Ask Sensei: Carved Orange Gourd Edition

Since Sensei is well known to be the Ebenezer Scrooge of Halloween, it will probably surprise none of you that I’m giving an exam tomorrow. I fully expect several of my students to come dressed for the occasion, though I hope none of them in costumes that will hinder their performance in any way. Goodness knows the material is hard enough as it is.

This time, Myles Netherton asks via Instagram: The next time I visit Japan, I wanna see a Sumo match. Where do you suppose is the best city/prefecture to see one?  I can’t say I know anything about sumo, but a quick web search brought me to this website, which looks like it ought to be helpful. At a glance, it seems that official sumo events are held every other month, with the venue alternating between Tokyo and one of three other cities (which include Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka). Beyond that, it is apparently possible to watch sumo practices. In any case, while I can’t claim much of an interest in sumo, I certainly understand where you’re coming from. I would similarly love to watch a rakugo performance, after I first learned of it in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu a few years back. My only hesitation is that, at my level of Japanese, I think I’d be lucky to understand a quarter of it.

illustration by ト (reprinted w/permission)

Our own Samuru wins the Softball Question Award: I didn’t know R86 was into vocaloids?!? I am asking for an explanation of this new revelation and how it started, and what are your favorites. Well now, I likewise had no idea that our very own Samuru-kun was into Vocaloids. Then again, with you being our gaming master, it would make sense that you know about them through the famous rhythm games at the very least. My best available records indicate that I discovered Vocaloids in early 2011, and I honestly do not remember how. Most likely, it happened during one of my periodic YouTube death spirals, at least a rare one that didn’t end in one of those parts of YouTube that you don’t want to be in. Now I have been interested in electronic music, especially electronic remixes of classical music, since I was a teenager about 35 years ago. Back then, computer music was of course much less developed than it is today. By the early 1990s, software became available that could use the electronic keyboards of the day to produce versions of classical pieces in which no human was directly involved in the performance. (The success of the “performance” inevitably depended, of course, on how good the keyboard was.) But within 10-15 years, the same Finale software package came with Garritan Orchestra, a fully software-based synthesizer with very credible sounding sampled orchestral instrument patches, that had no need for an external keyboard or sound module.

When I discovered Vocaloids in 2011, I understood immediately that technology supported the creation of “performances” of not just orchestral pieces, but also vocal pieces with orchestra, in which both the instrumental and vocal sounds were produced with no direct human involvement. The Vocaloid pop songs I heard on YouTube and Niconico convinced me that, with a minimum of care, the vocals even brought with them the illusion of emotion. How could I not be instantly hooked?

When I started with Vocaloids, the V2 engine was nearing the end of its run. My first banks were Tonio and Prima, as well as the Kagamine Act2 banks. Now Tonio and Prima made sense, given my interest in classical music. However, I quickly realized that Engloids were tricky to program, and even with all their phonemes, still lacked enough phonemes in order not to sound somewhat awkward when singing in their native English. Nihongoloids, it seemed to me, didn’t have that problem — although it is certainly possible that, not being a native speaker, I am unable to detect their limitations in singing in Japanese. From here, I took a special interest in the male Nihongoloids, particularly VY2 and Gakupo, with a strong minor in Kagamine Len (whom we will call “male” for the sake of argument, even though his voice provider is female). In fact, one time I started daydreaming while listening to a certain Kagamine Len song, and this essay on deviantART was the result.

It took me a while to build up a considerable stable of voice banks, enough to make my own virtual choir. At first I practiced by making covers of existing Vocaloid songs, a thing which I by no means have quit entirely. When I further realized that the pure vowels of Japanese were conducive, with some regrettable but slight shortcomings, to singing Latin text, I decided to explore the production of sacred choral pieces by Bach and Mozart and other masters. And at the risk of making a shameless plug, my little YouTube channel has some of my work so far, including music from the Mozart Mass in C minor KV 427 and a few other pieces. Next I hope to present (in no particular order) the Bach Magnificat, a Latin mass that I wrote for a modern Christian audience and completed in 2002, and some purely instrumental pieces too. But first I have to learn how to use the V5 Editor (I have lived through the entire V3 and V4 eras!), which seems to be very different from the V3 and V4 Editors.

Lightning Round via Facebook!!!

Tommy Phillips: How many lights are there?

R86: Tea, Earl Grey, hot.

Follow sensei on Twitter, where Ace of DiamondAhiru no Sora, and Dr. Stone are currently filling his feed. You can submit a question at any time via email or by tweeting us with the hashtag #AskSensei. Featured illustration by bib reprinted w/permission.

3 thoughts on “Ask Sensei: Carved Orange Gourd Edition

  1. Our own TWWK gets all the credit for picking the images to go with my column. His record of getting it absolutely perfect is somewhere close to 100%.

  2. Thanks for answering my question 🙂 I’m actually not into vocaloids, I only know of Miku and that’s about it. I prefer the original singer of the song, but that’s just me. It was just fun to ask what you knew of it, since I know barely anything except from playing a LOT of DDR ! Was interesting to read how all of that is put together, it seems like a lot of work. Going to check out your Youtube.

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