Tag Archives: Vocaloid

Interview: Kumiko Murayama, IA Producer

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IA is a newer Vocaloid persona created by 1st PLACE, based on the voice of anisong singer Lia. Based on Vocaloid version 3, she has appeared in a few games, many Youtube videos, and other media, and recently got her own rhythm game, IA/VT Colorful.

At Anime Expo 2015, we spoke with Kumiko Murayama, the CEO of 1st PLACE and the lead producer of IA. She answered questions about IA’s origins and the future of music with Vocaloids in general.

This interview was conducted by Michael Huang and has been edited for concision and clarity.

How was Lia chosen to become the sampled voice of IA?

It was Lia and her management who came forward–she had gotten married and had kids, and was on maternity leave, so she didn’t have the time to continue promoting herself and continuing on as an artist. She wanted a way to keep her fans happy while also raising her family, and using the Vocaloid as a means to do that was something she proposed.

That’s really fascinating. Do you think that is something that singers who can’t perform as much as they like to might use to extend their artistic abilities in the future? Could it be a general trend?

One of the other goals Lia had was to become a worldwide artist, and at the time of her leave, she hadn’t met that goal yet. She wondered what could help achieve that goal. Since the Vocaloids are popular not just popular in Japan but all over the world, that was one way of pursuing that dream.

As for other artists using that approach and maybe making a trend, it sounds like it could be something that’s viable.

IA is based on Vocaloid 3, a newer version of the software than some other Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. How has the company used the newer features of Vocaloid 3 to produce IA, and how is it different, even improved over previous Vocaloids?

As technology comes out, there’s always new features that get added on. As we were developing IA, Vocaloid 3 had just come out, and there was a feature called “TriHorn” as well as many other features specified in the manual. But we used other features not in the manual, without specific names.

Vocaloid 4 is already out, and we put a lot of time and effort into IA’s development, so even though it’s still on 3 we think the quality matches that of 4. TriHorn produces much better, much more natural voice quality. It sounds a lot less animatronic and a lot more human.

Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)
Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

How long does it take to prepare for one of these live concert appearances, where she’s being projected onto the stage?

It depends on a case by case basis, but the one that you saw on the sample video, that took about half a year to produce. And the production that’s playing on July 4th for AX took about a year to produce.

IA has been used in different kinds of branding for different companies. Out of all the companies IA’s been involved in, which industry do you think has had the most impact in terms of attracting fans?

There was a game, Groove Coaster, that really helped internationally in getting people more familiar with IA overseas…people that played this game and went to Youtube to watch the videos. As a result we got 2 million views.

Do you think Vocaloid artists like IA or Hatsune Miku are the future of pop music?

The main mission or goal is to get a worldwide fanbase for Japanese music. For the most part in Japan, there aren’t a whole lot of new musical genres that are being created. [Instead] there’s a lot of refinement of the existing genres. This is taking a genre and giving it worldwide appeal and getting as many people outside of Japan interested in the music, and Vocaloids.

Do you see this beginning to spread outside the anime fan culture? Or do you see that as the primary audience?

We want to appeal not only to otaku and anime fans, but to make it mainstream, worldwide music. The way we feel we can do that is to create places where people can make that jump. For instance, “City Lights” was one of our big collaborations with a drum n’ bass group. So that was a way to get more people to become more interested. Similarly, Groove Coaster is not so much an anime, but it’s a music game, so again a bunch of people played that and become more interested in IA and watched all the videos on Youtube.

The grand plan is to bridge the gap between people who believe that Vocaloids are only for otakus and make it more widely acceptable. It’s not going to be like people are going to be turned off by looking at the image and thinking, “this is just another Vocaloid, this is just anime style and I don’t care about that.” The idea of this was to broaden the horizon for Japanese music in general, so that we have international customers who say that, “Oh I want to listen to Japanese music.”

Concert Review: IA and Wagakki Band @ AX 2015

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Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

IA

Having been told that the entire projection took an year’s worth of preparation by the producer herself, it should not have been surprising that the show began an entire hour later than scheduled. Something as complex as a Vocaloid hologram is likely difficult to set up and prepare for public performance, even though this is not the first time a Vocaloid has shown up at Anime Expo, and it is using a later (though not latest) generation of the Vocaloid software than Hatsune Miku. When IA’s figure, gyrating and swinging to the synthesized beat, rose onto the piece of transparent glass that is her medium, the crowd finally went wild, glowsticks aloft. There was much pent-up energy that needed release.

IA sounds smoother and more “natural” (i.e., more like a human voice) than her more well-known sister Hatsune Miku. Based on samples of the voice of anisong singer Lia, there are moments during the performance where, if you close your eyes, you can believe it’s a human being singing the song rather than a voice synthesizer–that is the difference between version 2 and 3 of the software. (This is quite different from Miku, who sounds like a robot, which is part of her charm.) It helps that a few of the songs are catchy in the inimitable J-pop way of most Vocaloid music, and for those who are into going full otaku with the glowstick motions, the songs are easy enough to follow along. Nevertheless on some songs the synthesized nature of her voice becomes apparent, especially during the “stage banter” parts where long awkward pauses give away the fact that everything was preset. The appeal of this sort of performance is going to be inherently limited so long as uncanny valley moments like this still exist.

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Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

The choreography of the projection and the human dancers that often surrounded her was reasonably well-rehearsed, though occasionally awkward. The animations themselves were well-captured, however, and it’s easy to see how it would have taken a year to record, animate, and render the dance moves.

IA does not have the fame or cachet of Hatsune Miku, who is the face of the Vocaloid phenomenon, but her more natural sound points toward an interesting possible direction for this sort of singer: there may come a day when a Vocaloid will be almost indistinguishable from a live human voice. Whither, then, the future of pop music? Perhaps the tireless moe robot overlords are coming to a future stage near you.

 

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

Wagakki Band

On the surface, Wagakki Band could not be a more diametrically opposite act than IA. Wagakki Band, for one, was a live band, with all their musicians playing real, even oversized, instruments. Many of those instruments are the ancient ones of Japanese traditional music: taiko drum, koto, shamisen, shakuhachi flute.

Yet, there is also the drums, guitars, and bass of modern heavy metal too, and it becomes apparent that Wagakki Band–despite its name which means “traditional Japanese instrument band”–is a thoroughly modern concoction, a cultural and technological collision as profound as that of a robot animated singer. It would be accurate, in fact, to say that Wagakki Band is more a hard rock/metal band with traditional Japanese flourishes, as Beni Ninagawa thrums on the shamisen like a hard rock guitar player with a pick and, during a thrilling drum solo between drummer Wasabi and taiko player Kurona, they bang out a talking drum duet as hard and fast as the great rock drummers of yore. (I was reminded of a heavier version of Chester Thompson and Phil Collins’ drum duets during Genesis’ latter prog days, but that may be a bit obscure for many readers.)

The thing is: this works. If you are a fan of hard rock music, the powerful, shigin-tinged vocals of Yuko Suzuhana belting out the theme from Samurai Warriors will excite as much as any female rocker. Crunchy riffs from Machiya rock as hard as anywhere else–occasionally sounding like John Petrucci of Dream Theater (whose music played, appropriately, over the PA during the intermission between IA and Wagakki Band). The melodies are much more traditional if you listen hard, but somehow lend themselves to rock much more than one thinks–and much more than the comparatively limp studio recordings suggest. This is a band best appreciated live, by far. They may not dance quite like IA, even though they do sometimes sing Vocaloid songs in their inimitable style, but they certainly know how to rock out, on the usual instruments as well as the wagakki instruments they are named after.

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

The Wagakki Band set, for this relatively unfamiliar newcomer to their music, was consistently exciting and full of energy and rock goodness, with only an occasional moment where the loudness appeared to peak out the PA and cause some clipping. This is normal for a lot of rock shows, however, and convention concerts in particular, where live instrumentation is not as common. It was not enough to flag the energy of the crowd madly waving the same, somewhat faded glowsticks from the IA set. Their encores were well deserved, even if it was a repeat of the song from the start: a reminder that this is a still relatively new band just beginning to find its stage all over the world.

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Photo by Lily Huang (Sh1zuka)

Moe Day! October 10th, celebrating with Megurine Luka.

Happy Moe Day! In kanji, Tenth (十日) + October (十月) = Moe (萌). So, here I present a song featuring Megurine Luka.

So basically, I redid a Black Day song, I peropero 2D Girls, with Luka on vocal. I originally wrote this song for Luka, but didn’t have her at that time. But finally I got her now. Yes, her voice (CV: Yuu Asakawa, a bimajo of the seiyuu world) is perfect for bossa nova, my style!

From now on, I can record songs without my crappy voice. Yes, female voice has always been my dream. I wish I had that voice but I was born male unfortunately. And I don’t have any 3D girl to sing my songs either since otaku songs are “perverted” in the eyes of general folks, ippanjin, so yes, this proves my point that 2D girls such as Luka are better than 3D girls! She’s a manna for hentai-shinshi (perverted gentleman)!

And the good thing about Luka is she can sing in English. Still, some pronunciations aren’t as clear as Japanese though, and it also makes me re-realize how complicated the language English is. Too many consonants and vowels for the vocaloid to utter sounds clearly, which makes it extremely difficult to program. How come this obnoxious idioma idiota has become a world language? F@cking imperialism. Colonialism’s sin is still intact, but I got no choice but to deal with it. Maybe there’s a trick to make pronunciations clear, but still haven’t found yet. So, I put the lyrics below, since some words aren’t clear enough.

Anyway, this is the first attempt, yes, for the very first time~♪ I was once a vocaloid virgin, but today, I hereby declare that I lost my virginity to Luka! And I thought Moe Day was the perfect day!

“Peropero” is a licking sound in Japanese, which basically has replaced “moe moe kyun.” So, now today can be Peropero Day. I have a moe on 2D girls = I peropero 2D girls! So there you go!

I Peropero 2D Girls

All I want is kiss, for Paradise Regained
So I snuck the drink she had, *Dokupe’s Lonely Hearts
Indirectly I had skinship with her

But she caught my sin, and she grabbed her phone
She said, “Noli Me Tangere (Don’t you get near me). Or I will call the cops!”
Won’t she ever get I was in love with her?

Those 廃人(drug addicts) have found LSD
But we the 2D girl addicts are gonna find true love in 2D
We’re gonna build our own harem of loli, tsundere, twin tail
But you see, all I taste is just LCD

So I peropero twin tail
Peropero tsundere
Peropero yandere
Loli/yojo peropero
Peropero peropero
But taste of my tears mixed with LCD

*Dokupe – An abbreviation of “Dr. Pepper” in Japanese.

 

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 2

“Bronze Tier” should have been a tip off that something was amiss…

Day 2 was going to be Ground Zero for me: the day that I had anticipated the most as a fan. The day of the Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction concert.

I did what I did last year for the press Kalafina tickets: I got up earlier than all of my blogger roommates, headed to the convention center, and waited outside the closed press lounge for our two allotted tickets for the Kajiura concert. To my surprise, the staff opened the room early, and I was able to charge my equipment while waiting.

When 9 AM, the appointed time for ticket distribution, came—there were no tickets. They would be ready by noon, I was assured. Ticket printing problems had come up. I hung around the press room for another hour or so before deciding to head on out for the Vocaloid panel with Rome, Benu, and other press folks.

Now, I know little about Vocaloid and Hatsune Miku beyond the basics. I’m not familiar with the most well-known Vocaloid composers—Benu and Rome told me that the ones who appeared at the panel, like Kagome P, Deadball P, and Dixie Flatline, were actually some of the biggest on the scene. Despite my lack of background, the panel was thoroughly enjoyable. The songs were either hilarious or, in one case, a bit poignant. The composers were frequently funny and/or outspoke, with Kagome P giving a hearty “fuck you” to the Japanese government’s laws closing dance clubs early, and Deadball P being his best otaku self by declaring Miku his “waifu” and that he has had a baby with her. His song, “Japanese Ninja #1,” is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve heard or seen at this convention. Dixie Flatline told of how a Youtube video of last year’s Mikunopoils concert (I’m still smarting over having our videos taken down by Sega—but we still have them here!) inspired him to start his musical career over again.

I tried to buy Deadball P’s record after the panel, but it sold out quickly, and no wonder.

Smile for the fangirls.

Next up was the voice actor Nobuhiko Okamoto‘s panel (Seiji in Sakamichi no Apollon, Io in Acchi Kochi among others). Jeremy had suggested we try to cover the panel and then seek a private interview with him, since though he was grouped with the Fate/Zero team during the press conference the previous day, he wasn’t part of our private interview. Fortunately, press was allowed to take unlimited photography, so we sat in the front row taking pictures as he made his fangirls (and one crazy Index fanboy) swoon by doing voices and impressions. Okamoto is a very pretty man indeed, inspiring one shy fan to give him a gift and others to declare their love in Japanese. My attempts to live blog/tweet, however, were thwarted by the total inability of ATT’s 3G network to function on my phone. I got out a few tweets using Jeremy’s T-Mobile powered phone, though, in which the most interesting factoid to come out is that Okamoto would probably have been a shogi player if he didn’t become a voice actor.

Unfortunately, he left straight back to Japan right after the panel, so we couldn’t get our private interview. The Aniplex rep, however, was friendly and told us we can try to get in touch later, but we might have to be prepared to pay. Seiyuus, he said, typically require to be paid for interviews. I wonder whether this is one of the reasons why there was no junket this year—perhaps the indebted AX couldn’t afford to pay enough.

At this point, our staff writer ElectricV01 (Dan) came by. In the absence of a planned interview with infamous, PAX-expelled cosplayer Jessica Nigri, he suggested we interview another pro cosplayer, Yaya Han, instead. Having not heard of her until that point, I was surprised later by how famous she really was. We took a mere 15 minutes to come up with good questions and you can see the results over here:

This ended up being one of the few times I actually visited the Dealer Room this year. Having already broke my con buying budget by buying NIS America’s Kimi ni Todoke box sets at AM2 earlier, I couldn’t afford anything anyway. We did briefly note one big change, the return of Viz Media with a booth. For the past few years, they’ve eschewed AX in favor of San Diego Comic Con for their big booth. When I tried to get one of their famous canvas bags, it turned out there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get one. I’ll just wait until SDCC to get one.

Dan and I then decided to try to get into LiSA’s fan panel. We saw hordes of fans crowding around the hallways, with an entire room dedicated to line overflow. Press and industry were grouped together with Premier Fan ticket holders. The line filled up quickly, and we heard staff announce that the line was full and they weren’t able to seat anyone else. Fortunately, press was allowed to go in first, even before the Premier Fan holders, and we got a good seat near the front. Dan took pictures with the DSLR, and I borrowed his Verizon phone to tweet, as ATT was once again out. (I fully intend to switch providers now, especially since I’m off contract.)

LiSA was as winsome as ever, making cute faces constantly as we saw examples of her work. The questions the moderator asked tended to be super basic, like “do you like anime?” (to which the obvious answer, of course, is “yes!” and she repeated her bit about Nyaruko-san). If the Okamoto panel was filled with fangirls, this one was filled with fanboys. None of the questions were terribly engaging, as is the norm in fan panels, but the energy in the room was palpable.

After the panel, there was only one more event left to cover: the FictionJunction/Yuki Kajiura concert. We headed back to the press room, having already gotten our tickets around 2:45 PM earlier. We had been assured by the press staff that these weren’t, in KylaranAeldin of Nihon Review’s words, “bitch seats,” but the double row letters and the “Bronze Tier” designation was not encouraging. On leaving, the press staff told us no video, but we could take non-flash photography, which was a typical stipulation for most concerts we’ve attended as press. I could live with that.

The first sign that something was wrong was the seat locations themselves. They were all the way on the left edge of the hall, and near the back to boot. It was a poor location to shoot photographs, though I felt fine that my zoom lens could handle it. Then we were told, by fellow press members already seated: the rule was no photography of any kind, even for press. “Oh, they must still be negotiating,” I reasoned, and replied that the staff had told us otherwise. No, I heard; it’s an absolute blanket prohibition. This was later confirmed by a slide put up on the Jumbotrons.

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign

I admit: I was angry enough to issue several complaining tweets, which is not the norm for me. (Believe me, I’d much rather talk about Sato or someone else, but this needed airing, because others shared my frustrations, something which will be documented in a forthcoming report about press problems this year.) Apparently we were supposed to get better seats, but ticket printing issues prevented it, and we were supposed to be able to shoot pictures, but artist management overrode it at the last minute. This kind of treatment of press is poor, and hindered our ability to cover the concert, which for many like myself was supposed to be the highlight of the entire convention. The more paranoid Japanese management organizations, like that of Miyuki Sawashiro from last year, need to understand that the game has changed and that total control of artist image is less and less relevant in the Internet age.

Reluctantly, I put my press hat aside, and my phone. I decided to enjoy the show, and…you know, I really did. The vocal and instrumental performances, all of them live, were superb. The majesty and deeply emotional wells of Kajiura’s music came through, especially on the Madoka and Mai-Hime pieces. The numerous pieces from .hack did not move me as much, and there were points in the first half of the show that the songs seem to run together—adding some weight to the frequent charge that Kajiura’s music tends to sound the same. The camera director behind the Jumbotron, which was the only way to really see the artists from where we sat, was also a bit slow on the uptake; there were frequent pans to the curtains and non-playing musicians. But overall, as our reviewer as already said, the concert was an impressive musical performance. Despite my feelings about the management, the Kajiura and her singers and musicians did a fine job. I’m not going to let that ruin my admiration for the music.

Corn chowder at the Farm.

That was it for me. Instead of returning to my hotel room right away, I decided to eat a late dinner at a restaurant across the street to decompress a bit (the Farm of Beverly Hills), and then collapsed into bed shortly after. I missed 2DTeleidoscope and his Tanto Cuore playing anti-FictionJunction con apparently. :) Oh well…

Next: Day 3, my last day

Hatsune Miku: Mikunopolis 2011 Concert Videos

Well, everyone, the wait is over! We discovered that we indeed have permission to post our concert footage online, so long as we host it ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing here: posting all 6 concert videos which were taken down by Sega on Youtube, hosted on our own servers. They’re streaming, they’re instant, and they’re awesome. (And, unfortunately, they are Flash so iPhone/iPad users, no dice for now…looking into a solution for that. As an Apple user it pains me to say that, but this is a better, more universal solution than Quicktime for now.)

Anyway, enough yapping. Here’s the videos!

Clover Club

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Electric Angel

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Koi Suru VOC@LOID

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Poppippo

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Romeo and Cinderella

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World is Mine

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Vocaletariat at Mikunopolis, unite!

Vocaletarian revolution. Vocaletariat is a class of people using Vocaloid. Just like animetariat, and I’m sure many vocaletarians and animetarians overlap. Vocaloidian. Vocaloidist. Vocaloidism. Mikunopolis was surely revolutionary experience. Mikunocracy. Mikunocrati. Mikunology. Mikunolepsy. Mikunomancy! Continue reading Vocaletariat at Mikunopolis, unite!

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…

Bridging The Gap: Pre-Con Thoughts 2011

 

The second hand is growing louder, and fellow fans from all over are prepping for another go-round of that hallowed ritual that is Anime Expo weekend. For more than a fair share of years, the Independence Day weekend has also been synonymous with several things for me; overwrought preparation, space-making for colleagues & friends, panels, cosplay, meetups, artist alley, extended question and answer sessions, movie premieres exhibit hall hijinks, karaoke, beverages at inhuman prices, disorientation, loss of voice, exhaustion, etc. But this year, it all comes with a twist. And no, I’m not merely speaking of the inclusion of the risky AM2 venture beginning simultaneously a mere 30 miles away. That’s right, for my focus seems to be set in areas perhaps unsurprisingly not as related to anime as some would hope. And yet strangely, 2011 seems to be a full circle affair- if even at an artistic interest level.

For those unfamiliar with my fandom background, it all came round for the long haul after a sibling started bringing anime on VHS home in the late 1980s-early 90s, when at the time, personal interests were largely in the areas of reading, film, and most starkly, music. And we’re talking about being exposed to a world of sound that wasn’t sold at the local K-Mart. Having begun a dabbling in the avant garde, industrial, gothic & punk worlds, this was something of an exploratory period where as much as the sounds implied some not so safe notions, it suddenly felt as if the world had a great deal to offer rather than the usual servings dished out upon tables the mainstream over. It was the beginning of a much more macro vision of the world outside with sonic influences from anywhere including the middle east, jazz mixed with classical, accidental distortion, guitar crunch, pounding beats & enka-like vocals. No limit was the game, and it was nothing short of exciting. This even led to my own personal pursuits & hobbies regarding making music of my own. So it was perhaps this yearning for something new-mixed with a love of classical myth-telling that enamored me to anime in the first place.

Something that perhaps many are tiring of me saying on these pages. But it’s true. Anime to me exists as a sort of hybrid medium that straddles the worlds of the tangible, and the intangible. And just the right mixture can evoke some great catharsis for those willing to dive in. When meshed in the right notation, it can provide a high better than any illicit narco. For me, the Diet, is in that search. It’s that colorful equivalent to spending a few hours in a local used record store, musing over which artists to take a chance on, as well as partake of some old favorites.

So when I look at the events I’m considering for the weekend, perhaps it’s fitting that my core concentration seems to be aligned back into the worlds of musical expression, and the evolutionary possibilities therein.

Kalafina

Seriously. There was no way I was to let this one pass me by. And yet by all means, the younger, more pretentious me would probably have balked at the very idea of a handpicked femals vocalists handling a barrage of pre-packaged,  proto-goth opera tunes complete with glammy guitars. But to be honest, the Kalafina sound has been in the development for years in Kajiura‘s music. In many ways her sound has been the saving grace of many shows, so the very idea of catching this sound in full bloom seems irresistible. While in some respects, there is a part of me that may not be as wild about the more J-pop elements, there is something incredibly evocative about Kalafina that in a way seems like the perfect mix of the last twenty years of my music-loving life. So the live idea is a tiny step into the unknown for one more used to the more rough and tumble live club shows complete with alcohol & unruly front-row anarchy. One shall have to see.

MIKUNOPOLIS (Hatsune Miku LIVE)

Now if the younger me had seen the older me doing this, I believe an ugly split would likely ensue if not for one simple conceit: the real-world proliferation of the ever-inspiring anime concept of the virtual idol. Mesh this with the powerful VOCALOID software platform, and one has a potentially big moment for both the way not only US anime fans regard the music business, but in the very idea of the pop star in itself. Having a few years for YAMAHA’s signature aqua-haired muse to become something of an online legend, so in many ways, the internet phenom has been building up to this moment. And a part of me has been longing for this idea to come to some kind of evolutionary fruition. Now granted, Miku is far from attaining anything resembling a personality, and it is still kind of a downer that we’re essentially watching a projected image moving in sync to a live band. But the very idea that she has made it stateside, and with the promise of exposing even more fans to the phenomenon, as well as the software, and it’s easy to see why I would be excited. Miku is something of an icon for the further democratization of the music industry, and that’s a glowing plus.

As an added bonus:

AX Idol favorite, Stephanie Yanez is also to be performing alongside two other pals at both shows!

In a move that has only made life all the more surreal, Yanez recently teamed-up with local favorite, Po Lo(a cool guitarist, and buddy that seems to pop up everywhere. Any Ken Tanaka fans out there?) & the schizodelic electronic stylings of the one and only NVR-NDR. To describe NVR-NDR is near-impossible, even for me. Just imagine if your local arcade suffered an overdose of DJ Sharpnel & 8-Bit daydreams, and exploded, leaving nothing more than Amiga-pixeled clouds capable of causing some inexplicable fits of hallucinatory dancing. This project is also known for creating the Combo Attack podcast’s theme music, by the way. Handling both conventions, this unique trio is bound to make a fascinating splash this weekend. And in preparation, one may need protective gear.

Now it wouldn’t be Anime Expo if I didn’t indulge in the weekend’s primary attraction. And judging by the current schedule, it looks like I may be able to make a run to check out the Izumi Matsumoto panel if all goes well. Personally speaking, this is what this weekend has always been about. Whether it is to meet friends from around the world, to cosplay the latest icons, see some great new stuff (New Last Exile?- I so wish..), or just enjoy the company of a legion with similar passions, it can’t be denied that this is the core time to give thanks to those who have imbued us with so much. With both AX & AM2 on the path, things are guaranteed to be challenging- but perhaps this is the kind of test that fans need right about now.

Mai Waifu

As spring approaches, Valentine’s Day is upon us, and even the most hardened anime otaku’s thoughts must turn to love.

Though some resist this destiny, I will not run, scream, or fight. I have always been of the opinion that the most important decisions are those you make in an instant and stick with for a lifetime.

Therefore, in accordance with time-honored tradition,

Continue reading Mai Waifu