, in 2020, and started with an orchestra backing up opera singer Maria Callas’ hologram.
The company has encountered some pushback, specifically on a planned Amy Winehouse hologram tour, which they officially put on hold in early 2019 due to “unique challenges and sensitivities."
On their website, BASE touts a Mirror interview with Holly’s wife, Maria Elena Holly, who said, “I do want to see him perform again, and I truly want to see his fans enjoying him in concert again.”
David Hirshland, the executive vice president in music publishing catalogs for BMG, who own the rights for Holly’s image, likeness and songs, said they had full support from Holly’s wife when they purchased his rights.
“How many people got to see Buddy Holly?” he said. “There’s really so much reason to try and duplicate that experience for as many people as possible.”
BMG had seen the original iteration of Roy Orbison’s hologram tour and reached out to BASE about a two-for-one show. Since then, the technology has gotten even more impressive, Hirshland said, making him believe hologram tours are more than a fad, especially with an older demographic.
“There’s going to be more and more (musicians) they’re not going to be able to see anymore,” he said. “And as the technology improves … it’s easy to suspend disbelief.
“I absolutely believe there’s a future for this.”
Tudor agrees, citing personal experience visiting shows and talking with attendees — some who were amazed, others who he reported had trouble believing the hologram wasn’t an impersonator.
“When we started this we didn’t know how the audience would react,” Tudor said. “They are dancing in the aisles and singing in the audience and clapping.
“A majority of the people who come are older people who grew up on this music, which makes sense, because it’s more about the music than the technology.”