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Hologram concerts pose questions about ethics, quality  – National

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TORONTO — 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.


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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.

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But Stephen was reluctant to hop on the hologram bandwagon.

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

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


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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.

“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.”

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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.


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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.

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.

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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.


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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.”

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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.


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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.”

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

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.

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.


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“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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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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