OSTER project's View of Change in the Vocaloid Scene: "Listeners Are Willing to Accept Diverse Songs"
OSTER project was one of the instigators of the Hatsune Miku boom in 2007 with her song "VOC@LOID in Love," and continues to lead the pack in the Vocaloid scene still. In her April 23rd release Attractive Museum, in addition to her characteristic cute songs, listeners will also find surprises ike the musical-style twenty-minute-long track The Music Wizard of Oz and other such musical challenges. Real Sound spoke to this woman who has been involved in Vocaloid from its dawn about her roots, her meeting with Hatsune Miku, and her thoughts on the changing scene.
Real Sound: When did you start making music?
OSTER project: I actually started using a computer to make music around age 13. I studied classical piano since I was little, and I liked Chopin and such. I went around sites that had classic music listening to the MIDIs. At that time there was no means to post MP3s online, so it was an era of MIDI. While listening, I began to get curious and thought "How are these MIDIs created?" When I found it was with software than even I could use, I bought the software. At first, I just input notes from existing sheet music, but I gradually started making original songs as well.
Real Sound: So you were based in classical. I know you're a fan of game music as well, but was that reflected at all in your originals back then?
OSTER: The thing that first made me acutely aware of "creators" was Konami's Bemani series. A variety of composers contribute to it, so I was able to learn about a wide variety of genres. It was thanks to those games that I had a desire to make music of various genres. Knowing about them led me to concretely think "Someday I'd like to work in that kind of industry." I focused on making instrumental songs of a similar style to theirs; TOMOSUKE's songs had the biggest influence on me.
Real Sound: I do sense some elements of his works in your songs. Particularly the lyrical fantasy songs he does under the Zektbach alias.
OSTER: I always liked medieval European flair, so songs like Sword of Drossel were made with consideration for the middle-school-cool elements present in, say, Zektbach's songs, or Tatsh's "Xepher." I learned about Shibuya-kei from Cymbal's "Show Business" in GuitarFreaks & DrumMania, and from there on I listened to a lot of artists. Back then, I learned about plenty of artists in that kind of way.
Real Sound: Quite different from the J-pop playing at the time. Did you listen to that sort of thing?
OSTER: J-pop was on the rise when I was in grade school, so I listened to it often. That was the time of GLAY and Mr. Children, and Namie Amuro. Meanwhile, even back then I had an interest in songs with interesting progressions and arrangement. I really like Tomita Lab's arrangement, and the arranger for most songs that tugged at my heartstrings was Tomita. Such polished and professional arrangement is rare for... for lack of a better phrase, "songs that sell like hotcakes." I was shocked that he'd have such a style and write such hit songs, so I wanted to make songs that had that kind of polish while still being accepted by lots of people.
Real Sound: Which led to your meeting with Vocaloid. Your model song "VOC@LOID in Love" was a pioneer in Vocaloid hits, released about two weeks after Hatsune Miku's release. How did you find Vocaloid?
OSTER: I was a digital music nerd, so my hobby was patrolling the Crypton site. On one such tour, I suddenly found the just-released Hatsune Miku, and the demo song was really good, so I bought her immediately. It was a genre I'd never done before then, so it was a risk, but I kind of felt like "She's cute, and not that expensive, so it's probably fine..." (laughs) It was cheap for music software. Though at first everyone was just like "You BOUGHT that?"...
Real Sound: People were skeptical at first, huh?
OSTER: I studied computers in college, and lots of people in my class were knowledgeable in that area, so everyone knew the name. It wasn't popular at the time, and it seemed to be treated as lowly. I didn't think that, and just bought Miku because the voice sounded good, but not many people had that same view.
Real Sound: It was viewed as just being a moe character thing. Then it suddenly became a movement, and a kind of communication tool. As a key person, how did you react?
OSTER: It was surprising. There was no expectation anywhere that it would develop so much as a business, and I experienced a period where it was a huge thing just to get a ringtone of your song. So I'm deeply moved. Well done coming so far, I say. (laughs)
Real Sound: You said you liked the voice, but have you ever thought of adding your own voice?
OSTER: Strictly speaking, sure, but I couldn't stand listening to it. (laughs) Plus I had little audio recording knowledge at the time, and didn't even know how to record, so it came out sounding like a MIDI. One of the reasons I bought Vocaloid was being captivated by this new way of getting everything done inside the computer, not needing to use a mic or anything. Though when I directly compare live singing and Vocaloid, I do end up thinking "Yeah, live is better..." (laughs)
Real Sound: So what is the charm of Vocaloids that live singing doesn't have?
OSTER: The strongest one might be that Vocaloids themselves rarely detract from the artist's image. Say if I have an artist sing some bitter lyrics, it gets tangled with that artist's image and views. Sometimes things go in an unintended direction. In that regard, Vocaloid can be a tool to directly convey a creator's message without a vocalist in the middle.
Real Sound: Your new album Attractive Museum has songs of many genres, as if recapping your varied career. What place does this work have to you?
OSTER: Compared to my start when I focused on cute songs, lately I've been wrestling with expanding the variation of my songs. As the title of Attractive Museum implies, it's an album with songs of multiple genres like museum displays, and you can see the changes in production style.
Real Sound: Speaking of "changes in production style," in what ways have you concretely changed since your initial cute style?
OSTER: Rather than "changed," it's more like I've returned to when I was making instrumental songs. The Vocaloid scene as a whole is diversifying, and cool songs are on the rise lately. Back in 2007, cute "I'll do my best to sing!" songs that were themed on Vocaloid itself were the focus. But now I think listeners are able to accept more diverse songs. That's why I too want to do different things.
Real Sound: I'm sure you get a sense of the listener response every time you upload a new song. What kind of responses have there been?
OSTER: Many listeners, of course, get an impression of me from my past cute songs, so some state their honest opinion: "This isn't what I want from OSTER." (laughs) But I feel there are many more who say "Hey, this works too!"
Real Sound: The musical-esque The Music Wizard of Oz covers many bases in its twenty minutes.
OSTER: Twenty minutes of just cuteness would definitely get boring, I thought. Like parfait for all three meals. (laughs) I made it as a compilation of songs deliberately different from one another.
Real Sound: Let me ask about the core elements of your style. Are you the kind to have one thing you always want to convey in your head? Or do you go with the flow as you work and things change?
OSTER: When it comes to music, while I'm working I think "What would sound good next?" I haven't done much study in music theory, so I don't write any plans or sheet music, I just use the mouse to input the music that I came up with in my head. Rinse and repeat. Also, many songs I start making after deciding a concept. I solidify images and characters and their destination in my head, then think of developments that match them and words for lyrics, then make the lyrics as well.
Real Sound: Including communication with users, what kind of response have you gotten to your posted songs?
OSTER: I get the impression there are getting to be less people on NicoNico Douga, though I honestly don't really know. But at events and the like, people of all ages come by. Like, couples in their thirties or forties come and talk to me. And it's stuff like "You're always amazing with how you use seventh chords!" (laughs) Those are the times I really feel that people are listening.
Real Sound: I feel there's more context included in this work than just a musical one. What kind of background or culture do you have outside of music?
OSTER: I'm no good at reading, and I don't get language at all, but I've always liked movies - musicals, animated movies, Hollywood movies. And I really like John Williams-esque fancy orchestra that fills anyone with an exhilarating feeling. The currently-screening Frozen has a strong musical flair, and reminds me of Disney from the time of Beauty and the Beast. Also, I hate printed type, but I've read Harry Potter countless times.
Real Sound: Is it within your outlook to help in making some kind of musical production like that?
OSTER: I'd like to try it. I've long admired musicals, so it's one of my goals. I like showing the world in a magical way, and I want to express it in music. It's hard to use Vocaloids for things that have dialogue, so maybe if I had the chance to work with music on an actual stage.
Real Sound: Maybe start by making your own stage production.
OSTER: I think I should leave production up to the pros. But if it were just the music, of course I'd love to. I have a lot of things going on in parallel; I want to put some effort into instrumentals, I want to try producing as an artist, and I want to challenge myself to not be tied down by genre. Really, lots of different stuff. (laughs)