Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland Corporation and driving personality behind many of the instruments, technical developments and devices that helped shape the modern electronic music ecosystem, has died aged 87.
Chances are, unless you’ve completely ignored popular music over the past three decades, you will have heard the sound of a TR-808—be it in the laid back hand-claps of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, or the opening kick drum salvo of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It’s also there in the industrial crunch of Nine Inch Nails, the electro-pop of The Human League, and the big beat of Fatboy Slim. Underground music producers of the 80s sparked a love affair with the drum machine because it was cheap, easy to use, and endlessly versatile. Musicians have likened its place in hip-hop and dance music to that of the Stratocaster guitar’s influence on rock music.
Groups like the 808 State have named themselves after TR-808 while even rap genius Kanye West saw fit to name his hugely influential album 808s and Heartbreaks after it as the istrument became iconic and formed an essential element of the deep language within genres like electro, hip-hop, and house. It was recently even the subject of its own feature-length documentary, 808, which featured contributions from the likes of Pharrell Williams, Phil Collins, and Fatboy Slim.
Although for Kakehashi the 808 was just another invention in a long line of them — one that spurred him to include only a minor mention of it in his memoir ;it was bigger than one drum machine or one synthesizer ;making Kakehashi’s vision extend to a whole new way of looking at music.
Kakehashi retired in 2013, but not before his work was rightly recognised in the form of a Technical Grammy and a spot on Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame.
“Technologies are creating previously undreamed-of avenues of expression in many different fields,” he wrote in I Believe in Music. “It is a wonderfully rich age for artists of all sorts.”