Saturday, 1 April 2017

The passing of a visionary

Ikutaro Kakehashi has passed away at the age of 87.

One wonders what other opening sentences can be written... Yes, he was the founder of the absolute legend that is Roland Corporation, the inventor and maker of an astonishing number of instruments that not only shaped, but also created, entire musical genres. 

If one says TR-808 or TR-909, then one means the birth of hip-hop and Detroit techno. If one says Juno or JP-8000, well, not sure where to even begin to enumerate the impact of these keyboards. If one says Jupiter-8, then one is basically lost for words. 

But then... he was also one of the two godfathers of MIDI, the standard for the way in which musical instruments and computers can digitally talk to each other. 

So much quasi-sensationalist and utterly tendentious (plus ill-informed) press has asked the question: is MIDI out of date, is MIDI limited...

MIDI was and still is an absolutely breathtaking future-proofed invention of a standard interface that outlasted countless others, and it is still going strong.

There was the invention of sound recording, which we take for granted now without realizing what it meant to be able to take music from the performer into the homes and hands of countless people who maybe never ever had the chance to see or hear that performer....

Then there was the birth of MIDI... 

How many of us can truly realize nowadays what it meant to be able, for the first time, to record an improvisation - not in sounds, but in actual  musical score terms of what was played, and then be able to change and layer on top of it, building up vast arrangements? 

How many nowadays truly realize what MIDI allowed suddenly, in unprecedented ways, in terms of capturing the details of a performance and then giving the musician the ability to edit all the musical information it captured, all the keyboard and controller events during playing?

Also, in terms of an interface, it is the genius of future-proofing. Since the decades of its inception, and the decades since it was turned into practical reality by the likes of Ikutaro Kakehashi, MIDI has managed to allow vastly different instrument of vastly different core technology to talk to each other seamlessly. 

The evolution of electronic instruments, studio gear and music software has been mind-boggling since MIDI was born, and it still allows all these immensely different gadgets to talk to each other in a standardized way.

A technical Grammy award given to him and Dave Smith is just the tip of the iceberg of significance and recognition... 

Entire musical genres would not have been possible without Kakehashi-san and his immeasurable contribution to musical instruments. 

Active to his very last years,he never stopped thinking about music, musical instruments, and musicians... "I Believe in Music" one of his book titles says... very, very few people can say that apparent cliche to be actually true and not only an expression, but also a living proof of one's life's body of work...

Rest in peace, Kakehashi-san...

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