Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
SkyYamaha is a synthwave producer who uses music to explore her fascination with how "certain past eras take on their own life and how the past imagines the future." She feels "compelled to make my own version of the re-imagined past" through music. In an email, she told me about how she started making music, why she's passionate about synthwave and her views on the community surrounding the music.
Karl Magi: How and why did you first get passionate about making music?
SkyYamaha: I actually started composing music half a lifetime ago circa 2004. I would experiment with making music in early FL Studio, Reason, or Modplug, and I absolutely loved it. For me, it was the playground of the mind. Unfortunately, at the time, nobody else saw it that way. The responses I would get were nothing short of running out of the room and yelling at me to turn it off.
I believed the negative narratives that others transmitted for a long time and walked away from music to pursue a technical career instead. Then in 2016, I discovered FL Studio had an app for the iPhone. I realized that I could still compose music and some of the tracks that came out of it reminded me of something out of an anime or a cinematic cyberpunk movie. It was surreal. I didn’t know synthwave was a thing yet, but I knew it felt right. I later found others like me, and so began an obsession that has lasted close to three years.
KM: What are the sonic (and other) elements that drew you into producing synthwave?
SY: There are a few distinct sonic memories I have that drew me into synth wave. For example, discovered how amazing e-piano sounds over a dark bass line, I started to get images of cyberpunk anime like Armitage III or Ghost in the Shell. I started to get curious about how certain past eras take on their own life and how the past imagines the future. It led me to artists like Lazerhawk, Com Truise, M83, and ORAX.
I also was drawn into the retro corporate and consumer world of vaporware. At the time, I worked in a culture that was like a portal into the Reagan era. It is hard to say exactly how, but when I discovered NMesh’s Dream Sequins album, I felt it was like a mirror was being held up to my life. I also listened to Home on repeat for almost a year straight. I started to feel compelled to make my own version of the re-imagined past.
KM: Tell me more about how you create new music.
SY: At this point, I am more focused on the act of creation than the specifics. I can compose music on my phone, or hum a melody on a voice memo app. I am very minimal. My studio consists of Ableton, YAMAHA DX7, a USB midi interface, a preamplifier, and my monitors. For FM synthesis I use the plug-in called Dexed. My YAMAHA DX7 is also an endless source of sound design inspiration. With everything else, I do my due diligence to shape or mold and claim as my own, and it tends to be very moment and creation specific. I am currently exploring granular synthesis.
KM: Talk about your various artistic influences
SY: Probably the most obvious one is Sorayama Hajime, an erotic Japanese artist. who has created some of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen. Honestly, his stuff feels so futuristic, I don’t even know if it is from this planet. I am constantly striving for the same feeling to be embodied in my music.
I have a lot of random musical inspirations. The soundtrack to the Cyan Worlds games such as Riven and The Labyrinth of Time immediately come to mind. Also, anything by Dream Theater and Kate Bush, who are magicians at creating cohesive stories from esoteric elements. Back in the day, I went to a lot of raves and I still love trance, hard house, psytrance, dnb, techno, and '90s electronic artists that gave us the concept of world music such as Future Sound of London, Deep Forest, and Dead Can Dance. All of these sonic elements are inspiration on some level.
I also have been influenced by a fair number of books, such as Frank Herbert’s Dune, Iain Banks' Player of Games, and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. My track Mirror World was the direct result of finishing DMR’s The Four Agreements. I believe it is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.
Right now, I am drawing most of my inspiration by the artists of the synth and retro themed communities. For example, I am full on head over heels for Full Eclipse. The song Endless Night for example, is on par with any melody from Tears for Fears. It is truly a transcendental masterpiece.
KM: Where do you see SkyYamaha going in the future as a musical project?
SY: In addition to keeping with my current style of dream/ fantasy synthwave, I would love to create something that includes other artistic dimensions such as a writing, digital art, film, anime or video games. I also plan on experimenting with more ambient and cyberpunk elements in the future, as well as certain types of re-sampling techniques.
I am open to collaborating with others after my album gets released. I am constantly inspired by new things so I can’t predict exactly where SkyYAMAHA will go, but I believe it is worth continuing to explore.
KM: Give me your views of the synthwave scene. How do you think it's doing?
SY: Honestly, I’ve never experienced a more welcoming and loving community. These days, I am mostly on Twitter, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp, and it really does feel like a tribe. I also have been connecting with other artist that are part of the larger #synthfam, whether it be chiptune, vaporwave, experimental, ambient or digital/3D artists. We all support each other even if our music or art isn’t completely similar. I like that synthwavers as a whole tend to be more focused on the passion and creation of music and less focused on the individual/individual differences, which to me is extremely liberating.
What is interesting to me is that It doesn’t feel like a bubble or fad. It is an authentic passion and the community will continue to reimagine the past and future past in new and exciting ways.
KM: What are your ways of recharging your creative batteries?
This is a difficult question to answer because sometimes when I am exhausted by all else in life (my day job, personal struggles, physical energy) music is the only thing that recharges me. If I am unable to produce music or enter the flow state however, I usually need to meditate, exercise, or take some personal time to regroup. I highly recommend studying creative strategies as a past time such as those outlined in the The Artist’s Way, The Tricker’s Hat, Big Magic, and The Flow State.
© 2019 Karl Magi