Shikumi Design launches Kagura, a futuristic gesture-controlled musical instrument system

Written by: William on January 16, 2015 at 8:36 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

The Bridge has shared a story about Fukuoka-based startup Shikumi Design and their futuristic musical instrument, Kagura.

While the name might imply traditional Japanese music, the “motion perform instrument” system is anything but historical, allowing you to “play” it intuitively through gesture recognition.

kagura motion perform instrument shikumi design gesture recognition

The makers describe as an instrument that “makes it possible to perform music by moving your body, without touching anything.”

It uses a patented technology that recognizes human movements and gestures so that the user can perform music freely.

It generates new music performance with visual effects.You can also append your voice to Kagura, arrange the tempo of music and where to put the sounds on the screen. And you can enjoy all of them by your gesture with the Intel RealSense 3D camera.

As The Bridge writes:

The Kagura app won the grand prize at the Intel Perceptual Computing Challenge competition in 2013. The new version introduced at this time has been upgraded to support Intel RealSense 3D, a new technology available on PCs from Lenovo, Acer, and others, enabling an app to understand and respond to natural movement in 3D with a built-in camera.

However, vision analysis for playing instruments is conducted in 2D, so if you are satisfied with playing instruments only, the app can work with any Windows PC with a built-in camera regardless of whether it supports the RealSense technology.

Currently it is designed for 64-bit Windows 8.1 only, but sure a Mac version is coming soon? iOS and Android mobile versions are also in development. Otherwise, all you need is the app and a webcam.

There is no limit to how many people can “play” it at the same time, though the makers recommend one or two maximum, since it can only recognize two hands simultaneously.

Where can expect to see the Kagura? Well, at special live events, perhaps, since it will be ideal for taking the role of the DJ or VJ to the next level.

Here’s an earlier prototype they made showing how your dance creates music and graphics.

Let’s have this in the 2020 Olympic opening ceremony please!

Learn more and download the app on the Kagura website.

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High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar is Shinjuku/Yoyogi co-working space storing LP records for customers

Written by: William on January 15, 2015 at 8:28 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Music media Spincoaster has launched a new crowd-funding campaign on Makuake to create a music bar they claim is the world’s first to focus on LP and high-resolution audio.

Seating 17, the High-res & Analog Spincoaster Music Bar will play LP records at the request of customers and offer a “record keep” service where customer’s records can be stored for safekeeping at the bar.

music-bar-spincoaster-hi-res-analog-1

This later service may seem strange to an outsider but in space-strapped Tokyo, it makes a very cool alternative to a storage unit rental. (In this way, it reminds of the “library bar” in Shibuya that also had a successful crowd-funding campaign last year.)

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

The makers are also selling the Music Bar as a daytime co-working space — a growing trend in Tokyo — with free Wi-Fi and fixed seats. The evening will see it transform more into the “bar” of its name.

At time of writing, they have already exceeded their initial funding goal of ¥1 million (about $10,000) with nearly 90 supporters, and with more than 36 days still to go they are continuing to collect funds. It seems Tokyo has enough analog music fans to keep this bar in business for a while.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

It will open at the end of March, four minutes’ walk from JR Yoyogi or JR Shinjuku stations.

music bar spincoaster hi-res analog

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Otamatone Digital: Japan’s tadpole theremin gets a “rock” update!

Written by: Japan Trends on January 9, 2015 at 9:08 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Our love for all things Maywa Denki is no secret. We recently went wild about Mr Knocky, their unique drum toy, and also think their retro Otona no Kagaku Maywa Denki Automa-te Auto Writer Hand is cool as hell.

If you’re a fan of original gadgets, especially musical ones, then Maywa Denki are the folk for you.

The original Otamatone came out a few years and was quite a global hit. It’s seen some updates over the time since but here’s the first major re-release: the Otamatone Digital.

otamatone digital sound toy musical instrument japanese theremin

This is a reinterpretation of the theremin (as we know, a popular instrument in Japan) but it reinvents the musical instrument in terms of look, sound and action.

For a start, it looks like a large musical note (or tadpole) with a face. You use the stem to “play” the notes and then control the “mouth” to adjust the sound that is produced.

The Otamatone Digital can play chords and has a back switch to change octaves. As before, you play the notes along the stem (they even provide you with “stickers” so you can see what you are playing) and vary the sound through the mouth, though now there are improved “modes” so you can create great sounds like a kick drum, snare, bell or cymbal.

Here’s Maywa Denki honcho Novumichi Tosa giving a demonstration.

You can play chords (even “power chords”) and “drums” on this tadpole. A mini theremin rock concert? You bet!

Here are several Otamatone Digital instruments playing “The Frog Song”.

The Otamatone Digital is available in black or white versions.

You can get the Otamatone Digital from Japan Trend Shop.

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“Dreamer Nippon Inemuri” music video pays tribute to sleepy commuters

Written by: William on December 17, 2014 at 9:30 am | In LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

We’ve all seen them. We’ve all pitied them. We’ve all admired them.

Japanese trains are full of odd sights — but perhaps none so odd as the spectacle of people managing to get some shuteye no matter how crowded or what position they are in, whether standing, sitting, kneeing or (unfortunately for those around them) leaning. No matter how fast the train is going, no matter who is watching — the Japanese are able to sleep anywhere.

Even more impressively, they are more often than not able to wake up in time for their stop. It must be some sort of innate ability taught when salarymen join major corporations.

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

A new music video called “Dreamer Nippon Inemuri” is proving popular because it pays tribute to these sleepy commuters, featuring a series of shots of people sleeping while riding a train. (“Nippon Inemuri” literally means “Japan dozing”.)

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

The roughly 50 sleepers were filmed by digital marketing planner Kairi Manabe over two days on public transport. We’re not sure if this counts as infringing on their rights but the results are interesting to watch — not least to admire the tenacity of these train passengers determined to get some sleep no matter what.

The music for the video is by Yusuke Emoto.

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

japan sleep doze train passenger commuter nippon inemuri dreamer tokyo

The video is actually a Web commercial for Home’s, a real estate portal site which offers a function where you can filter searches based on the commuting time. In other words, it’s encouraging you to move somewhere that’s closer to work! “A long, long way to bed” as the video poignantly says at the end…

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OK Go “I Won’t Let You Down” music video: Drones, Honda UNI-CUBs, Perfume, umbrellas, Japanese girls

Written by: William on October 28, 2014 at 8:23 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

American band OK Go have released a music video for their song “I Won’t Let You Down”, from the album “Hungry Ghosts”.

Filmed using a “multi-copter camera” and directed by Morihiro Harano, the choreography for the video has been clearly sped up in the editing process but it still has the usual OK Go fun vibe and charm.

ok go i wont let you down honda uni-cub music video drone camera multi-copter japan dancers

OK Go are famous for their inventive music videos that feature challenging set-ups and long takes. “I Won’t Let You Down” is no exception, including some bravado moments such as an aerial shot and the band “dancing” the whole time while riding self-balancing unicycles. And holding umbrellas.

The “Japanese” elements are pretty inconsequential. Some anonymous Japanese girls appear, twirl their umbrellas and legs in synchronized group movements, and occasionally chant “Ichi, ni, san…” (Look out for the three members of Perfume, who pop up for a few seconds at the start.)

The setting would also appear to be Japan, though certainly not Tokyo, given the expansive surroudings.

ok go i wont let you down honda uni-cub music video drone camera multi-copter japan dancers

The machines the band members ride are Honda UNI-CUBs, a robotic scooter kind of like a very small Segway that can balance itself. The customized drone camera that filmed the whole enterprise was also apparently contributed by Honda.

ok go i wont let you down honda uni-cub music video drone camera multi-copter japan dancers

There is a worrying precedent when overseas music artists come and make a “Japan-inspired” song or music video. The biggest criminal of recent times has been Avril Lavigne and her wacky “Hello Kitty” music video. We might be tempted to say the OK Go have almost opted for that cliche of Japanese or Asian people prancing around in mass games-style crowd choreography, but on the whole they pull it off with the emphasis leaning much more on fun tribute than cultural appropriation.

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Maywa Denki’s latest musical instrument, Mr Knocky, is an awesome drum toy

Written by: Japan Trends on September 29, 2014 at 9:37 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Maywa Denki are one of Japan’s best-kept secrets. Part music unit, part toy designers, part performance artists, the group is now 20 years old but continues to come up with great ideas.

Their biggest hit was likely the Otamatone Sound Toy, a remake of the theremin that came out a few years ago, though they are involved with new projects the whole time. Led by the irrepressible Novumichi Tosa, the boss puts himself front and center of the marketing. He’s the guy in the video below demonstrating Maywa Denki’s latest product, Mr Knocky. As Tosa shows, Mr Knocky is a surprisingly inventive drum instrument toy.

maywa denki mr knocky drum toy musical instrument

It doesn’t use batteries, instead relying on what Tosa calls “wire action”. As you shake the “mallet controller”, it makes Mr Knock drum. He has two drums and so there are two controllers. Switch the way you shake them to vary the drumming. This requires real skill to do well. You can hang Mr Knocky around your neck too if you want to walk around town playing his drums.

The second way you can play Mr Knocky is by putting the controllers flat on a surface (they helpfully have sticky pads to make this easier) and fitting them together. This makes them into de facto piano keys and now you can use your fingers to play the drums. Even better, get two Mr Knocky toys and combine the controllers so you have four drumming piano keys, all fitted together to make one mega percussion unit.

maywa denki mr knocky drum toy musical instrument

Here’s the full demo. Towards the end Tosa gives a showcase of some of the more difficult things you can do with Mr Knocky, such as “crescendo knock”, “paradiddle knock” and “unison knock”.

Here Tosa plays a Otamatone-Mr Knocky duet with himself!

Mr Knocky comes in two colors (white or black) and can even be given some extra character with the mustache accessory that is included.

But if you’re really keen on customizing things, take off Mr Knocky’s drums and replace them with other items like empty drink cans. The angle of Mr Knocky’s drumming arm can also be adjusted depending on the size of the ersatz drum.

Mr Knocky will be released in early October and can be purchased via JapanTrendShop.

To end, here’s Maywa Denki performing with the SoftBank robot Pepper earlier this year, along with a whole gaggle of their wacky inventions.

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“Diggin’ in the Carts”: Red Bull Music Academy’s documentary series about Japanese video game music

Written by: William on September 18, 2014 at 9:33 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great series of documentaries about the little-known world of Japanese video game music.

The series is called “Diggin’ in the Carts” and so far parts 1 and 2 have been released. Each episode is around 15 minutes long and have English subtitles.

Hiroshi Kawaguchi Takenobu Mitsuyoshi red bull academy video game music japan diggin in the carts documentary series

Composers featured in the series include Hirokazu Tanaka, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Shinji Hosoe, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (both above), Masahi Kageyama (below), and many more.

The series highlights how important video games and their soundtracks were for the generation growing up in recent years, and “yet for most of us the composers behind these timeless melodies remain faceless”. The central thrust of the series is to put a face to these undervalued composers and argue that video game music has been probably Japan’s largest musical export to the rest of the world.

masashi kageyama red bull academy video game music japan diggin in the carts documentary series

Here is Episode 1: “The Rise of VGM”.

In this episode we look at the birth and rise of music in video games. From the earliest sounds and melodies to the first fully formed continuous music to be pioneered in the arcade games from Namco. We meet Junko Ozawa, one of Namco’s earliest sound team composers, and also the legendary Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka, who joined Nintendo in 1980 and was responsible for composing some of the giant’s most loved classics like Metroid and Tetris.

The series is directed by Nick Dwyer and Tu Neill.

For some reason they have elected not to put the other full episodes on YouTube (yet?) but they exist as heavy videos on their own site that don’t really embed well.

The first episode was released in early September. Episode 2 is called “The Outer Reaches of 8 Bit” and is out now. The final three episodes are scheduled to go online over the next few weeks.

Watch the rest of the series when they are released and see other bonus content over on the Red Bull Music Academy website.

On a side note, one of the most famous composers of Japanese video game music, Mamoru Samuragochi, was exposed as a fraud earlier this year.

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Korg Miku Stomp Effect is a Hatsune Miku-inspired effects unit for guitar duets

Written by: Japan Trends on September 17, 2014 at 8:34 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Korg, although respected as a premier electronic musical instrument and accessories maker, still likes to have fun every now and then.

That’s why in the past it has released such items as Hello Kitty Guitar Tuner in collaboration with Sanrio.

And now it has created the Korg Miku Stomp Effect for Hatsune Miku, the virtual character originally created for the Yamaha Vocaoloid system that has since become a mini industry in its own right.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

Hatsune Miku has inspired an opera, Blythe fashion dolls, racing bikes and more. She also recently became the Otona no Kagaku Pocket Miku Singing Keyboard for gadget kit makers Gakken.

Korg’s contribution is the rather snazzy-looking Korg Miku Stomp Effect. Korg is obviously at home with Hatsune Miku, who was born out of electronic music. This new Korg Miku Stomp Effect, to be released in October in Japan, allows you to have a guitar duet with Miku, singing in her unique Yamaha eVocaloid style.

Here’s a trailer hinting at the kinds of sounds you can create.

Korg says the aluminum diecast body on the effects unit is decorated with a specially commissioned original illustration.

korg hatsune miku stomp effects unit evocaloid idol japanese music

There are 11 different lyric patterns and you can also input and customize your own lyrics. Korg are being a bit coy about how this will work. Apparently there is going to be a dedicated iPhone app but complete details are not yet available, plus they do not promise it can work with “English” but do say it can work with up to 6,000 characters in either Hiragana, Katakana or Romaji — but the latter is essentially writing Japanese in the Roman alphabet so it should in theory be possible to program Hatsune Miku to sing what you want to the tune of “Senbonzakura”.

This will have to confirmed in late October when the Miku Stomp Effect goes on release here. We can’t wait to see what Hatsune Miku fans create with their new musical toy.

Check out further details and specs on JapanTrendShop.

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Former Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School Japanese idol group members (and fans) sued by management for dating

Written by: William on September 12, 2014 at 10:38 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

In a possibly unprecedented move, the management of a Japanese idol group is suing two former members, their parental guardians, and the fans they had relationships with for damages.

MovingFactory, the management and label behind the seven-girl idol group Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School has named both the two members, the fans and the parents in the lawsuit, which was made public yesterday.

Formed in 2012, Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School is not as famous as other idol groups like Perfume, AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z, but still has a reasonable fan base. Its single “STARTING OVER”, released in March, got to No.7 on the Oricon weekly singles chart.

In April this year it was suddenly announced that one of the members was leaving due to “health issues” and then in July another member was said to be taking a “break” from event appearances. New members were announced (the group now has eight members).

However, it was not until August that the reasons for the departure of Miho Yuuki (19) and Sena Miura (22) were made clear when a producer explained at an event that the two had been dating fans, which breached their contracts with MovingFactory. They were fired and the management even went so far as to reveal the names of the fans, which led to people tracking down their social media accounts and photos.

Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School japanese idol group sued lawsuit relationship with fan

And now it has emerged a lawsuit has been filed for over ¥8.2 million (in excess of $75,000) for damages as a result of the girls’ actions. The two members are named in the suit, as are the men who had relationships with the girls.

“The parental guardians signed contracts that said the members would not have relationships with fans and would not neglect their work,” the management was quoted. “They have betrayed the members of the group and all their fans. We cannot forgive this.”

It was not until yesterday that the lawsuit was confirmed, though rumors about it had been circulating since mid-August when MovingFactory explained why the two members had left. One of the men in question wrote a blog post claiming that as an ordinary citizen he was free to have a relationship with someone and that he had received notice of a lawsuit. The other man went so far as to make a public apology via a YouTube video (since taken down).

There is a recent similar case. Last month the management company for idol group N Zero announced a lawsuit against a member and a fan for having “private contact”.

While there have been some scandals of this nature before, what usually happens is the “shamed” member is fired or punished. AKB48 member Minami Minegishi was demoted and even shaved her head in a bizarre act of public self-humiliation, while fellow member Rino Sashihara was exiled to a Kyushu “sister group” for a similar romantic episode, though her fan base has since exonerated her and turned her into one of the most popular members in the AKB sphere.

Some have criticized the management of idol groups for moral hypocrisy, demanding that female members be all pure and innocent while actually selling them as sex objects and profiting from the sexualization of young girls. In fact, as is alleged with former AKB48 member Tomomi Kasai, there are cases where relationships with the idols are condoned but only when it is with the (older) male management themselves.

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