Yuri Urano made an artist package for Bitwig Studio.

Inside Kodama, Yuri Urano’s Texture-Rich Sonic Universe

The Japanese sound artist discusses the making of her sound package, Kodama.

Yuri Urano has observed Bitwig Studio's evolution since its first version, which launched when she was a student at a music technology college in Osaka, Japan. Over the years she has become an expert — a Certified Trainer, in fact — and a deft multimedia sound artist. While Urano's earliest official releases dealt in industrial techno and electro, her work has also explored ambient and experimental modes and even Bitwig’s integration with visual programming language TouchDesigner, TDBitwig. In other words, Urano is eminently qualified to helm a Bitwig artist package.

Kodama contains the building blocks of Urano’s style and approach: field recordings, her own vocal samples, and presets that combine this audio with synth patches or FX chains. She also whipped up a few demo track sketches that put these elements into context and provide insight into her creative process. We caught up with Urano to hear about how she made Kodama, what it reflects about her work, and her tips for how other musicians can make the most of what's inside.

How did you get started making music?

My parents sent me to piano lessons from the age of three until I was 13. But actually, I didn't particularly like music in the past. I was living my life as my parents told me to back then. One day, when I was in junior high, I was watching a music program on TV and I saw musicians smiling and shining. The audience seemed to be very moved. At the time, I thought, “I want to shine like them.” So I decided to start doing music again — this time for myself.

I learned synthesis when I went to a music technical college in Osaka. One of the teachers there was Kimitaka Matsumae, the master of the MS-20, and he taught me the basics of synthesis and patching on the MS-20. That's also where I learned about Bitwig Studio — a teacher there told me about a new DAW that was being released, Bitwig Studio. I was just beginning to make electronic music, and I wanted to make music more intuitively. Bitwig Studio seemed to be able to do that.

So you've used Bitwig Studio since version 1, and now you've assembled an official sound package for other users: Kodama. What does the package reflect about your work or you as an artist?

I love traveling, and I make music inspired by my experiences. Making field recordings is like taking photos of places I like, and the best thing about it is that you can capture distinctive sounds of every place you visit. Like, “Oh, the grass flutters so nicely here,” or “I like the sound of this river flowing.” Then I use those recordings in my productions, recalling what I saw and the memories from those trips.

In my earlier works, I would use my field recordings as they were, raw. But for this package, I applied FX to the recordings to create drones and percussion. My recent focus has shifted from music-making in general to focusing on sound design, so it was interesting for me to combine and shape field recordings and voices with the sounds I create in the DAW.

Yuri Urano making field recordings for her Bitwig artist package.
Yuri Urano making field recordings for her Bitwig artist package.
Yuri Urano making field recordings for her Bitwig artist package.

Can you tell us about some of the ways you used your recordings in presets for Kodama?

The reverb presets I made for Convolution are based on recordings I made of hand claps in a temple. They have a subtle wind-roar in their tails, which adds a subtle texture. And my Drum Machine presets are developed from field recordings of hitting stone and metal. I thought it would be interesting to have an array of sounds on drum pads that you might find somehow familiar, even though you've never actually heard them before. “Organic Rock Drums,” for example, features processed stone and metal sounds with FX like distortion to make it sound more aggressive. I feel that music sounds more organic and vibrant when it's sourced from field recordings, when you combine the possibilities of a DAW with natural sounds.

You also made demo songs for the package. How do they reflect the types of music you make?

My roots are in pop music. I tapped into french pop and electronic pop, and then went on to make industrial music and so on, so my musical range is quite wide. [The demo track] “Words” may be ambient-ish, but it also feels like a pop song, and the drum pattern has a drum & bass feel to it. It demonstrates what I've been going through and building up to. You can see how I bring a dynamic track to life with vocal samples and filter automation.

The demo song “Snowing” represents the way I often make ambient music. Its pad synth is made with a Sampler that has my vocals in it, and it also uses “Snowing Bell,” a generative preset I made in The Grid.

“Making ‘sound’ and ‘music’ are two different activities, and just because we've made patches doesn't mean we have to use them in our own tracks.”

Some people get lost in The Grid. How do you stay on track while using it in a larger context of making a complete track? Do you have separate sessions for making patches or sound design versus when you're making a song?

Yes, I have struggled with the same thing. I came to the conclusion that I should separate making patches and making a track in my mind. Making “sound” and “music” are two different activities, and just because we've made patches doesn't mean we have to use them in our own tracks. We can learn something from the process of making a patch, and that knowledge can be used in our next work.

Even though you might not use all your patches in your work, you did make some for other people to use in theirs. Do you have any tips for how people can approach using the material in your artist package?

Make use of it however you like. You only need to hit a keyboard to make a sound, and you can just make music with that. So try combining anything you want. The combination might fail, but that doesn't mean it's no good. You just have a think about what to do about it. Maybe you'll reconsider that “failure” later on and actually find it inspiring! Sometimes that's how a fully fledged track develops. Enjoy making music while trying out different things without being afraid of mistakes. Don't hesitate to make changes to these presets. As a package creator, I'm happy to see how my own presets evolve in other people's hand. And I'm curious to see how people use Japanese word samples in the package.

Yuri Urano in her studio.

You seem to enjoy letting people into your process and sharing some of your knowledge and experience about making music. Some artists are very protective of their knowledge and their methods. What is your philosophy on this?

You're right: It's important to protect our own ideas, copyrights and music. I don't feel good when someone takes my ideas without respect. But I also think that, when I release my ideas, I get space in my brain for new ones. So sharing my ideas means I can create new ones. And I'm so happy to communicate with many people via my creations.

If you own a full Bitwig Studio license (5.1 or later) with an active Upgrade Plan, the Kodama sound package is now available for free via Dashboard > Packages > Available > Kodama or in the browser under the Packages tab.

Photos by SKINNY

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