Dust Dust Curse
From 2002--May 2016, Japanese artist “Kikuo” has released nine albums of techno-pop songs. In many of his works, Kikuo uses a voice-synthesizing software called Vocaloid to create the vocals. Specifically, he uses Hatsune Miku, the most popular voice within the Vocaloid programs. Most of the other instruments and audio-effects in his music are also synthesized using various programs.
Kikuo is most well-known for extremely dark material explored within cheerful sounding songs. He is able to create a strong dissonance from juxtaposing elements of childishness, playfulness, and cheerfulness with extremely eerie, and sometimes disturbing lyrics and themes. He uses instruments such as xylophones along with cartoony side-effects to portray a sense of childishness, but then once the listener is used to the current key of the melody, Kikuo often modulates the melody into new various keys, possibly to emphasize these more disturbing themes. Indeed, as noted by Yakyuu Kuizu:
“With tags like "Vocaloid fantasy/madness song link," and "guru-based DJ" being frequently attached to his works along with highly addictive melodies, Kikuo shows a presence like no other producer in his shocking lyrics, and the maniacal genius of his work has established him as a rare Vocaloid producer in the height of current popularity." Kuizu, Yakyuu (December 30, 2012). Do-Ra. Translated quotation that appeared in the article: Introducing the Guru-esque Vocaloid Producer Kikuo and his Overwhelming View of the World
Dust Dust Curse, the literal translation of the Japanese title 塵塵呪詛, was created by Kikuo in 2012 and was also included in his third album, Kikuo Miku 2. The video was originally uploaded onto the popular Japanese video-sharing site NicoNico Video. The tuning of Miku’s voice in Dust Dust Curse at times sounds similar to Buddhist chanting, and woven together with the other classical Indian instruments, such as the tabla, it is clear that Dust Dust Curse is reflective of Buddhist music and chant. However, the song later transitions to more of a techno-pop drum beat as Miku chants "dust" over and over in Japanese.
The video, which is computer generated and created by Kikuo, opens with a pixelated animation of a fire set in the middle of a black screen and contained inside a small invisible box. A grey background flashes onto the screen leaving black silhouettes, and a white oval fades onto the left side of the screen. Next, the scene fades into the most memorable part of the video: colorful pixels appear and fade away, creating patterns around the screen. The small blocks of color are reminiscent of dust. When the chorus repeats later in the video, a rainbow bar-like animation is shown along with the original scene of silhouettes, except this time morphing and flashing colors. The original animation appears next, this time flashing through colors, with rectangular reflections shrinking and morphing around the box. Afterwards, the dust-like pixels continue their show.
"Dust Dust Curse creates a trance that rides on metallic tones, tabla, and gamelan percussion, all backed with a powerful, rustic kick. It is also unique in the folk-music-esque way that the Vocaloid is tuned in fluttering tonal shifts.” Kuizu, Yakyuu (December 30, 2012). Do-Ra. Translated quotation that appeared in the article: Introducing the Guru-esque Vocaloid Producer Kikuo and his Overwhelming View of the World
Dust Dust Curse explores themes of dying and buddhist philosophy surrounding death. Although it begins with chanting about Buddhist concepts, about the give-and-take of life and death, the lyrics diverge into burning away “cursed paper dolls,” which may refers to a person’s physical body during cremation. It soon turns into commands to “turn into dust and fly away” and to “burn away,” then describes how nobody knows the mourning of you, who has been shut inside of a lonely box for your final moment. While the box may refer to a coffin or grave, Miku seems to bring hope by singing about looking for others dancing as they break, turn to dust, and then to fire. Throughout this, the animated pixel art seems to reflect this dance.
A much more recent work of Kikuo’s, Paper Doll (紙人形 in Japanese), was created in 2016 and although it doesn’t include anything about paper dolls in the lyrics like Dust Dust Curse does, the themes seem like a similar exploration of death. Instead of Buddhist themes, Paper Doll brings in suggestions of suicide: the lyrics state, “Friends jump away one by one, as if there is a paradise we can get to while dreaming.” It is quite reminiscent of Dust Dust Curse in the next line: “Softly torn into pieces and floating away, it seems we can go far far away.” The style of the video is quite different from Dust Dust Curse, and was created in a collaboration with a Japanese artist called si_ku.
The theme of Paper Doll revolves around friends who each disappear by their own will, and suggest their fate to be a “paradise while dreaming,” someplace “beyond the storm.” The video repeats the same animation of a girl lying down and bubbling away into the sky. There is also conversation of “where will I go on this dark morning?” which again points towards an eery ideation of ending one’s life to escape to a better place. The title, Paper Doll, may be referencing the line in Dust Dust Curse of “The cursed paper dolls bearing our names are erased,” therefore it may be displaying a desire to escape from a materialistic world.
Although it is in a vastly different format, the interactive art game DeathTolls Experience shows some interestingly similar themes to Kikuo’s works. In DeathTolls Experience, which was created by artist Ali Eslami in 2015, the player can select from a variety of mass killings which are then visualized in large hanger-like structure in a virtual world. In this hanger, dead bodies covered with sheets are lined up in rows and columns of people equating to the number of people killed during the selected mass killing. While walking around, the player can see videos and facts about the massacre or attack. Although mass death is a very serious topic, by putting it into a gaming format, it is the viewer’s choice to choose whether to take it seriously or not. This is similar to Kikuo’s works with morbid themes that can easily be taken as a light pop song. Both works can make the viewer uncomfortable in experiencing a morbid topic in a playful setting–in DeathTolls Experience the user could even run over the bodies.
An Instagram account created by an anonymous user also explores a similar space of dark topics put into a playful space, although less morbid than Kikuo’s works and DeathTolls Experience. Beginning in early 2015 and continuing to this day, @sadtopographies uploads pictures of tragically named landscapes and roads found on Google Maps. This includes Suicide Bridge Road, Massacre Island, and Shades of Death Road. With the tagline, "Somewhere to go, when you're feeling low," it appears that @sadtopographies doesn't entirely take the naming of these landmarks seriously. However, clearly someone chose these names with intention. Suicide Bridge Road, for example, is a bridge in Maryland where several people committed suicide.
Kikuo DJ'ed in the Vocaloid Music Festival Pre-Party at Nico Farre, Tokyo, Japan (July 14, 2013).
Kikuo has DJ'ed in the Voca Nico Party Release Tour at Zeela Live House, Osaka, Japan (April, 2014).
Dai, Hanaka (May 25, 2016). Translated by: Baseel, Casey (May 26, 2016). Rocket News 24. Soon, Japanese kids will be learning about virtual idol Hatsune Miku in their school textbooks
Minoru, Hirota (December 27, 2011). ASCII x Digital. Last Word! Must-See NicoNico Videos from 2011 (Vocaloid Edition) (Japanese)
Palop, Benoit (January 24, 2016). The Creators Project. Virtual Pop Star Hatsune Miku Hits the Festival Circuit
Rosenthal, Emerson (October 9, 2014). The Creators Project. Is Hatsune Miku The Perfect Pop Star?