Fendoap is a Japanese artist who combines programming and a love for calm places to masterfully create vast landscapes of gentle and glowing sounds. Their new record Passing Scenery was recently released through Buffer Zone, an independent label founded by Onokio.
Can you tell us about your new album Passing Scenery and how you connected with Buffer Zone records?
I usually post music on Youtube. There was a comment asking if there were any plans to make an album, etc., and the number of recorded sound sources has increased, so I decided to select some and make an album. Just there, Onokio contacted me via Youtube.
Then I’m communicating with him via email. He is very kind and the interaction is very smooth. I initially intended to compose an album with clear, crisp sound. However, I personally had serious events and changes in my mind, so I decided to select calm, reassuring, and comfortable things.
What inspired you to first start making music? Were you making electronic music right from the start or was there a shift / evolution from earlier interests or sonic exploration?
Originally, I didn’t listen to much music. One day I knew an artist called the Kinks. It was a difficult time mentally at that time, so I thought the lyrics were very good. Then I started listening to various music. I started listening to music from the 1960s such as The Beatles and The Kinks. I listened to related music from Wikipedia and Youtube links.
As I listened to the music of the 80’s and 90’s, electronic music came out. But at that time, I hadn’t imagined making it myself. My brother doesn’t make music, but he is familiar with art, and at one point he told me about the existence of a DAW. Then I looked it up and found that there was a free version of the DAW (Studio one free). That was the reason I started making music. The free version didn’t include a synthesizer, only a sound source such as a piano, but I enjoyed inputting melody.
Around that time, my brother let me listen to music such as Ryoji Ikeda. It was a sound I had never heard before, so it felt very fresh. After that, I learned that there was music such as IDM, click, and glitch, and became interested in synthesizers. However, the free version DAW did not include a synthesizer, so I looked it up and found that the free version DAW of FL Studio could be downloaded, so I downloaded it. Around that time, a friend gave me Vocaloid that he had bought and wasn’t using, so I started making music with them.
Who were some early influences that encouraged your creative process?
I liked the rhythms and textures of Aoki Takamasa, Mark Fell, Jan Jelinek, and Second Woman. I liked music that was a little lo-fi with clicks and the overall number of notes was low. I also like inanimate, inorganic but not violent and pebbly cute textures. In that respect, I like the sound of Nicola Ratti. Then I liked the sound of Togo’s Picancala (Lithophone Picancala) instrument which one day I listened on the radio.
You’re using Max/Msp as your primary tool for making sounds correct? What led you to this particular medium of production?
I use max / msp as my main tool. At that time, after touching the trial version of the DAW for a while, I decided to buy a little tool. I had three options with a similar budget. One is to buy a DAW such as studio one. I thought that this would be difficult in terms of cost, considering that vst ~ etc. will be prepared later. The other is to buy FL studio. I thought this was good because it seemed that it contains synths and effects to some extent, but I felt that it wasn’t fresh and exciting because I had already experienced it. The third was max / msp.
At that time, my brother told me that music such as autechre was made using tools such as max / msp. When I looked it up, it seemed like a tool that I could do anything on my own. After a little more research, I found a tool called pure data, so I downloaded it and tried it while reading the introductory book. I found pure data a little difficult for me, but at the same time I found it interesting. There was an option to use pure data as it is, but I felt that max / msp was easier to learn because there were more books and information, so I started using max / msp.
How would you explain Max to someone completely unfamiliar with the process?
Max is a kind of programming tool for music, video and other media. You can create various functions by connecting blocks with various functions. I think that it is similar to construction set: LEGO, Minecraft. Initially it has no function, but it can have various functions depending on how it is made. You can use it to create your own original instruments, software and features.
In what ways has this process shaped the way you approach writing music?
There were roughly two directions. One is to make individual patches for each piece of music (max programs are called patches). In this case, music and patches are created in parallel. The other is to first make a general-purpose patch and use it to make music. In this case the patch precedes the music. Half of the music on the album was made by starting with small features and then gradually adding features and sounds. The other half was made with a generic patch. This is a modular synth-like patch with blocks with various effects and features. Music is made by combining these blocks. When I finally make music, I record while playing patches in real time, rather than inputting and outputting music information with an algorithm. It may be rather intuitive and sensuous.
What would you consider the pros and cons of this medium versus perhaps writing and recording exclusively with analog instruments?
Perhaps it is a complementary relationship with a typical acoustic instrument. I think that each of them cannot substitute their respective roles. On the other hand, I think that electronic musical instruments and software tools have a relationship that can replace max with each other to some extent, so I mainly compare them.
There are three cons.
The first is about time and effort. If you want to do the same thing as other tools with max, you have to create functions, so it takes much time.
The second is about sound quality. For the same reason as the first con, I think that it is easier to make a good sound in a short time by using usually tools like hardware or software synths.
The third is a sequence. It is easier to edit using DAW etc. Furthermore, you also need to create a sequencer for max.
There are three pros.
The first is about fun. When max is introduced, its tooling aspect is often highlighted, but this has its own unique enjoyment. There is fun similar to making things, assembling tools, and customizing things.
The second is about simplicity. It has so many features, but they don’t appear on the screen if you don’t use them, so you can simply use only what you need.
The third is that it can be used as a learning and experimental tool. If you are reading a textbook on sound and have a method or mathematical formula related to sound, you can reproduce or experiment with the example as it is.
Also, when making other tools, you can think about the configuration by making it in advance with max. For example, when I made an arduino synth, I made a prototype configuration with max.
Are you also using analog instruments in combination with Max? In your Youtube videos you’re often playing a Arduino synthesizer. Is this a unit that you built yourself?
Basically, only max is used, but for some music (drizzle, small wagtail-01, -02), vst piano sound source etc. are read and used. Ellipt also uses the sound of an Arduino synth. I made the Arduino synthesizer with using Arduino uno and an Arduino library called Mozzi.
The contents of the synthesizer are rewritable, and since it has a sync in function, it can be synchronized with Volca and so on. Because I think about various things through the process of making, I feel that this is very interesting as “Food for thought”.
For example, manipulating ADSR with a single parameter, what a sequencer is, what is interesting as instrument (a noise synth may be more interesting for someone unfamiliar with music than a playing music instrument), the role of switches and buttons, how to display information (traffic lights are good example).
Can you tell us a little about your life growing up in Japan? Have you always been in Kumamoto?
I’m not in Kumamoto now, but I return to Kumamoto on a regular basis.
Until then, I was in Kumamoto all the time. I lived in a rural area, far from the urban area. Therefore, I feel that I have had few opportunities to come into contact with cultural things.
(Kumamoto is not as big as Tokyo, but there were still some cultural facilities such as museums in the center of the city. However, there were no libraries, bookstores or museums where I lived.)
I was able to use the Internet, but I feel that keywords are first needed to obtain information using the Internet, and that some kind of opportunity is needed to know the keywords.
I think it was my brother’s existence as that opportunity. When I look at it now, I feel that the place I lived in is a good place, because there are good scenery but at the same time, feeling such is like looking inside from the outside.
What is the music scene like there? Any other local musicians in Kumamoto or surrounding cities we should know about?
I’m sorry, I’m not really familiar with the local music scene. However, it seems that electronic artists often perform at NAVARO in Kumamoto and CMVC in Oita. I went to see the performance of Derrick May, aoki takamasa.
How would you describe Kumamoto in one sentence?
It’s a reasonably calm and fulfilling place.
What places would you most enjoy taking someone that came to visit for the first time?
I think Amakusa is good. It’s the archipelago. There are tourist spots, but it is a calm place with moderately few people. There are some parts that are a little lonely, but I feel nostalgia there. There are facilities for recreation, but I like calm places.
What are you doing when you’re not making music?
I read books and take a walk in the mountains, by the sea and in the park.
I read various kinds of books. Recently, I was recommended to read a book written by Alan Booth, so I am trying to read it. However, English is difficult, so I would like to learn a little more English so that I can read it.
What are you most looking forward to in the next few years to come?
With Arduino, I recently started studying the fields of hardware production and electronics. I hope I can learn more about them. Then I would like to touch on some acoustic instruments. Recently, various events have changed my mind, so I want to make a calm and cozy-looking atmosphere. That may change the direction, but I feel that it is also good.
Interview by Frenchpressley