I’m torn over exactly how to approach this review. The Singing Keyboard Pocket Miku Official Book really should have been packaged with the actual keyboard under the Otona no Kagaku Sound Gadget label at the $50 charged for just the kit. Instead, we have yet one more musical instrument floating around loose on the Gakken website that you have to pay an extra 1,500 yen ($15 USD) for just to get what normally comes free with other kits. Plus, the only instrument actually released as a “sound gadget” is the SX-150 Mark II, which has been out for years now. If Gakken’s going to launch all these new lines – Sound Gadget, Petite Handmade, Simple Kid’s Handicrafts – it’d be nice if they’d stop orphaning them.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of good information in this book, if you are into electronic music and you own the Pocket Miku. If so, then I recommend getting this one.
The Official Guide is 116 pages, A4 size. It includes two new seals that you can put on the keyboard. In fact, the first few pages talk about the Piapro collaboration held back in April. The piapro website is run by Crypton Future Media as a fan distribution site for people that make music using Vocaloid. Crypton, in turn, sells music/media software based on the Vocaloid engine. The “collaboration” was a request for fan artwork starring Miku Hatsune, and the top 11 submissions are included in this book, the grand prize winner being turned into one of the two vinyl seals.
This is followed by a 4-page interview with Vocaloid musician/producer Mitchie M, and a 4-page interview with synthesizer pioneer Isao Tomita. As a side note, Tomita has already released at least 1 album of Vocaloid music. Other musicians mentioned as having “collaborated” with Vocaloid/Hatsune include Glay, Lady Gaga, Bump of Chicken, Clementine and Rocketman.
The “Pocket Miku Perfect Guide” starts on page 28, with Captain Mirai’s (Captain Future) 8-page hands-on class showing the basics of the keyboard (how to use the stylus, pitch bend, vibrato, etc.) This is sponsored by the ESP Sound Academy, which offers courses on how to use the Vocaloid software.
Next, there’s 12 pages on the online app, which requires Google Chrome, IE or Safari to run. The first version of the app simply let you reprogram the Pocket Miku with new phoneme sets. Version 2.0 is more interactive and you can use it to make the Miku sing in real time. There’s now also a config feature that lets you change some of the button settings.
If you have a sequencer, Katsunori Ujiie (keyboardist/composer that works with Yamaha) spends 8 pages showing how to run the Miku off of Acid Music Studio and Garage Band, and presents one of his compositions as part of the article.
The section on MIDI covers 17 pages, and includes tables of instrument voices plus the phonemes produced for specific MIDI note numbers. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what app is shown in the article as the MIDI controller. It could be Acid or Garage Band, but I’m not sure. I’ve tried using Sonar X1 LE to interface with the Miku, and still haven’t managed to make it work right. I’m thinking that the issue is that the LE version is semi-crippled and that I really should buy the full commercial package. But, if you have Acid or GB, making it work with the Miku should be straight-forward. The MIDI section includes examples for sending customized “exclusive strings” to take advantage of the Miku’s Yamaha chip. It uses the Yamaha NSX-1 processor, if you’re familiar with that.
If you are new to music and keyboards in general, there are 5 pages of sheet music, including “Happy Birthday” and “Meruto”, where the notes are identified with the “do-re-mi” phonemes produced by each of the keys using the default keyboard voice. Actually, this was one of the deciding factors for me in getting this book. I need all the help I can get to figure out how to play by ear, and having the sheet music telling me specifically which key to touch at each “do, mi, so, re” point helps because that’s the phoneme that sounds for that given note.
Gakken interviews 3 of the members of Crypton for 5 pages. Then there’s the “void the warranty” section that people buy the Otona no Kagaku kits for. The first mod is to just knit a Hatsune-patterned yarn cover for the box and stylus. Then we get a replacement wood case, and a suggestion to wire the kit to a bullhorn. The really cool mod, though, is a 3D-printed plotter attachment that holds the stylus and is connected to a microprocessor to get voice-activated control over the music.
The remainder of the book is a comparison between Vocaloid and eVocaloid, the history and evolution of both, and finally, a short pictorial history of Hatsune Miku music.
Comments: The pictures are good, and if you can read Japanese then you’ll be interested in the interviews with Mitchie M and Tomita. For me, the two most important reasons for getting this book are the sheet music and the MIDI charts. I fully intend, when I get the time, to sit back down with my Java arpeggiator app and add support for the Miku. After that, I hope to write a Java sequencer that takes input from textfiles and records from the Roland A300-Pro keyboard. Along with the sequencer, I could incorporate the codes from the book’s MIDI charts for more “dirty to the elbows” control of the kit. But, knowing me, that may not happen for a while…