Interview with So Kanno: Creating sound devices

February 6, 2010

Very unique DJ turntable entitled Jamming Gear by So Kanno has been recently presented at TEI 10 – The Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction in Cambridge – Massachusetts (USA). Kanno was in Zagreb in October, 2009 at Device art 3.009 when we talked about his works.

so_kanno.jpgPhoto: So Kanno taken at Device art by Kontejner

So Kanno (1984) works at IAMAS as a research student. In 2009 he was the recipient of Ars Electronica Digital Music Honorary Mention and Jury Recommended Works at Japan Media Art Festival. He won Asia Digital Art Award – Interactive Art FinalistPrize in 2006 and 2008. His works have been exhibited till now in Japan, USA, Slovenia, Croatia, etc.

Jamming Gear was created as a collaborative project jointly with Kanno’s friend Kenichiro Saigo, former IAMAS student and at the moment sound creator at LEVEL-5 Inc.

jamming_gear___so_kanno.jpgJamming Gear by So Kanno

Can you tell me something about your background in device art? Have you been interested as a child in making thingz?

SK: No. As a matter of fact, first I entered fashion course at my University. It wasn’t an Engineering University or something. Actually, the course was not a fashion design but more like a scenography, stage design department. So, I have spent a few years studying at this department and after that, I moved to design informatics department because I was more and more interested in electronics and music things.

During that period of time at University I met some people doing DJing and we became good friends. This is how I met Kenichiro Saigo. He introduced me to DJing. He had lots of DJ equipment and very often I was in his room playing with the gear. Finally, I tried DJing and using sampler. After that I bought myself a sampler.

so_kanno_2.jpgSo Kanno DJing with Jamming Gear, photo by MMC Kibla (c)

Well, you had to buy a toy for yourself, right?

SK: Yeah, my story is very funny, because what I’m trying to do now with the sampler and tracks is actually very easy. After all, music creativity doesn’t belong to me, but it belongs to the inventor or to person who actually made this device.

After I bought all instruments I wanted to be creative and make an actual device for music in order to use it with music I would create with sampler or something. Then I bought Max/MSP/Jitter, which is very flexible programme. You can make software for music in Max, it means you can be more creative. I don’t like only computer things, I want to make things more tangible and tactile. I definitely like devices and device art, this is how I decided to make devices for music.

Turntable Sequencer

You have created several projects before Jamming Gear…

SK: Actually there are three works… One is turntable that uses a white board instead of vinyl; and tone arm replaced with sensor bar. If you draw something by pen and rotate the board, the sensor will read it and make some sound.

The other one, slit movie sequencer is connected with slit photography which is used for tracking and measuring time. When you plug in this device and use it, you will have actual time at the end, and I made a device for making movies from slit photography. There is a display and camera, and if I move in certain way it will react and mark movement like a scanner.

It’s basically a scan image maker. It’s based on your movements. I was using this image as score, and then I used the change of the brightness as a parameter to create a sound.

Slit Movie Sequencer

Can you tell me more about when and how did you start to work on Jamming Gear?

SK: There is a class at IAMAS, actually a project entitled Gangu which means in Japanese the toy. So, Jamming gear is a result of the project task – the toy.

My friend Kenichiro Saigo had the idea about how can gear and music be used. It was in November or December in 2007. At that time I have designed some other things, but something boring (laughs).

Then Kenichiro talked to me and we decided to make a gear. Kenichiro was, at that moment, music graduate. He graduated composition and he has good skills in music, but he doesn’t programme nor make things. I have a skill for making things and I’m interested in music. My graduate work at university was from the field of music devices. Then we started a project together. So, that’s actually the project’s background.

Jamming Gear, photo by MMC Kibla (c)

Jamming gear has interesting structure because at first it seems like a very analogue and lo-fi device, but behind this is very sophisticated software and wireless connection?

SK: Yeah, yeah! Because the device has software and 5 modules you can use with several plastic gears in order to play music loops and to combine them in the order and rhythm you wish. Those 5 modules have two types of inflections: first is this Driver Module which controls the rotation, speed and  sort of direction in relation to the Passive Modules. Each of this Passive Modules can send its rotation data to the software via Bluetooth.

This interaction is controlling the music loop, it’s controlling the sound.  Of course, the music can be mixed in dependence of this gears you are using as vinyl records are used during DJing.

Jamming Gear

I guess you like mostly electronic music?

I like the most house music, techno and stuff like that. I also do some DJing in my free time. Yeah, I really like electronic music, sampler and all gear that comes with this.

What is now the big thing at Japanese music scene or in the industry?

SK: Oh, it’s a difficult question. There are many types of music which are hype at the moment. The Japanese CD selling problem is that the number of sales is decreasing very fast. Maybe it’s also about the quality of music, for example the quality of music by famous stars is getting lower.

iTunes music store and this downloading thing is getting very popular which resulted in decreasing of record sales. For techno artists, indie bands and many alternative music genres is hard to sale their records, but it’s also hard to say what is now more popular because of this situation.

So Kanno DJing with Jamming Gear, photo by MMC Kibla (c)

Can you tell me something about some new project you’re planning to do?

SK: Now, I am doing a new piece with kinetic elements. For instance, if we look at the Jamming Gear project. The number of teeth is very important because they are dictating the number of speed. The ratio of the number of teeth is very important. For instance, if you choose the same number of teeth you will have the same time of rotation. But if you have a little bit slower tempo, the shifting will be few seconds slower. If you choose 2, 3, or 4 of these, they are creating a polyphonic sound, you will get then polyrhythm.

Jamming Gear Expirience

You told me before the interview that you like fashion. Who is your favourite designer and is there a chance that you will combine in the future fashion, sound and electronics?

SK: My favourite designer is Martin Margiela. He’s really great! I like to think about clothes. We change it every day. But, I think fashion and electronic things are two separated things in my mind.  But in the future, who knows!

Thank you, So!

Related links:
Interview with Mika Fukumori: On Ototenji and IAMAS
Interview with Yosuke Kawamura: Mixing analogue and digital worlds