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Friday, August 31, 2007

Del Rosario versus Inoue

In January 1993 Roberto del Rosario filed a complaint to the Regional Trial Court at Makati, Philippines, for patent infringement against the Janito Corporation, the Chinese firm that claimed to have invented the Miyata Karaoke machine. Del Rosario alleged that he was a patentee of audio equipment and had improved what was commonly known as the sing-along system or karaoke. He described his sing-along system as a handy, multi-purpose, compact machine that incorporated an amplifier, speaker, one or two tape mechanisms, an optional tuner or radio and a microphone mixer with features to enhance one's voice, such as echo or reverb to simulate opera or a studio sound. The whole system was then encased in a cabinet. He stated that he had developed the system in 1975 and began to market it in 1978. On 15 March 1996 the Supreme Court in the Philippines ruled favour of Del Rosario, making him the world's sole patent holder for the Karaoke system.

Del Rosario's claim further muddled the already complicated origins of karaoke. As with the Bible, there are many accounts regarding the genesis of karaoke. The most common belief is that karaoke originated in Japan, since the term is abbreviated compound of two Japanese words: 'kara', from karappo('empty'), and 'oke, an abbreviation for okesultura ('orchestra'). Toru Mitsui, however, explains that the original terms karaoke in Japanese does not mean 'empty orchestra', but instead should be understood as 'the orchestra on the recording is void of vocals', referring to the karaoke machine as well as to the singing.

In 1996, about the time the Supreme Court in the Philippines was anointing Del Rosario as the inventor of the karaoke system, a Singapore based all-karaoke RV channel 'discovered' an amiable-looking character named Inoue Diasuke, from Nishinomiya in Hyogo prefecture, Japan, and made him the 'Grand Daddy' of karaoke.

In 1971 Inoue was a none-too-successful 30-year old keyboard and vibraphone back-up player in a bar in Kobe. He was, however, much loved by many amateur singers since he seemed to possess a magic touch; his ability to make even a poor singer sing in tune.', which later earned him the nickname of 'human karaoke machine'. Inoue was in such high demand that he had to clone himself. One day a customer asked him to go on a company trip and play for him during a party. Inoue was too busy to go, so he recorded the backup music on a tape and gave it to his customer. according to Inoue, "That guy was worse than your typical bad singer. He couldn't hit the notes, couldn't even hold a beat. so I purposely recorded the song off-beat. and you know what? He was very happy with the results!" The businessman delivered an emotional rendition of Frank Nagai's 'Leaving Haneda Airport on 7:50pm Flight', Inoue collected his money in absentia and came up with another brilliant idea:'As for me, I couldn't play well without looking at the sheet music, and new songs kept coming out one after the other, so I thought maybe a machine could make things easier for me. In a sense, my invention came about because I was too lazy to learn new songs!'. Inoue asked for help from three friend: an electronics specialist, a woodworker and furniture finisher. Within three months they made him a karaoke machine, a more sophisticated clone of Inoue, complete with microphone and echo effect. They called it the '8-Juke'. By depositing a 100-yen coin into the machine, the backup music would start playing in just five seconds. Initially they made only eleven machines, but they quickly became so popular that they had to produce another ten thousand.

In 1999 Time magazine astonishingly named Inoue one of the twentieth century's most influential Asians, arguing that he 'had helped liberate legions of the once unvoiced; as much as Mao Zedong or Mohandas Gandhi changed Asian days, Inoue transformed its nights. In 2004, described in similar terms as 'thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other', he was presented at Harvard University with the Ig Nobel Peace Prize, a semi-serious award presented by real Nobel Prize winners. Inoue has also been the subject of films, the most recent one of which, simply called Karaoke, features a much better looking actor than the plump, shortish Inoue. 'At least they got someone tall to play me', he laughs. As for his monumental contribution to the human race, Inoue is less enthusiastic. 'I simply put things that already existed together, which is completely different. I took a car stereo, a coin box, and a small amp to make a karaoke. Who would even consider patenting something like that?'

Inoue now makes a living by selling an eco-friendly detergent and a cockroach repellent for karaoke machines: 'Cockroaches get inside the machines, build nests, and chew on the wires .... this is the reason why more than 80 percent of the machines break down. 'This is not the first time he has partly profited from the revenues produced by the karaoke industry. In the 1980s he ran a company that successfully persuaded dozens of small production firms to lease songs for 8-juke karaoke machines, but the introduction of new laser and dial-up technology left him jobless until he discovered that cockroaches, too, love karaoke.

In order to make karaoke into an authentic Japanese story, Wikipedia has attributed its origin to the long tradition of singing and dancing in rural Japan, which dates back to ancient times, or to Noh, a major form of musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. The emphasis on singing and dancing in a samurai's training is also thought to have contributed to the development of karaoke. During the Taisho period (1912-26) the Utago Kissa (song coffee shop), where customers often sang to a live band, became popular. Another popular story claims that, years later, when a strolling guitarist failed to appear, a snack bar owner in Kobe put on tapes of music and asked people if they wanted to sing.

(Source:KARAOKE The Global Phenomenon by Zhou Xun and Francesca Tarocco)
posted by infraternam meam @ 5:09 PM  
  • At 5:58 AM, Blogger singtothe said…

    What a fascinating read. I'm just beginning to get into Karaoke and never knew there was such history associated with Karaoke and Karaoke Machines. I like most others would just have a basic understanding that it has a Japanese origin and not know about these two cultural figures and the journey of karaoke throught time, so thanks for sharing this!

  • At 2:51 AM, Blogger Melo Smith said…

    Thank you for sharing this post. In fact, I have no idea at all about the origin of the best karaoke machine, but after reading your article I could be able to say a lot about it.

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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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