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Pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with technology and music, Manabe is a digital artist whose mode of self expression crosses into several different disciplines – he describes himself as a designer, programmer, DJ, VJ and composer.

At just 10 years old, Manabe began programming before turning to DJing in his teens; later, it was his interest in sound design that led him to his studies at the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences in Japan, where he met longtime collaborator Motoi Ishibashi. Launching Rhizomatiks in 2006 – a collective of visual artists, engineers and programmers – Ishibashi has worked alongside Manabe since 2015 as the co-director of Rhizomatiks Research.

With a career that spans over a decade, the Tokyo-based artist can boast an impressive ouevre of collaborations with Björk, Jesse Kanda, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nosaj Thing. Building on technological advancements, Manabe expands on what’s understood to be a music video, delivering transcendent, sensory experiences using HTML5, industrial tech, drones, lights and lasers.

Outside of music videos, the multi-hyphenate has worked on large-scale commercial projects, creating viral videos for titans such as Nike, and immersive dance performances that have the otherworldly appearance of an alternative reality.

We catch up with the digital artist to discuss working with Björk and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and how his groundbreaking work binds together sound and cutting-edge technology.

Read Crack Magazine’s list of 10 music video directors switching up the game. Work by these directors will be screened at the and& summit and festival’s A/V screening room and Oscar Hudson will be in conversation with Crack Magazine at the event, discussing the art form and its future. Find out more about and& here.

How would you describe what you do?

My background is in music and mathematics, which has informed my present practice as a software engineer, music maker, and other miscellaneous pursuits. In terms of medium, I predominately present my work in performative settings. Although I often use light and moving images, I’ve recently focused on an exploration of sound and the human body. Nowadays, I entrust much of the advanced engineering to my team at Rhizomatiks Research, while I orchestrate the front-end aspects of our projects.

When you were younger, can you remember connecting with any music videos?

Drop by The Pharcyde and Gantz Graf by Autechre.

What did you study at college and how did you end up working with musicians?

I studied mathematics in university but played in a band with jazz musicians on the side. I also worked in a studio to learn more about mixing. Still, I never had a proper education in video imaging, but rather became a VJ because it was an opportunity to use my training in linear algebra, geometry, and programming. Even now, I have very little film experience apart from the real-time video imagery generated during my live performances.

Your work is often centred around “everyday materials” – could you elaborate on this at all?

I don’t like work that is too privileged or elitist. Rather, I prefer to find new paths to innovation using simple materials and technologies. Some people splurge on expensive equipment to make work that is more technological demo than art, but that isn’t my forte.

What were some of your early works in the field of music?

Hip-hop. As a DJ, I backed East New York rappers such as Jeru the Damaja and Group Home. I made a track and released a single with a guest appearance by the rapper Afu-Ra. That sort of thing.

Would you describe your work as music videos at all?

It’s more like a live video recording, as most of my work is conducted in one take and requires no editing.

Could you talk about the work you did for Björk and Jesse Kanda in 2015?

They were saddled with technological challenges in terms of filming VR imagery, and fortunately our team at Rhizomatiks Research (centred around Yuya Hanai) was able to step up and find solutions. The project was an exceptionally special experience.

You have also collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto, another hugely influential figure in music. Tell us a little about working on Sensing Streams.

We ended up creating the piece after spring-boarding from a discussion of how to conceptualise our interest in information that is humanly imperceptible, as well as the relationship between nature and mankind, nature and the city. We conducted an immense amount of research before deciding on the final theme.

How do you feel about being described as a music video director?

I mostly work in a non-hierarchical environment, wherein engineers and creative types join forces to create projects as an organic whole, so I think that in principle, the entire team deserves equal billing on our projects. The contemporary status quo often necessitates that a director takes centre stage, but I personally wish that all the talented people who work on projects behind the scenes would get credit where it is due.

Words: Vivian Yeung
Interview: Duncan Harrison