Ikutaro Kakehashi (1930-2017)
April 2, 2017 1:07 PM   Subscribe

the Roland founder and driving force behind the MIDI standard has passed away.

Like many in his generation, Kakehashi was devoted to electronics, working as a repairman, before dedicating himself to the creation of musical instruments with his new company Ace Tone where he developed a number of rhythm boxes for electric organ players, many adopted by western manufacturers. After parting ways with the company in the early 70s, he created Roland Corporation, which would change the music in unexpected ways.
Released in 1980, the TR-808 was one of the earliest programmable rhythm boxes - instead of replaying a selection of patterns, the musician could input the sequences choosing from a number of instruments. However, the unrealistic analogue-generated sound was not suited for professional musicians of the time who preferred sample-based boxes such as the (far more expensive) Linn LM-1, and it flopped in the market with poor reviews. However, the alien sounds of the box paved way for newer, forms of sound emerging in the early 80s - electronic music and hip-hop - and with time, it became one of the sounds of the 80s, with their mythical status cemented by their limited availability - the machine was designed with a faulty transistor batch that could not be replicated.
Years later, Roland would launch a new wave of electronic music based on two other pieces of hardware - the TR-909 drum machine (now a mix of sample-based and analogue sounds) and the TB-303 bass synthesizer. By combining both, House music was born. Almost at the same time, musicians noticed they could accomplish a new sound by tweaking the envelope and ressonance on the box, and the soundtrack of The Second Summer of Love came to existence - Acid Techno. But Roland was more than these three iconic machines - it also produced synthesizers, such as the Jupiter and Juno lines, the Roland MT-32 sampler that was at the dawn of computer music and anticipated the multimedia revolution of the early 90s, the popular Micro Cube combo amplifiers, as well as several effect units for guitars and basses under the Boss label. If a trip to the company R&D department in Hamamatsu is out of order, Roland still allows a virtual visit of the museum where these innovations are on display.
Another crucial contribution to the music industry was made after meetings with Tom Oberheim and Dave Smith (of Prophet-5 fame), forging a standard communication protocol for musical instruments - Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, still used to this day, for which he won a Technical Grammy in 2013.
Later in life, after retiring from Roland, he became an author and started a third company - ATV - that also dealt with music hardware.
posted by lmfsilva (32 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

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(if anyone is curious on learning more about the importance of the TR-808, the 808 documentary is quite good, and even features an interview with the man himself)
posted by lmfsilva at 1:10 PM on April 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's rare that the ripples from a life extend so far and so wide.

posted by hippybear at 1:31 PM on April 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

maybe as a Gen Xer I'm biased, but ISTM Japan was really punching above its weight in the consumer/prosumer electronics space the 1960s ~ 80s.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=de2h shows that Japan's core working-age population peaked at ~2/3 that of the US's in the mid-70s, but as our postwar baby boom was only getting started in the 1950s and theirs was cut short in 1950, this has fallen to under 40% today.

Sony, Hitachi, Panasonic, Sharp, Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Casio, Pioneer, Seiko, Toshiba, Yamaha -- plus of course Nintendo, Namco, Sega, Taito, Konami . . .

They may not have invented all the goodies of the latter half of the 20th century, but they certainly consumerized them wonderfully.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 1:44 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this great post, and the links to this interesting man's story.

Heywood - I totally share your respect for the electronics innovations that came out of Japan from the 60s on. I was always a SONY fan; my first open-reel recorder in 1974 was a SONY. Let me add Teac/TASCAM to your list for their semi-pro multichannel recording gear.

I had the opportunity to get some factory training in Japan in the early 90s, and saw firsthand their zeal for quality and reliability.


posted by Artful Codger at 2:12 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by oceanjesse at 2:53 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by thelonius at 2:55 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by bz at 3:13 PM on April 2, 2017

I don't do dots, but if I could figure out how to do a fermata, I would leave one here.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:14 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by hippybear at 3:18 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

the popular Micro Cube combo amplifiers

Let's not forget the mighty Jazz Chorus 120
posted by thelonius at 3:19 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by Willow Jane at 3:28 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by Foosnark at 3:51 PM on April 2, 2017

The early 70s Roland RE-201 Space Echo was instrumental in the creation of the dub reggae scene.

Roland synthesizers enabled the whole late-70's early 80's electronic music scene.
Suddenly there were Japanese synths that were cheap, reliable and stayed in tune, unlike the old Moog and ARP synths they displaced. Roland monosynths also had a distinctive more modern sound that some ascribe to their taste in filter design.
The Human League's early singles and first two albums were basically all the things you could do with a complete Roland System 100 and a Jupiter 4.

BOSS effects pedals had a huge influence on music from the late 70s on, from popularizing Police style chorus and Cure style flanging in the 80s to the weird situation where a whole genre, Swedish death metal, requires the use of a particular discontinued BOSS distortion pedal (the HM-2 "Heavy Metal") with all the knobs turned all the way up.

Roland's drum machine genius starts way before the TR-808. All their previous drum machines were great too, with the programmable CR-78 CompuRhythm being a particular favorite of mine, turning up on so much early 80s music. They command crazy prices these days.
Also the BOSS DR-55 Dr Rhythm was the first really cheap programmable drum machine and inspired a lot of minimalist synth music with its sparse sound.
Really through so many great products, Roland was responsible for the rise of the drum machine, and ended up enabling whole genres of music that would not otherwise exist, even if these days the drum machine job is generally being done in software on Ableton or Logic.
posted by w0mbat at 6:28 PM on April 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, let's not forget, it was Mr Kakehashi who persuaded Yamaha to give the Sequential Circuits name back to his old friend, Sequential founder, Dave Smith.
posted by w0mbat at 6:33 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember Jeff Calder, of The Swimming Pool Qs, had a homemade pedalboard with seemingly every single Boss pedal on it. It was a thing of beauty.
posted by thelonius at 6:39 PM on April 2, 2017

F0 00 20 21 7F 62 20 0D 7F F7
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 6:43 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

My SH-101 weeps.

posted by Thorzdad at 6:57 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mine, too!

Although Roland didn't invent the synthesizer, to me, the sound of their early 80s synthesizers (the Jupiter 6 and 8 and Juno 6 and 60), aside from helping define the sound of new wave and synth pop, also define what a synthesizer should sound like (or at least be able to sound like). I have no idea how involved Ikutaro Kakehashi was with the fine details of those synths, but he certainly created the environment for that level of innovation and those quality standards to exit. If aliens came to earth and I was in charge of teaching them about synthesizers, I wouldn't start with a Moog or a Prophet V or an Oberheim (as cool and as important as they are) — I'd start with an early 80s Roland, with their pure sound and logical layout.

Aside his incredible influence on numerous types of music, he also seems like he was a super nice guy.

posted by jonathanhughes at 7:48 PM on April 2, 2017

posted by tilde at 7:57 PM on April 2, 2017

"My SH-101 weeps."

One of the lesser-known Beatles covers.
posted by traveler_ at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by jonnay at 8:26 PM on April 2, 2017

My "studio" back in the day was a Mac IIse running EZ Vision, some ADB to MIDI dongle that I've forgotten the name of, a Roland Sound Canvas sound module, and a cheap Casio keyboard (not even full-sized keys) that almost as an afterthought provided MIDI out. I could sit at a desk in the living room, put on headphones, and bang out new songs (most of them never finished) without bothering my housemates.

His work made all this possible.
posted by kurumi at 10:12 PM on April 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by interrupt at 11:54 PM on April 2, 2017

"My SH-101 weeps."

You forgot an s: My SH-101 (S)weeps.
posted by readyfreddy at 12:35 AM on April 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Roland brought expensive analog instruments to us masses in suburbia. Even though I knew about Oberheim, Moog, Sequential, and others, they were formidably expensive. (and still are!) It was Roland (and Korg, another Japanese creation) that caught my eye very early on. For one, the prices were much more affordable, but the sound wasn't cheap. It was every bit as good as some of the fabled monsters. And that Roland moniker on the backside of the synth was a source of extreme pride, not to mention genius marketing. The Jupiter, Juno, and D50 synths ARE the 1980s. If it wasn't played on a Prophet 5 or Obie, then it was a ROLAND. Besides the super sound, Roland analog synths were also laid out fantastically. There was a very nice Japanese minimalism that you saw copied in the original Macintosh. Just what you need, but nothing more. And more often than not, that was all you needed. To say nothing of the astounding 808 and 303 history. Also fantastic were the manuals. They actually went through the whole machine and instructed you how to use each aspect of the instrument, albeit sometimes in oddly translated Japanese. I'll forever be indebted to this gentleman. A true pioneer. He was the Henry Ford of synthesizers by a mile. If you are unfamiliar with this synthesizer stuff, just imagine WANTING, nee, DEMANDING, a Ford Escort, instead of a Mercedes Benz. Roland accomplished that and so much more.
posted by readyfreddy at 12:46 AM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by Gelatin at 4:52 AM on April 3, 2017


(that's . in RD-GL, Roland's pen plotter command language.)

I'm not a synth type, but the mechatronics coming out of Roland DGA — including pen plotters, and more recently desktop machining centres like the Modela range — has been amazing. I have an early 1990s DXY-1300 plotter as an art workhorse/tripping hazard and its speed, accuracy and repeatability are a joy.
posted by scruss at 8:21 AM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

...all the things you could do with a complete Roland System 100 and a Jupiter 4.

posted by Zerowensboring at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2017

EMusician.com has a great list of Kakehashi San's most important products.
posted by w0mbat at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2017

...all the things you could do with a complete Roland System 100 and a Jupiter 4.


I'm assuming a quarter note voltage trigger.
posted by w0mbat at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming a quarter note voltage trigger.

Thank you, w0mbat. Yah--14 volts.
posted by Zerowensboring at 6:17 PM on April 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 10:49 AM on April 4, 2017

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