Hatsune Miku is one of Japan’s most iconic singers. She is tall and skinny, with long blue pigtails and a voice to die for – but, in spite of her success, she isn’t real.
Miku is a ‘vocaloid’, or a singing voice synthesister, whose songs have become massively popular beyond the shores of her mother country, not least because she is able perform for her fans as a cutting-edge 3D all-singing, all-dancing hologram.
She was created by Crypton Future Media, a Japanese music software company, in 2007 and since then she has collaborated with many artists including Pharrell Williams and Lady Gaga. Last Saturday at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, an impressed gathering was given an insight into what makes her tick in advance of an anticipated ‘real’ appearance in the UK in the near future.
“When you hear a Vocaloid you might think it’s weird and unique, but I don’t want people to only think that, I want Miku to inspire people to be creative,” says Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton. Since Hatsune Miku is a piece of music software that anyone can download, her fans can create new songs from their laptops that she could perhaps one day sing.
Miku is not just a recording artist; she has also performed in many concerts in Japan, Indonesia, the USA and Singapore. Itoh is hoping to bring Miku to the UK and says he is “only waiting for an invitation”.
In the mean time, he is trying to promote the software through events such as the one hosted on Saturday by the Japan Foundation, an Independent Administrative Institution that promotes Japanese culture in London. The event consists of a lecture on the music phenomenon, led by Itoh, followed by a discussion with the audience and with Goldsmiths’ Computing Department’s lecturer, Dr. Rebecca Fiebrink, and ending with a screening of Miku’s concert in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In a sold-out theatre of the Rich Mix building there is an interesting concoction of people: from older people who look like academics and music technology enthusiasts, to young Asian girls and British teenagers, many of whom are wearing blue wigs and long gloves, in attempts to look like the anime character.
The lecture starts with a background of the character. Itoh explains that the idea came from the presence of virtual instruments, such as the violin, the piano and the guitar, but the lack of the most important instrument: the human voice.
The most fascinating aspect about Miku, and the reason why people can feel the connection with her is the fact that Crypton Future Media does not hold many copyrights over her. It is a product for everyone. It is a platform for her fans to be creative, by choosing her outfits, creating her songs and making any kind of commercial object possible, from stickers, posters and dolls to food and drinks products.
“There’s a key concept here that we call the chain of creation,” says Itoh. “To help this grow we created a website called Piapro where people are able to upload the images and the songs they create themselves,” continues Itoh. “There is one rule on Piapro and that is that as long as it is for non-commercial purposes, you agree that anything you upload onto the site can be used by other people in their creative activities.”
Another reason why people love her so much is that, as the meaning of her name suggests, she brings to us the sound of the future. “Sonically it is an inhabiting and interesting space,” says Fiebrink. “They’re able to do expressive things with the voice when is synthesised that can sound really good. These are singers that could have unlimited pitch range unlike real people. You could add colorations to the voice over the course of a song that a real person couldn’t achieve.”
The screening comes next. I must say that for someone who hears about Miku for the first time, the whole phenomenon will probably sound extremely strange. How can so many people attend a concert, just to see a projection of an anime singing with a computerised voice?
But I soon realise that the concerts are amazing – thousands of people holding glowing sticks follow the rhythm of the music while observing the figure on stage dancing along a specific choreography, different for every single song. Miku is changing outfits in a flash and when she needs a break, because, after all, she gets tired as well, other Crypton Future Media Vocaloids take her place.
What intrigues me the most is seeing the fans present at the event not discouraged by the fact that they are not able to interact with Hatsune Miku herself, they are just very excited to meet the CEO of the company, get his autograph, and take a picture with him, just any fan would do with a real singer.
“I really like her music and I love so many of her songs, so many outfits,” says fan Janelle McCurdy, 19. “I actually found out about her in 2008 and she kind of introduced me to the world of music. I was able to make a lot of friends through her, so I’m really grateful,” says Annie Yin, 19.
These girls are just some of the few people hoping to see Hatsune Miku in the UK in a near future.
Learn about Hatsune Miku here.