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Halle (Saale), Germany
TU Dortmund University,
THE VIRTUAL ARTIST. VOCALOID AND AN EXPERIMENT ON ITS PERCEPTION
Abstract. Over the past decade the voice synthesiser Vocaloid has gained great popularity in Japan. Critics debate on whether Vocaloid can be called a new musical instrument and if its creation marks a new era in (Japanese) popular music. The unique characteristic of a Vocaloid is its Alter Ego, its “virtual shape”, which is illustrated like common anime or manga characters such as Sailor Moon or Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne, thus owning not just a name but also human-like features. It was due to the use of avatar images that Vocaloid managed to spread across the world via the internet. The most famous anthropomorphic singer is called Hatsune Miku and is known for her long turquoise-coloured hair tied up in two ponytails. Being the uncrowned princess of Nico Nico Douga—the Japanese equivalent of YouTube, Miku opened up the pathway for even more Vocaloids like Luka Megurine or Rin and Len Kagamine. The contiguity of the new creating type to the “screen arts” is maintained by its own existence in the sphere of digital media. This new phenomenon is not very known in Europe, so the question on the principles of its existence is a vital one to discuss. Furthermore, we shall test how its music and appearance are perceived by people who do not belong to the fandom. How does a Non-Japanese listener react to a musical performance done by a computer program? One of the first answers to this question can be found in a study, which was conducted at the Martin-Luther-University in Halle (Saale), Germany. It focused on the reactions of the listeners. Although Europeans do not show as much interest in artificial intelligence as the Japanese, the test subjects showed great sympathy towards the singing program. The essay’s content is divided into four parts. It begins with a contemplation of Vocaloids sociological aspects (1), followed by the introduction of a selfproduced classification of its performances (2) and continues with an explanation on how the experimental research was conducted (3). The last part contains a summarised presentation of the results and a perspective on future research (4). The authors claim this research to be one of the very first tries to shed light on how the popularity of this new musical phenomenon can be explained.
Keywords: Vocaloid, synthesiser, Hatsune Miku, Japanese pop music, virtual idol, avatar, perception