Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part III

Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

3A - Hatsune-Miku-Project-Diva-Future-Tone-021617-small

In Part I of this 3-part series, we examined how the concept of the Virtual Idol first emerged in anime during the 1980s. In Part II we looked at how things opened up as we entered the digital age, particularly with the emergence of the whole Vocaloid sub-culture, and its popular software.

It’s no surprise that after the tremendous success of Hatsune Miku and her immediate follow-ups there has been a wave of newer virtual singers hitting the scene. Some have been in the form of additional voicebanks (with their own related character avatars) in directly Vocaloid-related products, often developed by partner companies, and sometimes they arise from separate yet similar voice-synthesizers.

The most significant of these competing programs would be the UTAU shareware, with their singer characters also being known as UTAU (or UTAUloids, unofficially). There are a few factors that have increased its popularity, not the least of which is that it can be downloaded free of charge! Although it comes with one starting voice named Uta Utane (more often called by her nickname ‘Defoko’) — who sounds a bit rudimentary, in comparison to the Vocaloids — users can also create their own singer voices, and make them freely available to others.

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part II

Monday, February 3rd, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

2A - Hatsune_Miku_a001_feature_prm

In Part I of this 3-part series, we looked at how the concept of the Virtual Idol first emerged in anime during the 1980s, featuring some of the more popular storylines and prominent idols to make an appearance in this genre, a phenomenon which could be seen as the precursor to an eventual reality where technology would let them enter our lives more directly. This is the reality that unfolds before us now!

As we enter the digital age, the possibilities open up considerably. Idols can go beyond just appearing in a futuristic context — and actually manifest as creations on our own computers!! The giant leap forward comes with the arrival of a line of software products called Vocaloids. Created by Crypton Future Media, and using technology developed by musical equipment giant Yamaha, a Vocaloid is a type of speech synthesis program which converts words and melodies designated by the user into an electronic singing voice.

There are some parameters for tweaking the sound, but for the most part each version of the program is based on one specific voice, and is tied to a related character avatar representing the singer. The first two major entries in the series featured a female singer named Meiko, along with her male counterpart Kaito. They remained somewhat obscure for most people though, at least in the beginning. It was the next entry, the first in the newer ‘Vocaloid2’ line, who was to become the star that would launch a massive cultural revolution in Japanese music — the virtual idol known as Hatsune Miku!!

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Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part I

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

1A - Mayu Watanabe - Hikaru Monotachi (BQ)-small

The concept of ‘Virtual Idols’ that I’m looking to describe here is something of a slippery and multi-faceted notion — not unlike the culture that surrounds their real-life counterparts, to a large degree! The elements form a sort of loose meshwork of overlapping scenes, which often intersect and change as they progress.

So, am I basically attempting to define the indefinable here? Perhaps! There are certain recurring themes which connect a lot of it together, so I’ll keep those things in mind as I sketch out my ongoing exploration… and with any luck, that should be enough to make it all clear.

While there are theoretically no limits where we could go with this, it’s also something very much tied to one location — and yes, it’s exactly where you expect: the nation of Japan. But before we can fully understand this phenomenon of Japanese virtual idols, we first need to get acquainted with non-virtual idols, which form such a major part of pop music culture there. That can be a bit challenging in itself, actually! While not entirely different from pop idols in other parts of the world, the term ‘Idol’ has a much more specific usage and cultural history within Japan. There are various degrees of being an idol performer as well, as the context has evolved somewhat over time… which can be confusing for newcomers, or for those who follow just one aspect of overall fandom. I’ll try to make it clearer as I go, but suffice to say that being an idol definitely involves more than simply being a singer of pop music, in Japan!

First, let’s try to very briefly pin down a few of the most important qualities of an idol.

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Stories That Work: “Selfless” by James Patrick Kelly, and “I Met a Traveler In an Antique Land” by Connie Willis

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Asimov's Science Fiction November December 2017-medium Asimovs-Science-Ficion-November-December-2019-medium

Covers by Eldar Zakirov and Donato Giancola

Do you remember a German pop band called Nena and their single big song, “99 Luftballons”? No? Well, they were a one-hit wonder. How amazing is it, to be a one-hit wonder? Think of all the bands, playing in garages, trying their hardest to line up gigs, who never make the charts, whose songs are never heard by anyone other than family and friends. What do you think the ratio of unheard bands to one-hit wonders is?

Hard to calculate, but I’ll bet it’s huge.

Consider all the factors that have to come together for a song to rise to the prominence of “99 Luftballons,” and then imagine how all the other bands vying for attention would give almost anything to have that single moment of success that Nena enjoyed.

Just one hit.

And then think of Linda Ronstadt or Bruce Springsteen and their numerous triumphs.

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A Lasting Exploration of What the Beatles Mean: Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Dave Alvarez

Cover by Dave Alvarez

Although the Beatles, as comprised of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, only existed as a band from August 1962 until April 1970, they left an indelible mark on the music and culture of the world that is constantly being discovered, explored, and reinvented. One of those reinventions occurred in 2019 with the release of the film Yesterday, in which singer Jack Malik discovers he is one of the few people in the world who remembers the Beatles and builds a career out of recreating their songs. Even before that film was released, however, editors Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn were at work creating the anthology Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles.

At lunch in the executive dining room of Black Gate Tower a couple of weeks ago, our esteemed editor and I were finishing our desserts (wild honey pie for me, Savoy truffle for him), when he asked my opinion of Yesterday. I described what I liked about it, what I felt could have made it better, and explained that I viewed a world without the Beatles or Coke as essentially dystopian. I told him why the alternative ending would have improved the film and, at the same time, opened up other questions that it hadn’t addressed.

Two days later I was summoned into the presence of the giant, floating holographic head that gives Black Gate writers their assignments, and presented with a copy of Across the Universe. Our conversation at lunch had been sounding me out for my knowledge of all things Beatle.

Jody Lynn Nye has cast the Fab Four as powerful elemental wizards and follows the adventures of George, the water mage, as he strikes out on his own and finds himself face-to-face with a powerful enemy. The story explores the difficulties of making it on your own when you’re used to working in a group, but also points out how experiences continue to inform a person’s actions. Nye also looks beyond Harrison’s career with the Beatles and even his solo career for her source material.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Saturday, June 15th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards have been presented by the British Science Fiction Association since 1970 and were originally nominated for and voted on by the members of the Association. The Media Award was created in 1979, when it was won be the original series of the radio show The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In its first three years, the award was won by the first and second series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show as well as the record. The award was presented annually until 1992, when the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day won the final award.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio show which aired on the BBC from March 8, 1978 to April 12, 1978, with an additional episode (called a fit) airing on December 24, 1978. The show was so popular that a stage show based on the radio show ran from May 1-9, 1979 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The first four episodes of the radio show were also adapted (with some alterations) for release on a double LP set in 1979 (released in the US and Canada in 1982). The recordings used the original scripts, but cut some sections for timing while adding in alternative lines that were cut from the radio shows (including one that I really enjoy). Most of the original radio cast returned for the record, although Susan Sheridan, who had voiced Trillian, was unavailable since she was recording the voice of Princess Eilonwy for Disney’s animated film The Black Cauldron, and was replaced by Cindy Oswin, who had performed the role in the ICA stage production.

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Goth Chick News: Climbing The Mountain of Souls with the Band Haunted Abbey Mythos

Thursday, April 25th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

The Mountain of Souls

As you know, or likely can guess, I am a collector of scary stories from all over. The fact that every culture has them and they collectively have quite a lot of similarities is something I have always found fascinating.

Though US Halloween traditions are still catching on in Spain, listening to and telling scary stories is a tradition during the Spanish All Hallow’s Eve. A favorite and oft-told tale is called “El Monte de las Animas” or “The Mountain of Souls,” a legend written down by Gustavo Adolfo Bequer, a nineteenth century Spanish Romanticist poet, writer and playwright. and first published in the newspaper El Contemporáneo in 1861. The author claimed to have heard the tale in the city of Soria during All Hallows Eve´s night, and not being able to sleep, he decided to write it down.

The Mountain of Souls tells the story of Alonso, the youngest son of Count Borges, and his cousin Beatriz, a somewhat haughty young lady. One day, while on a horse ride through the countryside, Alonso entertains Beatriz with a legend that the nearby hill is haunted by the spirits of ancient Templar knights. When they returned home, Beatriz finds she has lost a blue sash during the ride, and asks Alonso to venture back to the mountain to retrieve it for her, as a token of his love. Alonso is reluctant to go to the mount at night because the souls of the dead are said to wander there, but at Beatriz’s insistence and longing for her affections, Alonso goes.

As you can imagine, the outcome isn’t pleasant – for either of them.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand – Rory Gallagher Sings of the Continental Op (And It’s Great!)

Monday, November 19th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Gat_GallagherBlindsYou’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Somebody asked me if I actually write for this column, or just put up the posts for it. I started explaining the work involved in pitching the concept, recruiting guest posters, editing the posts, promoting the column through Back Deck Pulp posts on my FB page….then I gave up and said, “Yes, I do write this column. In fact, I wrote this coming Monday’s post.”

That wasn’t exactly a bold prediction, since I didn’t have a guest post in hand. Although, my essay on the excellent Joe Gores isn’t nearly done, so there was that. But I got it all worked out in the end!

Rory Gallagher was a world-class guitarist from Ireland who died of liver problems in 1995 at the age of 47. In 1987, he recorded a song entitled, “The Continental Op,” which was included on his Defender album. There’s also a song called “Kickback City” on that album and the lyrics are very much in the style of Raymond Chandler and other pulpsters who depicted the corruption and hopelessness of urban cities. And you could take the story of “Loanshark Blues” and you’d have a pretty good character for a hardbacked PI story. I recommend giving Defender a listen.

But we’re here to talk about his tribute to Dashiell Hammett, “The Continental Op.”

If you’ve come here to A (Black) Gat in the Hand, you probably already know about The Op. While The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon are Hammett’s best-known works, it’s the Op that made him the father of the hardboiled school. In seven years, he wrote over three dozen tales featuring the nameless private eye for the Continental Detective Agency. I don’t think any other PI series has equaled the Continental Op stories.

The Op stories are readily available and are cornerstone hardboiled reading. All of the stories were recently collected in The Big Book of Continental Op Stories.

I cannot give Gallagher enough kudos for writing a song about the Continental Op, then providing a video that absolutely captures the hardboiled, pulp feel. The black and white, graphic novel style is pure throwback. You could almost storyboard a movie from it. Some of the frames fly by so fast, I had to rewatch them several times. But the overall effect works.

Watch the video. Then work through the rest of the post with me. It should be fun.

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Only the Monsters Can Save Us: Claude Debussy meets Godzilla

Sunday, August 26th, 2018 | Posted by David Neil Lee

Godzilla-King-of-the-Monsters poster-small

Nothing can be more exhausting, enervating, overlong, and less worthy of repeat viewings, than a Hollywood summer blockbuster, but these supermovies are often preceded by invigorating trailers that deliver all their best features in a small fraction of the running time. This has never been truer than it is for the new (July 2018) trailer for next year’s Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

Music is the reactor core that powers this remarkable two and a half minutes of commercial cinema salesmanship. The nineteenth century composer Claude Debussy meets the 21st-century kaijū movie in a work noteworthy for both (1) its profoundly affective qualities and (2) the extent to which, as promotion for a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s strictly business. Let’s begin with the affective part.

A world in flames. A military in disarray. A divided family: to the Vera Farmiga character’s husband, she’s “out of her goddamned mind,” and her daughter calls her “a monster.” These are all familiar tropes from the movies, but not from the classic Godzilla movies, where typically the everyday world is more or less functional and well-organized; a world where the monsters enter as a destructive and destabilizing force.

I use “classic” to loosely describe the period from Godzilla’s 1954 debut to the 1970s, where Godzilla‘s onscreen persona evolved from the sheer vengeful malignity of the original Gojira, to a villain set up to be defeated by other, nice monsters, to a more or less sympathetic antihero, in movies in which he came to embody either the benign indifference of the universe, or a friendly giant who would be a welcome guest on a morning kid’s show (if he could avoid crushing the TV studio under his enormous feet).

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Shirley Manson: Killer Android

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper

Shirley Manson the-world-is-not-enough still 7

Did you know there are more than 200 rock songs (using rock as loosely as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does) about robots? The first one — this is real, because it’s too weird to be made up — was “Robot Man,” sung by 50s rock diva Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, better known as Connie Francis.

Mmm, we’d have a steady da-ate (yay-yay-yay-yay)
Seven nights a wee-eek (yay-yay-yay-yay)
And we would never fi-ight (yay-yay-yay-yay)
‘Cause it would be impossible for him to speak

With robots being as wonderfully visual as they are, it’s surprising that so few robot rock songs have accompanying music videos, although one exception is … “Robot Rock” by Kraftwerk. Their robots are extremely dull form is function, in the best Bauhaus tradition. Not much snazzier are those in the short film Styx used in concert by during their Mr. Roboto tour.

The one that blows all the others away, in typically loopy rock serendipity, has nothing whatsoever to do with a robot song or with its source material at all.

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