Not surprisingly, there’s something profoundly interesting happening in Japan. The country has long been a hotbed for electronic instrument innovation with companies like Korg, Yamaha, and Casio paving the way with their legendary synths. These companies built synthesizers to eliminate the need for many physical instruments (such as the TB-303 which was made to replace a bass guitar but instead became the defining sound of a new genre called acid).
However, the company Vocaloid has built software to replace a very different instrument… the human voice.
With the purchase of their software and various plugins, users can enter lyrics and then play the voice like any other softsynth instrument. Each plug-in is made up of thousands of samples of actual human voices, giving each plugin voice a distinctive sound. What this means is that each “voice” is its own entity, similar to the characters of Damon Albarn’s “Gorillaz”.
The most famous of these characters is Hatsune Miku, who actually has live concerts where she is projected in front throngs of screaming fans. Seriously, she’s a big deal.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this movement is that these voices can be downloaded and used by anyone.
Meaning anyone can add to the character’s repertoire of songs.
Curious why you’ve never heard about this technology until now? Well that’s because unless you’re an American deep into Otaku culture, this technology has mainly stayed within Japan. The original Vocaloid voices were only built to accommodate Japanese language, making it hard to use with english lyrics. However, new english Vocaloids (like Ruby) have begun to emerge, allowing the phenom to truly be accessible to American audiences. Perhaps the most prominent example of this software being used in english is Porter Robinson’s “Sad Machine”.
For those willing to spend a little bit of money, this software offers unique opportunities to the creative and or vocally challenged!
If you don’t have money to spend though, software company Plogue has developed a free version called AlterEgo. While not as flexible as the official Vocaloid software, it still offers users that signature Vocaloid sound.
For more info on this movement check out Fusion’s fantastic in depth video.