Ikutaro Kakehashi, an outstanding electronics engineer, inventor and innovator, was the founder of the Roland Corporation in 1972. He had previously founded Ace Tone, an electronic organ company later taken over by the Hammond Organ company.
Kakehashi dedicated his life to designing and producing electronic and digital instruments, such as keyboards, drum machines, and the Roland Virtual Accordion. In 2013 he won a Grammy for developing the Midi, an acronym for Musical Instrumental Digital Interface, one of the most widely used digital musical facilities, introduced in 1983. He received many awards from universities and other institutions for his lifetime’s work.
In 1988 Roland purchased Rodgers Organ Company, fulfilling Kakehashi’s lifelong dream to build large classical organs.
For the accordion world, Kakehashi’s major contribution was to introduce the Roland Virtual Accordion – the world’s first fully digital accordion – in 2004, following many years of intensive research in collaboration with Italian accordion technicians. This ground-breaking project resulted in Roland’s brand new ‘Physical Behaviour Modelling’ technology, which brought with it the control and range of tonal dynamics normally only found on an acoustic instrument.
Combining the playability of a quality acoustic accordion with all of the practicalities of an electronic instrument, the Roland V accordion was quickly embraced by accordionists worldwide, and led to an international Roland V Accordion competition.
Ikutaro Kakehashi passed away on April 1st at the age of 87 years.
Dream into action: Below is an interview with Ikutaro Kakehashi – The full original interview can be found at www.kvraudio.com 14 Mar 2017
Ikutaro Kakehashi is a dreamer, who has been making products for musicians for 57 years. The number of products and technological innovations from Roland during his watch is absolutely mind boggling. He has touched just about every category of music product, from keyboards, to guitar synthesizers, to drums, and there has always been something clever in each product, regardless of the industry it was intended for. Whether it was the kind of sound or a certain way that it worked or maybe just a particular problem that his products solved.
Everyone that knows Mr K says that he is a terrific listener. That he talks to the artists that use his products, which in turn informs the features of his next product. Rather than make instruments for the sake of the instrument, or the technology, he has always tried to figure out what instruments would inspire musicians to go in new directions, and and help them express themselves in new ways.
Mr K, as he is affectionately known in the industry, recently released a book called An Age Without Samples – Originality and Creativity in the Digital World.
Do you have an engineering background? Are you a musician?
My background is in mechanical engineering. Not musician. Some of my family were musicians, but not myself. Probably I got some influence from my family (chuckles).
What was the first product that you developed?
The Rhythm Ace machine was my first product for Ace Electronics. I entered into a partnership with Hammond. So it was two companies, many shareholders, and many, many different opinions. So, after that I decided to build a different company.
Were you trying to solve a particular problem with Rhythm Ace?
At the time digital machines sometimes were very useful for drums.
Did you have other musician friends at the time or were you just developing for your family?
Just family, and good friends, like Mr. (Isao) Tomita a musician and composer. Many, many Japanese artists.
You were developing analog synthesizers much earlier, but the introduction of the digital Yamaha DX7 was a huge event in the market…
I thought the DX7 would take over the market because it was lightweight and portable. It had a new sound, very unique, and the price was very cheap. About two or three years later we did an analysis and found out that the DX7 marketing had increased sales of our products like the Juno 106.
Did you start development of the LA chip (in the D-50 synthesizer) before the DX7 came out or after that came out?
We were already working on the LA chip before the DX7 appeared. When I have a product idea I like I like to show it to people to get their feedback. Do you remember the band Toto? Steve Porcaro was the keyboard player. He came to Japan and he wanted to play our keyboard. He liked it very much. So we keep in connection. Then we started to invent the product. So many products started from Toto.
You started doing sequencers in 1972. Did that vision evolve from your interest in rhythm machines, or was there something else that triggered to your thinking of recording musical events like that?
We looked at recording and sequencers as the same thing. In the beginning, it was targeted differently. We originally intended Microcomposer to be for our large modular system customers, but it actually became a very good seller for all people that had synthesizers. So actually many new things happened as people started to use it. Especially film composers.
As the commercial synthesizer market started to develop was there much interaction between Roland and Yamaha and Korg at the time, or were you totally separate and competing very strongly?
Yea, yea. Everybody was very competitive. We never fought dirty though.
Can you tell me about any thoughts you have on the development of MIDI itself? Was it hard getting everybody to agree on the standard?
I think it wasn’t so much a problem. You must listen a lot. Before MIDI became standard, things were more difficult, and that’s always a reason to make something. It was hard at first, but very important. Without standards in the industry, it would never grow. We need standards.
What is it about your personality that you think contributed the most to Roland’s success?
I think I am straight and direct, nothing else.
But you must also be very creative…
Um.. I hope so. (laughs) Now I want help newcomers, young people in our market. Today I try to create new young people, not older, products with some success. That’s all. People can create. New person creates something…. Now my new products have a younger vision.
So the product you’re most proud of is the next one… What can you tell me about ATV, and its products?
I started the company with Makoto Muroi, who was with me at Roland. I think our aD5 is the next step for a drum machine and percussion. Same great sounds. But a new approach to technique. If you play with skill, you can create a new sound.
I think video is also very important and ATV is involved with that too. When you look at large stages without picture today, the stage is nothing. The main part of stage entertainment is video.
Because the venues are so large…
Today, video is so important so people will have more enjoyment at concerts. I think video is the next step for music industry, video combined with music. We have several products that address this.
So when you’re thinking about customers in this field, are you thinking a musician would do more with video, or are you thinking in terms of video producers?
Audience. Without audience, nothing happens. So the audience appreciates the product. So, my answer is difficult to give straight. But it’s true though, who can enjoy—the audience will decide what is the most important.
The Jupiter 8 was one of your first synthesizers, before MIDI. And then the JC120 was the first amplifier with a built in analog chorus. And later you took a big share of the drum market with your electronic drums. That’s a lot of different customers with different perspective and disciplines. How did you manage to keep all of that together?
I never tried to manage customers. I think musicians have managed me.
So your ability to listen to customers has contributed greatly to your success…
Is there anything that you’d like to say to the people that grew up with your products?
I think today, most important is live music. Play on stage. This is the key. One or a thousand in the audience, doesn’t matter. I think live music is the key.
I have one last question. There’s a sign behind your head and I’m wondering what it says…
In Japan, when people reach the age of 80 we have a celebration. This is a Haiku to recognize that for me.
The video below allows you to experience the Roland Museum in a 360-degree tour. It also includes aerial views of Roland Headquarters, the Miyakoda Factory, and the R&D Center: