Vocaloids, Virtuality and Vocality: The Case of Hatsune Miku

Friday, July 18, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Nick PRIOR , University of Edinburgh, UK, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Where does the voice go in contemporary culture? How is it composed, decomposed, constructed, reconstructed and made apparent? What are its signs and dislocations, its logics and movements? What are the expectations and reasons for the voice's presence as a particular kind of expression and information? In exploring how we might set out to answer these questions, this paper is divided into two parts. In the first part, and drawing on insights from the sociology of culture and technology, it argues that the birth of modern popular music is also the birth of a permanent coalescence of the voice and technology. For the voice does not sing alone, it is always accompanied by, is implanted in and mediated by technologies. Paradoxically, just as it attains the status of a unique expressive carrier and index of untrammeled emotion and personhood, so it is accompanied by a whole plethora of machinery that reveal that carrier to be radically hybridised. The second part takes the form of an exploratory scene assigned to a particular vocal modality. It aims to show how, in the case of the Japanese virtual idol singer, Hatsune Miku, complex entanglements of human and non-human entities are not only radicalised, but also played with, ironised and turned into aesthetic forms that unsettle the foundations on which the voice sounds out. Here, not only does the voice become a pliable object of information, enmeshed in machinic vocalisations and subject to the microscopic transformations of digital technologies, but it also represents a simulacra of the hyper-sexualised female body as a performative object and act. From the Miku phenomena we learn much about how the body, the voice and digital technologies fold into one another in an era of global transformation.