The MUTEK Recorder
Episode 01: Yuri Suzuki
Claire L. Evans
Yuri SuzukiSound artist Yuri Suzuki works in installation and instrument design and is best known for the synth he designed for Jeff Mills (2015) and his reimagination of the Electronium for the Barbican (2019). More recently, London-based Suzuki became a partner at the international design studio Pentagram, where he has worked on branding projects for clients including Roland and the MIDI association.
“The Electronium was a lifetime project for Raymond Scott, and he got considerable support and funding from Berry Gordon and Motown Records to develop it. It was intended to be a intelligent instrument—quite similar to today’s Magenta or machine learning-based tools.”
Yuri Suzuki, on one of his biggest inspirations
The opus instrument project of Raymond Scott, The Electronium was developed while the electronic music pioneer served as Motown Records’ Director of Electronic Music R&D From 1971–77. Building on his previous experimentation with analog sequencers, the device was envisioned as an “instantaneous performance-composition machine, able to intelligently generate music by responding to sequenced melodic phrases.” It remained unfinished, however, after Scott suffered a severe stroke in 1987. Suzuki picked up the development decades later, and worked with AI specialists Counterpoint to realize Scott’s original vision, and honoured it at the Barbican’s “AI: More Than Human” exhibition in 2019.
“Raymond Scott tried to make random access memory through soldering analog circuits, it’s absolutely shocking how ambitious he was.”
Yuri Suzuki, underscoring how ahead of his time Raymond Scott was
“Jeff Mills came to me with an idea about a bespoke instrument. He is known for his use of the Roland TR-909—it’s iconic within his music. So we tried to treat his instrument almost as an art piece, ‘The Visitor’ is a combination between a sculpture and an instrument.”
Yuri Suzuki, on how to respond to an invitation to create an instrument for someone who is nicknamed “The Wizard”
Commissioned by Detroit techno legend and globetrotting DJ Jeff Mills, The Visitor is a custom synth/drum machine. Suzuki notes the device is was inspired by Mills’ mastery of the Roland TR-909 drum machine, but that it contrasted the iconic Japanese drum machine’s design and interface. The Visitor is still used regularly by Mills during performances, and was exhibitied at the “Weapons” exhibition in Tokyo in 2015.
“The TR-909 is all straight lines, so I tried to be a bit more playful with ‘The Visitor’ and play with different geometries for the sequencer and the armature.”
Yuri Suzuki, on moving beyond the default box-y design language of syntheizer and drum machine convention
EZ Record MakerThe antithesis of our current Spotify moment, EZ Record Maker is a joint-venture by Suzuki and Japanese publisher Gakken that endeavours to bring low cost vinyl record creation to the masses. With a dead simple interface, users simply plays audio through the an auxillary cable or USB and then lifts the cutting arm onto a blank disc—and voila, EZ record, made.
“I love this idea of manifesting yesterday’s dreams—being the future that the past deserves. And looking at the ideas of the past and creating something novel out of them.”
Claire L. Evans, beaming over the ‘analog dreams’ at play within Suzuki’s EZ Record Maker