Japan is years ahead of the U.S. in electronic technology—here bathtubs talk, cell phones control toy cars, and melodic "earcons" are everywhere.

In this special travel edition of Digital Media Insider, I visit the Tokyo headquarters of DTM (desktop music) Magazine and talk with editor Daigo Yokota about the state of music-making technology in Japan. (DMI 01-08-2007: 22 minutes 17 seconds)

DTM mags (76K)

DTM Magazine is a beautifully designed resource for Japan's high-tech musicians. Each issue includes a DVD with video reviews, audio examples, MIDI files, and royalty-free sound samples.

Production Notes

I normally produce the DMI podcasts on my massive desktop Mac with Ableton Live; BIAS Peak and SoundSoap; Izotope Ozone; a Rode Podcaster mic; Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro headphones; and Klipsch 4.1 speakers—way too much gear to pack in a suitcase. So I thought it would be an interesting challenge to do this episode on a cheap, portable system: a borrowed Windows laptop and my Logitech 250 USB headset.

Daigo Yokota (17K)

DTM editor Daigo Yokota attended college in California, giving him a deep international perspective on music technology. The publishing company employs about 40 people.

The one piece of commercial software I loaded on the PC was Mixmeister Propaganda ($49). It's a simplified version of the company's DJ mixing programs that adds podcast-exporting features. (More on Propaganda in a moment.) To record our interview, Yokota provided an Edirol R-1 CompactFlash recorder and a well-worn Sony ECM-959A MS-stereo mic, which he set to the 120° pickup pattern and placed between us on a desk in a small room. I also grabbed a few atmospheric sounds with my omnipresent Olympus WS-200S stereo voice recorder, such as some fish salesmen in the basement of a Lon Lon department store and a baked-yam vendor in a windy graveyard.

I then imported all the sounds, along with two songs Yokota recommended from recent DTM DVDs, into Propaganda for editing and arranging. (I recorded my voiceover directly into Propaganda as well, using the Logitech headset and GigaVox Levelator.)

I normally present interview voices in mono, but Propaganda lacks pan controls (you get just volume, treble, and bass). So I downloaded Reaper, Justin Frankel's shareware audio editor and tried bouncing the stereo R-1 file to mono. Unfortunately, that just emphasized the room reverberation, which was the opposite of what I wanted. So I went back to the stereo file, which had an appealing sort of realism.

Edirol R-1 recorder (43K)

Yokota recorded our interview on an Edirol R-1 CompactFlash recorder with an external Sony mic. Here the memory door is open because he was transferring the audio file to the computer for backup.

Snipping out mumbles and extraneous words in Propaganda was surprisingly easy, though I really missed Peak's ability to zoom in vertically on the waveform. I was also disappointed that Propaganda lacked a dynamic compressor (or even plugin support) for adding impact to speech. (I experimented with Levelator, but found it boosted the room noise in the file too much. If I'd had more time, I might have tried downloading Audacity and using its noise-reduction first.) And, inexplicably, at one point Propaganda refused to launch, demanding my license code once again. Thank goodness I'd been archiving my email with Gmail.

What's way cool, though, is that Propaganda is a nondestructive editor, which means it creates pointers to the audio file rather than operating on it directly. Thanks to the program's DJ pedigree, it also has the ability to time-stretch audio by 80–120% during playback, which sped up editing as well.

Propaganda (39K)

Mixmeister Propaganda, partway through production of this episode. The vertical gray lines in the top track show cuts I made. I haven't yet created crossfade transitions between the tracks.

Finally, I rendered the mix to an MP3 file and then imported it into iTunes to add the cover image and ID3 tags.

As noted in previous episodes, I made the theme music with Ableton Live. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the theme took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Silent Sight mix graph (28K)

This mixing graph accompanied "Silent Sight" in the January 2007 issue of DTM. The horizontal axis represents left-right position; the vertical axis represents perceived distance (as shaped by volume and effect depth).

Featured Musicians

Kenichi Koyano

Freelance songwriter/arranger Koyano has composed and arranged music for both artists and video games; he also works as a private instructor. He writes a song every month for his music-production series in DTM Magazine. Daigo Yokota notes, "'Silent Sight' is a good demonstration of using only z3ta+ as a melodic instrument in a song. The rhythm track is created with Stylus RMX."

Author's note: In the podcast, I said you could download the full version of "Silent Sight" here. Due to a misunderstanding, we had to remove the file. However, you can still get it (in original WAV format) by buying the January 2007 issue of DTM.

Etsuji Ogawa

Guitarist/songwriter/arranger Ogawa is one of the busiest musicians in Japan, playing on many artists' recordings and stage performances. He also composes songs and jingles for TV programs. Fluent in multiple styles including rock, pop, jazz, and club/dance, he is an accomplished MIDI programmer as well. Daigo Yokota says, "'Chaos' is a good example of his talents—a combination of the real guitar track and the realistic MIDI track played by BFD and Trilogy." Ogawa also writes a song every month for his series in DTM. You can hear more of his music on his site.

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Create Scorching Grooves with Spectrasonics' Stylus RMX

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