Pocket Miku Official Guide Review



(Image from the Otona no Kagaku page, for review purposes only.)

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…

 

Gakken Update, 140626


A little activity on the Gakken Facebook page.

On the 14th, there had been the theremin concert, with short courses on how to build, tune and play the Gakken theremin kit. One of the editors uploaded 3 photos from the event to Facebook.

Second, there’s an announcement that the Gakken “supplement” movie has started playing in Osaka.

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Edit: The Otona no Kagaku site news page has an update – they now have a description page on the site for the new Pocket Miku book.

 

Virginia’s Story, a Reading


I decided to try tackling another of Kory Merritt’s works, No Story, No Room. This one is an excerpt entitled, Virginia’s Story. The vocal tracks were passed through the Korg Kaossilator Pro vocoder and mixed with the Behringer mixer, then recorded with my camcorder. Additional sound effects came from freesound.org. Final editing and tweaking was performed in Audacity. I’m not happy with how Virginia’s voice came out, and the 4 scrolling scenes in the middle are too short. If I can get someone to do Virginia’s voice for me, I’ll consider fixing all the other stuff at the same time.

youtube link

Kaleidoscope


One of my jobs is to do native checking on translations from Japanese to English. Part of this consists of just doing a spellcheck, the rest is converting the sentences into more natural-sounding English expressions. The upside of the job is that I get exposed to a wide variety of subject matter. One such case was for a gift shop in Sengan-en, in Kagoshima. The shop is connected to the Kiriko glassworks, which manufactures very high-quality cut-glass pieces (glasses, plates, candle holders). The job was to clean up the translations of a guide booklet on how kiriko is made.

Kiriko refers to cut glass, and there are two main styles – Edo and Satsuma. Edo is the original name for Tokyo, and the style dates back to 1834. Satsuma was a region on the island of Kyushu that was ruled by the Shimadzu clan (where present-day Kagoshima is now). Around 1868, the 27th Shimadzu lord, Nariakira, wanted to develop several industries in the area that would encourage trade with western countries. One of these industries was stained and cut glass, which was then called Satsuma Kiriko. Unfortunately, because of the outbreak of fighting in the region, including a battle with British ships, the factories were destroyed or shutdown before commercial production started. More recently, the glassworks has been restarted to recreate the original designs. The works being produced right now can go for several hundred dollars (USD) for a single shot glass, and several thousand dollars for larger individual pieces. It’s expensive, collector-level art.

Edo and Satsuma kiriko are similar in that colored glass is blown into a mold, and then a layer of clear glass is blown within the colored layer. A diamond-edged cutting saw is used to cut patterns into the colored layer so that light will shine through the places where the clear layer is exposed. The difference is that Edo style only produces a single gradation (color or no color), while Satsuma style has a smooth, continuous gradation in shading. Funny enough, while Edo style looks more primitive to the western eye, native Japanese consider it to be more modern and cosmopolitan compared to the “rustic” Satsuma approach.

As a follow-up to the translated narration guide, I was also asked to help clean up the instructions for a “make your own kaleidoscope” kit. The colored chips used by the kit are a byproduct of the kiriko cutting process, making the glass semi-valuable as a result. It’s a very simple kit design, consisting of 3 mirror strips for an isosceles triangle reflector, a cardboard tube housing, and a glass jar to hold the sparklies. In the jar, you put the sparklies (the colored Satsuma kiriko chips) and some glycerine to slow down the movement of the chips as the tube is rotated. Tape the jar shut to prevent the glycerine from leaking, and tape the jar to the tube. Unfortunately, the jar still leaks when the kit is laying on its side, so I have to track that down at some point.

Overall, the kaleidoscope imagery is very pretty, and it’s nice being able to look at it off and on. But, it would have been better if the reflector was wider. Right now, the view area is proportionally very small compared to the size of the eye hole. It’s not something that you’ll keep playing with for hours at a time.

I tried taking pictures through the eyepiece using my small pocket camera, but the colors got washed out. It looks much more spectacular than the photos imply. Still, it was fun having the kit to put together, and I do have a small amount of leftover glass chips that I could use for other projects if the opportunity ever arises.

Newsletter 159


Of course, just when I post a few messages about how there’s no activity at Gakken, I get the next newsletter in email.

It starts out thanking everyone for being patient, and then announcing that kit 41, the Auto Writer, is coming out on July 22nd.


01) The Auto Writer
The editors state that the Auto Writer was co-developed by Meiwa Denki (producers of off-the-wall almost-practical devices) (Meiwa president shown above), and that it’s really cool. It has one motor and a gear system that can drive the writing hand in 3 directions. You start out by writing with the program cam, and that then controls the movement of the hand holding the pen.
100 page book, A4 size. 3,500 yen (not including tax).


2) Official Pocket Miku Book
This 116 B5-sized page book is intended to assist newbies into the world of MIDI music using the Pocket Miku and the online voice reprogramming application. It walks readers through the steps of using the online app, discusses how to control it with PC sequencer software, and teaches non-musicians how to read a score and play simple songs on the Miku.
Released on June 12th. 1,500 yen, not including tax. Book includes a Miku seal.

3) Murumura Suru Uchuu (The Attractive Universe)
This is a 224 A5-sized page science book written by Naoki Yoshida, professor of astrophysics at the University of Tokyo. The book is divided into 3 parts. First is an explanation of puzzles regarding the universe that scientists have been able to unravel. Second is kind of a Q&A. Third is a discussion of what the attractive/repulsive forces are in the universe, including dark energy and dark matter.
Scheduled for a June 26 release. 1,300 yen, not including tax. (No cover art yet.)

 


4) Rainbow Loom
If you’re old enough, you may remember seeing something like this as a kid. It was a girl’s toy featuring a plastic square grid that you’d use as a frame when threading on cloth-covered elastic bands. You could use it to make pot holders, coasters, and other small items. The Rainbow Loom is an updated version, and is coming out in Japan probably as part of the Petit Handmade series.
The kit comes with the loom, elastic bands, and a 28 page A5 booklet. Scheduled for a July 29th release. 1,200 yen, not including tax.

Gakken Update, 140613


A little bit more activity on the Pocket Miku kit. Gakken has added a link to the software application page. This is the app that requires Google Chrome, and to have the Pocket Miku plugged into your PC’s USB port. Originally, the app just let you read and write the onboard SRAM to change Miku’s vocabulary. The upate is an expanded menu bar and a new option for playing the Miku in real-time.

Not a really earth-shattering announcement, but it does demonstrate that Gakken isn’t completely hibernating right now.

Gakken Update, 140610


A little bit of new activity on the Otona no Kagaku facebook page. They’re announcing an event in Chiba on the 14th to promote the release of the first solo album, Spinning, by theremin musician Kuritez. The event will include a performance by Kuritez, an album signing for people that buy the album or DVD that day, and a workshop on how to assemble, tune and play the Otona no Kagaku theremin kit (vol. 17).

And, Hah!
With all of my whining about the next Gakken kit being delayed, right after I posted this entry I checked at Amazon, and YES, they have a pre-order page up for the Auto Writer! No photo of the box art there, yet. Tentatively scheduled for July 22, at 3,780 yen ($39 USD). A shorter mook this time, at only 100 pages. Since all new products take a couple days to reach Kyushu from the main island, I may not be able to buy this kit until the 24th or 25th at the earliest. And, Gakken has updated the Next Up page, too (giving the price as 3,500 yen plus tax).

LED Thingie, Done


(The toggle switch above the handle is for silencing the speaker.)

Troubleshooting the LED matrix was fairly simple and the problem was probably just a very small solder bridge across two pins on the main shield board. Everything else was just a matter of gluing the LEDs in place in the tube so they wouldn’t get pushed out of the holes by accident, and then using vinyl tape to try to make it look a little better. The result is a clumsy-looking candy cane. As mentioned last time, if all you have is a cutter knife and a cardboard roll, you can’t expect much.

(Muzzle, with the yellow LED string and piezoelectric speaker.)

The size of the Japanino plus shield caused the handle to become much larger than I would have liked. If I was doing this as a commercial product, I’d want all the LEDs on a flexible sheet that I could roll up into a tube, and have the circuitry minimized to fit on a corner of the sheet, then run a small connector to the switches and battery pack. The handle would only contain 3 AA or AAA batteries. If I ever get a 3D printer, I’ll try this again.

(Inside view of the handle, with Japanino and battery pack.)

On the other hand, though, this was a proof-of-concept project, and on that count it was a success. The “blaster” functions look pretty cool, although the speaker is too quiet. I’d want a stronger speaker and a transistor amp driver. The trigger switch is the simple leaf switch from the original Japanino POV kit. I wrote code so that if the battery is turned on while the trigger is held down, the blaster goes into flashlight mode. The little yellow LEDs at the muzzle put out a lot of light.

(Trigger switch.)

Now that it’s built, I have it propped up against the wall and I use it like a flashier version of a lava lamp.

Gakken Updates, 06/05/14


I go to the Otona no Kagaku page every day, just to make sure there hasn’t been new activity. And recently, there’s been nothing. I also check the Gakken Facebook page for the same reason, and with the same results. Just on the off-chance, I occasionally visit amazon.co.jp and type in “Gakken” to see if there’s a new product page added for accepting pre-orders for something. So far, the Auto-Writer has remained off the radar.

But… There has been one new item showing up on Amazon – The Official Singing Keyboard Pocket Miku book. Not really sure why the Pocket Miku needs a separate book, the booklet that came with the kit was only 16 pages long, so it’s not like it’s all that complex or has that many options to explore. I can see it, IF the new book suggests possible mods for voiding the warranty.

Anyway, there’s no cover image yet. 116 pages, 1,620 yen ($17 USD). Tentative release date: June 12.

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Something else that caught my attention while looking at the Pocket Miku Official book, is the Vocaloid Hako Vision. This thing is a box with a reflector mirror inside. You scan the QR code on the side of the box with your smartphone, then place the phone on top of the box, facing down. Your phone will run a Vocaloid app which you can watch via the mirror as if the box was an old-style TV. 882 yen. You can put it on the shelf along with your Gundam and Tokyo Station hako visions.

 

LED thingie


As mentioned last week, I found myself in the possession of a cardboard tube, and I already had 320 LEDs just waiting to be used for something. I’d had the idea of doing something cylinder-like in the back of my mind for several weeks now, and it was time to see if the idea would translate to reality. Unfortunately, my apartment is REALLY small, so the only tools I have room for are a cutter knife, a small screwdriver set, and the soldering iron. This means that whatever I make will always end up looking crude. Sigh.

Essentially, this is an 8×6 LED matrix, with one row of 6 LEDs wrapped around the piezoelectric speaker inserted at the end of the tube. Ultimately, I’ll make a cardboard case for holding the Japanino and battery pack as the blaster grip. The concept is an energy weapon that has a power-up sequence. The power-up has the bottom column of green LEDs on each side of the tube lighting, followed by the top column of green LEDs. When the yellow, then red LEDs in the middle columns are fully lit, all three columns turn off and the yellow LEDs wrapped around the speaker blink for a 10th of a second. If the trigger switch is released mid-way, the LEDs turn off in reverse order. The speaker emits a rising hum as the blaster “powers up” and a short chirp during the blast. A toggle switch on the side of the main tube allows for disabling the speaker. The speaker’s not that loud, but it can be annoying to everyone else in the apartment if I have it on during debug late at night.

The green LEDs aren’t bright, and almost can’t be seen in room light. But, they do look good in the dark. At the moment, one row of LEDs are apparently shorted somewhere and aren’t lighting up, so I need to fix that. But, I do have the power-up/down animations working, and a couple chaser patterns to run when the thing’s been idle for 20 seconds as kind of a “screensaver”. I may add one or two more patterns at some point. And when it has been fully debugged I’ll tape it up so it looks a bit better. In any case, this is what I’ve got so far.