MIKUNOPOLIS At AX 2011: Promise Of Rebirth

 

So in the 25-plus years after Megazone 23’s enigmatic virtual idol prototype, Eve Tokimatsuri appeared on the scene inspiring what has become something of a cult-trope in science fiction, last night’s one-of-a-kind Anime Expo event in MIKUNOPOLIS was something of an evolutionary leap. Considering the fact that the most prominent western variations on this concept have come in the form of a middle of the road Al Pacino movie, as well as through the almost genetically-wired mind of William Gibson, this has felt like a long time coming as thousands of fans(and curiosity-seekers- for sure) nearly packed the Los Angeles NOKIA Theater for an evening with the otaku world’s digital darling & friends. From the line stretching incomprehensibly outside, to the brilliantly colored array of glowing sticks, leeks, bolos & more, it was a welcome only Lynn Minmei could appreciate. Still shaking off the reverberations post Saturday night’s event has given me quite a bit to consider.

The introduction by the ever-charismatic Danny Choo, along with a rhythm primer in the form of Danceroid was an interesting taster for what was ahead. This early on should have proven to be an important litmus test of an audience perhaps not as familiar with the Akiba-kei atmo that was to come. Seeing as how the show itself had little to no time to prepare, this was very much a straight-from-Japan production, with little to now caveats to newcomers. Something that I personally find to be particularly important for what I’ll cover in a bit.

Mostly cribbed from the already popular concert format in Japan, the crowd was treated to a dazzling mixture of live accompaniment (featuring most to all of the original musicians also featured in the 39s Giving Day dvd- and also including a full string section not included on this popular disc.) as the aqua-haired one shelled out one popular track after another. All the while fully complimented by the crowd’s rhythmic use of glow, which was also heartening to see last throughout the entire performance. (I must admit here that this was something of an odd concern for the US audience, and their prolonged reaction to such a concept.) Having been seated in the Loge, with a fully panoramic view of the show from the stage to the orchestra, including the crane camera, and between the HD screens capturing visual highlights from a combination of cameras. The audience’s familiarity with many of Miku’s fan & artist-made hits like World Is Mine, Popipo, Sound, Romero & Cinderella, and many others (altogether I wish she had performed Miracle Paint somewhere) was indicative of just how widespread the open-source phenomenon has grown in merely three short years. And the welcome appearances of Megurine Luka, Rin & Len Kagamine among others, only raised the roof even further. And while the holographic projection bouncing off the near-transparent screen positioned at center stage at times showed its limits whenever Miku danced a little further to each edge, with this came a sort of charm that can only be had by those with an understanding of the show’s brief life on the road.

 

The Light & Cyberization Show:

Which brings me to a tiny nugget of history to help put this into some manner of context – As a small child, interested in the new technologies that were seemingly sprouting out of the ground in the early 1980s, one of the genesis sparks of inspiration for all this perhaps is thanks to travelling laser light shows that would come to the local fair every year. It was essentially a laser painting show set to music that took place inside an inflatable dome where patrons would pay their admission, settle themselves into one of the many offered cushions to lie on the floor, and enjoy 15-20 minutes of dazzling arrays of light, and animation set to tunes from artists such as Missing Persons, Thomas Dolby among others. As primitive as that may sound now – it went a pretty long way toward inspiring what became computer generated art & animation, not to mention music videos. One could also venture that without this simple trend, many of the Macross ’84 movie’s fun concert scenes would not have the sort of evocative punch that they do. It’s the mark of an era, I suppose, but it also informs decades of the development in how live entertainment was changing, and possibly even hinting at where lovers of the musical arts were going to split.

Because also growing up in this time period, it was quite the popular notion that the steam-gathering trend of analog-to-digital music was something to be feared, and even dismissed in the music world. Being a child fan of artists such as Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Giorgio Moroder,YMO and Soft Cell, it was not uncommon to hear someone jeer about the artificiality of synthesizers, and that it was killing the spontanaeity of music. And while there was some grain of truth to this argument, it also undermines the other side, which is that it took human effort and ingeneuity to create the sounds coming from these bulky boards that at times required multiple machines, intense worry of breakdowns, and unerring nerve just to get through a show. Eventually this dismissive argument was to haunt many future forms of music and performing, to interesting results.=- Which is also what makes Miku’s live accompaniment such a fun & necessary element. (Akitoshi Kuroda on guitar, Shingo Tanaka on bass, Shin Orita on drums, and Jun Abe on keyboards- not to mention the mentioned addition of a string section. Very nice.) For studio musicians, there is a great deal of heart to the performance that could easily also been pre-recorded. Being an amateur musician with a love of new tools, experimentation merged with the use of the traditional, this show was something of a welcome stew of varying elements that despite the at-times middling nature of some of the songs, functioned as more a promise of possibility rather than what it was.- Which is essentially how I feel about the show as a whole.

Hoping that I didn’t lose anyone, perhaps it’s best for me to get to the DNA of this for finality’s sake- Why is this LA show so significant, and what is the prime implication of VOCALOID, Miku and shows like this?

 

The Toppling Of The Ziggurat: The Democratization Of Pop & The End Of Idol Thinking:

Well this has quite the rabbit-hole answer really since it boils down to the very concept of the idol singer, and what a virtual idol entails. Being that we’re in not only an age of close-to-realistic character animation, as well as a possible age of open source pop culture, we are perhaps witnessing an idea that can grow beyond the confines of the otaku, and into something altogether new. With YAMAHA introducing the versatile VOCALOID software at this year’s NAMM show, the timing seems just right for a great risk to be taken as the old model of media distribution reaches its inevitable death rattle. The single idea of taking a spanish software, and expaning it into a brilliant new model for music making, and marketing is nothing short of a genius idea that works multi-fold when considering the overpopulated, and at times troubling world of the Japanese idol-singer. A life fraught with endless competition, questionable talent, even more questionable management, health-endangerment, sameness, as well as fan pressure to maintain a fantasy image- Well this is the ideal scenario as VOCALOID, mixed with this form of marketing and fan driven mythology puts the entire idea of a musical superstar to task by calling them out for what they are- Often interchangeable, derivative, fleeting, not to mention disposeable muses for a culture industry allergic to change, let alone ideas.

Just think of it. To paraphrase Miles Dyson: This is an idol who never gets tired, never freaks out, never comes to work with a hangover. She knows the show must go on, and can change costumes within a split second . And the best of all, the songs are only as great as two main factors, the fans making the songs, and the band playing by her side. The very presence of Miku is something of a brilliant antithesis as she herself is capable of everything an idol is expected to fulfill, without the excess baggage and expectations. She can literally be anything the people want without breaking a sweat.

And to introduce such a splashy reception in the west is something of a promising start to what one hopes is the beginning of something very special, not only for the japanese, but for generations long in need of a realm where dreams are shared, and expanded upon, rather than spoon-fed. And judging from the night’s impressive crowd, that longing may finally bear fruit.

 

Eve, Sharon, Rei…your songs grow ever closer…

6 thoughts on “MIKUNOPOLIS At AX 2011: Promise Of Rebirth”

  1. wintermuted,

    What a great article, I really enjoyed it. While there were many good points and of course it is important to recognize all the benefits of being a “virtual” idol rather than a real one haha. The part I liked even more than those was your excellent point at the end:

    “And to introduce such a splashy reception in the west is something of a promising start to what one hopes is the beginning of something very special, not only for the japanese, but for generations long in need of a realm where dreams are shared, and expanded upon, rather than spoon-fed.”

    While the SEGA produced concerts are the in some ways the height of commercialization, there is still something so special about knowing that almost everyone song sung by my favorite singer was produced by a different individual, and that almost all of her costumes were also at some point designed and submitted by amateur artists. Even in the most commercialized of Miku’s productions (these concerts) still the power of unchecked and open-sourced creativity shines through. If you have a bit of familiarity with the meanings behind the songs she performs it is also easy to recognize what a treat it truly is to have a singer you love perform songs from so many varied genres and backgrounds.

    Once you become a Vocaloid fan I feel that the obsession truly sets in when you begin to realize just how much is available to you on the internet and how you will always be able to find something interesting and catchy sung by these beautiful voices thanks to the creative energies of thousands of producers across the globe. You are waiting there year after year not just to hear or see the output of just one individual or one creative team but rather Miku bears the fruits of thousands of different artistic visions for her fans.

    Even the most non-contributing of Vocaloid fans almost certainly feels more “involved” in this sort of fandom than one of a normal idol or pop star (western or eastern). And even then there is so much to do that most people (including myself who has been inspired to start working with the software and also do song translations for other english speaking fans) eventually get drawn into the creative flow at some point (whether it being doing art, remixes, their own songs, MMD projects, cover songs, dance covers, translations and the list goes on…..). That truly is the beauty of Vocaloid as a phenomena and I feel it is the true reason that it will continue to grow and have success in the near future.

  2. Complete agreement. Such risky concepts must be embraced, thereby offering a whole new array of means to share and market culture. As you say, the commercial end of it is nowhere near as safe as placing all the creativity into the hands on an elite few. Even as the concert itself may seem to be little more than a marketing ploy, the wide-reaching effects are potentially more intimate, and therefore, exciting.

  3. Many East coast Vocaloid fans are pretty much shaking their heads in envy.. and there’s lots of Vocaloid fans. But man CA people got whammed with so much, as with how convention times produce.. So no actual set list?

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