Modular Synths

modular synths
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Recently I have been wondering how to learn more about the world of modular synths.

That world is both as massive as it is idiosyncratic due to the, well, modular way the synths are built and so it’s intimidating to figure out where to start. So where can I find cool events that show some of the most exciting trance-inducing performances in modular synthesis? You are in luck because we have found that answer and you can catch it tomorrow.

If you want an introduction into the world of live modular synthesis we recommend looking no further than Modular Cafe. Tomorrow, October 7th, the “place for modular synth enthusiasts” is collaborating with ContactTokyo to stream the latest and greatest of Japanese modular synthesis from the legendary Tokyo Tape Music Center from 7am-10am EDT. The event will feature sets from Hataken, KURO + Takagi, Mitchelrock, Tatchan8, Japanese Acid Person, and Tinclocks. This event is set to be a highlight of not only modular synthesis performance but also for what’s on the cutting edge of Japanese electronic music. 

Don’t know who any of these people are? Don’t worry we’ve got you covered.

Modular Cafe

Modular Cafe describes itself as “a place for modular synthesizer enthusiasts”. It has existed for over 5 years and has a variety of avenues that it attempts to bring together the Japanese modular synth community. The cafe regularly throws shows and releases all of the mixes on the bandcamp for its record label, making it available for the whole world to enjoy, as well as a home to an active online forum for people in the community to talk about gear and music.

The lineups for Modular Cafe’s shows feature a diverse range of genres while all being performed with modular synths. There is an interest in celebrating the creativity of Japan’s modular synth scene and so all of the shows heavily feature experimentation and left-field soundscapes. Overall, Modular Cafe is a project that is dedicated to providing a place for modular synth enthusiasts to gather, interact, and exchange. This edition, Modular Cafe Special, will be broadcasting live from Contact Tokyo. Here is a link to their website.

hakaten

Hataken is an electronic music producer who has been working with modular synths since 1994. He has made a name for himself not only with his solo works but also with his collaborative works. His most notable collaborations are his group Wåveshåper with Greg Hunter, Reality Sandwich with Masashi Ktatazato, Quartzhead Conversation 02 with Daisuke Fujiwara, and briefly with renowned guitarist Sugizo. He is not only a music maker but also an active organizer in Tokyo’s underground nightlife culture. He has helped organize the Tokyo Festival of Modular and is involved with ZENZEN, both of which have an interest in cultivating and celebrating the creativity of a community which has seen a massive boom in virality over the last decade or so. Musically, his work falls into the downtempo, chillout, ambient category. You can check out his bandcamp here to get a better sense.

 

Who are KURO+Takagi?

Although the group KURO + Takagi have only existed online for a short period of time (a little over a year as far as we can tell), its members, Takeichirou Kurosaki, and Kenichi Takagi, are known for their groundbreaking contributions to the Japanese electronic music scene. 

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Hailing from Joetsu-shi, Niigata, Japan, Kurosaki has released music under a few aliases, most notably KURO, all of which primarily fall under the “goa” and psytrance categories. He mainly releases on his label Psyristor Trax which has specialized in Japanese psytrance since 2002. As well as solo projects Kurosaki has been a part of some incredible collaborations in the past, his group Charm with Tatsuo Endo being my personal favorite from what I have heard.  Check it out here if you want to throw a quick rave in your kitchen.

Kenichi Takagi has been an active member of Tokyo’s music scene since the late 90’s, when he was the bassist of indiepop band The Indigo before leaving and eventually joining Tokyo Black Star with Isao Kumano and DJ Alex from Tokyo. Tokyo Black Star is about cultivating an electronic sound from the Japanese perspective and have collaborated with notable Japanese artists. In celebration of the 10th Anniversary of Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto’s collaboration with Adidas, Y-3, the group was featured on the compilation ”X” which you can get here. It is noted that Takagi brings a particularly analog mix to the sound that DJ Alex and Isao Kumano had been developing, utilizing his handmade modular synths.

 

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As a duo they have released one project together this past September. The sound is in the experimental ambient techno category. Their release CAMERA CAMERA CAMERA, from September of last year, is a collection of pieces from 2019-2020 and features field recordings and some work with some Eurorack modules and Buchla between the two of them. Here is a link to that album on bandcamp.

Mitchelrock:

modular synths

Mitchelrock is the alias of  Tokyo-based DJ and producer, Mitsuru Kawachi. Kawachi performs minimal techno using an all analog setup. He has a diverse range of influences in his work including, blues, rock, punk , metal, industrial, and experimental music. The more guitar adjacent influences in his music come from his roots as a teenage bass player. After hearing industrial music in the late 90’s Kawachi pivoted from guitar music to the electronic music we see him creating today. He has been described as a “master of hardware” and has explored a diverse range of analog gear in his discography. From cassettes to modular synths, he is a genius of all things hardware. Mitchelrock has been a beloved member of Tokyo’s nightlife scene since he began DJing in 2006. 

Here is a video of him performing live at Dommune from 2018 in Tokyo.

Tatchan8:

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Tatchan8 is the alias of percussionist and electronic producer Tatsuya Hirano. There is a very specific process to how Hirano creates the layers for Tatchan8. It starts with utilizing both percussion instruments and found objects, primarily household objects, to create an initial texture. Then, Hirano takes the percussive textures he has created and processes them with modular synthesis or even simply layers what he has created natively on the modular synth alongside the sounds he is processing. Hirano says that his work was inspired by the quarantine and is an attempt to take the routine of what his daily life became in the home and create a sonic collage that utilizes the objects he encounters within that daily routine.

Be sure to check out his bandcamp

Japanese Acid Person:

japanese acid person

Japanese Acid Person is the project of Tokyo-based drummer and electronic producer Takashi Yamomoto. He pulls from both his passion for modular and granular synthesizers as well as his experiences with playing the drums. He covers a lot of ground and the music ventures into rhythmically complex techno grooves, brutal industrial atmospheres, and even fully experimental granular exploration of the textures he has created.  Yamamoto has ventured out of the project into some other aliases that are less centered around such heavy polyrhythms, while maintaining an interest in using analog synthesizers  to create deeply compelling IDM. Most of these releases are only over the last few years and it is clear that Yamomoto has a clear vision for the sound he wants to make and is dedicated to creating a prolific body of work that demonstrates his precise and daring sonic aspirations. Here is a link to one of his more off-the-wall projects, speakpole.

Tinclocks:

tinclocks

Tinclocks is without a doubt the most enigmatic person on this lineup and seems to have much more of a presence offline and local to Tokyo than what is reflected in a brief online discography. He has three mixes on Soundcloud and two videos of live mixes on Youtube which mostly fall into ambient territory.

 

What’s interesting is that on his track for the 2nd Anniversary Compilation Album, he is fully utilizing his interests in gradually developing contrasting parts of an arrangement to contextualize a repetitive straightforward groove. The use of tremolo for a repeating pentatonic bass line and a simple kick snare backbeat create a similar momentum to something you might hear off of the Drive Soundtrack.

Across the internet, there are next to no photos of Tinclocks. He does, however, have an active presence on social media which features, instead, a steady stream of pictures of new gear or photos of the set ups constructed to make the mix you’re hearing. He both makes regular appearances on modular synthesis facebook groups and provides detailed descriptions of his setups on his videos. This is someone who is passionate about the gear first and foremost. The music reflects that in its extreme attentiveness to different types of contrast. Here is our favorite mix of Tinclocks: an ambient mix on his Youtube channel from April of last year.

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