Q&A: 5 minutes with SUGIZO & HATAKEN
If you follow the modular synth scene, you’d definitely have heard of Tokyo’s HATAKEN. The producer and sound designer has been crafting ambient and modular soundscapes since the 90’s, and has become a legend in the scene. Fellow Japanese musician SUGIZO meanwhile, comes from an eclectic musical background that includes dalliances in heavy metal and trance alike. Aside from being the lead guitarist and violinist for rock outfit Luna Sea, SUGIZO’S solo career veered toward new age electronica, finding himself encapsulated with the world of psychedelia and shamanic ambient music. The meeting of these two minds is destiny, and in each other they found a kindred creative soul. The Voyage To The Higher Self, released on SEPHIROT, is the duo’s first collaborative album and takes the form of existing tracks by SUGIZO reworked by HATAKEN. Meditative, spiritual and informed by the idea of the chakras, The Voyage To The Higher Self expands the SUGIZO sound beyond the fabric of the universe. We caught up with the pair to find out how they happened upon the project, and to hear more about the concept behind the album.
The Voyage To The Higher Self is an album inspired by the concept of chakras. This in itself is very much related to the body and our state of being in the natural world. How did you access the concept through electronic instruments?
SUGIZO : Electricity itself is an extremely organic energy that exists widely in the universe and in nature. I express this energy through electronic instruments as if I were sculpting it.
HATAKEN : I think that’s a great question! First of all, it may not be accurate to say that this is a chakra-inspired album. We started to create this album with no concept or image of chakras in the beginning. We wanted to create the sound that we wanted to deliver during this pandemic. We came to a conclusion that we wanted to deliver a sound that could provide release from this stressful atmosphere. This is what led me and SUGIZO to create this album, which is the result of our mutual belief in the spirituality and invisible power that lies in our backbone. I had decided to make seven songs before I imagined the chakra concept, and I knew that SUGIZO sensed this concept from the first three songs I wrote. From the first three songs that I worked on, SUGIZO sensed the order of the chakras and their ascent, so I asked SUGIZO to recall the first three chakras and he asked me to confirm them. After that, I tried to make the remaining four tracks as a remix with the image of chakras, so that the energy of the sound would become more and more exquisite. To answer your question, I did not access the concept through the electronic music, but rather the electronic music brought the concept to me.
How does electronic music allow you to visualise these ideas? Does it open up possibilities that might not be there otherwise?
SUGIZO : Electronic music has infinite possibilities. As I mentioned earlier, electricity is organic, so it can be transformed and expanded in any way as a part of our human life.
HATAKEN : It’s true that the term “modular synth” is featured in this album, but the concept is definitely more important than what kind of instrument is used. In this sense, this project was an attempt to deconstruct and reconstruct SUGIZO’s existing music. I was conscious of drawing out the aura of the music without leaving its original form. For example, with granular synthesis, even though the audio sample is reduced to audio-rate grains like powder, the original DNA of the sound is still there, so it can be restored to its original form. If you give the resolution a random change in the time axis, you will hear a new world of sound image that is not similar to the original. That’s the experiment. The richness of the sound that comes out of the actual device is nothing compared to how stale my imagination is.
Tell us about your experience of working together. How did it happen, and how did you decide that this was the kind of music you wanted to make?
SUGIZO I got into modular synths, and in the process of pursuing that path, I learned of HATAKEN’s existence. HATAKEN is an agitator who has been leading the modular synth world for a long time, so if you follow this genre, you’ll surely come across his name. I went to see him play a few times, fell in love with him, and asked him to collaborate with me.
HATAKEN : We first met in 2016 at a small event called Modular Cafe, where I was a monthly resident and SUGIZO was a regular attendee. SUGIZO began to frequent the event, and eventually asked me to collaborate with him, which is how it all started. After that, we found out that we had a mutual spiritual friend in each other that we could trust, with whom we had many points of view in common. There was no doubt in my mind that we should move forward, even though I didn’t know what would happen. But I was like, it must be a good opportunity, and I should give it my best. It became an opportunity to use all of my experience.
What was the process of making this album like? What was fuelling your inspiration?
SUGIZO : The first step was to have HATAKEN remix my past works. Then, I added melodies and harmonies, subtracted sounds, and composed and arranged the music. I went back and forth between these processes several times until I reached the final production.
The music video for Muladhara translates the sonic into the visual with its colours and patterns. How important is the visual element to the experience of The Voyage To The Higher Self? Will there be a video for each track?
SUGIZO : It would be great to make a visualised version of the whole album. I wish I could!!
HATAKEN : Yeah, I really hope so!!
Watch the music video for Muladhara from The Voyage To The Higher Self below. Purchase the album here.