Name: Yoshio Machida
Occupation: Sound & visual artist, steel pan player
Nationality: Japanese
Current release: In 2020, Yoshio Machida composed the soundtrack to In Praise of Shadows, a documentary about Japanese literary master Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965). The documentary has now been translated and is set to be released internationally via streaming.

Tool of Creation: Synthi AKS
Designed by: EMS
Country of origin: England
Became available in: 1971
Yoshio Machida uses the Synthi AKS on: Most notably, his album Music From The SYNTHI, with Constantin Papageorgiadis, published in 2014 on Baskaru. He also recently performed a Synthi AKS session for Philippe Petit's Modulisme platform dedicated to analogue sound synthesis and performance.

[Read our Philippe Petit interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Yoshio Machida about the Synthi AKS and would like to explore his work in more depth, visit his official website.

For more information about the Synthi AKS, visit the Electronic Music Studios Home Page.

In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

It depends on the person. Especially in the field of electric music, what kind of tools you use really is important. Because electric instruments are so rich in variety. Depending on the instrument / equipment you choose and use, the music that you make will be vastly different.

Music using a Yamaha piano is almost the same as music composed and performed on a Steinway piano. But music with a Minimoog is so different from music created with the Synthi, even though both are the same type of synthesizer.

I actually thinks vocals are still the most important element of music -  and I doubt that will change in the future.

What was your first encounter with the Synthi AKS?

When I was a teenager, I knew it from magazines. Pink Floyd and Brian Eno used it. To me, it looked very different from other synthesizers and I was really interested in it.

It was very expensive at the time, so of course I could not buy it. I looked at the picture very carefully, and tried to understand the construction and function. I imagined what would happen if I patched it in a certain way, how that would affect the sound … I wanted to have it some day.

After that, I used and owned a few synthesizers, but never the Synthi. One day I found it for sale on an auction. In Japan, it was so rare, but it was not super expensive. So I decided to bid for it and managed to get it. I was so lucky.

Just like any other piece of equipment, the Synthi AKS has a rich history. Are you interested in it? And if so, what are some of the key points from this history for you personally?

Yes, I like to know the history behind the instrument.

One of the founders, Peter Zinovieff, was a musician / composer. The big point is that the Synthi doesn’t have a fine frequency tuner. Most synthesizers do have one, for the simple reason that it allows you to play with other “tuned” instruments.

The fact that the Synthi doesn’t have this feature means that for this instrument, accurate tuning is not that important. It’s difficult to play with other tuned instruments, but on the other hand, it’s easy to produce the sound that lies between C and C#.

If you listen to Peter Zinovieff's music, you can understand why he didn’t include that function in the Synthi.

What, to you, are some of the most interesting recordings made with the Synthi AKS?

FRIPP & ENO / No Pussyfooting

Brian Eno / Discreet Music

Manuel Göttsching / E2-E4

What interests you about the Synthi AKS in terms of it contributing to your creative ideals?

I am interested in the kind of structures you find in nature. Nature consists of many different cyclical waves. Sometimes, they're synchronized, sometimes they're not. It's very complicated.

The gap between one cycle and another cycle alows for rich variations. The Synthi allows me to reproduce this model easily.

What are some of the stand-out features from your point of view?

To me, a very good point is the repetition function on the Synthi. The Synthi can produce several different repetitions at the same time. And not every repetition synchronizes. You can create up to 4 different types of repetitive effects (2 x LFOs, 1 repetitive envelop generator and sequencer). So the result will be like Steve Reich’s minimal music, but spontaneously. It’s very hard to explain in words …

Anyway, it can produce “generative music” by itself. Another aspect is that it has loudspeakers. This is very good point for me. I uploaded some videos about generative music using the Synthi.

Prior to using it for the first time, how did you acquaint yourself with the Synthi AKS? Will you usually consult a manual before starting to work with a new device – and what was that like for the Synthi AKS?

By the time I I bought the Synthi, I already knew all its functions. Because I had done imaginary rehearsals a lot before I got it. (laughs) 

Tell me a bit about the interface of the Synthi AKS – what does playing it feel like, what do you enjoy about it, compared to some of your other instruments?

I often use it like a drum and bass machine with sequencer. I often turn the knob to “OFF” on the Envelop Shaper. This knob changes the time length of repetition. It can make a “drum fill”. When I play it, I don’t feel the difference compared to other instruments. 

How would you describe the sonic potential of the Synthi AKS?

The Synthi has 3 oscillators, 1 filter, 1 envelop generator, 1 noise generator, 1 ring modulator, 1 spring reverb, 1 sequencer. It’s functionality is really limited. But it has a patch matrix, so each module can be connected flexibly.

This is not the only potential … Somehow, it feels very balanced to me. Even if I were to build certain Synthi sounds using a modular synthesizer, the results would not be the same.
In which way does the Synthi AKS influence musical results and what kind of compositions does it encourage / foster?

In general, it’s difficult to make “music” using only the Synthi. (But I do try to do it) In this regard, it’s not like a guitar or a piano. Maybe it's best aspect is that it's great at giving you good ideas for your music.

More generally, how do you see the relationship between your instruments and the music you make?

When I play the instrument, it becomes part of my body.

When you sing, you control your mouth, throat, lung, etc. Especially the shape your mouth makes is important for creating different vocal sounds. But for me, even with a synthesizer, I feel it’s a part of my body when I play it.

In the case of the Synthi, Zinovieff awarded it a kind of musical element right from the start. So I feel like I play a part of Zinovieff and EMS’s philosophy. At this point, this instrument can be thought of as “mechanical score”.

Could you describe working with the Synthi AKS on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

In the second video from the top on the right hand side, I play only Synthi AKS without any other effects or instruments. When I play it, I basically don’t use any effects. I would like to show “what the Synthi is” in a way. It can be called a demonstration.

When I play it, I don’t feel “this is MY music”. I feel more like I am creating music by “myself and the Synthi”. Maybe there is a concept of Zinovieff (as a composer) in the instrument.

How does the Synthi AKS interact / complement / conflict with some of the other tools in your studio?

At this moment, I have a Prophet ’08 PE and other software synthesizers. The Prophet ’08 is a bit similar to the Synthi. It has a simple interface, but you can make very complicated sounds with it. These are all nice to me.

2 years ago, Constantin Papageorgiadis (I made one album with him using only the Synthi 100) made 2 interesting expansion cards. One is a card for modulation. This makes more complicated sound. One is a modified Korg step sequencer. If you use it, you can connect the Synthi to any other MIDI equipment. The Synthi was made in the 70s. 50 years later, expansion cards were made. This is so interesting as a phenomenon.

Are there other artists working with the Synthi AKS whose work you find inspiring? What do you appreciate about their take on it?

Discreet Music by Eno is the most beautiful piece created with the Synthi for me. It’s old, quite simple but still fresh. It’s almost a miracle.