This week, author of Supercell’s Supercell featuring Hatsune Miku, Keisuke Yamada, guest writes to tell us more about Supercell, Vocaloid music, and what you can look forward to in his book. Read on for all of this plus featured music videos from songs mentioned in the book.
The Japanese eleven-piece group Supercell’s eponymous first album features the virtual pop idol Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid character created by Crypton Future Media with voice synthesizers. Today over 100,000 songs, created mostly by amateur users and fans, are attributed to her. Supercell consists of eleven members: Ryo, the leader and composer, and ten artists who design album illustrations and make the music videos that are uploaded onto Niconico and other video-sharing sites. Prior to releasing the album Supercell in March 2009, the group’s musical works had already been well known to Niconico users and fans.
This 33 1/3 Japan book explores the Vocaloid and so-called DTM (desktop music) phenomena through the lenses of media and fan studies. It consists of three sections. The book’s first section (Ch. 1 and 2) discusses the “settings,” that is, cultural and social factors that helped DTM culture to flourish. Amateur creators have been widely supported by online social media platforms, new composition technologies, and the avid fans of the Vocaloid characters. The second section (Ch. 3 and 4) focuses on Supercell and its musical works as case studies of Vocaloid use. The final section (Ch. 5) analyzes performative practices of Vocaloid fans in public spaces.
The development of Vocaloid music
In March 2000, Yamaha’s Vocaloid project began in Barcelona, Spain. The invention of the singing synthesizer was meaningful to DTM culture because there had previously been no such software that could produce human singing voices. Yamaha licensed Vocaloid technology to third-party companies, including Crypton Future Media. Crypton created the anime character Hatsune Miku for its new Vocaloid product with the intention of making it marketable to anime fan communities.
In August 2008, Supercell already circulated its first independently produced album Supercell at Comic Market in Tokyo, before it was released by Sony Music in March 2009. By “creator group,” I mean a group consisting of composers, lyricists, illustrators, visual artists, and/or designers who together participate in the creation process of cultural works.
The visibility of a Vocaloid work depends on the recognition its author commands in fan communities, whether or not its artistic qualities are credited to the author, and its potential for generating derivative works by other fans. Online fan discourses enhance the visibility.
Vocaloid music thrives on community – fans and amateur creators frequent online video-sharing platforms called “playgrounds,” the likes of Niconico and Piapro. It also has a very active fan base. Chapter 5 of the book explores performative practices of Vocaloid fans, such as cosplaying and singing famous Vocaloid songs. I offer a new take on sociologist Erving Goffman’s concept of “front regions”––occasions where social interactions and performances take place under public scrutiny, and each individual becomes an actor in front of a particular set of observers or audiences. In the Vocaloid scene, front regions include both offline social spaces of the concert and online spaces of Niconico, YouTube, web forums, and personal blogs, among others, which exhibit the wide range of fans’ performative spaces in the age of new media.
Supercell’s Supercell featuring Hatsune Miku is available now. Read more about it and order here.