How to Play Vocaloid Songs Never Meant To Be Performed
marasy's new album "Vocalo Piano ~marasy vocaloid songs cover on piano~" releases September 27th.
marasy, who just released the two-disc original album PiaNoFace in April this year, made this new album out of live performances on grand piano of a custom selection of Vocaloid songs. Alongside covers of recent hits like DECO*27's "Ghost Rule," Balloon's "Charles," and Nayutalien's "Alien Alien," he's also added new versions of songs he's covered in the past, like Kurousa's "Senbonzakura" and Hachi's "Matryoshka," for a total of 16 tracks.
Perhaps the most notable track of all is a cover of a new song from June by PENGUIN RESEARCH bassist and composer Shota Horie, his first in four years to be posted under the name kemu: "Dear Doppelganger." marasy and kemu actually became acquainted rather shortly after marasy began posting, and this cover is something both deeply wanted to happen. Thus, Natalie.mu decided to interview the pair. These two spoke as people deeply involved in Vocaloid culture - one as a creator of Vocaloid songs, and one as a pianist famous for his performances of them.
— When did you two start to become friends?
marasy: As a rather casual thing, our acquaintance itself is pretty old. But this is maybe only our fifth time meeting in person, right?
kemu: Right. Though we were always aware of each other, we were active online at different times and in different fields, so we've never appeared together at any shows or events.
marasy: He's from Gifu, and I live in Nagoya, and about 5 or 6 years ago there was an offline meeting of sorts for common acquaintances on NicoNico, and that's when we first met.
kemu: We all went into a studio together and played around with instruments, and that's where we first greeted each other. Then that same day we met, I went to stay at his house, and slept in the kotatsu in his living room. I think we played Momotaro Dentetsu until dawn.
marasy: Yeah, yeah. (laughs) He's the only person besides me who's ever played the brown piano at my house.
kemu: We did some four-handed playing.
marasy: I'd like to record a video of a four-handed performance someday.
kemu: Well, that's not happening without a lot of practice. (laughs) But ever since then, we've been saying it'd be nice to do something together. I'm glad that desire came to something on his new album.
— About that new album, Vocalo Piano - as far as solo albums, marasy, it's your first collection of Vocaloid covers since you released V-box in 2012.
marasy: I've always liked Vocaloid songs and Hatsune Miku, so I was super happy I could do a cover collection before, and I kept saying "I want to do this again." But there were issues with my other work and the timing of things, so there was a gap for 5 whole years. The songs I selected for this include wonderful works that came out in that span, songs I couldn't perform previously, and songs that I have a special affection for.
— Were you conscious of how this was the year of Miku's 10th anniversary?
marasy: I was... I'd like to say I was, but the truth is, I wasn't really. I just thought after the fact, "Oh, good timing!" (laughs)
— The first track on the album is a cover of kemu-san's recently-released first new song in 4 years, Dear Doppelganger.
marasy: To tell the truth, I didn't have plans to put this song on the album. The video for the song was posted just in the middle of creating the album, so then I contacted kemu-san for the first time in a while. Then we went out to eat together, and while I was talking about making an album, well, he managed to sweet-talk me... (laughs) And I got to the point of deciding to include it.
kemu: I didn't do anything, really. (laughs) Come to think of it, after eating, he also took me to an arcade - we went to an arcade the first day we met too. And he always plays those UFO catchers.
marasy: Yeah, I like those. We also played Taiko Drum Master since it has a kemu-san song, but the two of us couldn't beat it together. (laughs)
kemu: We went up to the highest difficulty and didn't stand a chance. In fact, I actually got the lower score.
— marasy, you also uploaded a video of you playing Dear Doppelganger on piano.
marasy: Oh right, when I posted that, I sent it to kemu-san since I wanted him to watch it too. And his first comments were about the number of figurines I had on top of the piano. (laughs)
kemu: He's always had a lot. marasy-kun's piano-playing is great, and I sense his technique comes from a classical background, but he does things that people who perform classical music absolutely shouldn't do. The positioning of his hands, the angle with which he presses the keys... a lot of things that classical performers would take one look at and declare illegal.
marasy: Hahaha. (laughs)
kemu: But that's what's great about it. Because blending freestyle that respects the roots with a wild, totally self-derived way of playing isn't very common. (Extends his fingers straight out and pretends to play piano) I'm amazed you can play like this. Normally you play piano with your fingers curved. Extending them out is definitely no good.
marasy: That'll get any piano teacher to yell at you. (laughs)
kemu: But you've told me before that there's a reason for it. Like it's better when you're playing high-speed stuff such as Vocaloid or anime songs, songs that were never expected to be played on piano.
marasy: It's true, you can get a more beautiful sound if you curl your fingers, but when the song is fast, the area in which your fingers meet the keys is so small, it doesn't really work well. It's good enough to stick your fingers way out and just hit somewhere around there, so that's why I started playing that way. Though that doesn't produce as good of a sound, so I slowly improved upon it, until ultimately... (Indicating the bases of his fingers on his palm) I realized it was easier to play if you just have to put your force here, and nowhere past that.
— That's a unique style.
marasy: I played classical piano until about middle school, and I was once taught by a teacher who'd won awards in many classical competitions here and abroad.
kemu: When I went to your house, there was an incredible display of certificates on the wall.
marasy: I used to be amazing. (laughs) Eventually I dropped off, then in college, I started to play again. I think that blank also contributed to my weird style. Then I began to do trial and error to figure out how to play fast songs. Normal pianists often play with the balls of their fingers, but (pointing to the sides of his second joints) I get calluses here.
kemu: That's an unusual place to get them, yeah. (laughs)
marasy: So I hope not many children will try to imitate me. (laughs)
— marasy-san, what were your thoughts on first hearing Dear Doppelganger?
marasy: I'm simply a fan, so I was just happy thinking "kemu-san! It's been so long!" (laughs) Furthermore, I liked the song's approach and it was abundant with interesting progression, so I was like "Ooh!", which of course came to mean I wanted to perform it. There were a lot of comments saying "Please play Doppelganger" during a NicoNico Live when the song had just been posted, so I practiced there to at least figure out how to play the chorus. But it was so hard that I wasn't able to get it during the stream, and ultimately, continued to practice in detention. (laughs)
kemu: It was difficult?
marasy: Incredibly, historically difficult. But once I reached a certain point with it, the thrill and fun of it was equally exceptional. Maybe it's not a great comparison, but it felt similar to when some really difficult content is added to a game, and you're figuring out how you're going to beat it.
— Presumably kemu didn't necessarily make this song with the expectation of it being performed.
kemu: Not at all. When I'm making a song as kemu, performances and how you'd actually play it are an afterthought; anything goes as long as the final sound is good. You could probably physically play it, but it's normally not meant to be played.
marasy: It'd be easier to play if it were a half-tone up or down.
kemu: Right. But considering the tuning of the guitar and bass, it was best the way it is now. And because that was my priority, on keyboard it ended up with more black keys, making it harder to play.
— Still, I can sense through your cover the sort of cheerfulness that comes from actually playing it on keyboard.
marasy: That's something I put special effort into, you see. (laughs)
— kemu, you normally work as an arranger, so what did you think of the cover from that perspective?
kemu: In songs with instrumental solos, the instruments are the lead part, so how intense the instruments themselves are is important. From this angle, marasy-kun's playing is full of intensity, so I like it. Also, my Vocaloid songs are especially note-heavy, so when you're playing them on a single piano, it's important to pick which notes you're actually going to play. First you take the melody and chords, and then you have to examine the other parts... for instance, the bassline, the accompaniments, accents to the rhythm, and carefully select what to include - that's what piano arrangers need to have a sense for. And from this angle as well, I think marasy-kun found a balance that makes me, as the song's creator, very happy.
marasy: Oh! I'm glad you'd say so.
kemu: I feel like that discerning eye is also a part of coming from classical. It's often said that playing classical music is all about how you form an understanding of what the composer wrote on the score.
— marasy, in your covers of Vocaloid songs for this album, is there anything you focused on in your arrangement?
marasy: I perform songs because I like the originals, so while I'm not extremely loyal to them, I attempted to arrange the songs for piano without much change to their mood or rhythm. So I guess you could say I'm not putting much of my ego in.
— I suppose that's a sign of how you perform while having an understanding of the composer's intent?
marasy: Playing exactly as the score decrees always felt limiting to me, to the point where I've fought with my teacher over it, so I guess I can say I never really cared for it... Even I think it's funny that I'm still doing it like that now.
— It must be out of an affection for the songs you're covering.
marasy: That certainly could be it. This may get people mad at me, but I didn't have a very deep affection for all the classic songs my piano teacher had me play. (laughs)
kemu: I used to play classical piano as well, and my teacher would tell me "that's not the composer's interpretation," and I'd just think to myself "What, have you met?"
marasy: Oh, I feel that one. (laughs)
— If you're that in tune with one another, then I'd like to see you collaborate someday in some form. Though not necessarily the four-handed playing you mentioned.
kemu: He did cover the song I made, but my greater desire would be to make something together from scratch. I don't know if it would ultimately be a Vocaloid song, but we do both do music, so if there's ever a good chance to work together...
marasy: I'm not giving up on that four-handed performance.
kemu: I mean, I'd like to do it too, but wouldn't it be kind of hard?
marasy: Then let's just play Momotaro at my place. (laughs)
kemu: Maybe we could call that collaboration enough. (laughs)
— kemu, you're also active as a bassist now, so you could add a member or two and make a band, for instance.
marasy: That'd be good. I'd like us to go to a studio together again.
kemu: Me too, even just for fun. It wasn't actually a band, but I used to do that a long time ago. I went to a studio with a guitarist or drummer friend and we had a jam session.
— Having a session together now, while you're both building up your careers, I bet it could be fruitful.
kemu: You'd think, but I still feel like the result might be about the same. (laughs) The things you each like don't change that much after 5 years, or after 10 years.
— But getting together as friends and having a fun jam session feels somewhat adjacent to the people drawn to the magnetic field of Vocaloid playing together and having fun creating. That's one of the charms of the Vocaloid scene.
kemu: I'm not saying this like "ah, to be a kid again," but I want the Vocaloid scene to be a place where you can do fun things in a trance. Regardless of whether it gets bigger in the future, I just want it to be a place that retains that flavor.
— I'd like to talk a little more on the topic of Vocaloid. What did the two of you initially find charming about Vocaloid culture?
kemu: I started because a friend told me "What if you tried making Vocaloid songs?", so it's not like I felt an instant intensity for it from the start. But once I tried it out, I found there was no better genre in which creators could be the stars.
— Which is to say?
kemu: Music comes in many genres, like rock, idol pop, anime songs, R&B, EDM. But I see the Vocaloid scene as a place where creators who do lyrics, composition, and arrangement can put out 100% what's in their own head and show off their skills as artists. I was really taken aback when I first saw it. Because there were so many creators with simply monstrous talent.
— So you were fascinated by the people who gathered there more than Vocaloid itself.
kemu: Also, Vocaloids are rather submissive entities - as singers, they don't assert anything. Though there are the various characters, the different voices just represent different ranges of what they can do, and it's entirely on the creators to add color to them. In the actual music industry, the vocalists have their own thoughts, which are in a balance with the artist; when you make a song, the two have to find a way to fit together. Vocaloids will just do anything the creator thinks is interesting, which I found new and revolutionary. There's no need to consider key range, and they can sing even the fastest song. So I think it had a similar impact to when synthesizers went out into the world. When synths appeared, people were amazed how they could now make sounds that normal instruments couldn't make, or the sounds of instruments they didn't have. Vocaloid carries a similar amazingness.
marasy: I'm someone who came in completely through the characters more than the music. I wasn't a particular admirer of Vocaloid when it first became big, but there was a genre of "hand-drawing" videos on NicoNico Douga, and I came to like watching MikuMikuDance videos there, and bought a ton of figures. Many of those videos used Vocaloid songs as BGM, so I thought "maybe I should listen to some of this."
— So you were first captivated by the character of Hatsune Miku.
marasy: For example, when a song goes up, and people make fanart, and it seems like everyone is working for this one girl named Hatsune Miku - I found that really fascinating. Me covering songs sung by Hatsune Miku, buying the software to have her sing, and even making my own songs, all of that is also a link in the same chain. I'm really glad to enter this culture myself and support Hatsune Miku-san; that's the position Miku-san's always held for me. Sorry that this isn't very musically-oriented. (laughs)
kemu: Yeah, I think it's interesting to view Hatsune Miku as just a girl. You could look all over the world and wouldn't find another singer with so much range, singing everything from cute idol pop to grungy heavy rock.
marasy: Also, we said before how the Vocaloid scene is full of people with amazing talent for composition, but it extends to things like illustration and 3D modeling - there are tons of people with absurd talent for those things, and they're devoting all of it to Miku-san. That heat always felt like being in the middle of a festival.
kemu: When supercell released a video to commemorate 3 million views on Melt ("Melt 3M MIX" in 2008), and I saw that formerly-still illustration of Miku start moving with full animation at the end, I basically lost my mind. That was a time when there were hardly any animations being made for Vocaloid videos, so I went "Waugh!" and took photos with my smartphone. (laughs)
marasy: So like, times sure have changed. (laughs)
— Since this is Hatsune Miku's 10th anniversary year, Vocaloid has been getting a lot of attention. What have you felt about that excitement?
kemu: I don't know if it's because of the 10th anniversary, but I've heard plenty of people saying it's exciting.
marasy: Others say they want it to go back to the people who used to post in the past, though.
kemu: Someone I know told me "Vocaloid is bustling now, so make another new song!" I occasionally talk with some actively-uploading producers, and I've wondered about working with them.
— Ohh! Can we hope for a new song, then?
kemu: I don't know if it'll happen yet, but I do personally want to try it.
— As it turned out, marasy, your Vocaloid cover albums cover Hatsune Miku's first 5 years in V-box, and the next 5 years in Vocalo Piano. If split up as such, what do you feel is different between those two halves of Vocaloid's history?
marasy: Early on, most songs had a handmade feel, but lately, in technology and videos and everything, I feel there are more works with a lot of careful attention put into them. It feels like the calories you get from them are going up.
kemu: I personally feel that only the exterior has changed, and the people keeping the culture spinning haven't changed at all. I'm sure there are various changes, of course, but I think those producing content have the same passion of "I'm gonna make something amazing," and those receiving it have the same excitement to see it as soon as possible. A lot of amazing talent is out there to this day, lots of them much more amazing than me, and I think it has been and always will be a place for hot creations and entertainment.
— What do you hope to see from the future Vocaloid scene?
marasy: Modeling and VR technology is developing a ton, so I'm curious about how Miku-san will be moving around in 5 years.
kemu: As long as the scene doesn't go away, I'm fine with it. If for new creators, it's a place where they can show themselves, and for fans, it's a place where they can find the things they like, then I think the rest will take care of itself.
marasy: I think you'll be okay there. I'm sure everyone will keep on having a blast.