This Rocking Lead Singer is a 3D Hologram (video)

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vocaloid-hatsune-miku

Hatsune Miku isn't real, but her popularity is.

The internet is such a big place that sometimes I stumble onto huge trends that I’ve never even heard of before. Case in point: Hatsune Miku. She’s a Japanese pop diva who’s just started to play massive stadium concerts to sold out crowds. Her hair is blue, she dresses like Sailor Moon, and she’ll only appear in concerts via a 3D ‘hologram’. Oh, and did I forget to mention that she’s completely fictional? Created by Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku is a virtual singing avatar that you can purchase for your PC and program to play any song you create. She and her virtual colleagues have gone on limited tours in Japan and virtual avatar song writing is a growing trend all over the world. Surprising? Perhaps, but the thing that really blows me away is that I actually like her songs. Check out Hatsune Miku’s performance of Stargazer in the video below. Not bad for JPop.

Watching Miku sing live is pretty amazing. The 3D ‘hologram’ isn’t that impressive, it looks to be a modern version of the pepper’s ghost illusion we’ve seen before, but the crowd reaction is intense. I’ve been to concerts where the band’s fan base was considerably less enthusiastic. How must it feel to be a musician and see this virtual character getting way more love than you? Hatsune Miku and her ‘friends’ may only have played a few tours, but there’s little doubt that these guys are rock stars:

In order to create a character that sounds believably human, Crypton uses a real person’s voice as the basis for the avatar’s distinct singing style. The adaptation of someone’s singing voice into a character that a user can program to sing anything has lead to controversy. Real musicians have been loathe to step forward and submit their voices for fear that they’ll be replaced by a virtual copy of themselves. Instead of professional singers, Crypton has hired cartoon voice actors to provide the basis for their avatars. Miku is reportedly created from the voice of Saki Fujita.

The technology for Crypton’s Hatsune Miku program comes from Yamaha’s Vocaloid software which provides the means to create a realistic synthesized singing voice. You can hear samples of the raw Vocaloid synthesizer (which hasn’t been styled to fit any particular character like Hatsune Miku) on its website here. Miku and other avatars retail for ¥15,750 (~$193) and allow users to compose music and connect it to vocals note by note. You can share the songs you create via sites like Piapro (JP). Writing music for virtual avatars has become so popular that Crypton has established a music label, KarenT, and you can see many of the associated music videos for these songs on their YouTube channel.

It’s hard to quantify how large of an impact Vocaloid software is having on popular music. Yamaha doesn’t directly market the software itself, instead relying on licensed developers like Crypton (in Japan) and Zero-G (in the UK) to sell various products based on the technology. There are many sites like Piapro where users can share their work, and many simply skip forums and go straight to YouTube. There are various blogs and sites dedicated to discussing the Vocaloid phenomenon (I recommend you start with Vocaloidism), and there are karoake and music-composing video games featuring some of the most popular avatars.

It seems clear that virtual characters like Hatsune Miku are on the upward swing of their popularity. Crypton’s avatars have played several live concerts in the past year. Miku’s first ‘solo’ performance took place on March 9th, and was titled Miku no Hi Kanshasai 39’s Giving Day – this is where the Stargazer performance was recorded. DVD and Blu-ray copies of the performance are set to be released globally, and there have been screenings of the concert in San Francisco and New York. The tour coincides with the release of the Hatsune Miku Project Diva video game from Sega.

Having just been introduced to the Vocaloid scene, I’m sort of in awe. Not by the quality of music – some of it is good, but mostly it’s pretty generic mainstream stuff. No, I’m impressed by the possibilities created by such virtual avatars. YouTube is already full of videos where users mix and match songs to various pieces of art, and remixing/sampling is a global music phenomenon. Now, these secondary source musicians have a whole other tool in their belt. They can have high quality virtual characters sing whatever they want. Modern technology is merging producers and consumers of art into a new being – the prosumer. Avatars like Hatsune Miku are accelerating that process, allowing us to generate more quality content on our own, and share that content with anyone via the web. In the future we will all be a part of this exchange of creative prosumerism. Ask not for whom the 3D hologram pop star sings – it sings for thee.

[image credit: Segabits]

[sources: AnimeNewsNetwork, Crypton, Vocaloidism]

Discussion — 42 Responses

  • Jeremy October 20, 2010 on 4:09 pm

    “The adaptation of someone’s singing voice into a character that a user can program to sing anything has lead to controversy. ”

    Imma be the upgraded new negro
    Imma be the average brother with soul
    Imma be world wide international
    Imma be in Reo rockin Tokyo
    Imma be brilliant with my millions
    Loanin out a billion, I get back a trillion

    (Sorry, you set me up for that one)

  • Bleeeps October 20, 2010 on 4:37 pm

    <3 Miku for ages now !!!

    "Love is war" , way more popular !! There's a myriad of great Miku songs ..

  • eFicMag Editor October 20, 2010 on 4:50 pm

    That is incredible! There’s a robot pop singer and now a hologram pop singer, what is next?

    • Zethreal eFicMag Editor October 21, 2010 on 1:23 pm

      A holographic robot pop singer? It’s the only possible next step!

      • Todd Zethreal October 21, 2010 on 5:29 pm

        No, the next stop is a robotic manga pop singer that comes to my house and performs just for me… ;)

        • Awesome Todd October 22, 2010 on 12:46 am

          Very possible I would say.

          Would need “hard light” for lap dances tho <.< . ……… H

      • Doombot Zethreal October 27, 2010 on 8:13 am

        Well, apparently Miku’s supposed to be an android, so they have you covered.

  • Jeremy V A Das October 20, 2010 on 6:03 pm

    A few points on Vocaloids. NB This info is at least a year out of date, so please check what I say before taking it as fact:

    1) the animated avatars that people use with Vocaloids are not supplied by the manufacturers. As far as I can remember these are available as freeware elsewhere but I may be mistaken. (By the way, Hatsune Miku is itself a Vocaloid, not just the name of its avatar).

    2) Don’t buy a secondhand Vocaloid without checking whether you will be able to get a license for it. As far as I know this is not possible (thanks to Yamaha) and the European manufacturers of Vocaloids don’t bother to publicise this fact.

    3) Don’t buy a Japanese Vocaloid unless you can read Japanese.

    4) Getting a Vocaloid to sound good is very time consuming, since the technology is at a primitive stage of development.

    • Bleeeps Jeremy V A Das October 20, 2010 on 6:14 pm

      @ Jeremy
      Your point 3.

      As I remember , Prima is english so you can install Prima’s softwxare in english and add Miku over it later (or the other way around).

      When i messed with it (yes more than a year ago , but vocaloids are still hot !!) i distinctly remember being able to have the whole program running in english !

      However ! i do think Miku only sings in japanese and EngRish .. there is no real English miku vocaloid mode. IE : Typing in the lyrics to “God save the queen” won’t make miku sing it in english.

      Again .. this being said .. there are ways around that as you can see here:

      What you lose in accuracy you gain back in charm!!

    • Awesome Jeremy V A Das October 20, 2010 on 6:17 pm

      Primitive ..

      HA! About as primitive as making a robot army riding cloned velociraptors to invade a parallel dimension !

  • Stepan Zastupov October 20, 2010 on 9:00 pm

    Oh come on, no one remembers William Gibson’s “Idoru”?

  • Klas_klazon October 21, 2010 on 12:40 am

    Here’s a nice HD clip from one of Hatsune Miku’s concerts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTXO7KGHtjI

    • Joey1058 Klas_klazon November 8, 2010 on 11:33 am

      So they finally released the DVD? I knew it was out this month. I had it on order from Amazon.jp, but I had to cancel it because I got my exchange rates wrong. Now I’m going to regret it. :-(

  • Orr_shomroni October 21, 2010 on 7:25 am

    Ehm… didn’t Kurzweil already made a singing hologram before, which inspired the movie Sim1ne?
    Nevertheless, a very impressive piece of work. Only in Japan, unfortunately :-(
    When will the Gorrilaz be brought to the holographic dimension?

  • Max October 21, 2010 on 8:00 am

    I think you completely missed the real point of this innovation… Gorillaz concerts are gonna be so badass from now on!

  • bd_ October 21, 2010 on 8:57 am

    “Yamaha doesn’t directly market the software itself, instead relying on licensed developers like Crypton (in Japan) and Zero-G (in the UK) to sell various products based on the technology”

    Your information’s a bit out of date – Yamaha’s developed its own direct-marketed vocaloid package called VY1 recently. See http://www.vocaloid.com/VY1.html (Japanese link)

    • John Gault bd_ October 21, 2010 on 11:22 am

      This would be perfect for a “Gorillas” tour.

  • Jswalllesdaf October 21, 2010 on 11:40 am

    Was going to make the Idoru comment. That man was a freaking prophet. It’s scary how much of the stuff in his books is a reality now…

    • JR Jswalllesdaf October 21, 2010 on 12:32 pm

      I have to wonder about causality on that one. Are they real because somebody read about them and said “I can do that…”, or was Gibson that prophetic?

      • Wurzel JR October 21, 2010 on 1:29 pm

        Prophet or Visionary, either way he’s awesome.

      • Daemon JR November 13, 2010 on 4:27 pm

        As much as I like Gibson…
        Well known anime series like Key the Metal Idol and Macross Plus covered most of this territory very thoroughly ages before Idoru.

  • Anonymous October 21, 2010 on 5:05 pm

    Its like the plot of MACROSS PLUS!!

  • Uzza October 21, 2010 on 7:29 pm

    There is indeed incredible potential in Voacloid as an instrument that empowers individuals to create music entierly on their own. And thanks to the net, promoting their work is very easy and virtually free.

    Vocaloid itself also gives a lot of control of the voice. If you put your mind to it, you can make the voice sound almost like a human.

    And an interesting bit of news, Hatsune Miku might get an English voice bank soon.
    http://www.vocaloidism.com/2010/10/11/a-english-version-of-hatsune-miku-in-the-future/

    Crypton has asked everyone that supports this to like Mikus facebook page: http://on.fb.me/cB1xga

    • Guest Uzza October 21, 2010 on 10:38 pm

      No one mentions S1mone in this thread?

  • panbient October 21, 2010 on 11:42 pm

    How is it possible to discuss a virtual 3d pop star and not mention William Gibson? I mean, he only wrote 3 novels in the 90s about that very concept.

  • 131237861263128 October 22, 2010 on 1:02 am

    That is the gayest thing I have ever seen. Japan needs to be re-bombed

    • Gump 131237861263128 October 22, 2010 on 1:31 am

      This is funny on so many different levels.

      The fact this guy is serious ! Sometimes I wonder how Bush got elected … twice ….. , sometimes it becomes all clear.

  • Saxin October 22, 2010 on 10:08 am

    How Gibsonesque.

  • Coraleater October 25, 2010 on 9:05 pm

    The reason I like Vocaloid is because there is so much creativity. There are several different voices, and you can make them sing countless genres. While some of the early ones sound rougher, the newer ones (Iroha especially) sound stunningly human. They can sing about whatever you want them to. It allows for so much freedom. A lot of times, the videos weren’t made by the song artist, but by others who were inspired by the song. Everyone comes together to make a work of art. If you are interested in the Vocaloid concept, be sure to like Hatsune Miku’s facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Hatsune-Miku/10150149727825637 If its gets up to 39,390 likes, A English speaking version of Miku will be released.

  • Joey1058 November 8, 2010 on 11:44 am

    I’ve been a huge fan of Miku for at least a year now. And as I’ve said on other forums and in YouTube, the day will come when AI will be using avatars just like Miku in an AR setting along with haptics. I’m SO looking forward to the day of heads up displays for the general public!

  • Daemon November 13, 2010 on 4:20 pm

    This may be a nitpick, but for the record, prosumer already has a meaning.

  • chintaro3 November 14, 2010 on 1:08 pm

    It was not a 3D hologram, but also projected on a translucent screen.
    What would be that, but it has been delivered to the wrong information all over the world.

  • Andrecavichini November 19, 2010 on 7:29 pm

    Looks like the book Idoru by William Gibson… and Macross plus

  • Free November 21, 2010 on 2:47 pm

    日本人から言わせてもらえば、最もミクに合うグレートな曲は「ハジメテノオト」だ。

    この曲こそが、彼女に現在と未来を託せる証明なのだから。

  • Factory Built Home January 19, 2011 on 5:48 am

    Awesome, very nice and informative video.

  • HHR-65AAABU February 9, 2011 on 11:00 pm

    it looks to be a modern version of the pepper’s ghost illusion we’ve seen before, but the crowd reaction is intense. I’ve been to concerts where the band’s fan base was considerably less enthusiastic…

  • kaor321 May 8, 2012 on 10:22 am

    Kay, so just had to point this out, but Miku actually dresses in a slightly altered version of a Japanese school girl outfit, Sailor Moon’s outfit is a dramatically altered version of a Japanese school girl outfit. Also, there was actually a lot more effort to create this singer from many different sources, it was much harder than just getting on stage and singing, I’d think the years of hard work (the Vocaloid project was developed in 2000) deserves just a bit more enthusiasm than a real life singer who just happened to have enough luck to be born with a great voice, or the singers that use voice synthesizers to alter their voices so that they’ll sound better.
    No offense to this article, it was good, just a few things annoyed me about it.