Special Interview: redjuice & kz (livetune) on First Collaboration in Five Years - The Future of Science & Creativity [2/2]

Writer Satoshi Hase's science-fiction novel BEATLESS was shortlisted for the 2014 Nihon SF Taishō Award. As a project, BEATLESS has expanded across several mediums, including figures, novels and manga.

The latest BEATLESS release, a limited edition artbook and CD set titled “BEATLESS: Tool for the Outsourcers,” is a comprehensive record of the fascinating world of the series. We got the chance to speak with the people behind this project, BEATLESS illustrator redjuice and the music producer of the limited edition compilation CD, BEATLESS - Give Me the Beat, kz (livetune).

Both redjuice and kz are old friends. redjuice was responsible for the cover art for the livetune albums Re:Package and Re:MIKUS. However, this is their first collaboration in five years. Both of these top creator's work goes well beyond the realm of BEATLESS. We heard what they had to say about being on the forefront of the creative scene, their past, present and future.

^*^ All BEATLESS images: © Satoshi Hase / monochrom

Read the first half of this special interview here.

Which comes first, creativity or technology?

A rough sketch by animation studio WIT STUDIO for Tokyo Otaku Mode's English translation page.

──As creators, I assume both of you benefit directly from the improvements in the tools you use rather than general technological progress. In illustration and design there's Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, SAI, and on the musical side of things there's Ableton Live and various other pieces of software that, by being developed and improved, have changed the production process. Are there any examples of something that has made part of your work more automated?

kz: In terms of music, it feels like things that we weren't able to do for so long due to simple technological limitations have finally become possible.

redjuice: I really think so too. A software might make use of cutting edge technology, but sometimes the actual tools still haven't caught up enough to utilize it.

kz: We're at a place now where, rather than just simplifying things, the improvements made to our tools give us functions that increase our range of creativity; the tools have caught up to our imaginations.

redjuice: The actual workload, the time you spend working with your hands, does not change. The software cannot do that for you.

kz: What we do is actually quite simple. For Shiru (redjuice), everything he does comes down to drawing lines on a tablet, and for me it's clicking a mouse and pressing the keys to create a musical score. There's not much that can be simplified within that process.

redjuice: Take 3D computer graphics, or video production for example. No matter what happens, they still have to wait for everything to be rendered.

BEATLESS also makes use of 3DCG technology in character design. This image is of a Lacia device, a monolith.

kz: I feel sorry for those in 3D computer graphics because the software, technical capabilities, and the equipment will probably never be on equal footing. By the time they are in sync, the imagination of the person is probably way ahead of things. It seems like a never ending game of catch up.

The work that we do cannot be automized no matter how advanced the tools become. If you're trying to make a lot of the same thing, then you can, and should, make use of machines to automize that process, but we always have to try and make something new, something better.

redjuice: We're working things out until the very end, until we can't anymore, and that can really be almost heartbreaking. If we were machines we wouldn't have to worry about our hearts, I suppose. [laughs]

kz: I wish I could mechanize my heart. [laughs] I want one that won't break, a heart of steel.

Creators as part of a stratified society?


redjuice: Illustration and design software was established about five years ago, and while the capabilities have been improved since then, most don't really make use of the latest functions. We've been using the old technology all along. It's as if the number of tools that were made available so far are steadily being fed back in. Even if you ask for user input and keep updating, in the end it comes down to manual human work, and there's not much sci-fi in that.

kz: In comparison, I'd say that in music the technology has caught up more, so everything you can do is well established. If one takes it to the extreme, for example lets say you have equalizer A and equalizer B, while it is true that each one has something different to offer, how many people will really be able to tell the difference? Anything beyond that and you're just trying to satisfy yourself. I think that's how far it's come in terms of music.

The equipment we use has really come a long way, but if there aren't many people that can feel the difference perhaps it's not really an evolution taking place, but simply a continuous renewal driven by a sense of obligation to do so. And I don't see much meaning in that.

redjuice: I think that when it comes to subtle differences in feeling, it’s difficult to be on the same page as engineers and developers. What we're thinking about as creators is different from what the engineers are thinking about, so that difference always comes into play.

kz: I think that more than just improving the technology, it’s really important to have a shared understanding and synchronization between these two groups. If they could just make a piece of software that tracks in real-time what the creator wants, what they’re stressing out about, and uses that info as feedback to continuously make improvements, well, that would be perfect.

However, when the Wii and Kinect first came out, many creators hacked them in various ways to create new things. So sometimes the difference in thinking between us and the engineers can actually lead to some interesting results.

redjuice: While 3D computer graphics is a technology that has been around for quite a while, more recently the establishment of 3D printing is likely causing a paradigm shift in the figure industry. Recently, more and more people at Wonder Festival are using 3D printing to make things themselves.


kz: 3D printers are truly like something out of a fairy tale. All you have to do is decide how you want to use them. When a new technology like this comes around, it's a matter of whether or not people will know how to handle it or not; it’s about whether or not their individual creativity can catch up with it or not.

redjuice: 3D computer graphics has spread to the point that schools are making use of it in class to teach illustration and design. So I feel like it’s steadily becoming accepted in academic fields. Those who learn this way will have a foundation in the technology that will likely continue to get higher, to the point that the gap between creators that have the knowledge and technical skill to make use of these tools and those that don’t will continue to get wider.

kz: Recently in music colleges––and I was a part of this too so that’s how I know about––there are a lot of places that now have pop music departments and rock departments, and the gap between those satisfied with studying that way, and those who think it’s not good enough, is getting wider and wider. Most of these people really worked hard on their own, but there are inevitably those who, once they're put on a particular track like that, think that all they need to do is jump through the hoops, but then they end up not getting anywhere.

So, just like Shiru said, these gaps may be getting bigger, but I think that overall this is a healthy thing. There are legends in every field, so even if you can’t be the best at what you do, everyone still wants to leave their mark in some way. There’s a certain kind of creativity that arises from a hungry mindset, one that’s determined to outdo others and get noticed.

The evolution of platforms broadens the base of genres

──Some suggest that the evolution of tools and their availability broadens that field’s base, in other words, results in an increased number of creators.

kz: I think that right now more people who used to be considered end users are becoming creators themselves. These days, it’s possible to make a song that sounds like you know what you’re doing, even if you have no special knowledge whatsoever. You can even get incredibly good sounds. You can take this as a good thing, but if people who don’t know much about music can’t tell the difference between a professional and an amateur musician's work, and therefore end up thinking that the amateur’s work is good enough for them, I sometimes think that’s a real shame.

Of course, there’s no standard for what makes music good or bad, but without even a minimal technical assessment, the basis of music itself will continue to expand until there’s no shared understanding or criteria at all.

redjuice: How is it for illustration I wonder… In the end it comes down to whether or not you can draw on paper, it’s a matter of manual skill and what you can do with your hands, so I feel that even as the software gets more advanced there won’t be much of a change.

kz: I’ve actually considered taking up drawing before myself.

redjuice: No way! Really!?

kz: Pen tablets have a speed sensor in them, so I thought I might be able to use it to make effects and bought one. I thought that since I spent the money on it I might as well try drawing a bit, but just as I expected, I realized that no matter what software and tools you have, someone like me who can’t even draw a proper outline still won’t be able to draw. In music, as long as you keep steadily clicking on with your mouse, keep putting down notes and follow the logic of it, truly anyone can come up with the same thing.

redjuice: Can you make something even if you can’t play the piano?

kz: If you at least know Do-Re-Me, you can make something that could pass as music. Maybe that’s why it’s so much more accessible than illustration. If you think of it that way, whether or not the listener has a basis of judgement could then be called into question.

redjuice: But I think that the actual number of illustrators has increased. The release of SAI has made things a lot easier and cheaper so there’s actually been a tremendous increase. Also, Pixiv has been a big factor as well. The advancement of social networking has supported the increase in illustrators.

kz: That’s certainly true. The reason why there are so many more musicians and illustrators definitely has to do with the increase in sites like Pixiv, Nico Nico Douga, Twitter, SoundCloud and other social networking sites. It’s easier to get an audience, and no matter if it’s bad or good, the reactions and exchange of opinions is what prevents it from becoming boring for the artist. Related to this, there’s also the fact that since around 2007 people started using the word “creator.” Overall, the changes in the environment have affected things more than the development of new tools.

Going home a hero

──Lastly, this is your first collaboration in five years. Looking back on when you first worked together, how do you think each of you has changed since then?

redjuice: Ever since kz released the song “Packaged,” I’ve thought he was awesome, but then he did “Tell Your World” which was the Google Chrome theme, a collaboration with Pharrell Williams, and just continued to put himself out there and go worldwide. kz just never ceases to amaze me. livetune is still the artist I listen to the most.

kz: You’ve been telling me that forever. [laughs]

redjuice: I wasn’t sure if I should mention this today, but since we had this interview planned, I wondered how much I’ve listened to livetune up to this point, and when I checked the play count on my iTunes it was 30,000 times. [laughs]

kz: Seriously!? That’s too much, don’t you think? I’m very happy to hear that, though. [laughs]

redjuice: I always have music on when I work. I first started listening when you started uploading to Nico Nico Douga, and released a fan CD in 2007. So that’s seven years, divided by 365 days, and you get about one hour of listening per day. [laughs] livetune’s music is addictive.

kz: You still have the same enthusiasm you did at Comic Market when I first released Re:Package as a fan CD, and you came to my booth to give me an illustration based on the song “Strobo Nights.” I had just left my seat, and when I came back there was this insane illustration on the table. I was blown away.

redjuice: I printed it out at home and brought it there, you know.

redjuice’s illustration for the song “Strobo Nights”

kz: I saw your website after that and thought, "this person is amazing.” And since then you’ve taken every chance you get to tell me how much of a livetune fan you are. I remember well how happy I was to hear you say that. I hope to continue working with Shiru more from now on.

redjuice: It is our first collaboration in over five years, after all.

kz: Shiru’s work, like the anime Guilty Crown - I feel like I’ve seen a lot more of it recently. To me, I imagine that Shiru’s taste was established just a bit after the release of “Strobo.” Of course, just like mixing in music, there definitely have been certain subtle changes, but overall I feel like he’s been consistent. So that’s why even after five years it doesn’t feel strange, or rather, his work still seems to fit perfectly.

──The fact that you first met as fans, and now have come together again to do this big multimedia project, seems to, in a way, symbolize the changes in position you both have gone through.

kz: I suppose that’s right. We’re not the same age, and our careers are completely different, but to me Shiru is the person that brought me his illustration at Comic Market, and I’m just an artist messing around on the Internet. The fact that I’ve been able to work with such talented people, and collaborate again with Shiru on this project, it makes me feel like…not exactly a hometown hero [laughs], but it honestly does make me want to go home and show off all the incredible connections I’ve made.

redjuice: Compared to when Re:MIKUS first came out, we’ve each now worked on various projects and become more recognized. While we definitely do get more of a response now than we did then, I’m not sure if that necessarily means that we’ve grown or particularly changed that much.

kz: After five years, I think there’s a good chance that many people do not even know that we used to work together. So I want to let people know that and also hopefully make those who have been fans from the beginning feel glad that we’re working together again. That would make me really happy.


Illustrator. Drew the CD jacket illustration for livetune’s Re:MIKUS in 2009. Gained more attention doing original character designs for the TV anime Guilty Crown in 2011. Works mainly in anime and game character design and illustration. Also an active member of the creator group, supercell. Does illustrations for BEATLESS.

kz (livetune)

Trackmaker and DJ. Debuted in 2008 with the album Re:Package. Has since become a popular creator, doing anime theme songs, club music, background music for famous idol group tours, and creating lyrics, songs, and remixes for many artists of various genres. Has recently been working particularly with artists abroad such as ZEDD and Pharrell Williams and made a name for himself worldwide.

Related Sites
“BEATLESS: Tool for the Outsourcers” Official Site
BEATLESS Official Site

Source: KAI-YOU
Source article written by Nao Niimi

A rough sketch by animation studio WIT STUDIO for Tokyo Otaku Mode's English translation page.
A rough sketch by animation studio WIT STUDIO for Tokyo Otaku Mode's English translation page.
BEATLESS also makes use of 3DCG technology in character design. This image is of a Lacia device, a monolith.
*BEATLESS* also makes use of 3DCG technology in character design. This image is of a Lacia device, a monolith.
redjuice’s illustration for the song “Strobo Nights”
redjuice’s illustration for the song “Strobo Nights”
Special Interview: redjuice & kz (livetune) on First Collaboration in Five Years - The Future of Science & Creativity [2/2] 7
Special Interview: redjuice & kz (livetune) on First Collaboration in Five Years - The Future of Science & Creativity [2/2] 8

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