STILL BE HERE/HATSUNE MIKU, Barbican – Evening Standard, 27 Feb 2017

She has supported Lady Gaga on tour, been remixed by Pharrell and featured on over 100,000 songs – not bad for a piece of software. Hatsune Miku, which translates as “First sound of the future”, is the best known example of a Vocaloid, a singing Japanese computer program that has been brought to holographic life as a 16-year-old girl with giant eyes and turquoise hair in bunches down to her knees.

Thanks to a Creative Commons licence anyone can write a song for her – hence that gargantuan back catalogue – so while in Japan she’s a pop phenomenon who appears in arenas to thousands of glowstick-waving fans, for this unofficial project by four artists and a musician she danced in front of films and animations that deconstructed what she is and what she could be.

Her voice, high and sweet and as artificial as her manga appearance, would have been familiar to the multiple fans who arrived in cosplay outfits to celebrate their idol. In contrast the music, by Berlin-based American electronica artist Laurel Halo, was a long way from her usual sugary dance pop. Synths wobbled and juddered in awkward rhythms, forming music recognisable as songs less often than an abstract, atmospheric backdrop to discussions of Miku’s meaning. There was talk of “angelism” and “phantasmagoria”. A German maths teacher on screen sported his own lumbering version of her costume, complete with laser backpack. A professor compared her to a sex worker, for her potential to be whatever her latest interpreter desires.

We saw a love letter written to her, typed and shared. Could she be so perfect as to inspire feelings of romantic devotion in those made of flesh and blood, this “computer that sings like an angel’s inadvertant and pure smile”?

It’s a fascinating question which may not have interested anyone who arrived hoping for a futuristic pop concert and instead got a 40-minute documentary installation, at which Miku’s latest puppeteers made her sing and dance in front of a pretty, pink and blue spacescape but also a close-up row of dead fish. The innocent joy of so much of her online existence was sidelined in favour of something much more knotty and unsettling.