ITEM • Richard D. James speaks to Tatsuya Takahashi

Richard D. James speaks to Tatsuya Takahashi

Richard D. James interviews Ex. Korg engineer about their collaboration on the Monologue, microtuning, geometry and dreams. Accompanied by track "Korg Funk 5" using exclusively Korg synthesisers. Tatsuya Takahashi is currently advisor for Korg and holds a full-time position at Yadastar GmbH to work on technology based projects. His Tokyo home was photographed by Akemi Kurosaka.

Richard D. James: I really enjoyed working on this with you. I know I only joined the project near the end, but I found it really exciting. Like a proper job, ha.

Tatsuya Takahashi: Richard, it was amazing working with you on the monologue. And now to be interviewed by you?!? That's crazy. But also a lot of fun. The monologue was also the last Korg synth that I was involved with directly, so I guess it's a nice conclusion to things.

RDJ: It is now the only synth on the market currently being made to have full microtuning editing, congratulations!

TT: Thanks! But it was completely because of you that we included microtuning. If you hadn't insisted on it, I definitely wouldn't have discovered how powerful it was. Did you ever have a moment of realisation, or some kind of trigger that made you discover microtuning?

RDJ: The first thoughts that I had about tuning in general happened with my early noodlings on a Yamaha DX100, one of the first synths I saved up for. I remember looking at the master tuning of 440 Hz and thinking I would change it, for no other reason apart from it was set by default to that frequency and that it could be changed.

I just used to select a single note, adjust the master tuning of it to taste and then base the whole track around that, something I’ve done ever since, just intuition and maybe a bit of rebelliousness. It’s very simple, but do you want your music to be based on an international standard or on what you think sounds right to you?

I’ve since gone on to learn more about this damn 440 Hz. It was a standard introduced in 1939 by western governments, so I’m very glad I trusted my instincts. Listening to that other voice is THE most important thing in creativity, whether you’re an engineer or a musician. Tesla had some important advice on listening to the thoughts from the other. One of the most important inventors ever, but we’re not taught about him in British schools. Funny that.

TT: I don't know why it's thin on the curriculum, but the Tesla coil is definitely amazing. If you modulate the high frequency with audio signals you can play music with plasma – that's super cool. I will read up on him though, cos I don't know much about his life and thinking.

RDJ: An interesting “note”: I’ve just been reading a book on electronic instruments published in the 1940’s and it says that 440 Hz was transmitted over the radio on different frequencies 24 hours a day and others between midnight and 2 in the afternoon, ha, so you could tune your instruments and be well behaved or calibrate your lab equipment to it.

It’s very simple, but do you want your music to be based on an international standard or on what you think sounds right to you?


But I’ve also read studies from the old Philips laboratories in the Netherlands that show orchestras average deviation from 440 Hz was measured over many concerts and was seen to differ by a few Hz, usually slightly below. Pretty anal. Some people obviously really cared that 440 Hz was being adhered to in practice.

Why 440 Hz was chosen in the first place is another interesting story, but looking at the resonances of water and sound is a great place to start, or read up on cymatics. If you aren’t already familiar with it, that is.

TT: So many things are standardised that you don't really think about because they were there before you started using it. 440 Hz was brought about to standardise the way people play together and, yeah, someone can bring a guitar to a piano and it would work together because of that standard.

It's like how a green light means you can cross the road or if you shake your head sideways it means no. Those two standards will help you through life in many places around the world. But it's dangerous to enforce standards in creativity. I have a son who's started school in Japan, where every kid will paint the sun red. Now that is some fucked up standardisation! Just really messed up on so many levels.

Anyway, I'm not going into that whole 432 Hz vs 440 Hz debate. (BTW: I absolutely love cymatics and I've done some nice workshops for kids with it.) But I will say different frequencies sound different, so why not use that in your music? You got to use whatever feels right and the monologue let's you do exactly that with pitch.

RDJ: Yep.

TT: Talking of standards, the sample rate of 48 kHz is another one for sampling and signal processing, but the volca sample uses a weird one at 31.25 kHz. Purely because of technical constraints, but I was thinking that might be part of the reason you liked it so much, because the different sample rate gives it a unique sound.

RDJ: Haha, yes, it was pretty much the first thing I noticed. Yeah, I thought the 48 kHz, was based on the Nyquist Theorem. I think it’s double what humans can apparently hear or something, which is another weird one. I don’t know how anybody worked out humans only hear to 20 kHz. I mean even if you can’t hear above 20 kHz, it doesn't mean that your body doesn't feel it. You don’t just experience sound through your eardrums. A good example of this is listening to a recording of your own voice. To almost everyone apart from maybe the most narcissistic, it always sounds weird/thinner/smaller, as you don’t feel the vibration of your chest and body. There are other reasons of course but that’s one for sure. Anyway, I’m into the extremes of the audio spectrum, ultra clarity ’n’ all but I probably prefer fucked-muffled/lo-bit/’70s sound more, ha!

TT: Oh, and when something defies the standard – I just remembered the first time I played a Yamaha SK-10, the faders were all upside down, like max was downwards, even on the volume. I didn't know what was going on and it threw me off at first, but it's actually a bit fun like that and you soon realise it all comes from organ drawbars.

RDJ: I never played the SK-10, but these Calrec mixers I use are like that also, the faders are backwards. There is a little dip switch inside to change it, but I think they have them like that for TV/broadcasting, coz if someone falls asleep at the desk they don’t want them to push all the faders up and distort two million TVs at once… Not surprising they have this safeguard considering how skull numbingly boring most TV is.

TT: Right!! Yeah, but there is a certain feeling to pulling rather than pushing. It's like how an orgasm is "coming" in English, but it's “going” [iku] in Japanese.

RDJ: Never thought of it like that.

TT: I mean, written text in Japanese was traditionally vertical. Although now a lot is westernised and horizontal.

RDJ: Ah, that’s kinda sad… So traditional Japanese text is like trackers and now it’s going like Cubase! :)

TT: I sometimes wonder what Japanese synths would have looked like if they didn't copy Moog in the ’70s. You've got to think about what is convention and what is really a good design.

The studio workspace of Tatsuya Takahashi

RDJ: I’ve got one Japanese keyboard, Suzuki, which has got some Japanese tunings built in and a little string on one end that you can pluck. It sounds really nice as well. It also has some good Japanese percussion and MIDI. I don’t think it’s very well known.

I wish faders were curved horizontally and vertically, so you could make them like a double helix that go over and under each other, hehe. Could do it with an augmented reality UI I guess.

TT: Now that could be cool (if I'm imagining it right)! I've seen rotation sensors on the camera lens focus that work like faders on a curved surface and really thin. That could do it.

RDJ: Later on when I got an SH-101, I realised its tuning wasn't like the DX100 at all. It was based on 1v/octave and was supposed to be equal temperament but because of the nature of analogue, it really wasn’t and I REALLY loved that and how it layered with the frozen 12TET of the DX100.

I recently made a tuning on the monologue that I matched to an improperly calibrated SH-101 that I was fond of. I tried at first to do this using formulas inside Scala, but it's impossible to represent this accurately with simple maths, Scala can’t deal with these types of tunings unless it’s a keyboard map tuning file. This “bad” tuning is really great when I apply it to a precisely tuned digital synth that has full microtuning capabilities. It’s top making a digital synth sound like an out of tune 101! :)

TT: Yeah, I think it's really telling of the age we live in when you get a knob like "SLOP" on the new Prophet that makes pitch inconsistencies a programmable parameter. On one hand, you think that the level of control is great, but on the other it feels weird to deliberately degrade something that's stable. Especially if you're a young engineer striving to design something to be close as possible to perfection, it can be hard to grasp. The best lesson about this came from Mieda – my hero at Korg. When he looked at my first synth schematic, he told me, “Takahashi-kun, your circuits are functional, but they are not musical. Musical instruments do not need perfect waveforms and correct operating points. You need to use the transistor for what it is. As long as it sounds good, it’s OK.”



RDJ: I was going to ask you about SLOP, as you brought that up before in some old emails. I get you now. I mean, yeah, if it just sounds good in the first place then you don’t need that option, but I guess some people like their Osc’s drifty and others not so. It changes with the context I guess. Also, if you’re doing FM you might want to keep them dead on, and for analogue lead sounds, really drifty. Anyway I think I mentioned it before, but the drift on the monologue sounds REALLY nice. It seems to move, but then never go out. Care to explain? Sounds to me like it gets reset/synced at some point, but I’m probably wrong, haven't studied it in depth, just listened. Reminds me a bit of Arp oscillators, which have really nice driftyness, prob my faves! :)

TT: That's bang on! So same thing in the minilogue and the volcas too: the oscillators are re-tuned when they're not being used. I'm super glad you like it though because this is such a subjective thing. The autotuning was done in a way that felt nice to me, so it was a really subjective thing and you can’t present a report to convince others that it was OK. At least now I can say RDJ said it was alright!

Classic KORG35 filter chip used in MS-20 and invented by Mieda.

RDJ: I’d like to talk more about this 1v/octave, but that’s for another time. But, anyway, getting back to the question, I was always interested in sound and how it affected me, especially the tuning. It wasn't until my *Selected Ambient Works Vol. II* album that I actually made my own full custom tunings, although there were a few scattered things before that.

I’ve got a slightly weird balance thing going on and getting the tuning “right” sometimes makes the balance thing less weird for me. It’s a longer story though.

TT: Yeah, I think I read somewhere about how humans normally hear pitches differently in the left and right ear and that you don't have that. That is super interesting.

RDJ: Because we made it very intuitive to edit the tuning tables, I would actually just buy this synth only for that feature alone. When the export is implemented, it can be the central hub of either complete table creation or just to tweak existing imported Scala files, etc.

TT: Yeah, absolutely. I would definitely download the monologue librarian because you can import and export Scala files easily with that. Hopefully other manufacturers will join the club.

The intuitive interface was pretty much all your idea, so a great job on that. I think your idea for the interface came from when you got your Chroma modded for microtuning. Have you modded a lot of synths for this functionality?

RDJ: That’s right, I burned my own custom O.S. Eproms for the Chroma, which enables full micro tuning and editing and that’s what the monologue editor was based on. I’ve got a good list of hardware and software now that can do it. It’s been a long haul and involved hassling a lot of people, but it is now finally possible with quite a bit of equipment.

I’ve generally received really good responses from engineers and programmers. I’ve contacted around 50 different people/companies in the last ten years. Many weren’t even aware that all their equipment and programs were adhering to a standard that was devised hundreds of years ago.

Same goes for a lot of electronic musicians, this is quite surprising for electronic music, which supposedly is forward-thinking and futuristic, but most people have since told me how fascinating they have found the subject once they realised it *was* a subject!

I know microtuning is much more useful on polyphonic keyboards, but it’s still very usable on monophonic instruments and, again, it can be used in the future to create tuning tables that can be used in other Scala-compatible polyphonic synths.

TT: Well, my initial impression was that microtuning is a really niche thing that wouldn't be needed for a mass market synth, especially a monophonic one, but if you try shifting the tuning while running a sequence, you can hear that it gives it another dimension even if it’s subtle. I'm not super-sensitive to pitch or anything, but you can still hear it change. To me, it feels like casting light on a rough surface and seeing different patterns as you move the light. So it was really important to have the easy scale edits you can do on the fly. Scala is great, it's super flexible, but it can be daunting to use and you won't get the real-time interaction, so I hope the monologue gets more people into this stuff.

RDJ: I really like your light analogy, that’s great. Yep, on a monophonic instrument, what you just described will be more pronounced if you use a delay with plenty of feedback or reverb, so you can hear the differently tuned notes overlap each other.

Scala is deep, very deep, but some things are very quick and easy to get going. For instance, you can just type Equal 24 & press the sysex send shortcut and you have a quarter tone tuning in your synth. Scala is only good for non-intuitive tuning creation, purely mathematical. I love this approach, but really prefer making tunings intuitively, note-by-note. When you’re actually composing something, making them up while you go along, a combination of the two is best for me.

TT: I know that you like that Wilsonic app you showed me, which is mainly structured on mathematical relationships of frequencies, but you've also mentioned using a lot of trial-and-error. Do you have a method to your microtuning?

RDJ: Yes, many. For instance, on the Chroma I like holding down one key, pressing another key and then tuning the second key in relation to the first, sometimes making two extremely different frequency combinations, like something very low and extremely high at the same time and maybe a group of these dual combos only existing in the top octave of the keyboard map, the rest being another tuning or multiple tunings, all in one tuning table.

It’s something I never saw in anyone else’s tunings, combining several tuning tables within one map, so that’s one of my little inventions I guess, as I rarely used the full range of 127 notes in one tuning within one track. monologue can tune four notes at a time which we planned. It’s a different approach again and something I look forward to experimenting with more.

TT: Here are five short tracks you made with custom scales. Could you explain how you came up with the scales?

RDJ: I forgot which tunings they used, I’ve got so many floating around in folders on the computer and in hardware. I didn’t make any notes. I think they might have been ones that I made in Scala and then tweaked on the monologue, most likely.

TT: If you could share the tuning files that you created, that would be great too!

RDJ: Yes, I’ve got loads saved and loads lost. I’ve never been a saver. I do save more things these days, getting older or something, but still love to use new sets of rules for every set of new tracks. Also I’ve got to say again many thanks for that lovely MIDI tuning box you made me for the minilogue!

TT: No problem! That was an eye-opener for all of us. [For the readers: Richard asked me for microtuning on our synths and since, at the time, we thought it wasn't something we would put on a production model, we made a custom little tuning tool. Fellow engineer Kazuki Saita and I made a MIDI thru box that could load custom scales. Any MIDI coming in would be transposed by note and cent (using pitch bend) and so you could get microtuning on any mono synth.] When we were testing that box, Saita and I were blown away. I mean, sequencing on a simple step sequencer like in the monologue can be a bit rigid, but messing with the tuning really opens it up. It basically redefines the keyboard. We were messing around with some subtle stuff and more extreme ones like octaves split into 50 intervals and playing with the arpeggiator. It was crazy and that's when we decided we should put it on the next synth.

RDJ: Yes, great! Arpeggiators and microtunings can be a very nice mix. We should include a picture of that box, I’ve got one here if you don’t.

TT: We should! Don't have one handy, would you be able to snap a photo?

RDJ: Attached it!

Microtuning to pitchbend converter created for Richard D. James

TT: Cheers! Wood cheeks for the Cirklon. Nice.

RDJ: I think the monologue is very nice looking, small, very cute and very capable. At first I thought, “Oh, it hasn’t got this, it hasn’t got that, etc. etc.” But I very quickly realised you have turned these limitations into advantages, which is really quite something special. I really mean that. The lack of extensive features makes the whole thing much more speedy to work with.

TT: That's got to be the best compliment. And it's a way of thinking that runs through all the synths I've worked on, from the volcas and monotrons to the monologue. I think with electronic instruments we've got to a point where software can do most things. But I'm a fan of gear where less is more – where the simplest controls can give you the most creative freedom.

RDJ: Yes, I like this approach. It’s true, I do it with modular setups as well. I’m lucky to have loads of modular gear but I prefer to make small systems now and leave everything else in another room where I just try things out before committing them to a more thought out config.

Of course us musicians always look at something new and we see if it does what we expect it to. And this is OK. But we shouldn’t overlook something before actually trying it out, try and get into the head of the designer first. I try and do this. It’s difficult sometimes to push your ego and expectations out of the way for a while, but if we don’t do this we won’t learn anything new. That’s not to say that every designer’s head is worth getting into, but we gotta give it a go sometimes.

Hand made sequencer by Tasuya Takahashi.

TT: This is exactly the reason I really enjoyed working with you. I'd send you a prototype and a day later you'd be sending me a dozen emails about how the drive circuit actually controls gain and dry/wet at the same time. Or how some menu option wasn’t working completely as intended. You would give everything a chance. You went through every single menu option and went after some easter eggs, like finding CC34 VCO1 pitch! In fact, you were the best ever beta tester. Guess you wouldn't be after a day job tho...

RDJ: *blush* Some examples of this: When I first checked out the volca sample, the lack of velocity response had me scratching my head, but when I realised how it handled it with motion recording of the level control, it was actually loads more fun and SO much faster to program! It’s such a great little idea, I really love it, way more intuitive. I’ve started doing it this way on the Cirklon now sometimes.

TT: Yeah, so you're a huge fan of the Cirklon, which you used for "korg funk 5." Could you tell us how that track was put together?

Here's the gear list you sent me:
Korg Monologue x3
Korg MS-20 kit
Korg Poly-61M
Korg Volca keys
Korg Volca beats
Korg Volca sample
Korg Minilogue
My son on vox

I was blown away by this and really really touched. I don't think there is another track out there using so much of the gear I worked on! Also, can you touch on the processing that went on the sounds, cos I can tell there's a lot going on.

RDJ: That’s so nice to hear… It was really top making some tracks with only Korg gear. I’m a secret nerd-fan of synth demos, mainly vintage ’80s ones currently! Some amazing music has been made as equipment demos, unsung heroes. I collect synth demos. Well, ones that I like. It’s kind of an unclassified music genre, so doing these tracks for you and Korg was a natural thing for me. I also really like picking certain combinations of gear. That is endlessly fascinating.

The Volca beats I used, I did the snare mod but used the mix output, so I treated all the sounds with the same treatment, I think I sent you the full list… looks it up… OK, here it is.

volca beats > Skibbe 736-5 mic pre [nice low mid sound] > BAC 500 compressor > RTZ PEQ1549 [this is based on my fave eq, I’ve got some Calrec originals as well, standard circuit design but not standard sound! ] > Calrec minimixer

Monologue [main riff] > blonder tongue EQ [i love these eq’s, hardly anyone has heard of them]

TT: Any chance you could share the tracks separately? There might be something we could do with that and a lot of people will be interested in seeing how the different synths sound soloed. Only if you're up for it of course!

RDJ: I would if I had them, but I never save individual tracks. I’m trying to get into the habit of that soon. I just recorded that down to the Sound Devices 722.

TT: Ah shame! But you know that was the other great thing – that the track was done totally sequenced on the Cirklon and recorded in one take.

RDJ: I was thinking a while back on different ways to visualise the data in the Cirklon. Also with the volca fm, you also managed to turn the lack of velocity per note into a bonus [again], it puts a different slant on it, applying and recording motion velocity on the whole phrase, it works very well.

TT: So the volca keyboard is never going to do a great job of sensing velocity and we could have spent a lot more money to make it velocity-sensitive, but then you'd sit there going, "Well, it's too small to play. We need to make it bigger..." So trying to force it to be something it's not is a great way of creating more problems. Much rather turn the game around.

RDJ: That’s a great example of necessity and invention. I was absolutely amazed to find out that it IS actually possible to edit a DX7 voice with great speed from the interface you have designed. I never thought you could do that, but it is and is totally usable. I’ve come up with loads of things on it that I would never have done on a full size DX7. Hats off to Tats!

TT: Cheers! So everyone knows the typical DX7 sounds – well, the presets anyway – and by doing things a bit differently, you can open up so much stuff. Take an organ patch on the volca fm and sequence it normally, but then motion sequence the algorithm and it goes in a completely different dimension. It's a discovery, which is fun. I find a lot of artists are discovery junkies.

RDJ: Yes, I think I HAVE to be learning something when making tracks, even if it’s something very small. If there’s no learning involved, I wouldn’t get excited enough to do anything. Great fun being able to take a DX7 in your pocket, love it, ultimate walkman in a way. In fact, one for the future: volca fm with built in MP3 player + radio… be super lush.

TT: Yeah, super great idea! Also if it could tap into some MIDI archives and play them on the FM engine, it would be great.

RDJ: Or maybe a pitch tracker from the MP3s! :-)

TT: Even better! :) And it can take real time mic input, so people are saying hello to you, but you're just hearing bells or something.

RDJ: Yes, recently I was offering up ideas to a talented coder friend on an app that uses evolutionary/genetic synthesis to try and resynthesise audio/live audio into DX7 patches. It sounds really cool. He’s working on making it a standalone app on Raspberry Pi, and it is based on some vintage code by Andrew Horner. Kyma also used his code for their GA synthesis. Chuck that in there while we’re at it.

TT: Got to say it's pretty funny getting a consumer product idea from you. Haha!

RDJ: :) I’m full of ‘em, I’m like this guy.

TT: BAHAHAHHA! Holy crap.

I think I HAVE to be learning something when making tracks, even if it’s something very small. If there’s no learning involved, I wouldn’t get excited enough to do anything.

Richard D. James

RDJ: How different is the finished monologue to what was designed or what you had in mind?

TT: Well, it didn't have microtuning for a start!

RDJ: :)

TT: When I initially came up with the product plan, it wasn't very detailed. None of my product plans are. Something like: "smaller than the minilogue and monophonic." It's only when you start designing and prototyping that things start to come together. Things like: “What kind of filter do we need?” “Do we need distortion?” “Battery power would be great!”

RDJ: If there are features that were designed that didn’t make it, could you tell us about them?

TT: Nothing really got properly designed before being ditched. The team is pretty good at putting together test versions where we can just about see if something is going to work before we go to full implementation.

In terms of ideas, you had some pretty good ones:

  • keyboard to alphabet mapping for program name edit
  • random sequence generator
  • random scale generator
  • velocity to sequence position control

I think the team had others like arpeggiator, which is the most obvious one. But we dropped that and added key-trigger sequence instead.

Close up of hand made sequencer taken into job interview at Korg

RDJ: When or how do you find out that features that were wanted by your team are not going to make it? Is that frustrating?

TT: Well, it's not like someone stands there casting their decision on whether something makes it or not. We all try to figure out how it will come together as an instrument, so a single feature might be the focus in a heated discussion, but really it's about the whole thing being coherent but also incoherent and surprising in a good way. Sometimes you need to throw people off what they're expecting to do something interesting. The team was always pretty small, so we could do it without having a draconian decision-making process, but also without it getting too democratic either. We would never ever vote on a feature.

RDJ: Would it be possible that Korg could release limited edition and more costly versions of your designs with no corners cut, for us posh musos?

TT: Sure, that's definitely a possibility. What's on your wish list?

RDJ: Oh dear, that is a big question, I think I’ll have to get back to you on that. Well, those ones above to start with I suppose. :) Do you have a studio at home? Got any pics? Or a description of your setup?

TT: I wouldn't say it's a studio, but more of a workshop. I build stuff there for my own live setup, although recently most of it is made up of products I've worked on. One of my favourite things is volca fm going into audio input of monotribe which has been modded so you can kill the VCO. I put on a slow chord progression on the fm and then work a sequence with it with the monotribe. It's actually better if I don't sync the volca fm to the monotribe.

RDJ: Nice, I keep meaning to rack up 8 analogue filters to a TX802. Nobody ever made a decent FM synth with analogue filters, there are a few simple FM ones but not 4OP+.

TT: My other favourite thing is my speaker system designed by my friends at Taguchi. They're omni-directional and I've been experimenting with the positions. My room is acoustically untreated, but with these speakers you can actually work with the reflections in the room. It's definitely not a typical setup, but it's great because you can pan your instruments around the room and you’re not glued to a sweet spot between a stereo pair. It's great if you just sequence piano phase on two volcas and offset the BPM and just let it run while the sequence phases in and out. The trick there is actually not to hard pan them, but to leave quite a bit of overlap.

RDJ: [*looks at pics*] Great, that is an unusual speaker setup! I’m a big fan of suspending speakers from the ceiling, the first speakers that I built, I filled with tar and hung them from nylon cords from my bedroom ceiling. Saves space as well. Do you live and breathe Korg, do you get time for anything else, any other hobbies?

TT: Don't know if it counts as a hobby, but I really like polyhedra. Maybe that’s why I like those speakers, since they're great 3D structures hanging off my ceiling. My favourite polyhedron is the dodecahedron and when you make one with wire, it's hard to make it completely regular. But it turns out I actually like the wonky ones better. Anyway, they have a cool name.

Omnidirectional speakers made by Taguchi

RDJ: That’s very nice. I absolutely love geometry, I did a track called “Dodeccaheedron,” a long time ago, one of my fave tracks. I was playing on this spirograph emulator recently. Ha, a 3D one would be really interesting.

TT: Oh man, of course you have a track named “Dodeccaheedron”! I wonder if the track had anything to do with the fact I like them now. Bet it did. Spirographs are so cool. Bit like Lissajous – could stare at that stuff all day. I really want to get hold of some XY lasers actually and fire some really intense ones. Wish there was a way to do that in 3D.

RDJ: I’ve been looking into this recently. :)

TT: Maybe you can design some phosphorescent smoke that you could fire lasers into and the lines would stay in the air. That will be so cool. And the smoke particles will move with the bass – get some fat bass bins and you would get lines of light vibrating.

RDJ: Top idea… Reminds me of this.

TT: Yeah, really. I mean it could be a way of visualising the propagation of sound waves, so maybe a scientific use too. And not just sound waves. It could be used in wind tunnels to study air flow. Are we onto something here?

RDJ: Yes.

RDJ: What Is Your Dream?

TT: Having a good cigarette. When you're having a shit day or you're under a lot of stress, cigarettes taste crap. On the other hand, a cigarette after an amazing experience tastes good. So my dream is to smoke the best cigarette ever. Smoking is a full-stop, a moment of recognition that whatever came before it was real.

RDJ: I like that.

TT: Bit wanky tho. ;) Getting weird vibes reading back at my answers!


TT: Oh well, wrote it once, can't deny it.

RDJ: If you could magically create any device, what would it be? I understand if you’re not allowed to answer this!

TT: A time machine, teleportation machine – the obvious ones. Or actually a machine where you could have as many parallel existences as you want. So you could be a super-dimensional being encompassing all the different possibilities of yourself. That's what popped into my head, but how self-centred!

Taguchi speaker close up, with dodecahedron

RDJ: I go to sleep thinking things like this… Maybe it's a bit like this already! :)

TT: Hell yeah. Anyway, that's probably not what you meant. So... a lifelogging device for your musical activities. I was packing up to leave Tokyo and found a bunch of minidiscs of music that I'd forgotten I'd made in my teens and I’m guessing there would have been a lot more if I knew where my cassettes were. I cringed at most of it, but it's still part of who I am and I can't erase whatever brain patterns I have because of that.

RDJ: Yes, bloody right, that would be very useful. One thing I’d say, though, is I’ve found a lot of artists write off their older work for various personal reasons, while other people won’t have those associations and just really love what you made.

TT: Do you have lost musical moments from the past that you would like to hear again?

RDJ: Yes, I think I’m obsessed with thoughts like this. If you could selectively erase your memory so you could keep experiencing things for the first time, it would be very interesting, although you would get stuck in loops, so you would have to limit it to a certain number of re-experiences, ha! How many future products have you got in your head or on the drawing board?

TT: Quite a lot, but not all will be made. We (meaning the team still at Korg) have always got a bunch of ideas up our sleeves, it's just a case of which ones will get made and when.

Early ideas for volcas and first schematic for monotron

RDJ: Is your job stressful? I imagine it’s very stressful. What's the most stressful part?

TT: Well, the stress was part of the balance, because there's a lot of adrenaline involved in meeting deadlines, starting production and working up to release. Now that I've left that position, I can look back in calm retrospect. I'd say it was quite physical. Kind of like a sport and also quite addictive. But at the same time you can't do it forever. I was also lucky enough to find new possibilities elsewhere, so I stopped before that high pace / full-throttle thing became the only thing I could do. I really did have an amazing time at Korg. I had the best team and I also had a lot of freedom. My decision to leave was really about me than anything to do with my working environment.

RDJ: What is your worst fear?

TT: Well, doing the same thing over again and then one day realising that's all you can do.

RDJ: Yeah, I think we all have to fight against this, especially as you get older. I’ve really been looking at my habits recently and denying them. It feels great if you can manage it.

I don't understand the economics of getting hardware to market, but I guess it's safe to assume that the company makes more money from releasing new products than it does upgrading old ones.

I can’t help thinking, though, that by continuing to upgrade older products that are still in production, to make them absolutely awesome, would benefit the company in the long-term. Any thoughts about this?

TT: That depends how you look at it. You can look at something like the monotribe which we spent a lot of time doing the major update for, which was then soon discontinued. So your initial point might look to hold true. But then you look at the amount we learnt from that update and that we put into the volcas, and then you can say it was worthwhile. I think it's really really important to look back and review past products. Some would benefit from an update, but others are better off redesigned.

RDJ: Ok then, well lovely chatting to you as always.. wishing you all the best in your new endeavours, very brave moving yourself to a new country, well done and speak soon.

Here’s a nice link to end with!