Made In Japan Retrospective-Track 1 “Made In Japan”

This track is rather simple compared to others on the album, so I am also going to include the background to how the album came to be in this article.

I have always been a fan of albums over singles. The act of creating a theme, motif and textural world that a collection of tracks inhabit interests me more than individual tracks. For me, it is the purest artistic form for a musician. 

The journeys I have gone on by listening and re-listening to albums have shown to me music at the peak of its powers. And in turn, making an album was always my grand aim over writing individual tracks. 

My love for a long play record and my respect for music has been a blessing as a listener but has hampered me as a musician. My attempts to create an album have always weighed me down with many near complete but failed attempts due to the weight of importance I give to my favorite medium.

This is probably why the album Made In Japan never started with the idea that it would become an album. 

I knew from a young age that I wanted to visit Japan. In high school, I would play video games and watch films and anime from Japan, and knew that they came from a culture that was so alien to the one I was used to growing up in. I wanted to see it for myself.

In my mid 20’s I decided to set myself the goal of saving to visit Japan before I turned 30, and finally arranged to do it with a group of friends and my sister just under the wire for my 30th birthday.

My main passion in life is audio, and after university it became both a hobby and a job.  Whilst I’m out and about, instead of taking photographs, I have always drifted towards recording interesting sounds. I tend to make field recordings on holidays for my own interest. 

So, going to Japan and making recordings were always going to be linked. As I got closer to the holiday and I realised its importance, I started to formulate a plan to make a deeper collection of recordings whilst in Japan to form a more complete audio “scrap book” of experiences. 

Although I have a Sound Devices field recorder that allows me to record very high quality audio, I decided that I would need a smaller device to get these recordings whilst I was there. A device that could fit into my pocket whilst not in use. I picked up a Tascam DR7mk2 for both its stereo mics that could be switched into different positions and its Line In connector, which would allow me to record my other main piece of equipment; the Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesiser.

I had been using the OP-1 as an instrument for several years to make music on my hour and a half commute to work between Leigh and Liverpool. This has made me very competent in its abilities, quirks and systems. However, its one weak point is its recorder. 

The OP-1 allows you to record 4 mono tracks of audio, each 6 minutes long. To circumnavigate this, in the past I would move those tracks to a hard drive on a PC and then bounce them down back onto a single track in the OP-1. This allows me another 3 mono tracks to continue to build up compositions inside the unit. 

However, in Japan I realised that I would have little to no access to a computer throughout. This meant, another method of recording the tracks would be essential. The DR7 was a perfect way to save ideas for future use when I returned back to the UK.

So in summary, my initial thought process was to make several field recordings for an audio “scrap book” as well as have the ability to record any musical ideas from my OP-1 onto my DR7 during the time I was in Japan. The idea of interweaving these two things together only started to come into my mind towards the end of the holiday. 

It was when I returned home that I started to realise just how many recordings I had been able to achieve. Even then, I only believed it would be enough music for a smaller EP.

When I did get home and realised there was more potential in the recordings to turn it into a larger work, I decided to set myself some rules to stick to when creating the album. 

I decided to create rules because in the modern music production world, limitless possibilities are stifling. Forcing myself into boundaries is the only way I have found to ever get anything done.

The core rules were basic and fairly simple. Although I could embellish and move away from it, the core idea of each track needed to come from/be built from the recordings made in Japan. 

This limitation meant that only a few of tracks on the album were made completely in Japan, as many needed to be created later with samplers and heavy processing of the recordings. 

The first track, “Made In Japan,” is one of the few that features content exclusively from Japan.

Although the start of the album, the track “Made In Japan” marks both the beginning and end of the journey to create this record. It’s the first field recording I did when arriving in Japan, but also the last track myself and Mark finished when working on the album, which gives it – for me – an overarching story for the complete work.

The original recordings on this track were taken from our first night in Japan. 

After arriving in Tokyo mid afternoon and finding our accommodation, we walked through Ikebukuro in the evening to see the nightlife. I made one long recording walking through the crowds and past the shops and arcades. The one English voice you hear in the track is my sister’s now husband Ben signaling our friend Stephanie to come over to him. The rest is other people sharing the street with us.

The whole recording was close to 10 minutes originally and was one of several longer recordings of the streets in cities throughout Japan. I wanted to open the album with one of these pieces as a way to immerse the listener into the way I felt on the first night in Japan, with a my jetlag being barraged with the sensory information of the Tokyo streets and the emotions of completing a life goal. 

During the final mixing process, Mark turned the 10 minutes into a shorter 2 minute collage that highlighted certain moments, and added a more frenetic pace that works its way to the first piece of music, “Tokudawara,” which I will talk about tomorrow:

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