Vocaloid, Holograms, and You

A few years ago, we were lucky enough to be invited to the X Japan Reunion Concert at the Tokyo Dome. However, I was rather confused to see the bassist who died in 1998 up on the stage. Would they be so crass as to put an actor in his place? An impersonation? No, instead, it turned out it was a hologram. And a damn good one, at that.

In fact, it wasn’t until intermission that I realized that the performer, perfectly represented on the jumbotrons with what I later found out was footage spliced in from earlier concerts, was not actually present. Of course, the Tokyo Dome is huge, but even from our floor seats in the press pit (i.e. really close to the stage) I still couldn’t tell.

So it comes as no surprise that not only is one of Japan’s hottest acts currently a hologram, but there isn’t even a real person behind the music, other than a voice actress whose voice has been sampled, and now lives a life of it’s own in the guise of one Hatsune Miku, in a genre called Vocaloid.

It sounds a bit like something out of a Science Fiction flick (or the movie Simone) but this character has become a huge hit, and a number of my students have declared their obsession with this artificial artist. In fact, she’s so big that she’s even crossing over to the States with success many breathing Japanese artists would kill for (or at least, pull the plug, *rimshot*)

Toyota recently released this Corolla commercial, which seems surprisingly niche (and not a little bit awkward, honestly…big dreams? Works of art? Why is this dude still talking?) Still, it’s interesting for what it represents. I love when things that my students actually care about get such mainstream attention in the States, and it’s exciting to see this cross-cultural interaction.

In fact, Anime Expo just announced Hatsune Miku will be “performing” at this year’s event, with an epic 3D concert, and from the sound of it some people are pretty excited. She’ll also be a “virtual guest,” so I can’t help but think of this blue-haired hologram hanging out on the couch in the green room, or heading to dinner with the other Guests of Honor. Who knows, maybe someday?

What do you think? Do you love Vocaloid, or does it come too close to the “Uncanny Valley”? Are you beguiled by this beauty, or do you prefer your performers breathing? Will you be heading to Anime Expo this summer to check it out?

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About superhappyawesome

Living in Japan!
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18 Responses to Vocaloid, Holograms, and You

  1. Blue Shoe says:

    I’m not a big fan, but I suppose it depends on how you approach it. It’s basically just a hi-tech singing and dancing puppet. I guess some people are into that.

  2. kalidor says:

    I’m just waiting for the guy who comes to the concert trying to hack the server and get Miku to come to his seat … then she goes to the seat of one of the people he came with ….

    Oh wait … that’s Macross Plus…

  3. Jake Was Here says:

    The thing I like most about the Vocaloid movement is that it’s almost totally a crowd-sourced, grassroots thing, independent of the mainstream Music Industry; Miku’s fandom was a going concern for three whole years before the record labels, Sega, Toyota et al. started jumping on the bandwagon to lend support. And there’s the additional advantage that since Miku’s not real enough to hog the spotlight, the real creators of the music — the composers, producers, the arrangers (even the animators who “direct” music videos) — wind up getting the attention they deserve, which doesn’t happen often in J-pop unless you’re Kajiura Yuki or someone on that level. The vast majority of the Vocaloid repertoire has been created by lone individuals experimenting in home studios, and these characters have become their key to getting attention; this would never have worked without Miku and the rest… things simply have not been done this way before.

    Miku is the perfect object-lesson for the decentralized, do-it-yourself era of Internet creativity. People are making their own films and shows, publishing their own books and comics, producing their own music, programming their own video games… and now they’re building their own pop stars.

  4. Shaun says:

    I went to that X Japan concert too. Did you get in free? I’m jealous, it cost me an arm and a leg. That Hide hologram was projected onto some smoke wasn’t it?

    The main problem with the Miku and their ilk is that when you compare them to a real singer they sound tinny and horrible, imagine your favourite song sung by a dalek….

    Unless that singer uses the autotune thing, then they sound like a robot too.

    I don’t think the designs of these vocaloids is affected by the uncanny valley feeling though. They are manga style so they are not even trying to look realistic.

    • Yeah, we did get in for free…being a nerd for a living has some perks πŸ˜‰ They do seem a bit uncanny to me, but I think that comes more from the crowd’s interaction with the performance than anything. Also, the voice does sound kind of tinny, especially in the Toyota commercial. I want to check out more songs now to compare…

      • Tiffany says:

        I noticed that the commercial version sounded sucky compared to what I’m used to hearing, but I haven’t actually sat down and compared them.

        As for the Toyota thing; when I first heard about it I was grinning like mad, totally shocked and excited! I think it’s awesome that they’re using something so cool, but I do wonder about how effective it’ll be with the average viewer? Most people will be sitting there like: “Wtf did I just see? o_e”.

        There are some Vocaloid/Utauloids that sound more realistic; Miku is on the electronic sounding side of the line.

        The sheer number of songs produced by independent musicians for Vocaloids is staggering! As an 8 year choir singer I find this totally cool. >u< The world around me is opening up to the awesome Japanese culture I've loved for so long.

        That hologram thing is crazy cool, by the way!

  5. When I first heard about Vocaloid I was really excited, but that stems from a combination of a love for electronic instruments and my own inability to sing. So as an instrument I find it intriguing in certain genres of music, and while I can understand why they put characters on different voices, it’s the scale of the popularity I don’t understand. That, however, seems to be Japanese pop culture (or maybe just pop culture in general) – phenomenons that seem to come out of nowhere.

    As for uncanny valley, I agree with Shaun. They’re not trying to be too realistic. If anything it’s the opposite effect, in which people go for figures that scarcely look human.

    • It feels a bit uncanny to me, but I think that’s more from the crowd’s interaction with the performance than the performance itself. They’re SO into it! That’s a cool point about voice-as-instrument, but I agree–it’s bigger than I can really understand, I think!

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  8. … It wasn’t the bassist of X Japan, it was the guitarist, hide. ._______. ;

  9. 17022006 says:

    You’re so lucky that you are able to go to such things. I don’t live in Japan so for me it’s just a fantasy 😦 But i have decided to raise the money for me and a few friends to travel all the way to Japan to see our idol live.

  10. XXXXOOOO says:

    don’t you realize that this “hologram” will continues and finally, all singers (including JB) will not be needed anymore! because hologram is perfect THEY DON’T MAKE MISTAKE.. and humans not, they make mistake..

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