My Robot Band hr657

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Year of 1984 was one of the bitterest years of my life and also a major turning point. After I was able to join the band of a locally acclaimed young man, the band had been striving to become professional in Osaka, which is the biggest city in the western Japan. While I had unwavering confidence in the songs we wrote, we constantly had difficulty in finding desirable members. Except for him and me, other members had come and gone, and we couldn’t materialize our ideal sound with any of them. Even a gig was almost impossible with just two of us being permanent members.

My partner and I couldn’t waste any more time searching for apt band members who shared similar passion as ours and played exactly how we wanted. As the solution, we came up with the idea to use a rhythm machine and a sequencer in place of human members. Those gadgets were the cutting edge of music instruments at the time and had just appeared on the market. We thought they would be perfect band members who realized our sound as we requested because we were the ones that put data into them. We weren’t sure about the passion side of machines, but at least they would commit and wouldn’t quit like humans did. Because personal computers were still in the floppy disk era and not strong enough for music, we connected a rhythm machine, a sequencer and synthesizers with cables to play a gig. Added to the machines, I was on the keyboard and vocals, and my partner was on the guitar and vocals. There formed my robot band.

Although it had seemed perfect, we faced quite a few obstacles to play in the band with machines. Let alone it cost heftily and carrying them around by two of us without a car was a daunting physical challenge each time, it took enormous time to enter the whole data of our songs into them. As thumb drives or hard disk drives were yet to come, we needed to record special signals sounding like ‘beeeeep, bip, beep, bip, beep’ into a cassette tape to save the data. The data consumed one cassette tape per song, not at one go although the signals were long. I once inadvertently tripped on one of the cables which erased the whole data that I had spent all night inputting. The worse troubles awaited us at the gig. The innumerable necessary cables and cords made setting and preparation for my band far more complicated and time-consuming than other bands. One single wrong connection would break synchronization. On one occasion, the machines didn’t start and we couldn’t play but stood still on stage because one of the stage staff pulled out one cable by mistake. On another occasion, one of the machines suddenly uttered “Pi!” and went silent in the middle of playing. Furthermore, I needed to put a specific setting for each song on the several keyboards during every interval between our songs. Because the stage usually went dark between songs, it wasn’t easy to see the correct buttons and switches on my keyboards. A stage staff person once came up on the stage to help me with the setting by lighting over my keyboards with his lighter. The venue strictly banned any use of fire and he was harshly reprimanded for that afterwards because of me. Through those unpredictable chilling experiences, I basically feared every time if songs would start without hitches instead of enjoying gigs whenever I was on stage.

Still, harder trials existed. Other bands mostly consisted of college students who played as a hobby not for a career. Their attitude toward music was incredibly easygoing and they were just having fun on stage. Their songs were frivolous likewise. Yet, they were able to draw a large audience since they had friends on the campus so that their gig was usually a big hit with a livened up crowd. On the other hand, my band was just two people standing surrounded by numerous instruments and machines, and singing serious lyrical songs. Because we didn’t have friends to gather, the audience were strangers who had no interest in our playing and just waited for our gig to end.

That was also the case when we took part in a live contest. To make matters worse, a contest was sometimes fixed where the winner had already been decided. As I didn’t know that the contest was only held to give that winner the credential before the label signed a contract with the prearranged winner, I was appalled when we lost to a really bad but pretty singer.

I had gotten to loathe live performance by those experiences. Not just loathe it, but I had gotten to break out in a cold sweat on gigs. Since then, we have performed live less and less and have done none these days. I guess that shows how much I learned the hard way. To this day, the nightmares I have most are that I am playing on stage. However, my robot band has been transformed since it got off stage. The machines turned into a personal computer with software who has been my important partner to create my music. Thanks to it, I have been able to embody exactly what sounded in my head. A long period of time later, my robot band eventually made my dream come true. 

Passion hr656

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What I had been doing before I decided to become a musician was studying to enter one of Japanese first-rate universities, which was ostensibly believed so. That was when I was a high school student in the early 80’s.

To tell you the truth, I had in fact, not been studying in those days, which I had never told anyone. I just had been pretending to study every day. While I had acted in front of my family and friends as if I had been preparing for fiercely competitive entrance examinations and studying desperately to succeed in them, I hadn’t been able to find any sort of motivation to study once I sat at my desk in my room. To stimulate myself, I would listen to the records of my favorite band, but then gaze blankly at empty space or take a nap instead of being stimulated. I had tried to study in the middle of the night, which was supposed to be quieter and easier to concentrate, but I would listen to late night radio shows at which I would laugh until dawn.

After I had spent months in those routines while arrogantly declaring to people around me that I would get in the leading university, I came to my senses and began to wonder how I could succeed without studying. Now I had trembled every day with a fear that I would have failed the entrance examination of all first-rate universities. Even though I was grasped with the fear, I still couldn’t feel like studying. And in the end, that fear did materialize.

Am I a born sluggard? Am I a loser? In the depths of despair, I made up my mind to be a musician. Then in an instant my attitude changed completely. I earnestly searched for and joined a professional-oriented band, spent all the savings I had on a synthesizer, and practiced every day at the far-off rental studio to which I took a train and brought the synthesizer weighing fifty pounds and carried by me who is merely five feet. I would sweat all over even in winter just carrying it from and to the platform at the train station.

On one occasion at the station, as though he couldn’t stand to watch me struggling with the synthesizer any more, a man approached me silently and lifted it on his shoulder. He went down the stairs from the platform carrying it for me. While he staggered along the way and slowed down  probably because it was heavier than he had thought, he brought it to the bottom of the stairs and disappeared without a word. I felt like a hero came to rescue me.

But a villain also appeared as well. On another occasion, I was walking over the bridge carrying it in addition to other instruments. Because it was impossible for me to walk continuously with all that heavy stuff, I posed and put down all the instruments every few yards. And a vulgar man yelled at me from behind, “Get out of my way, you slow-walking ugly!” I snapped at the word ‘ugly’, put down the instruments, and stopped him by saying, “What did you say?” Then I seized him by the neck, squeezed it and pushed him to the bridge-rail. I was wringing his neck seriously and intended to push him down to the river. The man gasped for air and screamed “Call the police! Please, someone!” By that time, passersby had gathered, and a woman untangled my hands on his neck and broke us up. It seemed I turned into a villain there.

When I wasn’t in the studio, I had practiced playing the keyboard at home and worked at a part-time job to pay for the rental studio. Although my new routine had totally exhausted me, I was willing to take the ordeal. I never lost my passion as if I were possessed by something. And I haven’t lost it to this day after decades have passed.

To keep going can lead to many setbacks. Sometimes there are those nights when I want to give up and throw everything away. Still, when it dawns, I get motivated again gradually. Not vanity nor prosperity but passion keeps me alive. I don’t want to quit staying alive just yet.

The Money Pit hr650

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I made up my mind to become a professional musician when I was eighteen living in Japan. I had imagined that the hardest thing to be one was to keep up better works by strengthening talent, which proved wrong. The hardest thing is money. Scraping up funds for activities as a musician without losing time and energy for music is most difficult. It’s equally the case for either an artist who has made a smash hit or the one who has been unsuccessful like me. And it has remained to be the case today after decades passed.
At the very beginning of my music career, I regularly rehearsed in a studio as a member of the band that strongly intended to become professional. It was the first serious band I had joined. I somehow managed to play well enough compared to other skillful members and didn’t get fired at the first session as I had feared. The band was based in Osaka that is a 45-minute ride by train from Kyoto where I lived. The studios the band used were all in Osaka, which meant I needed to pay the studio rental fee and the train fare each time. I was a college student back then, but barely went to class. Instead, I worked at the restaurant as a cashier and spent everything on the band. My time was dedicated to music and I came home just to sleep.
The studio was equipped with a synthesizer but I didn’t have my own although I constantly appealed my passion to become professional. It had gradually seemed odd that I used a rental synthesizer in every session while I tried to motivate other members to be professional as soon as possible. A thought that other members questioned my seriousness began to cross my mind as I continued to play with temporary sounds. Since we played our original songs, original sounds were necessary. On top of that, when I practiced back at home, I used the piano for a synthesizer that was quite ineffective as practice. I finally decided to get my own synthesizer. I chose the latest model at that time called Yamaha DX7 that was featured in almost all the pop songs and albums in the music business of 80s. It cost about 2500 dollars.
Before I joined the band, I had saved money out of my years’ allowances and was going to use that money to study English in England. The amount of my savings was about the same as the price of a DX7. I had put it in time deposit at the credit union bank for higher interest and for my friend just a few months before. That friend of mine had worked at the bank by giving up going to college because she needed to support her handicapped mother and two younger siblings when her father suddenly abandoned them. I wanted to help her in some way and set a time deposit through her with hope that it might raise her performance evaluation at the bank. Sadly, my rare good deed couldn’t last any longer. I went to the bank, apologized her a million times, and cancelled a time deposit. While she kept telling me with a smile “Don’t worry, don’t bother,” I was bathed in guilt, and yet I withdrew my savings and went on to get a DX7. I chose a DX7 over staying in England and being her friend.
After all, it was just the beginning of the long way that I have walked on until today. Since I decided to become a professional musician, I had lost my friends and my family not to mention a college degree as a dropout. What I gained instead are thousands of sleepless nights for worry about money. Even while I stay awake in the night yet again, I still believe that the happiest thing for a human is to fulfill one’s calling.

I couldn’t live up to his high expectations toward me.

My younger sister joined with me in taking piano lessons at the pianist’s house years later. While I didn’t practice, my sister was a diligent student who practiced earnestly. Still, I was the one whom the pianist raved about in the lessons. He was an elderly man and often danced to the piece I was playing falteringly. My sister played fluently on the other hand, but he once slapped her hands while she was playing. He shouted ‘It’s not like that at all!’ as if he couldn’t take her playing anymore. To me, it seemed she played much better than I did, but to him, she didn’t. He held a students’ performance once a year at a concert hall. He picked a piece for a student to play there according to their skill. Because I didn’t practice, my skill had progressed extremely slowly over the years. Even though he had admired my hidden ability, he couldn’t pick a piece for me that required high skill. I played an easy piece that a grade school student could play when I was already a teenager. I couldn’t live up to his high expectations toward me and quit. Eventually, I started writing songs and chose music for my career. Since the pianist also composed music and made sound with a synthesizer, I thought I could learn it form him and visited his house for the first time in years. In the rich residential area, only his gorgeous mansion had disappeared and nothing remained of the house but the empty lot there. I wondered if the place had really existed in the past…