Impulsive ingenuity

Impulsive ingenuity

Creativity is key to the success of musical artists Maywa Denki

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From left: Hatakeyama Keita, Novumichi Tosa and Kimura Kohei of Maywa Denki play specially designed instruments.
From left: Hatakeyama Keita, Novumichi Tosa and Kimura Kohei of Maywa Denki play specially designed instruments.
Photo: David Wong/SCMP
If you want to turn a traditional company into one that invents ridiculously cute objects, you need two things: creativity and a sense of randomness.

At least that's what Nobumichi Tosa had when he revived Maywa Denki with his older brother Masamichi.

Set up in 1970 by their father, the company used to make electrical equipment for Toshiba and Panasonic. But its business went downhill. In 1979, it was forced to close down.

But the Tosa brothers rebooted Maywa Denki in 1993, converting it into a creative art space that produces musical instruments from the sort of stainless steel parts you might see in a factory. What's more, the design of their pieces is very quirky - almost out of this world.

Nobumichi now heads Maywa Denki. He came to Hong Kong last month to showcase their odd instruments, and the unusual music they produce, at PopCorn in Tseung Kwan O.

"There is so much information in the world now, and when you create new things, you can't help but refer to it," says Nobumichi, holding an Otamatone, an instrument shaped like a musical note with a smiley face.

"But if you want to create something truly original, you shouldn't peek at other creations. You need to be detached from the world, like you're in no man's land," he adds.

Over the years, the creative factory has invented a range of instruments, categorised into different themes. Their latest creation is the bowgun, which is in the shape of a toothy dog's head attached to the butt of a rifle.

The bowgun, also known as the bark rifle, falls into the Voice series of instruments which make animal or human sounds when played.

"It's a flute that sounds like the howl of a dog," Nobumichi explains. "Their howls are interesting, and dogs usually have the two contradictory features of loyalty and aggression, all in one."

Pausing for a second to think, he jokes: "I can see both qualities in me. I am a dog."

The next thing Nobumichi plans to work on is a wider variety of Otamatone. The current one can only emit the sound "Ah", one of the five vowels in the Japanese language. The next batch, he says, will feature the other four.

Another series of devices called Naki - which means "Who am I?" - is inspired both by a search for the meaning of life, and the form of a fish. The series includes a kind of jetpack the user wears on their back; when the right buttons are pressed, it spreads its wings and starts playing music.

Spontaneity is a key ingredient in Nobumichi's success story. His company has about eight members, each of whom Nobumichi randomly met on the street.

"I walked up and asked if they would like to join. Most of them had no musical experience before joining the team," he says. Asked how he picks the right people, "I just know", Nobumichi says.

But the master of machinery is more serious than he looks. While at secondary school, the aspiring creator used to go home every day to write poems about love and life - and he thinks young people in Hong Kong should do that, too.

He says: "If you want to expand your mind, you need to try a bit of everything."


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