Interview / Satoshi & Makoto  / Safe Trip

Japanese music-making twins, Satoshi & Makoto, shot to worldwide acclaim in 2017, when they signed an album’s worth of outstanding electronica to Young Marco’s imprint, Safe Trip. Composed entirely on the Casio CZ-5000, their music is deceptively deep, and varied. Often lazily lumped in with “ambient” – there are kankyo ongaku echoes, for sure – the pair’s tunes bear the influence of synth-heavy film scores, trippy `90s IDM, bleep, dub techno, and classic Italian house. A live performance from the duo headlines the forthcoming Zim Zam Zu! event, taking place at Bar Bonobo, on November 5th. This gave me an excuse to bother the brothers with a few questions. 

Translation by Ken Hidaka. 

Satoshi Makoto 1

Where  are you from?

We’re from Kanagawa.

Do you come from a musical family? Are your parents musicians? 

No, we are not from a family of musicians. If anything, you can say that our parents are far removed from music.

Have you had any formal musical training? 

Makoto: Only music class at elementary school, but I am always keen to learn more about music.

Satoshi: No.

What was the first instrument that you learned to play?

M: I learned the recorder in elementary school, but the first instrument that I picked up of my own accord was the Yamaha Electone electric organ. This was through a class that my mother was attending. We had an Electone at home, that my mother bought, and I was very interested by it. I was quite young, so my mother taught me to play some practice tunes.

S: I never studied any instruments outside of school.

What instruments can you play now? 

M: I taught myself to play a bit of keyboards. I wanted to play the guitar, but my  fingers that are fat and soft, so I was unable to hold the strings and gave up.

S: I can play a bit of keyboards.

When did you first start making music?

M: When I was in my first year of high school, I started to memo phrases, but it wasn’t like I was properly getting into music production. It was only after I got the CZ-5000 that I started to really delve into making music. I was into film music, soundtracks, and trying to recreate something similar with the Electone was quite limiting. I thought maybe with the CZ-5000, that I might be able to simultaneously trigger multi-parts of auto performances, and I can pull it off. 

S: I was 15 years old, in  my senior year of junior high school, when the CZ-5000 came to our house.

What, or who, inspired you to start making music?

M: As I stated before, when I first started, it wasn’t like, “OK, I am going to make some music!” but the biggest hold up was the technical constraints that I was faced with. The built-in sequencer in the CZ-5000 can only record one track at a time. This meant that if I wanted to work on a new track, then I had to record the old one on to a cassette, before dumping the data. At the time I didn’t really view the tracks as finished pieces of music. 

S: The catalyst was when I started playing around with the CZ-5000 and  discovered there was a sequence feature built-in.

What equipment did you have when you started making music?

M: At first, I only had the CZ-5000. We were kids at the time so we couldn’t afford any more gear, but I remember that saving up all my allowance and New Year’s gift money – Otoshidama – to buy the next bit of new equipment. 

S: Just the CZ-5000 and a cassette deck.

What equipment do you have now?

S: I have a CASIO CZ-101, CZ-1, as well as CZ-5000 of the CZ series. I also have a Roland TR606, TR808, TR909, TB303, MC202, AKAI MPC3000.

M: I have a CZ-5000, KURZWEIL K2000, Minimoog Model D, and a YAMAHA S80. 

What drew you to the CZ-5000?

M: I like how there are 16 sounds that you can play at the same time. It is quite simple to make music with. It gives you a high degree of freedom, and we both agree that its biggest attraction – at the time – was that it had a built-in sequencer.

S: Primarily because you can compose a track with its built-in sequencer, but also, say in contrast to the contemporary DAW  – with its high efficiency and high degree of freedom – the CZ-5000 has many restrictions, but these limitations stimulate greater creativity in me.

Where did you find the synth? Was it expensive? Do you have more than one? 

M: At the time that I got hold of the CZ-5000, it cost 198,000 Yen, so it was relatively  inexpensive for a keyboard that has a built-in sequencer – but it was also 1.4 times the starting salary for a university graduate. So for a kid like me, this was a price that was way out of reach. I wrote about this in the liner notes for our first album. I sent a letter to my parents, explaining the reason why I really wanted this synth, and promised them that I would work hard on my studies. Somehow I managed to convince them to get it for me.

What is it in particular that you like about the CZ-5000?
The ability to save/load voice banks, and sequence data externally, plus the ability to manage voice data via MIDI, were all advanced features at the time, and things that I still make use of today. The 8-step envelope editing function is also a unique feature not found on other synthesizers. 

M: The ability to externally record tone data, and sequencer data. Thanks to this, data can be easily obtained, and distributed via the internet. 

Satoshi Makoto_2

How long did it take you to “master” the synth?

S: I think it was about 2 or 3 years before I understood all the functions – while I was in high school – and then about 6 months of trial and error while a college student  – looking for a job  – as I delved into the CZ’s sound creation.

Which artists, in the past, have used / showcased the CZ-5000? I know that The Orb and Jean Michel Jarre have used the synth. 

S: I know that Kevin Saunderson used the CZ-5000 to create is famous Reese Bass sound. As for Japanese producers, I know that Isao Tomita, who actually supervised the synths preset sounds, Yukihiro Takahashi – of YMO, Hiroyuki Namba, Takumi Iwasaki  – of Films, TPO, Susumu Hirasawa aka P-Model, and Magical Power Mako, have all used it. 

M: Do you know who Takumi Iwasaki is? He is a producer who composed many Japanese TV commercials during the 1980s and `90s, and was also in charge of producing the CZ-5000 sales promotion cassette tape. There are a lot of brilliant tracks included on this cassette, but it`s impossible to listen to it out online, and its very hard to get hold of.

Do you have any favourite pieces of music created on a CZ-5000, other than your own?

M: We don’t really  knowingly listen to music produced with the CZ-5000 –  but we are very happy and grateful when we hear music using the CZ made by people who say they were inspired by us.

Do you draw inspiration from the work of other artists? If so, which artists have influenced you? 

M: We draw inspiration from a variety of sources. To list them would take too long, but we do listen to a a lot of soundtracks. 

Do you draw any inspirations from your surroundings? Nature? Any particular places? 

M: I think so. However, there are many times when a rhythm, or a piece of music suddenly starts playing in my head while I am on a train, etc., and by the time I get to my instrument, I completely have forgotten about it! 

Do you draw any inspiration from other forms of art? Books, or movies? 

M: Nowadays, inspiration sometimes comes to me when I read a book, but on the other hand, I don’t get as much inspiration from movies as I used to.
What drew you to making ambient music? 

M: Actually, we don’t think that we intentionally make so-called ambient music. We are just trying to make music that is pleasant to listen, for ourselves.

Were you aware of the Japanese legacy, of so called Kankyo Ongaku artists, such as Hiroshi Yoshimura? 

M: I was not aware of it, but I think Hiroshi Yoshimura was a wonderful musician.

I have to say that I think that your music is incredible. The more you listen to it, the more depth there is to it. 

M: Thank you very much. I think that Young Marco and Safe-Trip did a great job in their song selections, and track sequencing for the albums! I am very happy with both of the albums that they released for us.

To my ears, your melodies, and chords in places, their warm nature, also seem to draw on classic, `90s, Italian house. Were such records an influence, or is this just a coincidence? 

M: We are definitely influenced by the house and techno club culture of the late `80s and `90s.

How did you make the connection with Young Marco and Safe Trip? Did Marco approach you, after hearing your music on Bandcamp? Or did you send Marco a demo, or did you actually meet? 

M: It all started when Marco contacted us via Bandcamp. He had seen our CZ-5000 video on Youtube, and liked it a lot. He immediately approached us about releasing an album, so we sent him the sound files, and Safe-Trip arranged everything, including the mastering of the album.

I was also able to meet and talk with Marco in person, about his vision for the album, before its release. He was very friendly, and he’s a unique character. We are very grateful to Marco for the opportunity to introduce us to things that we never thought we would see.

Were you surprised by the success of both of your Safe Trip albums? 

M: We were very surprised, and honestly could not understand why our songs were so well-received.

How does the music you make as Satori & WheelRock differ from that you make as Satoshi & Makoto? 

M: Since we started receiving such a great response as Satoshi & Makoto, via Safe-Trip, the difference between the two has almost disappeared.

Where are you currently based?
Until recently, Satoshi was living in Niigata due to work commitments, but now we both live in Yokohama, Kanagawa.

Do you live together? 

M: No. We live separately.

Where is your studio?
We have no proper studio. Just a small amount of equipment in a corner of each of our homes.

How often do you get together to create music? 

M: It`s quite rare for us to get together to make music. We usually start working a few weeks in advance to prepare for a live performance. Most of the music production is done by each of us individually.

Do you ever get asked to work with / produce other artists? 

M: Yes, thankfully, we receive many offers to collaborate. However, it is often difficult for me to move around due to my main job, so I have not been able to collaborate or produce anything yet. However, I am looking forward to taking up the challenge in the future.
Do you get asked to do any remix work? 

M: We have done many remixes…

Sigh Society – Reside (Satoshi & Makoto Remix)

Are you open to collaboration? Are there any artists that you might like to work with? 

M: What we can do is limited, but we would like to do it if the opportunity and timing is right. We would like to be in contact with people who express themselves freely without being bound to a specific genre.

Are there any other Japanese artists, currently working in the ambient field, whose music you like and respect? 

S: There are many but I am quite interested in Tetsu Inoue’s activities and his current whereabouts.

M: I like artists such as SUZUKISKI and recently, UNKNOWN ME, aka Yakenohara, aka Taro Nohara.

When can we expect the next Satoshi & Makoto album? 

M: We hope that you can be patient with us, as we are still working and  hoping that we will be blessed with this some time soon as well.

Other than the upcoming Zim Zam Zu! / Bonobo show, do you have any other live performances lined up? 

S: As of now, nothing is set in stone.

M: So, the Bonobo performance might turn out to be quite a rare live show from us! 

You can catch that rare live performance from Satoshi & Makoto at Zim Zam Zu!, at Bar Bonobo, on November 5th. Resident DJs, Ken Hidaka and Max Essa, will be your hosts, and the evening will also feature a guest set from Nagoya’s YoshimRIOT. Acclaimed artist, Yamasaki Mami takes over Bonobo’s gallery space with an exhibition of her water colour and acrylic works. I think Yamasaki-san will also be painting live. The lovely Dani will be up on the rooftop, serving the spicy food. 

Zim Zam Zu nov2022Vers2FINALFINAL copy

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