Author: James Franklin

Week 9 + 10: Final Thoughts

As we begin to wrap up DIGC330 I now move on to completing my major essay. Though discussing the potential of presenting a digital artefact in response to the autoethnographic experience I have had in exploring the Japanese music industry I ultimately decided against it. The simple answer was that there were simply too many logistical concerns in establishing the infrastructure required to facilitate the community I was proposing.

My major essay will be investigating the long tail effect of Japanese musical influence as touched on briefly in my last post. It was this reflection on Japonism or a growing influence of Japanese cultural contents that ultimately highlighted a thread that I had been following throughout my blog posts. These influences are primarily soundtracks from games and anime that the large majority of us were exposed to as children. I was unfortunately (?) forbidden from watching TV or playing video games until I was in about 5th Grade and it is only through starting to engage with these other more less immediate permutations of Japanese music that the opportunity for reflection of these parallels with music that I was listening to were made apparent to me. It is in my separation from many of the sources of this influence that has the potential to form a strong base for my autoethnographic approach to the topic.

I will be drawing on further research that I have found on confirming this topic, most importantly a similar discussion that has been created recently by Red Bull Music a YouTube series entitled Diggin in The Carts. This series looks at the influence of Japanese video game music in an exploration of the ‘invisible’ musicians behind the music but also in having conversations with this influence with a range of western producers.

I will be attempting to host a similar discussion using musicians and producers that I listen to in order to further personalize the exploration, people such as Ryan Hemsworth, who I mentioned briefly in my last post, as he has increasingly frequently offered a bridge for engagement with the cultural content of Japan. I will also make some references to the less conspicuous connections such as PC Music, with whom I started this discussion in my very first post for the subject. It proves to have been a rewarding experience and I hope that I am able to illustrate this in some form in an essay format.

Week 8: Japonism

This week I stumbled upon a discussion of a bi – directional feedback loop that has evolved between Japanese and “western” music which has intensified the differences between the two. FACT Magazine, who provided the discussion is a popular online publication which provides a running commentary on music, including general news and various opinion pieces such as reviews, lists and often insightful discussions on musical cultures. In attempts to justify some conclusions on a symbiotic relationship I have stumbled across as a result of my investigation of J-Pop I came across an article on Japonism in FACT. As it happens this discussion of cross cultural influence has been prevalent since the 19th century, Japonism a French term describing the growing influence of Japanese culture though it is only recently in the 80’s and 90’s that this feedback loop developed with the rise of J-Pop. An interesting development in this discussion by Fintoni is a key element of a distinct translation of western influences in Japan, the early influence of an opportunity for incubation. Japanese musicians were initially able to process western music with little historical or cultural context, which facilitated a rich conversation between the east and west, obviously a conversation that occurs more frequently today with the speed of information.

As I’ve been investigating J-Pop facilitations of this conversation have become more apparent when I then return to listening to my ‘normal’ music. Ryan Hemsworth, a Canadian musician has been collaborating more frequently with Japanese producers as well as promoting local translations of J-Pop, such as Kero Kero Bonito based in the UK.

It is evident that collaborations such as these will become more frequent, hopefully more effectively than the Avril Lavigne ‘experiment’, but it will be interesting to see at which point if not already discerning between the musical styles will become too difficult. I have a feeling that the environment that facilitates today’s discussion dictates that a middle ground will be reached in the not too distant future.

Week 7: Autoethnographic Practice

I have been particularly confronted by the need to use autoethnography in my weekly blog posts. In deciphering my more recent posts in which I feel I have provided my strongest examples, I can begin to discern a methodology of an ‘educated ethnography’ I have employed to better investigate J-Pop.

Autoethnography as discussed by Ellis, Adams and Bochner as a marrying of autobiography and ethnography (2011). Put simply a drawing of comparisons between personal experience and cultural investigation. Ellis et al also discuss the importance of showing vs. telling when performing autoethnography as the author must remain as subjective as possible. As the area of study is completely new to me, for the most part I can only draw comparisons through my personal knowledge of industrial practices in Japan that I have already explored as part of my university degree, areas such as fan interaction with cultural content and the Japanese film and television industry. My personal knowledge of more local music industry practice is very specific and thus is difficult to apply to the larger industrial process that J-Pop represents. The majority of the autoethnographical process I have established relies on this and the developments provided through a processing of recent preceding research into the J-Pop industry. In their overview of autoethnography Ellis et al (2011) discuss the importance of the epiphany, which has guided my understanding of the practice in discussing my constantly evolving understanding of the practices of the industry. It is these epiphanies that prompt me to further investigate the viability of these connections and consequently finding more avenues of exploration.

References:

Ellis, C; Adams T E; Bochner A P 2011 ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1 art. 10 http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

Week 6: Moving Forward

In light of last week’s worrying conundrum in deciding the mode of interaction with my digital artefact I am happy to have found an article which has confirmed a starting point for the community. Yoshitaka Mōri (2009) provides an interesting look at the evolution of J-Pop, it it is through his discussion of the “genre” that it is made apparent that J-Pop is not a genre but a signifier of a process of it’s evolution. Mōri summarises this in the quote “the success of J-Pop, it’s petty nationalist tendency and hybrid quality of music are definitely an effect of, and a response to, globalization and it’s consequent anxiety” (2009, p.485). On reflection on this point it seems as if I have somehow subconsciously been drawn back to my interests as discussed in my very first post. J-Pop ultimately serves as a response to an Imagined Asia, a response to fears of the diluting effects of western content. J-Pop is described by Mōri as a descriptor of appropriations of western music first encouraged as a response to forcing the popular radio station J-WAVE to play Japanese music as it was initially a western music only station (2009). They didn’t want to play more traditional Japanese songs but instead sought out songs that sounded like they had been made in Europe and the US but had been made in Japan, ”J-pop was the genre that filled the gap between Japanese popular music and western music at that moment“ (Mōri 2009, p. 476)

 

By looking at the idea of J-Pop more widely as opposed to what I feel was too intense a specificity, a community has the opportunity to be developed. What I am proposing is simply turning the ideas I had last week on their head. Instead of there being a single producer everyone is, which will further promote an open engagement. As J-Pop was an appropriation we can replicate this process by going back to an original idea of making simple sound packs maybe one instrument or texture for the community to use in the creation of new songs, using as many or as few as they want whilst retaining the freedom to mix in new sounds that they feel compliment. It will be interesting to see if a new genre or sound is perpetuated by this free interaction, though it might be slightly ambitious considering the time frame of the project.

References:

Mōri, Y 2009, “J-pop: from the ideology of creativity to DiY music culture”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 10, no. 4 pp 474-488

Week 5: J-Pop’s Industrial Production Culture

My ideas for the individual digital artefact are still quite loose whilst staying within a singular concept. I have been strongly inspired by J-Pop as some of you may have noticed by the fact that I have used it as a lens for the weekly discussion posts. As I have been exploring it in this way I have found myself drawn to the culture of industrial production of the “genre”. I would like to investigate this further through the artefact. For a mode of interaction I have been strongly inspired by a community set up by a British record label Night Slugs, called Club Constructions. They set up a simple web page where producers can contribute tracks for consideration; these tracks however have to conform loosely to a manifesto that Night Slugs have established. This manifesto describes the sound and elements of the track for example the tracks should contain as little melody as possible three notes maximum.

I would like to create a community similar to this though incorporating the ideas I have had into it’s structure are where it gets difficult. The first question is whether the tracks should be able to be seen by others as inspiration for further contributions. In the further research I have conducted so far, it seems as if the Club Constructions set up of invisible contributions might better mirror j-pop’s industrial culture or at least elements discussed in the Guardian, where the simple contributions are compiled by “the producer” whose name is the only one attributed by the track. This dilemma highlights questions as to how blatant the discussion of the industrial culture needs to be within the community which might be confirmed through further research, should the culture be perpetuated externally or internally? It seems as if the project might manifest itself as a commentary on the industrial production culture rather than a mirror of it, questions arising such as how can you sustain a culture of contribution in an environment where the majority of people want to be producers? Do they need to be a more active part of the development of the product?

Week 4: The Producers

After initially considering discussing the J-Pop producer as a sub-culture, an invisible entity propagating the industry, I found myself drawn to a link of sorts with my group assignment which explores the culture of the 100% manufactured J-Pop star Hastune Miku. We have been doing research into the production programs used to create her, both animation and vocaloid software and not being independently wealthy I was investigating free options for the vocaloid software. Vocaloid software enables the user to create an artificial singer by either downloading packs, (Hatsune Miku being amongst the most popular) or alternatively turning yourself into one through recording phrases. In investigating free options I came across someone asking for similar help on Yahoo. The answers to the question gave me an intriguing glimpse into the sub-culture of people who use the software. I was taken aback at how vehemently they defended buying the software and actively dissuaded against downloading it illegally as programs known as pocaloids. One response explained that it was a major issue if you wanted to join the community through use of a pocaloid and the serious ramifications of exporting and publishing content from a pocaloid if you are discovered, which seemed to be quite severe online discrimination. This user linked me to a forum where the community is strongly based simply entitled the vocaloid wikia,where I had the opportunity to explore pocaloids further.

Pocaloid Disclaimer Source: http://vocaloid.wikia.com/wiki/POCALOID

Pocaloid Disclaimer Source: http://vocaloid.wikia.com/wiki/POCALOID

I was initially presented with this banner at the top of the page, but as stated was nonetheless given a detailed description of the illegal software and presented with strong discussion at the foot of the article. It seems however that the community is quite welcoming however if you take the honourable path with detailed instructions and help in getting started with vocaloids. These instructions were in English as well which is important, as it was only recently that they introduced English versions of the software, originally in Japanese only.

It is interesting that I was so confronted by this discussion on illegally downloading programs, a practice which wasn’t discouraged to such an extent in my experiences with similar software until this point. Perhaps it is because of a sense of professionalism that I found in investigating the community. I have also concluded that it might be because the phenomenon is at an earlier stage of exclusivity, the programs having a high cost? Or perhaps the noted importance of the commercial potential of the content produced? These questions definitely warrant a further investigation in our group assignment.

Week 3: Who is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu?

For this week’s investigation I was encouraged to further pursue J-Pop and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. It proved to be a much more fruitful investigation than I originally thought, providing many points for reflection. I started by typing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu into the Twitter search bar, at which point I was confronted by the multitude of user results it returned. Many of these accounts had variations on the name for their handle and used pictures of her as well as her aesthetic. It seemed as if these people were on the verge of identity theft and if it were not for the suspiciously low number of followers I would have accepted some of them as Kyary herself. Exploring further I encountered difficulty in the fact that in many tweets containing her name none of them used her official handle to link to her page as is common in my experience of Twitter.

Google Translate

Google Translate

I finally found her in a link from a fan page there was probably difficulty in finding her name as she wrote it in Japanese and has used @pamyurin for her handle. This difficulty in finding her seems proactive in retrospect, perhaps a relation to the noted Japanese disinterest in facilitating global fandom. Her content seems relatively normal, there were a lot of pictures of food and most of her tweets deciphered crudely with Google Translate seemed to be thanking her fans or promoting new music/concerts. She also posts a number of selfies and some press photos are evident but she seems to have sourced them herself, though this is just an assumption. Interestingly with photos of children, their identities had been disguised by crude “Microsoft Paint” jobs which might be linked to laws regarding publishing photos with minors.

It is difficult to decipher to what extent this content has been influenced externally because of the language barrier but a lot of it seems genuine in comparison to an account like Psy’s. The fact that her account is in Japanese (Kyary being a non-Anglophone) further eludes to a presence rooted strongly in her Japanese identity which has not been watered down by internationalising her web presence through an English translation. Further research will have to be undertaken to decipher whether this is a standout in a J-Pop star’s use of the platform, thought I was pleasantly surprised by her presence, given the description of her entourage for an interview discussed in last week’s post.

Week 2: Kawaii and Cute

I first stumbled across J-Pop through a friend from China. I enjoy music, both listening and exploring the online communities dedicated to finding new artists and sounds possibly a little too much and was fascinated by a new wave of producers from the UK who were making infectious hyper-real pop music, a collective called PC Music and an anonymous artist named SOPHIE. I was playing him some of this music (available to listen to below) when he told me that it sounded like J-Pop, more specifically a genre (I think!) called kawaii.

This prompted me to explore J-Pop, which I had never heard before and it struck me how similar the music sounded to this “new” wave of British producers. In my searching I stumbled across this article which highlighted the fact that there was an acknowledged connection between the producers and kawaii going so far as the producer’s labeling the genre of music that they were creating “cute” which is the rough English translation of kawaii. This connection echoes the renaming of Pokémon in America as mentioned in the lecture today, attempts at westernising the content. I feel as though there is more than just a simple translation from kawaii to cute as the primary reason that I was not too suspicious of the music was the fact that I could source more local inspirations for the music, as mentioned in the article. More investigation is needed but another primary aspect that may differentiate the music further from J-Pop is the fact that for the music with no lyrics, and even some with, there is no “drop” in the tracks, which leave you with an opportunity to enjoy them in any situation and accentuating the ambiguity in their creation.

A potential topic for further discussion that comes to mind is similar to that had by the YouTube clip we watched in the lecture discussing J-RPG’s, if the game is made by other people than in Japan is it still a J-RPG or is it simply a genre? On immediate reflection to me it seems as if this issue is different because those original J-RPG games seem to be the primary source of inspiration for the new wave of “J-RPG” games. This is in comparison to as discussed previously a music genre that initially seemed to simply derive from producers around them. The question then is however did the cross pollination of musical ideas happen at an earlier point for the transition to be so seamless?

Hello!

Hi everyone, my name is James Franklin. I am currently in my last session of university, coming to the end of a three and a half year stint in a Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies majoring in Digital Media and Communication and International Media and Communication. I’d say my favourite activity is thinking, mainly because my attempts to then execute said thoughts in reality don’t always translate fantastically. This might sound a bit weird but it might be explained in the fact that my main passion lies in creative pursuits, at the moment primarily focusing on electronic music and sound in general. Amongst a series of originals I have also written tracks for some advertisements for the university and am currently busy writing some music and sound designing for a film made by a friend’s production company. I also have a keen interest in filmmaking and art in general. At this stage I feel like a jack of all trades, master of none but I hope to find my calling in future explorations outside of university.

I guess that leads on to my interest in focusing on art and aesthetics as a research topic. What draws me to the topic is the discussions that we’ve had in previous subjects on the idea of an “Imagined Asia”, a byproduct of orientalism. I came across an interesting discussion of the notion when looking at racial profiling in the media for a subject last session. This discussion was held by Fatima Al Qadiri, who made an album called Asiatich that she created using just her perceptions of what Asia should sound like, thereby highlighting a collection of dislocated stereotypes that have become so strong in western culture that they have created an independent “environment, a value system, a very rich and disturbing narrative”. I think it would be interesting to take a look behind this curtain that “the west” have created to see if artists are ignoring this Imagined Asia in their art or using it, as a diving board or otherwise.

Looking forward to reading all your thoughts over the session.