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The Weird History of Leon (Vocaloid)

When YAMAHA started development on the Vocaloid project, the British audio/sampling company Zero-G sent YAMAHA a demo with what would eventually become "Leon". Hiroyuki Itoh thought at the time they were a prank, because there was such difficulty of finding partners to develop sound banks prior and Zero-G responded so quickly.

The boys on Discord told me this reminded them of a box for c*d*ms 0_0

As a result, the Vocaloid 1 series would start its life as English (and not Japanese) and British English at that. This remained the case for a good while until YAMAHA had Crypton Future Media develop their Japanese vocaloid banks.

Leon's Original Demographic

While most people associate 'Vocaloid' with Hatsune Miku and other characters, LEON (and LOLA) were actually positioned for soul/jazz of all things. This is reflected in a lot of the advertisement at the time.

A quote from Zero-G's original webpage:

"LEON is a virtual male soul vocalist modelled on a real professional singer, and when he is installed into your PC he will allow you to create synthesized singing with an unprecedented human quality. LEON will sing ANY words you ask him to in English - literally anything. You can create singing in any lyrics you want. You enter notes, type in lyrics, and the software renders the synthesized vocal. Then add expression to taste, and render again. LEON is under your total control."

Here are some of the original audio examples Zero-G had for demonstrating Leon:

It's always been interesting (to me) that Zero-G went for soul singer, but not just a soul singer, a British one too! As a result though, I really quite like the tonality of Leon and it makes it quite different from anything else.

A Change in Design

The original Vocaloid 1 engine actually uses a hybrid resynthesis system. It takes the sample data and then converts it into formants rather than just using the raw audio files. This 'probably' results in something that sounds a bit different if it were just a straight up sampler, and it's also more complicated. When Vocaloid 2 rolled around and all subsequent series, they switched back to conventional sampling, so from a technological perspective they're far less interesting.

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