Hataken – Interview on Patch & Tweak

HATAKEN has been an electronic music produce r a nd performer since the mid 90s. His musical style employs ambient
chilled-out grooves using synthesizers to span multiple genres that create a unique style and psychedelic feeling. Hataken has
performed at various festivals including Boom, Ozora, Sonica, Sound Wave, SXSW and more. Shifting from vintage analog
synth performances to modular synthesizers, Hataken has become an icon in the Japanese modular scene, and has collaborated
with artists such as Greg Hunter (Dubsahara) in the project Wåveshåper, and guitarist Sugizo. Hataken is an organizer of the
alternative culture underground platform ZEN ZEN, and started the annual modular synthesizer event, Tokyo Festival of
Modular, in 2013.
In the early 2000s, when Hataken found himself surrounded by a bunch of digital music gear, he met Richard Sharpe, a master of
analog synthesizers, and touring member of THE SHAMEN.
“Since forming a band with him, I was captivated by the sounds of analog synthesizers and became obsessed with playing live
using those sounds.”
“Then, for about 10 years, I played with jazz artists mainly in the club scene and performed at various festivals in Japan and
internationally. I used to bring a lot of vintage equipment and improvised live using analog synthesizers.”
After a period of working at live events featuring the sounds of analog synthesizers, Hataken noticed that there wasn’t much
of a scene where such sounds and organic performances were appreciated.
“Based on an idea conceived by Dave Skipper, who co- hosted Analogue Sonic with me back then , an event featuring analog
synths, we decided to start the Tokyo Festival of Modular (TFoM). At the time, I was still using vintage synthesizers and the only
synthesizer module I used at the first TFoM in 2013 was a Frac Rack sized Metalbox 8008 Bass Drum, which I used as a kick
drum housed in a hand-made box together with a power supply – no Eurorack yet. Around that time, an acquaintance in the US
sent me a wonderful and generous present that I’m still very grateful for; a 104 hp x 2 case filled with Malekko Heavy Industry
modules, with the words ‘if you haven’t used any Eurorack modules yet, you should’.”
For Hataken, who had been using instruments such as the EMS Synthi, ARP2600, Korg Mono/Poly, Sequential Circuits
Pro-One, Roland TB-303, and TR-606 etc., the flexibility and compactness of the new modular synthesizers, equipped with CV
inputs for almost all knobs, seemed full of potential and stirred his imagination.
“It felt as if I time-traveled from the 70s to the present and that these were the tools that would give freedom to my
expressions. That’s how I came to rethink my live system and objectively became acquainted with modular synthesizers back in
2014.”
Flexibility and size
Starting out with the modules from Malekko Heavy Industry, Hataken soon started to consider how to reproduce his analog live
performances using a modular system.
“In this process, I came to understand the functions and mechanism of the Buchla bases such as waveshapers and low-pass
gates, which I had not heard of before.”
Although he ended up testing almost all of the modules available, Hataken is confident that his performance and
expressiveness has improved to the extent that his previous style using vintage gear seems quite outdated.
“Needless to say, there are a few modules that I have discarded because of their large size, considering the setting at live
locations and mobility. Many of the fascinating modules have a large panel size, and sadly I am not able to bring all of the ideal
modules to my live performances. Just like the housing situation in Japan, when faced with a choice between two modules having
the same features I am inclined to choose the modul e w hich does not take up much space. As a result, with a lot of small
modules, the jacks and patch cable s become crowded and difficult to insert my fingers, and, accordingly, the quality of my
performance can be diminished.”
Hataken points ou t t hat though the musical quality is important, the modular system must be based on the knowledge of how
you act under the special conditions of a live performance setup – regardless of how new or how old the devices are.
“Today, my system has become pretty stable and I am pretty much over with replacing and experimenting with new devices.
The current modules are more or less fixed and I can focus on improving my performance techniques.”
Hataken’s modular system is assembled for the purpose of live performance; a system that lets him play for a long time and
enables him to access the sounds that he wants
“This is different from my old style in which I would plan every little detail, but is also different from just a bunch of risky
improvisations.
“ The new system gave me a performance environment that allows me to immerse myself into creative expressions from the
very first note, all without planning performance tricks or a set list. This was more flexible than any live performance I had ever
experienced, be it vintage synth-based, laptop-based, ambient, or DJ performance. These devices are magic, and enable creative
expressions that are directly linked to my feelings and senses.”
The creativity of a limited system
Though a large modular system is more complex and can give the impression that more can be done, Hataken do not believe so.
“I noticed this when I used to bring a lot of vintage synthesizers and effects to the live stage and people would joke about how
it’s as if I brought my entire studio. There is a limit to how many things a person can control or pay attention to at the same time.
Not only do I have to take care of many things at the same time, I also have to perform towards a singular output, considering the
overall balance, and I must never leave any sound forgotten. Thus I believe that a compact system with limitations makes you
more creative. An ideal system is one that enables you to generate entirely different expressions by making use of the full
capacity of the system. It makes sense , then, that multi-functional modules suitable for improvisations, such a s P laits , are chosen
as my ‘A-team instruments’.”
Intuition and energy
There was a period in Hataken’s career when h e s pecialized in making music for meditation.
“Since then, I have been interested in meditative awareness, altered states of awareness, the spiritual world, etc. and have
seriously studied the influence of sound on consciousness and the mind, delving into and trying out healing music and its
mechanism, binaural sounds and brain wave induction. As a result, sound did influence consciousness, and I picture an ideal
world where awaking consciousness or even guiding it to ‘enlightenment’ is possible by focusing on sound – almost like a
Shaman.
“ I may have cultivated a background for this through my career as an ambient and freestyle DJ and my experience with
meditation. The sound of a modular synthesizer played through a large sound system at live venues enables the audience to
experience moments of becoming aware of something new or feel their consciousness being summoned, and suddenly become
more ‘awake’ or be enabled to see oneself objectively. I try to facilitate such meditative audio experiences regardless of genre or
tempo.”
Optimized for live performance
Hataken sees the modular synthesizer as optimized for these live situations where it allows him to immediately adjust frequencies
and the atmosphere of the performance on stage.
“Each time I may find a better expression, or try out different settings or things that I have noticed in earlier performances.”
Hataken points ou t t hat he only uses the modular synthesizers for live performances, but as he’s receiving more and more
requests to do remixes using the modular he sometimes combines it with a DAW.
“ Someday , I want to try more complex programming that cannot be achieved with only two hands, but currently I’m really
into performing with the modular and also working on a modular album with live outtakes.”
Hataken is using a sequencer and has devised a system so even if he forgets something he can make things happen just the
way that he want to, based on his intuition and regardless of what bank he’s playing.
“What I perform from which bank, and where to take it from there , are all things that I decide after I get to the site, right
before I perform or even while performing. This heightens my focus and that pleasant feeling of tension during live performances
to the extreme, and at the same time reduces anxiety and worries of ‘failure’.”
For this reason, Hataken describes his style as ‘carefully planned improvisation’ as he chooses the ‘theme’ of the day before
the performance – a kind of semi-improvisation.
“It’s like having all sorts of ingredients ready so that you can cook anything and then do the cooking according to the theme
of the day. It requires technique and skill, and I feel I’m only half-way there, but I always try to give some kind of spiritual
‘awakening’ to the audience.”
At the same time, Hataken also feels he has the role of the sound engineer when performing.
“In a live situation, I think the PA equipment and PA staff are also part of the instruments being played. The larger the venue,
the more the musician must be aware of what EQs, compressors and limiters are applied on which bands. At small live spaces, I
can play with everything set flat which is easier.”
Unique expressions and mixing
Several modular synth techniques, such as using sampler modules, remind Hataken of the performance aspects of DJing.
“Playing with modular synthesizers does require using the buttons and knobs in sync with the rhythm, and it’s also similar to
DJ’ing in which one listens to where the automated performance leads before making fine adjustments and changes.”
Hataken describes the distortion and flux of analog oscillators, and the expressions unique to analog filters as invaluable. Also
spatial effects and the deep and rich sound of the Mutable Instruments Elements is important to his music. But mixing is equally
important and also requires some outboard gear.
“I use the Roland MX-1 mixer specially made for the AIRA series. Half of the connections are only for their AIRA
instruments, but still, there are six analog channels, and you can make use of send/ return and built-in effects. Each channel
comes with low-pass and high-pass filters, and the beat effects include a slicer, motion effects, and more. I use three or four
mixers in the modular system as well and I use this external mixer for finalizing the output. At modular-geek events I only use
the delay effect on this mixer, but when I need some dramatic effects at club events, etc. I also make use of the rhythmical
effects. I’m longing for a Eurorack mixer that can take the place of this mixer. I really think having a filter on each channel is
convenient. “
Hataken’s favorite modules
Mutable I nstruments Rings, Plaits, Elements, and Clouds
Physical modeling devices are essential to my music and I really love them. I have two Mutable Instruments Rings in my set –
one of them from a kit I made. Elements is the largest module in my system but a unique and necessary part.
I use the chord mode of Elements a lot. By inputting CV just to Geometry without inputting anything to the v/oct, playing
chords matching the root is possible. Depending on the configuration, you can make sounds like pizzicato of an orchestra or an
ethnic string instrument, which can bridge acoustic and electronic.
Plaits is also very easy to use and comes in handy in many situations. Clouds is very useful even in the orthodox mode and is
invaluable to create a granular and spacey atmosphere during a live performance.
Malekko Heavy Industry, Varigate 8+ and Voltage Block
These are new devices that weren’t out when I got the endorsement, but are currently at the heart of my system. They are very
good for performing live, a dreamy combination of sequencers. Detailed expression using notes is easy and since it is possible to
adjust the probability of sound generation using the probability function, even a loop with the same rhythm never gets boring. It
allows me to put some jazz-like elements into an electro sequence. I use half of the Voltage Block for scales. This lets me do solo
sequences by adjusting the divide parameter and enables me to almost compose during a live performance. The other half of the
channels are used for sending patterned LFO and CV outs to various modules.
Make Noise Wogglebug and Tempi
I probably use all the outputs of the Wogglebug, and with various modules, sometimes synced to a clock randomly and other
times running free. Or with the degree of randomness controlled by a sequencer, and the audio out going to the FM2 of the
Intellijel uVCF filter for varying emphasis of the mid-to-high frequency range of the rhythm. Tempi provides a clock for Varigate
8+, Voltage Block, Clouds, Erbe-Verb, etc., and receives a clock from Trigger Riot. Since I have patched it so that the trigger
switches the pattern, each sequencer syncs to a separately divided clock. By turning this on it creates a completely unpredictable
pattern. You can control and guide it, or shut off the pattern changes of Tempi and achieve an entirely different atmosphere even
with the same sounds. I adjust these and add and subtract on the fly, based on my intuition – Tempi and Wogglebug always
inspire me.
Tiptop Trigger Riot and Make Noise René
Needless to say, I input two of Trigger Riot’s many outputs into the X, Y Trig. ins of René; they really work fantastically
together and because of these two, I can instantly perform any bassline or lead-line on the fly. I think they are also a good match
geometrically (laugh).
Qu-Bit Nebulae
I have many sampler modules, such as the 4ms STS, the Qu-Bit Nebulae and an Assimil8or. The vari-pitch function of the
Nebulae that allows you to control the pitch and speed separately is invaluable and I regularly make use of it including the
granular function.
Tokyo Festival of Modular (TFoM)
The first TFoM was made possible by combining live performance with exhibitions by instrument manufacturers. Before this,
Hataken and his co-organizers had been unable to attract a large audience for live electronic events. “There was no scene in Japan
and not many people even knew about Eurorack. But the joint contributions of international Eurorack manufacturers, small
Japanese modular manufacturers, and some modular synthesizer shops in Tokyo, etc., made it possible in 2013.”
Hataken remembers the long queue before opening the very first event and TFoM soon became the bridge between artists,
manufacturers, fans and enthusiasts. Since then, the size of the event and number of participants has increased every year.
“TFoM is now well-known in the Japanese music scene and among electro music producers. Sales drastically increased at our
sponsors’ shops after the festival and there are clearly more modular users than before. I see more modular synthesizer artists
with various backgrounds and genres learning modular synthesizers from scratch and becoming fascinated with the new tool for
expression; the first step has been achieved. Now, iconic artists are showing up both internationally and domestically, live events
focusing on modular synthesizers other than TFoM are popping up here and there and the small circle is gradually expanding.
This is not just because of TFoM but part of the global boom of modular synthesizer.s
The goal for TFoM is to further energize the scene, leading to musical expressions unique to Japan. Hataken hopes to play a
leading role in this process, while seeing the scene as a whole growing together, one artist stimulating another.
I’d say: find a mentor. Listen and learn where to look and what to look for, and try to interact with people
doing entirely different musical genres to expand your musical horizon s . Have fun. And when you cannot
make your modules sound the way you want them to, ask your mentor. And then, please share the
greatness of modular; let’s make the most out of the scene together.