by Justin Hall
Kenji Rikitake writes on Haruomi 'Harry' Hosono, YMO, and the beginning of Chanpon Music
Chanpon Music - this phrase immediately evokes one musician: Haruomi 'Harry' Hosono.
Hosono has been one of the greatest musicians in Japan; he gathered the Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) in 1978 and was the leader until the 'sankai' (deployment - usually in Japanese when a band quits people call it 'kaisan', but YMO intentionally reversed the Kanji letters to tell that they would quit but each member of YMO would continue the evolution of the techno-pop philosophy) in December 1983. Actually, YMO has got together once and only once again in 1993 as xYMO, but now you cannot buy a YMO disc because the distribution rights of YMO products have been under control of Sony Music Entertainment since May 2001, who bought the rights from a bankrupted music production company Alfa Music.
So what's the fuss about YMO? Hosono defined YMO as a project of his chanpon music - chanponization of the East and the West. He tried to mix, submerge, and sublimate the rich flavor of the East including Asian and Polynesian into the totally Western form, i.e., Disco. He eventually decided to introduce (musical) synthesizers as the core element of YMO, and defines the word Techno-Pop; Technology, and/but Pop music. (Note that techno-pop is not at all the same from the trance/house/techno music; these styles are derived from Detroit Techno music, another result of chanponization between cheap used electronic instruments and the creativity of dance-music advocates.)
Kinokuniya offers an interview with Hosono in Japanese.
Hideki Matsutake, who is probably the first publicly-recognized professional synthesizer programmer, joined to the YMO as the hidden fourth member from the first album till 1981. Matsutake first proved his talent by reinforcing the foundation of YMO; He is a superb synthesizer tone-maker using his own Moog synthesizer modules, learning the skills under the influence of his mentor Isao Tomita. Tomita is worldly-famous synthesizer performer and composer, who made a great world-wide hit album called Snowflakes Are Dancing, which is an interpretation of Claude Debussy pieces using Moog synthesizer and multiple recording techniques.
Matsutake also performed the conversion task between the information on the music sheets and the MC-8 note numbers, gate time, and step time events. Note number specifies which note is played. Gate time defines the length of an event. Step time defines the length of note during an event. An event with shorter step time sounds like a staccato sound, while longer one sounds rather like a legato sound. At this time you need to specify each note to generate and to wait; so the programmer have to deassemble polyphonic notes and enter them one by one, while taking care of note assignment to each voicing module.
YMO also brought new traditions into live stages; Hosono, Sakamoto, Takahashi and Matsutake were all wearing headphones. They needed to monitor the clicks generated by the microcomposer to synchronize themselves and computer-controlled synthesizers. I think this is the first ever chanponization of machine beats and human beats on stage. What Matsutake was doing on the stage was also quite weird; he had to download the data of next song from data cassette tape drives while performing for the ongoing song. Quite often this process failed; and Sakamoto had to take over all supposed-to-be-played-by-machine parts of the music.
YMO had this man-and-machine-battle style of live concerts in 1979 with Matsutake, Kazumi Watanabe (a legendary Japanese jazz-fusion guitarist) and Akiko Yano (a legendary keyboardist now Sakamoto's spouse), in 1980 with Matsutake, Kenji Omura (a legendary Japanese rock guitarist, deceased in November 1998) and Akiko Yano, and in 1981 with Matsutake. Their live concerts were surely chanponization of electronical sounds and human sounds, while humans perfectly conquered machines.
Matsutake left the production of YMO after 1982; In 1983 when YMO performed the Sankai live, David Palmer (a former member of British pop band ABC) joined as the live drummer while Takahashi rather acted as a vocalist, and most of the instrumental parts were performed by digital multitrack tape recorders. Using tape-recorded contents synchronized with human performance was not popular then and many critics argued that was not a real live concert. In the year 2002, however, no one would complain if Destiny's Child or Janet Jackson performs in exactly the same style of YMO in 1980s. Chanponization of live and non-live music has completed.
Some readers may claim "Isn't Chanpon.org about chanponization of culture?" Sure it is, but now more than 50% of an art is about the technology, and more than 50% of a technology is about the philosophy and culture within. Hosono and YMO worked to bring a new chanponized mixture of various styles and methods on composition, music production, and the stage performance. When YMO was active most of the critics denied their bravity and declared that their music was of no value. In Japanese YMO was considered a nakatta-koto (thing which officially did not happen or exist, though it did) and music industry people in Japan wanted to forget them. But the philosophy and methodology of techno-pop survives and prevails even in the year 2002.
Kenji 'bdx' Rikitake is an electronic musician himself. You can listen to some of his music and some other folks' music on NeuroNet Recordings.|
Posted by Justin Hall at 2002年02月10日 10:17