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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Vocaloid

Sometimes early, sometimes late, but always fashionably on-time. That's what you get with Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife.

Have you heard about the Vocaloid?

The Vocaloid (ボーカロイド) is a singing synthesizer that people are able to manipulate through a computer program to create what I think is hauntingly beautiful vocals.

Basically... it is a singer in a box... 

First off, this is not something brand new to those in the know. I actually heard about it today from my friend Carolyn at work... her daughter seems to have a fascination for it - actually, she has a fascination for things Japanese.

So, I did a bit of research.

According to Vocalod.com, Vocaloid 's singing voice synthesis was developed by the Yamaha Corporation. According to Wikipedia, it was developed through a joint research project led by Hideki Kenmochi (surname first) at the Pompeu Fabra University in Spain in March of 2000 and originally was not created to be a commercial project.

However, after being backed by Yamaha, the software became a commercial application dubbed "Vocaloid".

I'm thinking that nowadays, since the Vocaloid website does not mention Hideki-san or the Spanish university, that Yamaha may have made them an offer they couldn't refuse.

Let's take a closer look at it.

Via the Vocaloid software program - available for ¥9,800 (Cdn/US $126) - you can add a melody and some lyrics and it will meld it all together for you to create a synthesized singing voice.

No more egos! Out with the lead singer! Now it's time for the composer to get some groupies!

Okay, singers are still required for Yamaha's program - but I don't think it uses any singers you would know. The vocals use voice fragments from a Singer Library that contains vocal recordings from actual singers.

Should you own Volcaloid and you want to create your own song, simply input the melody and lyrics. How the heck do you do that? Apparently, you use a piano roll interface... which is fancy talk for the way the main edit window looks. It looks like a piano roll from the old-time player piano (see the photo above).

You enter notes just as you would with a pencil tool in a DAW (digital audio workstation), which allows you to control the pitch as well as the timing of the synthesized voice.

Next you add lyrics. The lyrics are converted to the phonemes that the Vocaloid will sing.

You know what... for those that use it, it's probably quite easy, but for an old school musician like myself who can only play all brass, woodwind and keyboard instruments - the real ones - the Vocaloid is a bit beyond me. I can't sing, after all.

Via the program you can alter the way the singer stresses pronunciations, and add such effects as vibrato, or even change the dynamics and tone of the voice.

Originally only available in Japanese and English, subsequent versions of it (Vocaloid 3) now support Spanish, Korean and Chinese - though I am unsure which Chinese dialect is actually meant (Mandorin, Cantonese or one of the others).

I'm not going to get too complex here... let's take a listen to a song, and you can hear for yourself:


Believe it or not, this is big business, as there are actual music groups that make their living via the Vocaloid: Livetune, Supercell... hell, even the famous musician Mike Oldfield has used it a couple of times in his Light & Shade album of 2004 on the songs The Gate and Tears of an Angel.

Should you wish more information, I would suggest visiting www.vocaloid.com. It's in Japanese and English, so that may be of help to some of you.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

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