FiveG, the Vintage and Used Synth Mecca in Tokyo

This post could also be called Day 19 in Japan, but on this day I had a very specific goal so I’ll talk mostly about that.

Since I was heading out to Tokyo, I decided to check online if there were any particularly interesting stores or other spots that a synth head should check out while in the city. I have lived in Tokyo for many years but when I did I wasn’t very interested in synthesizers or electronica beyond listening to it.

A quick search turned up a place called FiveG, close to Harajuku station on the Yamanote line. Online reviews talked about it as a place where you might find interesting used synths, and it looked like they had a selection on used Doepfer modules for sale too.

At this day, my friends Adam and Frederic were also arriving in Tokyo for the same business reasons as I, and since Adam is as much of a synth nerd as I am I decided to invite them to come with me.

fiveg1FiveG is located on the fourth floor of an anonymous looking building just outside Harajuku station. You have to walk in to the back of the entrance were you’ll find a dress up store for Japanese maid costumes. Next to this store is an elevator, which you ride to the fourth floor. Once there, you have to look around the corner of a very narrow hallway and you’ll find the store entrance.

Inside though the store is actually quite big, and stuffed from floor to ceiling, in multiple rows, with the most amazing vintage and used synths and other hardware you could ever imagine. At the time they had everything from Memory Moogs to the keyboard version of the Elektron Monomachine and several Korg MS 10, 20, and vocoders. I even spotted a used Elektron Analog 4!?

On the modular side they had hundreds of Eurorack modules and a whole section dedicated to Moog modular gear. I can’t even begin to list them all, but you can’t help but asking yourself where all that gear came from…

fiveg2The prices were reasonable too. And they offered to ship anything back to the states as well if needed. If you are in Tokyo looking for some interesting, unusual gear, and you have some space in your bags, I highly recommend checking out this store. Even if you can’t afford some of the more esoteric instruments and accessories its still a great way to spend time in the company of some of the most famous electronic instruments ever. I do recommend that you bring a friend who can speak Japanese since that makes the visit even better!

Check out the photos and the link below if you want to know more.

FiveG, Harajuku – Tokyo

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Day 14 – 17 in Japan

Lots of new material being worked on right now, but the most exciting piece for me is in the more dance oriented bucket. I can’t say too much at the moment but I’m working on something that I think you will find quite different from what I’ve put out so far. As always, expanding into new territories is extremely exciting and full or learnings.

I’ve sampled some new environments as well, including a really nice airport atmosphere that I hope to be able to use at some point. I have some ideas. As I’ve said before, all the environment sampling that I do now will be made available for download and free use once I’ve polished it up and cut it to appropriate format.

I found two great books at amazon that I’ve begun to sink my teeth into. The first is called ‘The Audio Expert’, a thick tome on most of the common engineering aspects of sound and audio. I have only flipped through it so far but it looks really interesting.

PowerToolsCoverThe second is called ‘Power tools for Synthesizer Programming’. This is an older book (2004) but it is a great introduction to sound programming and design with synthesizers. I have read through most of it and have to say I really recommend it as a starting point for learning the fundamentals of synthesis (including both styles such as additive, subtractive, granular, … and the components such as Oscillators, LFO, Filters, …). If you are like me mostly self taught, you’ll be surprised at all the little stuff in the knowledge gaps that really make things ‘click’ when you understand them.

RIght now I’m back in Tokyo for work for a week, during which there probably won’t be much music made, but I hope to find the time to stop by some interesting instrument/music stores. More on that in later posts.

Day 13 in Japan

After the positive responses to the ‘Snow’ track I released yesterday I’m excited to start work on the next song. I’ve gathered some inspiration already and will probably start tracking and sequencing tonight.

I’ve had this persistent cough for the past month that just won’t go away. In fact I coughed so heavily that about a week ago I broke the cartilage of my lower right rib… The pain is finally starting to subside but in order to fight the cough I went to a hospital to examine my lungs. The diagnosis: Acute Bronchitis…

In other news, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of venturing into the world of modular synthesizers. I have read through all the Doepfer base system module manuals online to the point where I now feel like I fully understand the purpose, operations and capabilities of each module. The one thing I still haven’t completely decided is whether the modular approach will offer me enough value and sound sculpting possibilities that I could not achieve through software or other means…

Investing in a modular system is a significant commitment both in terms of money, time and creative direction. To me the great appeal is actually trifold. First it’s the ability to build a completely custom rig, tailored to the musical style and sounds that I want to work with. The second is the hands on, physical interface with all the intuitive and creative possibilities it offers. The last is the learning experience of building my own signal paths and patching my own sounds.

There is also the added benefit of cost. That might sound like a contradiction, but after the initial investment, additional modules are actually pretty reasonably priced, and it allows you to invest in the parts of the system you need the most without having to buy an entire new instrument.

The Doepfer system in particular has very reasonable prices, but if you want to expand into more esoteric / boutique modules of a higher quality you can mix and match modules from many different manufactures (as long as they adhere to the Eurorack standard) in your synth. With the right converters you could even go so far as to patch the signal of one synth into another if you want to create really unique sounds.

I’ll make up my mind before I return to the US… Will keep you posted.

Day 9 – 12 in Japan

Just a quick update. The past 5 days I’ve spent working on a new track called ‘Snow’. It’s the first track in what I hope will become the Hakusan series, if time, energy and inspiration permits :). You can listen to the result in the post below this one (or here).

I’ve also been sampling some more environments, including some really nice sounds from a Ramen shop that I will post as soon as I’ve transferred polished it a little.

That’s enough for today. Short and sweet. Will keep you posted!

Day 8 in Japan (Vocaloids!!)

Went to a book store and found these awesome magazines about digital / electronic music production.

UTAUThe first one is a sort of tutorial for a Japanese software called Utau. It’s described as a “singing synthesizer”, and it’s essentially a freeware vocaloid software. It does have a few tricks that set it apart from more commercially established vocaloids, such as the ability for a user to record their own voice and then use that as the basis for synthesizing new words and melodies.

The fact that it’s free has also lead to a significant user base in Japan, with 100s of free, user created voice banks (some capable of singing in up to 15 different languages) and add-ons available online. It’s greatest restriction is that you need a PC running Windows that supports a fully Japanese locale, and almost all the usable documentation as well as the UI is all in Japanese.

I picked up the magazine with the intention to buy it, until I realized that it was Windows only. Since I do not have a Windows box in my MBP right now, I decided to hold off for now.

You can read more about UTAU here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utau

If you are interested in vocaloids and speak and read Japanese, it’s a great place to start and get your feet wet, before investing in one of the commercial packages.

DTMThe second magazine is a monthly one called “DTM Magazine”. The reason it looked interesting was because it lists a catalog of software synthesizers and DAWs current for 2013, and I wanted to see what kind of apps / synths are popular in Japan at the moment.

I haven’t had a chance to read through it, but just browsing the pages I already spotted some interesting synths that I have not come across before. I’ll post an update if I find something interesting worth sharing.