There is a company in Japan that has written a fantastic piece of software that allows even non-musicians to write music and songs for a “virtual singer” to perform. The software creates “vocaloids”, or virtual singers, each with a distinctive (to some ears) voice and vocal mannerisms. The most famous one of these has been named “Hatsune Miku” by the software creators. When someone writes a song they draw out the syllables of the song at different notes on a graph, and the vocaloid software simulates a singer hitting that note while speaking that syllable.
Because it’s based on syllables, a vocaloid can sing in any language, although not as easily in English as in Japanese, because the set of programmed syllables is based on Japanese. The software designers allow the software to be implemented on various computers, and the software can be incorporated into animation software, so that people can create a visual singer to sing their song.
This is a lot harder than the singing part of the software, but that hasn’t stopped a whole industry of determined songwriters and animators from creating works based on Hatsune Miku and “her” “siblings”. The character of Hatsune is supposed to represent a typical cute teenage Japanese girl, which strikes a chord (so to speak!) with the “otaku” culture of computer-savvy, cute-obsessed fanboys (and some girls). The qualities that Hatsune is most animated and drawn with are grouped into a Japanese fan word, “moe.” I can’t begin to describe what that means, and if I did try, there would be a lot of people who would disagree with me, so if you’re curious you can look it up.
This is one of the later songs, and you can tell the vocal sounds quite mechanical, but the animators have done their best to give the Hatsune a lot of physical character. She’s very “moe” in this video!
At several anime conventions lately, the vocaloids have been appearing “live onstage”, actually projections from a computer screen onto huge glass screens, accompanied by live bands. Since the vocaloid performers are completely computer generated, they can appear in many costumes and require almost no down-time between sets. Here is one with Hatsune, and one with another vocaloid, Megurine Luka, in concert:
Update: the videos are no longer available. *Sigh*.