Friday, September 28, 2012

A Vocal Argument on the Vocaloids

Keeping with the music theme, please guess which music video uses a human voice (or if both do, or neither)

If you say: none, you are partially right. If you say both, you are also partially right.

Now that your brain is twisted into Twizzlers at the paradox let me explain:  All of these songs were sung by Vocaloids – a synthesizer program. According to "By entering in a melody and the lyrics of a song, the program is able to then sing the song for you using a synthetic voice." They all have phonetic banks courtesy of human voice providers, but the machine puts the sounds together so that the synthesizer seems to be singer. What’s also interesting about the Vocaloids are their “mascots”, human images that represent the synthesizer in media and promotion projects. The second song, “Upper Ground”, is attributed to the Vocaloid “Mew”. Mew's voice provider is Miu Sakamoto the drawing below is the mascot for her program.

I’ve mentioned the Vocaloids before because they are “virtual celebrities” in a sense. Hatsune Miku for one usually has numerous concerts like any other musical performer such as Katy Perry and Adele. 

Think about it. A synthesizer competes with and is compared to humans. If some people complain about artists using auto – tune to fix their voices then what would they say about idol singers that are merely tuned voice from a machine? On the surface it seems unfair to judge them on the same level because human performers get sick, lose their voices, have pitch problems and Vocaloids don’t have to worry about any of these.

But that’s merely on the surface. If anything the Vocaloids get as much gripes as their flesh and blood counterparts. Even machines aren't perfect enough for humans to find nothing to pick at. For instance, Vocaloid Lily (the synthesizer program uses the mascot above), who can be tuned to sound practically anyway “she” wants, will still get:

  •  complains about her outfits ( “…[KEI] sorta doom her to be just a body, not much of a character. I live for beauty, but this is just a little bit too slutty.” –Higurashi on zerochan ),

If you replace her name with Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj, critiques on "slutiness" and "copying" are eerie similar.

So it the case of these man - made artists, an old quote comes to mind: “The more things change the more things stay the same.”

*The first video is "Dream Tunnel" by the Internet Co. Vocaloid Gachapoid
*Mew's design is by Ryuji Otani
*Lily's design is by KEI who also designed other Vocaloids like Luka Megurine and Miku Hastune

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Auto - Tunes and the Drama - Songs

In the late 2000s, famous rapper, Jay – Z, released a single above, called “D.O.A”, standing for “Death of Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune is a software program, that changes (hence “tunes”) vocals until they are in tune, even if the original vocals were not. As one might imagine, the song features an attack the use of autotune as a crutch for artists, and it’s Jay Z’s unedited voice that raps in “D.O.A”.

However, his gripes with the those artists and the technology didn’t stop his close friend, Kanye West from making “808 & Heartbreaks”, an album that heavily featured autotuned songs a few months later.

The point is, auto-tune has found a place in the modern music industry, and it’s alive and well despite Jay – Z’s rhythmic protest. It might have been originally made to fix off-key vocal tracks but the temptation to use it to cover up a lack of talent is obvious, so obvious even a show supposedly made to find talented new artists admitted to using it in the past on their singers for the audience watching at home. (Although they claimed that the judges based their critiques on the unedited performances.)

Yet another singer/rapper, T-Pain (as in “Get back to rap, you T-Pain-ing too much” to quote the aforementioned Jay – Z single) has used auto-tune so much it’s become iconic to him. He’s got the “I am T - Pain” iPod app, which stimulates the effect of the program on his (and now the app users) natural voice. The new technology hasn’t hindered his art (nor hurt his pocket). Outside the hip – hop circles, some country singers like Faith Hill , have noted pitch problems and use autotune in live performances

So maybe the truth, about whether autotune is a simply a safety net for singers or a cover – up for hacks, is shadowed by a whole spectrum of opinions. Flavorwire once has a post that celebrated good songs made with autotune, but discounted those that use it as a "production tweak to correct an errant vocals".

As for my own opinion, as far as art goes I say auto – tune is fine. If I put on “Coldest Winter” – a song from the “808&Heartbreak”, there’s no way I can deny that there was thought put into it, heart. If you put your thoughts and heart into something you’ve created, then autotune making the melody a bit sweeter shouldn’t also automatically dismiss it as art. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Panels and PNGs: Webcomics

On September 4th there was a campaign that started on Andrew Hussie started it for his interactive, partially-flash-animated, partially-static-webcomic known as “Homestuck”, where four 13 year olds end up destroying their world by playing a video game, hoping to get $700,000 dollars to make a video game out of his series. His deadline was 30 days.

To the shock of some Internet dwellers, Hussie included, the campaign made $30,000 dollars in nearly 30 minutes.

I imagine then, that there was more shock when the $700,000 dollars goal wasn’t just reached, but exceeded days later.

As I type, the current total is over $1 million.

It's merely one example showing the popularity – even if it is within niche audience – of webcomics that recently started. But the teeming fan support of “Homestuck” isn’t an isolated incident. “Axis Powers Hetalia” Hidekaz Himaruya’s webcomic that turns the countries of the world into people, and historical battles into personal squabbles, has been turned into an anime (Japanese cartoon) with its fifth season currently in production. Another comic that can be read online, “Plume” – a Western fantasy about a girl named Vesper Gray and her spirit companion Corrick – by K. Lynn Smith, also has Kickstarter campaign to have the first five chapters printed last week. Since then it has garnered $9000 dollars, freely given by readers who have no incentive other than their love of the webcomic.

Vesper and Corrick

Since there’s really no other way to explain it, a webcomic is a comic that originates online. Most of them are made using digital media like Photoshop and GIMP. While I only got into “Homestuck” a while ago thanks to a friend’s recommendation, it’s far from the only webcomic I frequent – my favorites list has 29 at the moment. There are hundreds upon hundreds of these comics now floating in the digital sea that is the Internet. Some are slice-of-life, some are sci-fi, some are sci-fi splashed in the ordinary lives in the protagonists (*cough* “El Goonish Shive” *cough*). The point is, they very just as much as their printed predecessors.

Speaking of which, it’s interesting to note that these comics aren’t replacing traditional comic books. At my school’s bookstore I saw one notorious webcomic, “Megatokyo”, in printed form right below a shelf of Spiderman and Captain America comics. They seem to be coexisting even when they're competing, possibly because the comic book industry has been used to fighting for an audience for decades before the Internet. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The word painting brings to mind…

Brushes, paints – obviously – canvas, palettes, thinner; a hundred years ago these might have been the most common words that came to mind. Even when the computer was born in the early 1970’s, not many would think that the old art of painting and the new tech of Atari would mesh well.

Flash forward to the 21st century, where thanks to programs like Photoshop and GIMP, a new brand of art called “digital painting”, has taken form. Instead of brush strokes, mouse clicks make and color and images for the artist. Pixels are used as a medium in lieu of paint.
And digital painting isn’t the only new form of art to grow out of new media. One of the more widely recognized forms is pixel animation. The first fully computer animated movie, “Toy Story” was made less than a decade ago but many more like “Despicable Me”, “Megamind”, and “Tangled” have come in its wake, visual testaments to the popularity of the modern style.  Technology has also affected how music is performed. At the 2012 Coachella Music Festival the late rapper Tupac Shakur was able to rise from his grave and perform, the appearance of his “ghost” was enabled by a 2-D projection video. Across the Pacific, England, Sweden, China, Korea, and Japan have made “Vocaloids”, synthesizer programs that can sing with humanlike voices to certain songs. As comics, video games, and even musicals have been inspired by Vocaloid songs – it’s easy to note the impact of new media on those countries’ “art”.
But with new media has come new problems. Some, for instance, have suggested that the further use of performers that have pasted on with the same projection style as Tupac is less about paying tribute to a legend and more about mooching money off the dead. Others have proclaimed “traditional” art – done with pencils, paint, are other pre-computer mediums – should still be superior to digital art, and the vice versa argument is made as well.
Thus the point of this blog is to explore any topic that the new media in art has made, from the creating itself to the controversy behind said creation.