Hatsune Miku For Academics And For Its Fans: More Than A VST?

Hatsune Miku For Academics And For Its Fans: More Than A VST?

Dong Zhou

Hamburg University of Music and Drama (HfMT)

Hatsune Miku is one of the most well-known phenomena of music technology and multimedia music. It was at first just marketing strategy of the Vocaloid virtual instrument, but now a lot of artists throughout the world is paying attention to it. It became examples of virtual reality, visualization, voice synthesizing, home producing, pop opera, “social composing” and many edgy concepts. Seems like Hatsune Miku could present any of these popular themes in contemporary sound field, but when I tried to find the connection between Hastune Mike and other works from this field, I found there is always a distance.

Firstly, what is Hatsune Miku? This name can be referred to the Crypton Future Media’s Vocaloid software, or the cartoon character symbolizing the software. There are two non-related definitions here. One is about the sound technology; the other is about a visual work of character design. The software came much earlier than the cartoon character, then the company decided to have a cartoon character to reduce the correlation between the sound bank and its sound source (the sound actor Fujita Saki) so that the users are more likely to use it to create any styles of music. After that, there are derivative products only based on the sound (other virtual instruments, CD, karaoke tape, etc.); or only based on the visual work (plastic figure, Dakimakura, poster, etc.); and a combination of these two (rhythm game, opera, concert, etc.).

The ones combining sound and visual work are surely interesting to composers and media artists. But if we look at these pieces, we may find the combination is reluctant. For example, in the game, the main part is to press buttons in a sequence (which related to songs produced with Hatsune Miku sound bank) dictated on the screen, and there may be animation video played in the background with the cartoon character Hatsune Miku. A lot of gamers do not really care about what is played in the background. And other rhythm game such as Jubeat by Konami uses also songs with Miku’s sound but without the character, for gamers, it is not a big difference. Same things happen in the opera and concert. Although the opera “The End” and the concert “World is Mine” used both the sound and the character, using the sound without character in music theater (for example, Sound Horizon’s concept album “Idoheitarumoriheitaruido”) is totally no problem.

Later, different people created different elements based on either the sound or the visual work, but they are all regarded as elements of “Hatsune Miku”. The virtual costumes, 3D-model, hologram projection… were actually composed for different purposes in different contexts and different times.

So, when we talk about Hatsune Miku, we are talking a huge set of different works, the only similarity is they used the same sound or the same character. If we cannot say all works using Eastwest violin sound are related, we can be sure, that the phenomenon of Hatsune Miku is just something naturally happened in the digital era.

Brigitta Muntendorf mentioned Hastune Miku in her article “Social Composing” and named Hatsune Miku a typical example of it. But when the teenagers have no money to hire a singer for their songs, they found Hatsune Miku and used its sound, they did not think of what would happen afterward. They did not predict many people would start cooperating by composing with Miku’s sound and drawing Miku. Although there are quite a lot of people started composing with the sound because they like the cartoon character and they knew each other for the same hobby, but because the songs they composed are just the products of themselves, there is very little interaction between the composers (they comment on each other’s pieces but it does not influence on the pieces).

In contrast to what people may think that Hatsune Miku brought more communications among its fans, it perhaps reduced the communication. Producing with virtual instruments is more welcomed among anime lovers because they do not need to contact musicians to finish their music. Hatsune Miku made it even easier for those “socialphobia” composers – now they can accomplish songs totally alone.

But Hatsune Miku is indeed a good example for the prosumer music market. Everyone can be the producer and at the same time a consumer. The nature of “fan music (Doujin music)” and “fan video” in the anime world is amplified by Hatsune Miku. The works are usually non-official, self-published and do not need copyright, so it let more people rework on other people’s works. They listen and compose, in an academic view, it is already very close to the so-called collective composition or social composing. But the difference is that they are doing it without realizing it. They do not have a whole picture of all Hatsune-Miku-related pieces.

Hatsune Miku inspired us from a lot of aspects. With this name, people managed to show many sophisticated technologies and concepts to those who do not have any background of sound art; the technologies are used for entertaining contents. We could call it a pop culture, but the participants may have no concern. It is interesting to see how people react to these works. Perhaps instead of regarding “Hatsune Miku” itself as a contemporary artwork, we could learn from what it brought, and create works with our understanding of music.


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