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Hatsune Miku sings to sold-out arena
June 8, 2011 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku is the voice behind the globally famous Nyan Cat. Miku's first breakout hit was a cover of Ievan Polkka, aka the Leekspin song. Nowadays Miku is playing to sold-out arenas. But Miku isn't real. She's just a computer animation with a voice synthesized through Yamaha's Vocaloid software. But the audiences at her live performances are real. Here's a video of several hundred humans with glowsticks cheering the appearance of her holographic image on stage.

On July 2, an American audience will no doubt be excited to see the holographic Miku live in Los Angeles.

More info on this meme in this Rocketboom video (and yet more links in the Rocketboom wiki).

Previously. And this.
posted by mark7570 (52 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

Sharon Apple in 1994.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

Fully synthetic pop stars? They aren't even pretending anymore.
posted by ConstantineXVI at 6:57 PM on June 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

God the future is weird.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:59 PM on June 8, 2011 [12 favorites]

Showtime, Synergy.
posted by mhoye at 7:01 PM on June 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

Does reality really need to emulate another William Gibson novel?
posted by Ndwright at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2011 [18 favorites]

I'm going to Anime Expo, and while I have no real interest in Jpop, I almost want to go to the concert so I can pretend I'm living in a William Gibson novel.
posted by zabuni at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

seriously Ndwright! an Idoru????
posted by supermedusa at 7:03 PM on June 8, 2011

I had no clue that nyancat was Hatsune Miku, despite being a big fan of both....
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like this version better...
posted by jim in austin at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2011

Unsurprisingly, Warren Ellis called it in the air.
posted by mhoye at 7:06 PM on June 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

1) Curse you Ndwright

2) This is especially cyberpunkesque if you've ever been to the LA Live area where this will take place. It has giant animated screens everywhere, hawking all manner of products, and the place just gleams. If a spinner from Blade Runner landed in the middle of it, I don't think I would bat an eye.
posted by zabuni at 7:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sharon Apple in 1994.

First thing I thought of. The first Minmei holo can't be far away. With UpSkirt (R) technology for Wii U (TM) controllers.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:08 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had no clue that nyancat was Hatsune Miku, despite being a big fan of both....

It's not. The voice is a fan vocaloid (UTAU) covering her song.
posted by flatluigi at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Ahh - thanks for the correction, flatluigi.
posted by mark7570 at 7:17 PM on June 8, 2011

It's easy to dismiss Vocaloid as 'the future is weird', but the fact of the matter is that CDs using them have topped japanese sales charts and helped countless producers get off their feet when they've just been starting out in the music business. Many of those producers are now signed by Sony or other record labels putting out original work and working with some of the biggest names in Japan. It's not just 'oh look at this idol on this stage', it's a real tool that people have used to get started and progress in the music business. I disagree with the US marketing so far because the focus has been on concerts rather than 'here is what you can do with the software' - and that immediately leads people to Macross comparisons instead of seeing how far people have come with it.

The Los Angeles concert has been known for a while - since then there's been a slew of additional info as a multitude of Vocaloid composers, producers and Crypton staff will also be attending the event and the associated convention. In many ways the Los Angeles concert and convention could really make or break the software in the west.

The concert can sound very funky - it's using technology a couple of years old - but literally this morning a third version of the Vocaloid software was announced, together with upgrades to all of the current voicebanks and additional support for Korean, Chinese, Spanish and better English phonemes, and half a dozen new vocaloids to go with the dozen or so that already exist. The quality of the voicebanks are being improved all the time - some recent demos are here (Miku, Kaito) and the stellar here. (VY1, VY2)

Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku is the voice behind the globally famous Nyan Cat.

This isn't, strictly speaking, true - the song that was remixed into Nyan Cat was originally a Miku song, but the specific version used in Nyan Cat is the UTAU Momo, a free offshoot of vocaloid technology which could pretty much get its own post entirely if I weren't so lazy.

The concert can sound pretty stale - it's using technology over a year and a half old - so here are some more recent songs.

Rolling Girl
Mozaik Role
Once Upon A Me
Happy Synthesizer
A Piece Of You

... and there's a whole bunch more in my post in this previously.
posted by stelas at 7:20 PM on June 8, 2011 [11 favorites]

I like the idea of pushing how far artificiality in 'pop' music can go. My tastes are at the opposite end of the spectrum (or the artifice is hid really well), so stuff like this is only a few degrees away from the Lada Gaga/K$sha complex. It seems almost too on the nose, though.

The TV Tropes page for Vocaloid is pretty creepy.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:20 PM on June 8, 2011

Wurgh. Pretend I didn't completely lose my memory halfway through the post and completely miss it in previews.
posted by stelas at 7:21 PM on June 8, 2011

Her "Dark Woods Circus" makes me tear up a little.
posted by adipocere at 7:26 PM on June 8, 2011

Kraftwerk are better
posted by philip-random at 8:06 PM on June 8, 2011

You ought to see when she does a duet with Dr. Sbaitso.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:26 PM on June 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sharon Apple in 1994.

Kyoko Date in 1996.

AFAIK Kyoko Date was the first virtual idol to make actual concert appearances, rather than exist as a comic book character.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:33 PM on June 8, 2011

I'm sure this was posted in one of the previous Vocaloid threads, but I feel obligated to leave this gem here for those who haven't heard it yet. In composer Jake Kaufman's own words, it's "a placeholder theme song for a futuristic anime series with a post-apocalyptic vibe". It's got big choirs and guitar shredding and is just generally fun.

Though I think the Vocaloid technology is amazing, I haven't liked much of what I've heard done with it; this is one of the exceptions.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 8:34 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Um.. that "several hundred humans" video isn't Hatsune Miko, it's Kagamine Rin and Kagamine Len. Still Vocaloid, but based on samples from a different singer, and with quite different appearances.

But big thanks mark7570, I never realised till just now that Vocaloid had spawned English language products (Stars? - it seems they're called Engloids) such as Prima (Still Alive, Orinoco Flow), Sonika, and Big Al.
posted by Ahab at 8:38 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

As borderline-creepy as the virtual idoru concept is, it doesn't have to be limited to anime girls. Before Damon Albarn mostly dropped the cartoon-band pretense behind Gorillaz, they put on some sweet-looking live performances using similar technology.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:47 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow. Okay, this is something I didn't know existed until this post (the vocaloid thing).

I'm currently living in an odd state where my world is both diminished and richer for this knowledge.

I have to admit -- I'm impressed that they're actually doing concerts. Part of me wants SOOO bad for this to succeed when it happens here next month. Part of me wants it to fail horribly. Knowing Americans, I'm pretty sure it's going to tank, but one never knows.

If enough furries find out about it, it'll be a huge success.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 PM on June 8, 2011

Glamour and glitter, fashion and fame . . .
posted by BlueJae at 9:01 PM on June 8, 2011

Yeah, I think they want this song instead.
posted by mephron at 9:36 PM on June 8, 2011

I'm just geeking out about how fucking cool that hologram is.
posted by zardoz at 9:55 PM on June 8, 2011

If they can have Gorillaz concerts, this doesn't seem super far-fetched. I do realize that Gorillaz concerts come with the actual band performing live there though, so there is a difference, but you are still watching cartoon characters. I've been to a Gorillaz show and had an awesome time (minus the tall man in front of me whose shoulders I had to peek over).
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:02 PM on June 8, 2011

Eh, not that weird to me. Probably because Asia's tinkered with this virtual idol crap before. Living in Asia in the mid 90s, with Japan producing Date Kyoko, and Korea not far behind with Adam, and several other false start "cybersinger" projects, you would've thought virtual idols was the new space race. Hell, just typing those two names are bringing back some gnarly acid flashback-like 90s memories (it's like the drug taking scenes from Requiem for a Dream, except with quick shots of things like knock off Tamagotchis, downloading theme songs from anime shows like Slayers and Magic Knight Rayearth on dial-up, video game arcades, Sega Saturn and an ill-advised family trip to Okinawa).

The difference is, back then they tried to make a realistic 3D representation with a real human voice behind it. The interesting difference now is that even with better technology (as you can see in the concert clip), it seems like people are embracing more artificiality with their cybersingers with the case of Hatsune Miku and the other Vocaloid "characters".

Also we're talking about Japan, where cartoon voice actors can get loyal followings. Hell, anybody remember when Mari Ijima put out that album of songs she sang as Lin Minmei from Macross? Megumi Hayashibara's got a whole recording career doing theme songs and soundtrack work for shows she's worked on.

So I just shrug.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:24 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The difference is, back then they tried to make a realistic 3D representation with a real human voice behind it. The interesting difference now is that even with better technology (as you can see in the concert clip), it seems like people are embracing more artificiality with their cybersingers with the case of Hatsune Miku and the other Vocaloid "characters".

I think there's another rather significant difference. Date Kyoko was produced albums by an artificial singer - limited access, done by a company, etc. Vocaloid is readily available to everybody. It's crowdsourcing the artificial singing in a way that previous efforts really didn't. It's not just that there exist Hatsune Miku concerts and albums, it's that anybody can just download the software and make their own.

A voice actress recording an album in-character is a completely different animal from someone downloading Miku and making songs from scratch. Not to mention the whole MikuMiku Dance thing.
posted by kafziel at 10:45 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

the liquid oxygen: it's here too!
posted by casarkos at 11:38 PM on June 8, 2011

Realtalk: You know, the world in general is pretty disappointing and dark, these days--

But I look at this, and I can't help but say to myself, "I guess maybe we're not doing all that bad".
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:48 PM on June 8, 2011

the liquid oxygen and casarkos: !!! As long as you've linked to my first Vocaloid track, perhaps you'll allow me to shamelessly flog my second Vocaloid track -- the title theme of my company's newest DSiWare game, Mighty Milky Way. I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's probably the first commercially published Western game to use Vocaloid in the title song (and dear God, I love my director for letting me do it), but I don't want to make false claims, so if you can think of an earlier example outside of Japan, please let me know.

My take is that Vocaloid is just like any other novel method of synthesis -- awesome and weird and indispensable in certain cases, tiresome when overused. But it's also a great way to "sketch out" temp vocals if you don't have access to a good human voice, which many of us cave-dwellers don't. It really is fun to play with.
posted by jake at 12:11 AM on June 9, 2011

There's a theory, which I first heard from Nation of Ulysses/Make-Up frontman Ian Svevonius, that the history of pop music has been warped by a capitalist plot to venerate the individual and maximise music industry profits - orchestras were replaced by big bands, then small groups, then solo stars. (Given the CIA's very real attempts to promote the cult of individualism in post-war Europe via the Association for Cultural Freedom, this isn't all that implausible.)

It seems fitting that the final stage in this experiment, in which the solo artist is replaced by a pure techno-capitalist profit-generating product, should take place in Japan, where popular culture was deliberately reformatted by the US  as, to deliberately misquote MacArthur, "an edifice dedicated to the supremacy of [the] individual".

Note to self: stop watching Adam Curtis documentaries.
posted by jack_mo at 12:21 AM on June 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is this what my children will be listening to? Dear god!
posted by ichimunki at 1:32 AM on June 9, 2011

You ought to see when she does a duet with Dr. Sbaitso.

Produced by DJ Sushi K.
posted by Evilspork at 1:48 AM on June 9, 2011

Scene of a lumberjack band playing Ievan polkka in a 1952 Finnish film
posted by Anything at 2:56 AM on June 9, 2011

I just watched that video. They were like totally lip-syncing!
posted by mikelieman at 3:01 AM on June 9, 2011

Apparently also using 'virtual instruments'...
posted by Anything at 3:01 AM on June 9, 2011

I think the whole Miku in real life thing is brilliant, especially how popular the leek association became, to the point that people at concerts are waving glowing leeks in the air. It's such a great example of random madness snowballing.

There's a blu-ray video of the whole concert from the several hundred humans link floating around out there (try searching for ミクの日感謝祭). They go through a pretty impressive number of songs, and there is actually a live band playing down the sides of the stage who really get to funk out sometimes.

Alternatively, you could become Miku with Kinect, and play a terrifying paintball game.
posted by lucidium at 3:08 AM on June 9, 2011

Its amazing that they have the technology for those holograms! And there's a .cat TLD! Who knew?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 3:10 AM on June 9, 2011

Thanks for the correction, Ahab. Best I can tell, the video is from a Miku concert but the characters on stage in the video are, as you point out, Kagamine Rin and Kagamine Len. I guess they're co-stars, of a sort? The LA concert shows Miku as the main draw with Rin & Len in the background.
posted by mark7570 at 3:32 AM on June 9, 2011

Aw, man, I'd really like to see one of the holographic Miku concerts, but I can't see travelling to LA for it.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:15 AM on June 9, 2011

Before people get all freaked out about the hologram thing...

It's really not a hologram. It's a high-quality video screen running a pretty good flat 3D rendering.

It's not a 3D image made of light standing in space.

Here's footage of Madonna performing with Gorillaz at the Grammy awards from a few years back.

Here's an explanation of the Musion Eyeliner system with a lot of showreels you can view.
posted by hippybear at 6:07 AM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's Hatsune Miku at the same concert (I think) as the Len and Rin footage.
posted by Kattullus at 7:15 AM on June 9, 2011

ConstantineXVI: "Fully synthetic pop stars? They aren't even pretending anymore."

There will be a day when the top box office movie has no actors in it. It'll be a computer-generated cartoon with computer-generated voices. I'm willing to bet that day will be in the next 15 years.
posted by Plutor at 7:54 AM on June 9, 2011

Xtranormal shows us that we're already on the way. I mean, xtranormal-generated videos are ridiculously poor quality, relative to what a dedicated, skilled team of animators and voice actors can turn out, but if you consider the rate at which automation techniques are being improved, I suspect there's a lot of room for the quality level to rise.
posted by Alterscape at 10:22 AM on June 9, 2011

Well, that seemed pretty good. It's not my kind of music, but it seems to be played (somewhat) live, and the hologram projection is really quite awesome. Nice animations, too.

I don't see why it's necessarily any stranger than Daft Punk or Kraftwerk.
posted by Harry at 3:15 PM on June 9, 2011

Glancing at the Wikipedia page: Miku has a racing car in the real world, actually, more than one.
posted by ovvl at 5:09 PM on June 9, 2011

it's that anybody can just download the software and make their own.

I wouldn't mind hearing the Miku cover version of 'Blind Man's Penis'.
posted by ovvl at 5:14 PM on June 9, 2011

The figure of "several hundred" concertgoers I think should be upped to several thousand. I think the LA concert this July is sold out at 7100 seats. As for the artificiality of the concert, it may be instructive to view this video of Britney Spears in Sacramento. Unless you've arranged to sit really close, you will see your clearest view of the singer on the Jumbotron. In popular music, we are accustomed to voices that are already filtered and amplified, if not pre-recorded for lipsync and maybe corrected with Autotune. The Vocaloid performance is almost intimate by comparison. Artificial performers are not in the near-future, they have been singing in live concerts for years.
posted by DanYHKim at 9:03 PM on June 17, 2011

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