Hatsune_Miku_-_artRAVE

As part of our ongoing creative challenges I set the activity to listen to something different. Each person participating chooses two pieces of music under 5 minutes long. One piece should be fairly accessible and the other challenging, enigmatic or just plain weird. The purpose of the activity is to challenge each other to experience something that you would not normally listen to. This will help you get outside of your usual habits and expertise and make you more open to new ideas.

Most of the people involved seemed quite inspired by the task of selecting two pieces of music for each other and when we did the swaps I was really excited to see what I got. I hoped for new and interesting things and even if I got something I hated I was determined to give it the benefit of the doubt and at minimum make some kind of analysis about it.

Because I was in three groups this week I ended up with six pieces of music to explore, though most people simply got two each. So how did I feel about the pieces I got given? Several of the pieces were completely new to me and one of them, a song by Hatsune Miku called Leave in Summer yet you’re in my fluffoughts, was a complete revelation. When I listened to it I did so without watching any videos for the first few times because these would give me a different impression of the overall package. I noted down the static sound, representing an old vinyl, I noted the jazzy almost 1930s style of the upbeat tempo and I noted the quiet and seemingly Auto-tuned vocals. Poor Miku was overpowered by the music track, I felt. So at this stage I went to look up Hatsune Miku, as I could see she had plenty of songs listed on YouTube. Well, to my surprise I discovered that Miku is not a she but an it – it is a piece of vocal software. Indeed it is a massively huge selling and popular piece of software. I wondered how the knowledge if this phenomenon had managed to escape me. The whole Miku, or rather Vocaloid, scene is ginormous in Japan. So much so that they want to put plaques dedicated to Hatsune Miku in their projected space rockets! So then I got in a FB conversation with some people I knew of who would know about this stuff and they told me about “live” shows where Miku is an anime hologram singing in front of a live band. They said that people in Japan preferred a stable figure (hologram!) rather than flighty real starlets who might go off the rails (no names mentioned). And they explained about song-writers who would like to have a vocalist but who cannot afford to hire a real person, so they use the software. I heard some crazy Vocaloid adverts that made my head explode and some quite convincing singing.

All in all I felt the whole Listen to Something Different challenge was, for me, a great success because I found out about a whole new area of culture. Though, to be honest, I won’t be listening to many of these tracks any time soon.

Oh and my others included a few video games tracks, which my students didn’t want to get in their own allocation, but which I didn’t mind. The one for Battle Block Theatre Secret Areas was quite a fun scat-singing piece with trumpets and crazy chickens…or is that just my own personal interpretation? Made me laugh out loud. And the Final Fantasy orchestral piece I got was epic and empowering – if you are playing a game. Made me think of mountains and lakes because of its crystaline sound. But, person who donated 30 minutes of this…the limit was 5 minutes!

So, I come to the crunch. Yes, I got one track that I really hated. I don’t think it is fair to mention the name, but it is an updated mix of an r’n’b song from a few years ago. Somehow the mixers had taken away any semblance of tune or musicality and left it as a skeletal experiment in phazing sound and reverb. Repetitive. I have been telling my groups to take interest in the thing they do not like. But it pushed my limits to listen to this more than once, though I faithfully did so many times. Felt a bit sick.

I realised when making my choices to donate to the Listen to Something Different pool, just how much you (I) feel my identity is marked by the things I listen to, or used to listen to because I dredged up a few gems from the past. I wonder if that is why people seemed keen to participate. So now I am just waiting for the feedback to find out what people thought of my choices!!

Image of Hatsune Miku holographic performance at artRave 2014 by Alexis Martinez, Wikimedia Commons