Vocaloid: The Singing Voice Synthesizer

        Though you may have anticipated a bland introduction, as my voice lulls you to sleep, I’ll try my best not to torture you that way! Hey guys, my name is Shahroze Rauf and today, I’m gonna’ tell you something you’ve all been missing out on!

        Famous Philosopher Jean Baudrillard says in his book Simulacra and Simulation that “it is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real”.

        I didn’t count how many times I had to read this passage, but it was probably a two digit number. But understanding perhaps even the surface of what Baudrillard was trying to say proved to be difficult, but not impossible. And some of you perhaps missed that entire quote, but don’t worry guys, I’ll explain.

       You see, Baudrillard says that simulation, our connection to the world through the window that is technology, has become so frequently used in our daily lives that it has gradually become and, quite frankly overtaken, reality itself. Now I’m not gonna’ go into cosmic forms of philosophy where we see everything as a possible lie, ‘cause let’s be honest, it’s too much effort. But it’s impossible to refuse that perhaps Baudrillard’s statement holds some truth.

        Technology has come so far, with smartphones and machinery advancing into new models every year. But let’s take a look at technology that perhaps we didn’t know was being appreciated. Let’s take a look at Vocaloid. The singing voice synthesizer, a popular program used all across the globe to create music, with synthetic vocals. This software breaks down any language into phonemes, told by Linh Le to be “the smallest phonetic components of a language” in his article “Examining the Rise of Hatsune Miku: The First International Virtual Idol”. Then an actual singer records “voice samples to be stored in a database, a voice bank” Le says, which are then used and strung together to create songs. Most of the songs are posted on YouTube all the time, as the Vocaloid program slowly has become an entire genre of its own. Damon Beres in his article on the Huffington Post entitled “It’s Time For Everyone to Embrace Virtual, Holographic Pop Stars”, refers to Vocaloid as “astonishingly bizarre and perhaps the most significant thing to happen in pop music since Madonna humped the VMAs stage in her wedding dress”. But the Vocaloid program is only an umbrella that covers all the individual virtual singers, one of the most popular of the bunch being the computerized teen sensation, Hatsune Miku, “a blue-haired, futuristic idol” as mentioned by Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin in their book “Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media and Culture”.

        In my search to learn more about Vocaloid, I came across Michelle Clevett, a die-hard classic rock fan, and interestingly enough, a former Vocaloid fan. Luckily, I was able to get an interview with her, getting a lot of insight on this entire genre.

So you’ve listened to Vocaloid, right?

“Yes.”

And why did you stop?

“The truth is, I stopped because I lost interest in the genre itself. I hadn’t listened to Vocaloid as a dedicated fan, only a fair amount.”

Really? What was it about the genre that made you stop?

“I don’t know, the voices were a bit too electronic for me. I also began to lose interest in the fact that the singers were not real people. I felt that because they weren’t real people, I wasn’t able to make a connection with them as I usually would with the, you know, human artists I listen to.”

And that’s usually the main reasonfans are so connected to artists, because it’s the whole concept of a human to human connection.

“Right, but once its Vocaloid, that connection is gone, and that’s why I think many people, including myself, refuse or slowly but surely stop listening to Vocaloid music.”

So you realize that Vocaloid has become widely popular, right?

“Yes.”

Have you heard of the hologram concerts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O17f3lB7BFY)?

“Yes I have.”

What do you think of ‘em?

“I think they’re actually pretty cool. It’s not hurting anyone, if people want to go and spend their money to attend such concerts, I say go for it! Seeing an artist live is a key part of liking that artist, so if Vocaloid can get that element down, it works for the fans! It’s part of creating that fan to artist connection, even though I couldn’t feel it, I’m sure many fans, such as yourself, do establish this sort of bond or relationship with these virtual singers.”

Exactly! Vocaloid is such an abstract form of music that has come so far. It’s interesting how they’ve used this entire virtual concept that, kind of, you know, instigated advancement in technology. But get this, through a survey conducted on 17 individuals, who are all students at York University, 9/17 of them agreed that Vocaloid, being a form technological innovation, is not helpful or beneficial to the general public.

“Considering the large amount of fans, I’d disagree.”

That’s what I’m saying! But then again, I do get where these seven people are coming from. You see, our generation is so absorbed into technology.

“Yeah, you see kids with phones and iPads these days.”

Right! It’s all about being consumed by technology, by artificiality. A famous philosopher by the name of Jean Baudrillard focuses on the entire notion of simulation vs. reality, how these days we are “substituting the signs of the real for the real” in his book Simulacra and Simulation. And that’s what Vocaloid are seen as, “the signs of the real” that replace the real, and this entire dilemma of wanting to remain in reality repels people from exploring the technology that the world has to offer.

“In a sense I agree with Baudrillard’s philosophy, just because Vocaloid is not real or not as real as some other artists, people don’t want to give it a chance. There’s definitely a case of people claiming that our world is being overtaken by technology, only focusing on the negative impacts of technology. But Vocaloid is definitely a positive impact with the entire idea of music giving us emotional or psychological relaxing, to those who are dedicated listeners of this genre. Vocaloid is not a negative impact, instead an advancement, something new to bring to entertain people. You have the option, with Vocaloid to make music without instruments or actual artists.”

And this allows people, who do not have the talent in the vocal field to create vocalized music through programs such as Vocaloid. It creates a whole new change for creativity!

“Exactly!”

So how do you think Vocaloid may be a negative influence on the music industry or even society?

“I think it could be negative in the sense that they’re not real people, it’s instead solely a studio. It can easily become something that can change into a plot device of capitalism, something that basically becomes exploited for money. And because of this, the value of it can drop. This happens with real artists to an extent but there is still some level of respect these music companies have to give these artists, because they are real people. And I mean at the end of the day, it’s the artist who’s in control, to what they want or don’t want to do. They can easily refuse. But a Vocaloid can easily become just something for a music company or a record company to make money off of. The fans can become ignored as this form of music is then being manufactured rather than created as art.”

The abuse of this program is definitely possible. Vocaloid can indeed be used only as a tool to create money. This way the entire diverse and innovative, you know, creative-sphere is corrupted. And people sooner or later don’t want to be a part of this genre. But if we look at Vocaloid in a more general scope, specifically the persona created to be Hatsune Miku, we can see a bit more of who uses Vocaloid and the affects these users experience. Linh Le, in his article “Examining the Rise of Hatsune Miku: The First International Virtual Idol”, describes the green-haired female persona to be “less like [a] virtual diva” and “more like a mirror that reflects the life of the person who is using her at that moment”. This basically says a load about the people who use or listen to Hatsune Miku and why this specific young female person became popular.

“Well, I do think that Hatsune Miku perhaps appeals mostly to male listeners, and this suggests a possible sexual desire or fantasy, you know. However, I don’t believe it to be all bad that Hatsune Miku is famous, specifically due to her persona. For example, she is a young girl and perhaps appeals to other young girls who look up to her. And then again there are the innumerable amount of people who listen to this persona for the reason she was created, her music!”

So you believe there to be positive influence that comes from Vocaloid in terms of the music industry or even society?

“Totally! It’s what I said before, having these Vocaloid personas and genres is a different type of entertainment, it is positive for the economy. There are new jobs and new fields being opened up with this innovation. It’s a new way for Japan to show its own cultural or media pop figures to the rest of the globe. These personas that are created can definitely act as idols, not only in terms of music but for people everywhere, just like human artists.”

Vocaloid is definitely a strong form of innovation. We’re able to see forms of music and genres that are controlled solely by people who own these programs. Yes, as you said before there are industries that may corrupt this program with wide-ranged exploitation and industrialization, but Vocaloid is mainly a fan-based genre. Fans listen and if they want can create music through the program. The Doujin culture, with its roots in Japan, is a diverse Japanese culture, one that is “unique” as “it is made entirely by fans or for fans” as described by Linh Le. Vocaloid is a large part of the Doujin culture and in turn is a large part of Japan’s culture. As Vocaloid becomes a widely used software within the Doujin culture, it’s absolutely safe to say that Vocaloid allows for creativity and new forms of art.

“It’s like a common artist buying paints, Vocaloid allows even unprofessional artists to create music.”

Exactly! So when we look at Vocaloid in terms of Baudrillard’s philosophy and the influences it delivers on to the general public and music industry, can we really determine whether it is a good or bad influence?

“Obviously you can decide, but that is everyone’s personal opinion. We all have different views on Vocaloid and whether or not it’s bad. I don’t think it can be concretely decided what influences Vocaloid brings to our world. What my personal opinion is that Vocaloid could in fact be a good influence. It doesn’t harm anyone in an explicit way, we aren’t seeing immediate problems that arise. In fact, if people enjoy this genre and music, I say go ahead! Why not?”

        Whatever perspective we decide to look at Vocaloid with, we can never truly determine whether or not it’s a bad thing or a good thing! Vocaloid started out as a technological tool, but is now a medium of art, like an instrument is used to create a piece, or a paintbrush used to paint a scene. The use of this new technology can only be judged in the results it produces, or if it produces any results at all. Vocaloid has evolved into its own genre, with a diverse and creative force that drives it to exist amongst the net world, the people that use it. And as H. Kenmochi describes, Vocaloid songs are so popular that “hit songs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rFBkHb8CL8)

       Thank you guys so much for listening, I hope I didn’t bore you all too much. Perhaps even some of you will listen to Vocaloid music, and see what a diverse community the net world has to offer. Head on over to our main episode page to take a look at what we have to offer you, stay safe and have yourselves a lovely, and hopefully a bit more enlightened day!

        The music used in this podcast was provided by YEYEY, or “yayay”. The track names are Tidal Wave, Tiptoe, and Wild Things from the album “The Instrumentals”.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and simulation. University of Michigan press, 1994.Beres, D. (Ed.). (2015, September 9). It’s               Time For Everyone To Embrace Virtual, Holographic Pop Stars. Retrieved October 20, 2015.

Galbraith, P. W. (2012). Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture. Palgrave Macmillan.Goto, M. (2012). Grand                       Challenges in Music Information Research. Multimodal Music Processing, 3, 217-225.

Kenmochi, H. (2012, March). Singing synthesis as a new musical instrument. In ICASSP (pp. 5385-5388).

Le, L. K. Examining the Rise of Hatsune Miku: The First International Virtual Idol.

Rouse, M. (n.d.). What is ICT (information and communications technology - or technologies)? - Definition from WhatIs.com.       Retrieved October 20, 2015.

Music retrieved from:

The Vision Instrumentals (YEYEY) / CC BY-NC 3.0