Gear Talk: Takuya Nakamura

By in Features





With Gear Talk, we learn about the set-ups and instruments of our favourite artists and experimentalists. 

Born in Japan and now based in New York, multi instrumentalist Takuya Nakamura pushes the boundaries of both live electronic music and DJ sets with his blend of live trumpet performance and multifarious selections. Veering between drum and bass, classical, jazz, dub and techno, Nakamura has spent three decades existing in the intersections of electronic and organic sounds.

His latest work, an ongoing show with Brooklyn’s Lot Radio, is a freewheeling exploration of the influences and outputs of Nakamura’s career to-date.

Kelly Doherty caught up with Nakamura to learn about his versatile set-up, from his beloved Teenage Engineering kit to his ubiquitous trumpet.

You studied composition and jazz performance during your masters degree, but when did you start falling in love with electronic music?

Pretty much from the beginning. When I started playing music when I was young in the ’80s I was listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk and other synth music. It was a new thing and everybody started using it. I was in jazz, but in the jazz world people like Herbie Hancock and Paul Gray were using the synthesiser. 

In both your DJ sets and live sets you work with club-oriented music but marry it with more organic live elements like the trumpet. Why does that appeal to you?

I’ve played trumpet and piano since I was a kid and at the same time, the keyboard. I was never just a pianist–always used some kind of keyboard. The keyboard isn’t really organic because it’s electric but you have to play it by hand. Trumpet, I was playing on and off and I got into it when I came to the States because I figured I could get gigs by playing trumpet.

Then I just started getting more gigs with the trumpet so I kept doing that and mixing it with playing keyboard with all kinds of groups. One of my teachers in the New England Conservatory started using me, so I was playing all types of stuff, not just jazz but also music from the Caribbean. 

Trumpet, Boss SP-303, Teenage Engineering OP-Z, Electro-Harmonix Bass Microsynth,

After 1992, I was in Boston doing a show and I heard early jungle with a soundsystem and records at a party and I was shocked–I’d never heard about it but I really got into it. But I didn’t know what it was, I just thought it was a really good reggae party. It was a different era.

I got into because it had more complexity than other electronic music, it was more expressive I thought. In New York, one of my friends figured out he could play jungle beats and so we started doing a party. There was jazz guys looking for something a bit more interesting and we all started playing together. First, I was a drummer playing completely live with a bunch of pedals and then I started just with a DJ and myself–a mix of DJ and percussion and trumpet. 

Two Teenage Engineering OP-1s, an OP-Z and mixer

Could you talk me through your current setup? 

The two [Teenage Engineering] OP-1s act as like turntables or sound machines so I can use a DJ mixer to mix it. There’s four parts to the music – could have one looping, one that’s bass, different layers so I can make a track. That’s the main thing. I never play an audio file from beginning to end. Sometimes I focus on the trumpet when I’m on stage. You know, I mix dub and techno and jungle and it fits the trumpets very well. That’s the main stuff for when I’m DJing.

With solo stuff, it involves more bass and keyboards–whatever is available. But my main things are the OP-1s and the OP-Z. I use the OP-Z sequencer a lot, it gives a modern sound. I can use it for tight production and then the OP-1 is more like a 4-track tape tool.

It’s tricky with dance music because it’s good to be simple. With jazz you can use more and be a bit more heady but in dance music you want to keep people dancing and the trumpet is good for that–it’s like an MC that gets people excited. 

Casio Casiotone MT-46, Roland JX-3P, Yamaha CS01

You’ve obviously got loyalty to Teenage Engineering’s products. When they’re so many products on the market, what encourages you to stick with their gear?

It sounds very unique. You can everything now with those items. I just get tired of keeping changing models and was looking for something I could use a lot. In the 90s, we would make tracks and couldn’t do some of the things that we can do now but we still play ‘90s music sometimes. I don’t feel like I need too much other gear. I have a few things I like. 

At the beginning of all this, I would have to squeeze every possible sound out of one synthesiser and that’s how done it since I was a kid because it was the only choice. I practice piano and trumpet every day so I don’t have time to always be learning about new gear. With the OP-1 and OP-Z I’m still learning new things and it keeps me going. If I need different sounds I might use another lead or a small Casio keyboard or the JX-3P. I used to always change my gear up but now I can do so much with the OP-1 and trumpet.

How does your gear affect your songwriting process? Are you lead by your equipment or do you have a specific process?

The first thing is always getting inspiration to start making music. You’re moving around and hear something and think “oh, this sounds good” while doing something like taking a walk. The sources of inspiration can be different but then I’ll come home and work on it.

I can’t just stay in my room and try to come up with something. The human brain needs to moving or something has to activate it. The OP-1 is small so I can work on a track in a cafe or airplane or anywhere. I don’t go like let’s make a 140 BPM track. 

Takuya Nakamura’s essential gear list

Nord Wave
Arturia Mini Brute
Roland JX-3P
Yamaha CS01
Teenage Engineering OP-1
Teenage Engineering OP-2

Trumpet Effects:
Boss SP-303
Boss PS-2 Digital Pitch Shifter

Catch Takuya Nakamura on Lot Radio and find out more about his work here.