Mojodojo Media



Japanese electronic music



While early electric instruments such as the Ondes Martenot, Theremin and Trautonium were little known in Japan prior toWorld War II, certain composers such as Minao Shibata had known about them at the time. Several years after the end of World War II, musicians in Japan began experimenting with electronic music, resulting in some of the most dedicated efforts due to institutional sponsorship enabling composers to experiment with the latest audio recording and processing equipment. These efforts represented an infusion of Asian music into the emerging genre and would eventually pave the way for Japan's domination in the development of music technology several decades later.

Following the foundation of electronics company Sony (then called Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K.) in 1946, two Japanese composers, Toru Takemitsu and Minao Shibata, independently wrote about the possible use of electronic technology to produce music during the late 1940s. In 1948, Takemitsu conceived of a technology that would "bring noise into tempered musical tones inside a busy small tube," an idea similar to Pierre Schaeffer's musique concrète the same year, which Takemitsu was unaware of until several years later. In 1949, Shibata wrote about his concept of "a musical instrument with very high performance" that can "synthesize any kind of sound waves" and is "operated very easily," predicting that with such an instrument, "the music scene will be changed drastically." The same year, Sony developed the magnetic tape recorder G-Type, which became a popular recording device in courtrooms and government offices, leading to Sony releasing the H-Type for home use by 1951.

In 1950, the Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) electronic music studio would be founded by a group of musicians in order to produce experimental electronic music using Sony tape recorders. It included musicians such as Toru Takemitsu, Kuniharu Akiyama, and Joji Yuasa, and was supported by Sony, which offered them access to the latest audio technology, hired Takemitsu to compose electronic tape music to demonstrate their tape recorders, and sponsored concerts. The first electronic tape music from the group were "Toraware no Onna" ("Imprisoned Woman") and "Piece B", completed in 1951 by Kuniharu Akiyama. Many of the electroacoustic tape pieces they produced were usually used as incidental music for radio, film, and theatre. They also held concerts such as 1953's Experimental Workshop, 5th Exhibition, which employed an 'auto-slide', a machine developed by Sony that made it possible to synchronize a slide show with a soundtrack recorded on tape; they used the same device to produce the concert's tape music at the Sony studio. The concert, along with the experimental electroacoustic tape music they produced, anticipated the introduction of musique concrète in Japan later that year. Beyond the Jikken Kobo, several other composers such as Yasushi Akutagawa, Saburo Tominaga and Shiro Fukai were also experimenting with producing radiophonic tape music between 1952 and 1953.

Japan was introduced to musique concrète through Toshiro Mayuzumi, who in 1952 attended a Schaeffer concert inParis. On his return to Japan, he experimented with a short tape music piece for the 1952 comedy film Carmen Jyunjyosu (Carmen With Pure Heart) and then produced X, Y, Z for Musique Concrète, broadcast by the JOQR radio station in 1953. Mayuzumi also composed another musique concrète piece for Yukio Mishima's 1954 radio dramaBoxing. Schaeffer's French concept of objet sonore (sound object), however, was not influential among Japanese composers, whose main interest in music technology was instead to, according to Mayuzumi, overcome the restrictions of "the materials or the boundary of human performance." This led to several Japanese electroacoustic musiciansmaking use of serialism and twelve-tone techniques, evident in Yoshiro Irino's 1951 dodecaphonic piece "Concerto da Camera", in the organization of electronic sounds in Mayuzumi's "X, Y, Z for Musique Concrète", and later in Shibata's electronic music by 1956.

Following the lead of the Cologne studio established in 1953, Japan's NHK company established one of the world's leading electronic music facilities in Tokyo, the NHK Studio, in 1954, equipping it with technologies such as tone-generating and audio processing equipment, recording and radiophonic equipment, Ondes Martenot, Monochord and Melochord, sine wave oscillators, tape recorders, ring modulators, band-pass filters, and four & eight channel mixers. Musicians associated with the studio included Toshiro Mayuzumi, Minao Shibata, Joji Yuasa, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Toru Takemitsu. The studio's first electronic compositions were complete in 1955, including Mayuzumi's 5-minute pieces "Studie I: Music for Sine Wave by Proportion of Prime Number", "Music for Modulated Wave by Proportion of Prime Number" and "Invention for Square Wave and Sawtooth Wave" produced using the studio's various tone-generating capabilities, and Shibata's 20-minute stereo piece "Musique Concrète for Stereophonic Broadcast".

Ikutaro Kakehashi founded a repair shop called Kakehashi Watch Shop in the late 1940s repairing watches and radios, and then in 1954 founded Kakehashi Musen ("Kakehashi Radio"), which by 1960 grew into the company Ace Tone, and by 1972 became the Roland Corporation. Kakehashi began producing electronic musical instruments in 1955, with the aim of creating devices that could produce monophonic melodies. During the late 1950s, he produced Theremins, Ondes Martenots, and electronic keyboards, and by 1959, a Hawaiian guitar amplifier and electronic organs.