FOUNDING LAB Fall Term Projects
Photo: Criistobal Parra

Songs for NPCs


Claudix Vanesix Figueroa Muro


Songs for NPCs is an anti-futurist XR concert. It uses videogame culture of “users” and “NPCs” (Non-Playable Character) to talk about power dynamics between post-colonial nations around the globe. Are you a user or are you being used in this game? Can an NPC turn into a user? How to scape this binary that implies a power dynamic is the topic of the multimedia performance.

During the Fall Term at the FOUNDING LAB, I had the chance to test some of the workflows that my long-term project requires to exist as a live event.

In my past experiences creating live XR art I felt limitations because the hardware that I had access to was not powerful enough to create a fully animated avatar. I had been trying to implement “Full Body Motion Tracking” systems into my performance and was unsuccessful. These implementations require a hardware that is capable of streaming big amounts of data such as XYZ coordinates to different parts of my human anatomy to later process it into an input to animate 3D modeled avatars in “Real Time”.

There are multiple challenges into achieving this live stream of data into a low latency translation of movement from my body into my avatar. This principle is fundamental for the concept of the artwork, since the hypothesis of my research is that a phygital1 performance can allow a single physical performer to control multiple digital characters inside a fictional narrative that is being animated live in front of a live audience.

The timeframe of the FOUNDING LAB’s development was very politically agitated, this helped inform my project as a global structure in which different actors play roles and have stablished limitations in their freedom. I got to experience it myself as I went through multiple Visa Applications processes during the duration of this research. This situation happened to me (from Peru) and other colleagues who were born in former colonies; it was a strong reminder that my project has a very urgent nature that goes beyond the fictional storytelling that I am building through XR.

The art and technology that a society is able to create are a political statement. During my research I intended to point out the social gaps in terms of working rights and access to a quality life around the globe. While doing so I learnt the difference between two very different and very relevant human projects: Post-humanisms and Trans-humanisms. To understand these directions of philosophy one must ask themselves what is even to be a “human”. And I find again and again in history and in real-time war that “human” is a social category that not every human is given.

De-humanization is a word that comes to mind when I demand that the massacre that Palestinians are currently resisting is soon finished. My Project is feed with the rage of watching a genocide in front of my screens in real time. I am constantly reminded that the nations with power can take decisions that terminate the lives of thousands when it is convenient for their interest.

In my project I use the term “NPC” from videogames, to address a real-life emergency: some humans are being treated as less/other than humans. NPCs (simulated non-humans) exist for the (real life humans) users just in form of a utilitarian relationship: for them to get a resource from, to finish a quest, to be confined in a forever repeating loop of service.


Process Reflection

Having the maximum realistic available tools, together with a sense of humor and an erotic tint to my project was necessary for me to handle the embodiment of such complex discussions. The artistic approach makes the storytelling somehow digestible; I believe that “yassification” can be a great tool for navigating extremely unattractive topics2. Through the music, makeup, hairstyles, sexy avatars, and seducing energy on stage, I design an aesthetically pleasing space and experience. This allows me to dive into conversations of historical abuse and current ultra-violence.

Before the FOUNDING LAB I had achieved to use 3 tracking sensors into my live performance, I did it by using a Virtual Reality device called Meta Quest 2. But this device had a particularity that was limiting the development of the artwork: I cannot see the physical world when I am wearing the VR headset, making it unsustainable for the future of my project. I wanted to implement a Full Body Motion Tracking system that would allow me to use my face as an expressive medium for songs interpretation during the performance, and that would allow me to use the inferior part of my body as an input for the movement of my avatar.3

To find the medium that would communicate the narrative in a more authentic way, I evaluated the available tools for capturing movement and decided that I would work with Rokoko Smartsuit Pro II, together with the Studio software. I tested different software for creating human visual representations and animating with live inputs, and after multiple trials I decided that the aesthetic value of the software was very relevant for the project. To express better that sexy personality that I want the concert to have, I choose DAZ 3D, since it has a futuristic realness to the rendering textures that makes the characters feel uncanny real. In future research steps I plan to stream the data from the Motion Capture into Unreal Engine for the live concert ending performance.

During the process of the FOUNDING LAB my research question evolved towards a greater urgency. When I started conceptualizing Songs for NPCs, I was bringing my perspective as an indigenous person with a history of colonization that questioned the humanity of my people after the so called “discovery of the Americas”. The controversy of deciding whether people of the Abya Yala were human or not was the differentiating point in deciding whether we would be enslaved or forced into Catholicism. The time I spent in Europe allowed me to observe the international reactions to real time genocide, it is an event that has marked my life and the way I understand myself in the world. It goes beyond my artistic project: I understood in a deeper sense what “International Solidarity” means.

I learnt that it is powerful to be the voice that speaks up against abuse. I am now reinsured that dynamics of power and oppression are limiting certain humanities to exist in freedom. My videogame approach is only one strategy of the many that need to be visible. I understand that my voice has a tone, and I want that tone to be friendly enough so audiences will want to listen. I believe my voice can also be used to amplify other voices.

No science or art exist in a vacuum, everything we make or stop making is telling the story of who we are.