The Sci-Fi Future Of Pop Music
Is the future of pop music a singing anime robot from Japan? Maybe. What’s more interesting is the technology behind Hatsune Miku, the robot in question, and how musicians can use it compose new music.
Korg recently released the Miku stomp box effect (which promptly got CreateDigital Music to write WTF? KORG Miku Stomp Box Sings Along With You, Vocaloid Style). Plug your guitar into this effects pedal and you can play a computer generated voice that sings along with you, in high-pitched Japanese tones.
The pedal is based on Hatsune Miku, a character developed to take advantage of Yamaha’s Vocaloid technology, built to allow real vocal samples to be turned into realistic computer generated singing voices. Hatsune Miku, whose name means voice of the future, was developed by Crypton Future Media, using samples from Anime voice actor Saki Fujita and visual style from Manga artist Kei Garou. Hatsune is only one of the virtual singers available from Crypton, but easily the most well known.
Once you but the software, you input melody and lyrics and Hatsune sings the tune for you. This, to me, is the most fascinating part of the whole process. Hatsune Miku rose to prominence thanks to the (massive) Japanese online gaming and social media site, Nico Nico, where users started posting songs they wrote and commenting on their favourite tunes. Reports suggest there are over 50,000 user generated songs out there!
Not only did individuals write songs, but songwriting collaborations developed and artists started to contribute visuals as well. There is a fascinating participatory element to all this, which is only compounded when we consider how popular Hatsune Miku has become among the growing Cosplay community worldwide. Hatsune Miku might be a virtual singer, but her image and sound feels very connected to our game and comic oriented zeitgeist.
It might be tempting to dismiss this as just another “weird Japan” story, but I’m not so sure this is just a local fad that will die out. Music has always had manufactured pop stars, so doesn’t it logically follow that one day virtual pop stars might be a possibility? After all, Hatsune Miku has already opened shows for Lady Gaga! And, we’ve already had Gorillaz live virtual show and of course, Tupac’s Hologram.
It pains me to admit it sometimes, but music is just not as central to popular culture as it was in my youth. Social media, online video and gaming have crowded out music in the minds of most youth around the world. Where music still has a stronghold in youth culture, it is often at the big, fantastical end of pop music, which in so many ways, is stuck in the past. What if pop really aimed for the future? Might it not look like this?