J-Pop Will Eat Itself
Yamaha Vocaloid Software



in this series, clicks’n’cuts dilettante Francis Henville describes his descent into the netherworld of Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean commercial pop. Track by track, he navigates deeper into the genre, searching for ever-more-toothsome morsels with which to satiate his jaded appetite…

Yamaha Vocaloid Software - Leon
Kimi No Uwasa


Yes, you read that title right. This year, Yamaha released a software program called Vocaloid. It’s a program that takes multi-samples of vocalists singing vowels, consonants and other tiny chunks of speech. Once the elaborate system of samples is prepared, it can be plugged into the software, and then a user can type words and program melodies that he wishes the program will sing. The program sings back the vocal part with astonishing realism, which, if not perfectly convincing, is nevertheless eerie in its accuracy. This track is one of the demo tracks that Yamaha produced to show off exactly what its new program can do. Although it’s not available commercially, as far as I know, you can download a copy for free here.

But I haven’t reviewed this song simply because of the original nature of its lead line. It’s a brilliant, direct and emotional piece of music. The track is only a minute and 53 seconds long. That gives just enough time for two verses, a chorus and an outro. The arrangement is simple: one synthesized voice, one acoustic guitar, a shaker, a tambourine, and one set of bell chimes. For all I know, the whole track could have been made inside a computer, but that’s not really important.

In less than two minutes this computer program manages to turn my heart into an eggplant. I’ve sat listening to this same track over and over and I’m still not sick of it. There is almost no intro—the guitar plucks a couple of notes, and the lead vocal comes in, singing a plaintive minor-key melody. The guitar plays arpeggios while the software gently articulates the particular problems faced by a man with an eggplant for a heart. As we reach the chorus, the shaker enters, with the tambourine accenting the two and the four, and the vocalist sings long obbligatos over the instruments. The track ends after a few repetitions of the pathetically sad chorus melody, and the bell chimes add a perfectly understated final flourish.

There are certain syllables that sound unnatural or synthetic—the most distinctive, to my ear, is the very Japanese pronunciation of the syllable “fu.” Unlike English, this sound in Japanese involves blowing a lot of air out of the mouth, sort of like when people with bangs try to blow them out of their eyes. Twice in the verses we can hear the vocalist sing things like “futari no kokoro” (two people’s hearts), but to a Western listener the first word sounds more like “phootari.” The other way in which the software reveals its true nature is when it sings certain long vowels, which sound robotically nasal, in a way that will remind most listeners of vocoded/autotuned vocals like Air’s “One More Time.” But to my ear, these are just distinctions that set the software apart from the human voice—pretty little decorations that no human voice could duplicate. Remember: one software program’s glitches are another’s features.

I could use this track to expound my cynical Marxist views of how computer programs are finally attempting to render the last mechanical instrument obsolete—man’s voice. But this track will convince you better than my thesaurus full of archaic adjectives. I will say, however, that the inclusion of this track in this series is intended to be a representation of the way that the musical instrument manufacturers in Japan are designing their products to fit into the J-pop paradigm (as my discussion of the “fu” syllable shows), which says something about the way this genre will certainly continue to influence the world—through R & D budgets and design choices, rather than through airplay.



By: Francis Henville
Published on: 2004-08-26
Comments (5)
 

 
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