Japan's Ken Ishii has achieved heights unthinkable for the typical DJ who is used to scrounging clubs for loose change and hoping for points on his or her next 12-inch. He has composed zippy greeting music for his own signature Citizen watch and theme music for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Ishii has even appeared on the cover of the Japanese Newsweek magazine. He's half DJ, half mighty media man. But when it came to his latest album, Future in Light (Run, 2003), Ishii met his greatest challenge to date: jumping into the ring and exchanging DJ skills for boxing-match thrills.
For the thundering fistful pummel of “Future Is What We Are,” Ishii matched human-sounding synth peals with jacked-up rhythm tones. The song marks the first time a DJ composed music for a boxing match. “This song was more mentally than technically challenging,” Ishii says. “The track was made as a theme for a Japanese boxer called Osamu Sato just before he challenged the championship. I had to make this track to help him win!”
Conjuring his skills' pure aggression required more effort than Ishii's Digidesign Pro Tools LE, Mac G4 and Digi 001 rig was accustomed to. “I tried to make the song sound strong and aggressive but still with my kind of techno atmosphere,” Ishii says. “I had to change my ways of mixing for it. It's not a rave, just a boxing match! The kind of bass I use won't work in a giant hall, and the midrange tends to be masked by distorted kick and bass. Also, left-right stereo isn't effective; everything sounds mono in a 40,000-capacity hall. So, I made the gravity point of the track a bit higher, cutting low frequencies below 100 to 150 Hz and gaining more low-mid to mid. And the stereo range, especially the pad sound, is narrower than my usual tracks.
“The basic rhythm parts came from original sounds, which I modified from Roland 909 sounds. I made the bass from a Roland SC-8850, a tiny sound module modified with internal effects and EQs. The main keyboard riff was made of three layered sounds. I also used the Clavia Nord Lead for submelodies and a Roland JP-8080 for pads. The main plug-in for EQs that I use on Pro Tools is McDSP Filterbank. I like the DigiRack Compressor II for compression. For final limiting, I use Max DUY or Maxim. I also like DUY's Shape for EQ and expanding, as it can be used just before finalizing a track and for managing each part of it. Anyway, [Sato] won the championship from the match straightaway!”
Regarding the album's direction, Ishii says: “I wanted to get an original techno feeling back to the music, so I spent more time on finding the right synthesizer sounds. The mixing process is mostly the same as when I made my last album, Flatspin, but this time, I especially cared about EQing and compressing sounds to be better and clearer.”
The remainder of Future in Light is full of watery comfort sounds and dizzy, sun-streaked climaxes. Agile and tuneful, the album is both perpetually in motion and hypnotically serene. Ishii cites past glories as his Future in Light pretext. “I wanted to input more early-Detroit feelings into my music because current techno music is mostly just functional, banging DJ stuff,” he says. “I believe techno is much more than that, and I'm old enough to show how colorful techno originally is! So, I [added] more melodies and funkiness [with] the original techno formula.”