Vocaloids and music learning

This week Koji Matsunobu and I will be sharing some preliminary work on vocaloids as a medium for music learning at the Asian Pacific Symposium for Music Education Research in Malaysia. Here are a few resources for those interested to know more.

Here is a copy of our working paper, “Singing with Hatsune Miku: Vocaloids as a Medium for Music Learning.” [EdUHK Online Repository link]

These are our presentation slides, with the usual caveat that they’re not a stand-alone medium and are probably most helpful for those who saw the talk: Vocalo presentation slides PDF.

Here’s a brief sample of vocaloid work focused on Miku:

Our primary argument is that Miku can best be approached by educators as a medium for musical expression, development, and learning. Here, we follow those in sound studies who characterize a medium as a contingent network of people, practices, institutions and technologies. The recurring patterns also have implications for pedagogy as wants, needs, values, and practices change and are changed by enmeshment with the medium. Take, for example, how the ability to sing at very fast tempi has been taken up by utaite, singers who focus on emulating their idols (in this case, Miku):

Finally, if you would like to spend more time watching Miku videos, this is a personal playlist of videos that are either musically expressive or of other interest:

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Hong Kong street karaoke

Here is an early impression of the street karaoke I’ve been watching for several weeks in Hong Kong, an outstanding example of participatory music.

DSC09803Mong Kok, which means “crowded corner” earns its name as one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 350,000 people per square mile. Each Saturday night and all day on Sunday, Sai Yeung Choi street is closed to cars and turned over to pedestrians. The heart of the action is karaoke, but there are also fortune tellers, artists, jugglers, political protestors, street food vendors, and so on.

Here’s the basic approach: every 100 feet or so for five long city blocks, there’s another setup: a PA hooked up to a car battery (thankfully no gas powered generators), a tablet computer on a music stand, a wireless microphone or two, and a small folding table for a music player. A performer will start to sing and often a crowd forms a large circle to listen. Sometime of the performers sing for dancing, with a few reliable dance areas. A few of the places include a full band.

all freeThe scene is acoustically chaotic—one can typically hear two or three groups at once, and sometimes a particular group’s PA can be heard for a whole block—at one point I heard “Smoke on the Water” and Cantonese opera from adjoining groups. And there is a constant flow of pedestrians squeezing past. In all there are several dozen groups set up. Tipping is accepted, but it seems ancillary to the overall experience, which is to come out and make music together. Many in the audience will sing or dance along with songs that they know, while others sit on a small number of plastic seats. Some bring a picnic dinner, and you can see one photo below of a DJ who brought his small dog.

The gallery of photos captures some of the flavor and spirit. The closest I have come to this in the USA would be the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival back before Katrina (although alcohol is not very visible at these events). Note that, as with many participatory cultures, the full age and ability spectrum is present as full participants. The whole thing is wonderful and beautiful.

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The Education University of Hong Kong

Nearing the end of my wife’s visiting professorship in Japan, I’m delighted to share that our adventures in Asia will continue in Hong Kong. I will start work this summer as Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts at The Education University of Hong Kong.

Here are a few photos that capture the beautiful campus, outstanding colleagues, and the overwhelming scope of Hong Kong. Outside the music building there is a statue of Confucius, a reminder the importance paid to education in China for over two thousand years, and who certainly supported music as central to life:

Confucius is often portrayed in good spirits—singing with friends, playing the lute, laughing and joking. He once told a disciple that he should be described as “so full of joy that he forgets his worries.” On another occasion, Confucius asked his disciples to tell him what their goals would be if they earned the eye of a ruler. One pledged to fix a broken state, another to bring prosperity to the people, and a third to serve in the ancestral temples. Then the disciple Zeng Dian spoke. “Dian, pausing as he was playing on his lute, while it was yet twanging, laid the instrument aside,” the Analects recounts. “‘ My wishes,’” he said, “‘ are different from the cherished purposes of these three gentlemen. In this, the last month of spring, with the dress of the season all complete, along with five or six young men who have assumed the cap, and six or seven boys, I would wash in the Yi [River], enjoy the breeze among the rain altars, and return home singing.’” Confucius then “heaved a sigh and said, ‘I give my approval to Dian.’”

Schuman, M. (2015). Confucius and the world he created. New York, NY: Basic Books. (p. 19)

facultyview-of-kannonkoshihk-from-peak

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Sound studies and music education

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A fan cosplaying a Vocaloid in Japan, 2016. Photo by the author.

The Journal of Aesthetic Education has published my overview of sound studies for those working in music education. I review the basic texts, some of the work of those in music education, and pose a few questions.

This article explores how sound studies, an interdisciplinary field that draws upon the social sciences and the humanities in researching a broad array of topics related to sound and music, holds promise for music education research. Defining the field using recent sources, it discusses the varied disciplines that contribute to sound studies. Key texts are reviewed, with a focus on methodological models and conclusions of importance to music educators. Three questions concerning the value and importance of establishing connections between sound studies and music education are addresses: First, in what ways can music educators benefit by engaging with sound studies? Second, in what ways can sound studies benefit by embracing music educators? Third, what might music educators contribute to sound studies? After detailing some of the emerging efforts to reconnect music education with sound studies, the article proposes ways that music education and sound studies together might enhance educational practice.

A free “preprint” version is available at the University of Florida institutional repository: http://ufdc.ufl.edu//IR00009273/00001

If you have access to JSTOR the article can be had here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jaesteduc.51.1.0069?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

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Hacking a karaoke club for a New Year’s Jam

Who doesn’t love karaoke? During my latest visit to a karaoke club in Tokyo the TV was off, the microphones were left in their holders, and the disco ball did not spin.

Instead, a group of friends who all play American 0ld-time music met up for a New Year’s jam. The karaoke club was a solution to a common Tokyo challenge: finding space where your noise won’t bother neighbors.

I had previously heard about karaoke rooms being used for business meetings (WSJ story here), but I hadn’t heard about karaoke rooms essentially serving as practice rooms or clubs. That said, while we were there, I also heard a jazz combo with trumpet in another room. And the daytime rates are quite reasonable (my share for a six-hour jam was equivalent to US$10).

The irony and delight in filling a karaoke room with old-time acoustic music was too much not to share here. After six hours of fiddle tunes it was dark out and I had just enough time to catch the bullet train home.

That said, we probably should have turned on the disco ball…

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Japanese preschool art show

The drawings and paintings of students are a window into preschool life in Japan. These, from a local art show, are drawn from several schools. Marching band, trips to the ocean and the zoo, farming sweet potatoes or bamboo, collecting beetles, and viewing the local giant buddha statue are all part of life, beautifully depicted.

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Japanese participatory music: Ukulele sing-along

Singing and playing together is common in Japan, and the ukulele has become quite popular here. For the third year in a row, I took part in the Ukulele Welcome Party in Toyama, Japan. It takes time to learn the music any given community knows and loves, and this year we included some Japanese songs and lyrics along with well-loved American tunes. We also included the Okinawan sanshin, another instrument strongly associated with participatory music.

For those interested in the basic approach, here are a few photos and some video. The underlying participatory approach, making music with others instead of performing for others, is featured in several posts on this blog and also in an article in Music Educators Journal.

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