Synthetic voices with real heart: an interview with Vocaloid producer MushiP

MushiP is my favorite Vocaloid producer! I've been listening to his music for about two years and his music never ceases to enthrall me. His work as a Vocaloid producer stands out as having incredible depth, stacking layer upon layer of melodic sounds that leave no holes for silence to leak through — except for the occasional silence used for punctuation. 

For those who don't know what "Vocaloid producer" or "Vocaloid" means, a Vocaloid producer is someone who uses Vocaloid, a Japanese synthetic singing software, to create vocals for their songs. Vocaloids are synthetic singers represented by characters and have voicebanks for producers to use. The most popular Vocaloid is Hatsune Miku, the blue-haired singing icon from Japan who has become famous around the world over the years.

People pay hundreds of dollars to go to concerts to see their favorite Vocaloids sing in front of them in hologram form, and a huge community has been built around these singers. You can read more about Vocaloids here.

I find it especially interesting that Vocaloid producers each have a unique way of tuning Vocaloids. So, for example, when Hatsune Miku sings a song, her inflections and how she hits her notes will sound a little different depending on which producer is behind the song. Each producer also has their own style, creating everything from Vocaloid pop to Vocaloid metal and beyond. 

To give you a taste of MushiP's music, here is the trailer for his new album, Cradle (to be released April 29th), which contains short audio clips of each of the upcoming songs:

Many of these songs have been posted to his Youtube channel, where you can give them a longer listen in advance of the album's release. And this album contains two of my favorite MushiP songs, Homeward and Childhood.

I was lucky enough to be given a chance to interview MushiP earlier this year. I interviewed MushiP in Japanese but translated it to English here to the best of my ability. The original Japanese version of the interview is at the bottom, so if you happen to notice any mistakes (hopefully there aren't any!), feel free to point them out, and I'll correct them.

What is your process for creating music? What software and hardware do you use?

First of all, I use a Mac computer and Cubase as my DAW for my production environment. Alongside that, I have my delightful pets (a rabbit and two chickens) around, which provide me with a sense of comfort. 

Regarding the actual production process, when I make music, I set a clear theme with a single word, and then I attach sounds to it while observing the theme. I create freely, like kneading clay, and I am very happy when something I could not have imagined comes out. Sometimes I dance, and sometimes I cannot get out of bed because I am so distressed.

Who and what are your biggest influences, and why?

I have many sources of inspiration, but I think Kikuo, Bo En, and Yoko Kurahashi have particularly inspired me in terms of songs, and Astor Piazzolla and Brad Mehldau have inspired me in terms of instrumentation. They all create truly genius and colorful music, but there is something sad and shadowy about their style that really draws me in. 

Their music is not just entertainment; it's very real. The articulation of each word and melody is an unconcealed message, and I love that you can feel their passion and expressions not only in the parts of the song that are clear and direct but also in the more ambiguous parts (not only in the light but in the shadows as well). I also really enjoy the way that their personal aspects change. In this vast world, my personal bible is the idea that "it is OK for me to be me."

Who do you make music for?

More than anything, I make music for myself. I have been making artwork as a type of "therapy" to help find closure in feelings I could not process, words I failed to say, and the version of myself that I left behind in the past.

I am very introverted and often have a hard time fitting into society or stifling what I want to say. It is a complex of mine. But with musical expression, I can be free. I think that through my observation of how I behave in music, I am trying to understand who I really am and what I am thinking.

What song in this album do you feel closest to, and what makes it personal to you?

The song that feels the most familiar to me on the new album is "Childhood." A few years ago, I joined a game company as a sound creator. It was a great opportunity to think about "what kind of music needs to be made" and "what kind of sound will give players the best gaming experience." On the other hand, though, during this time I was losing sight of what kind of music I wanted to do, and I fell into a long slump. I was drifting away from the music of MushiP. 

In the midst of this suffering, I managed to create "Childhood" by stripping away all the extra sounds, words, and thoughts around me, and focusing them into this song. In the sea of potential music that I was free to create, I could only pick up what I truly cared about, making this song the most honest, intuitive, and sweet piece of music I have ever written. Since the release of this song, I think I have been able to dive more deeply into the core of myself.

What makes your music unique?

People often tell me that my music is unique! I always try to create music that is like nothing anyone has heard before, so perhaps that is why it has the reputation of being unique. I do want people to be able to understand my music, of course, but more than that, I have decided that my first priority is to do everything in my power to try to make music that will translate myself to the listener and let them feel my mind.

When I am in pain, I try to savor it without trying to force myself to become comfortable. On the other hand, when I am having fun, I want to have happy music that amplifies that fun. In this way, I make music that reflects my mood at any given time, so I think my work is a kind of "story of my experiences." Although it's familiar to me, I think my work is something new to everyone other than myself, so I find it very interesting that I can gather empathy with these songs.

You collaborated with Michi Andou on this album. What was the collaborative experience like?

For me, the collaboration with Michi Andou could be considered an important "fresh start." I usually receive very little direct inspiration from music. I get a lot of inspiration from things other than music, such as paintings, landscapes, ceramics, and dance. But at one point, Michi Andou danced to my music. When I saw it, even though it was my own music, I was surprised and impressed by the new interpretations and values that her dancing brought out. I had never noticed them before. Her dance freely changes its form, like a liquid, and shows various colors like a prism. Because of this, I had high hopes that by working with Michi Andou, we would each be able to further evolve our own work.

In the piece we collaborated on, "Uchujin Tanken," I asked her to dance freely, not according to any script. We wanted to create something new and unpredictable by letting our beliefs collide. In doing so, I felt a lot more excitement than I'd imagined I would, and I also got a lot of feedback from brand new listeners, which made me feel as if I had entered some new chapter. 

Until now, I've basically made all of my music alone in my room. So it was a good opportunity for me to realize how much fun it is to create a work of art with someone else.

MushiP's collaboration with Michi Andou

How do you think that this album differs from your past works?

My last full album, Pottsun, was released four years ago and was all about "loneliness." It was a work that expressed my feelings of desperately searching and struggling to find myself. In this new album, Cradle, I took it one step further and instead expressed a more positive feeling of "it's difficult because I am trying to move forward." I feel that I put the spotlight not only on the shadows, but also on the light. The visuals on the album's jacket are yellow, evoking feelings of sunshine, happiness, and warmth, as opposed to the cold blue colors of the previous album.

Actually, I've tried color therapy before, and it turned out that the color I was missing was yellow. Come to think of it, there was a scene in my previous song "Color and Electricity," where suffering came from not being able to find yellow, so I realized that I could express myself more realistically by being aware of the color yellow.

What do you want to work on next?

When it comes to my next pieces of work, I would like to make more songs that use human vocals alongside my Vocaloid songs. In addition to my "MushiP" name, I also have a name I use when I make instrumental music, "Solitary Orchestra." I would like to make an album under this name as well. I am very interested in what I can create through expression that's non-dependent on words.

Is there anything else that you want to say?

I am deeply grateful for your warm support. Recently, I have been getting a lot of international listeners, so I'd eventually like to do some live shows overseas. I'll keep working hard to make interesting music, so stay tuned…!

You can find MushiP on Twitter.

Original interview conducted in Japanese:

  1. 音楽制作の過程は何ですか。どのソフトウェアとハードウェアを使用していますか。


  1. 最も影響を受けた人物とその理由ですか。

いろいろなところから影響を受けているのですが、歌曲ではきくお、bo enさん、倉橋ヨエコから、器楽ではAstor Piazzolla、Brad Mehldauから特に影響を受けていると思います(海外の方のお名前に合わせて敬称略で表記しています)。みなさん本当に天才的で色鮮やかな楽曲を作られるのですが、どこか悲しみや翳りを感じられる作風で、とても惹き込まれます。この方々の音楽は単なるエンターテインメントではなく、とてもリアルなのですよね。言葉やメロディ、アーティキュレーションのひとつひとつが包み隠さずにメッセージを発しているように感じますし、同時に、彼らの直接的な主張だけではなく、そうではない部分にも(光だけではなく影に対しても)畏れを持って表現している感じが読み取れるのがとても好きです。また、彼らのパーソナルな部分の変化を感じられるのもとても味わい深いですね。この広い世界の中で、「僕は僕らしくあっていいんだ」と感じさせてくれる、僕にとってのバイブルになっています。

  1. 誰のために音楽を作っていますか。



  1. アルバムの歌の中で、一番親しさを感じるのはどれですか?どうしてか。


  1. どうしてあなたの音楽はユニークなのか。



  1. アルバムでは、安藤未知さんとコラボレーションしていますね。このコラボレーションはどのようなものだったのですか。





  1. アルバムは、これまでのあなたのアルバムと歌とどう違うのでしょうか。



  1. 次に作りたいものは何ですか。

次はボカロにとどまらず人間ボーカルの曲もたくさん作りたいと思っています。また、僕は「ムシぴ」名義の他に「Solitary Orchestra」というイントゥルメンタルの名義もやっているのですが、こちらでもアルバムを作りたいと思っています。言葉によらない表現で何が生み出せるのかとても興味があります。

  1. 最後に、その他話しますか。