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This year saw a birth to an album Swimé by Makunouchi Bento which has been declared to be one of the best netlabel releases this year. No argument from me. The sound production is excellent, and there is lots of magic packed inside this 8 track release.

I already played a track from the album in last Remixta Episode #10, but I needed more. So, I contacted the guys from Makunouchi Bento, Felix "Waka X" Petrescu (on the left) and Valentin "Qewza" Toma (right) on twitter, and asked them for an interview. This is what we came up with.

1. Tell a little about the history of the project, how did it all came to be?

Valentin: It started at the end of 2000, with my IDM remix for an old unreleased Amiga song made by Felix which I had accidentally found. At first labeled as Qewza's (my solo project) remix for Urban Experience (Felix's band), it became Makunouchi Bento's first song as we decided to dive a bit more into the experimental and IDM waters and create our long-term project in early 2001.

There are actually "older" Makunouchi Bento songs, but again, these are Qewza's and Waka's previously unreleased work that seemed to fit in the Makunouchi Bento sound.

2. Makunouchi Bento, who came up with this name and how, what it represents?

Felix: A good friend (G-Man) was showing me an interesting article about japanese cousine and the japanese art of Bento. We found it so proper and so comprehensive - that's how our name was chosen. We use the following text as presentation "The Makunouchi Bento, or traditional japanese lunchbox, is a highly lacquered wooden box divided into quadrants, each of which contains different delicacies. It is also one of the most familiar images of Japan's domestic environment. Reading the box as both an object and a metaphor, Felix Petrescu (Waka X) and Valentin Toma (Qewza) founded this experimental / electronica project back in 2001."

3. The new album, Swimé, what is it all about?

Felix: Imagine that you swim in a lake full of sound waves. But there is more to it. The ineffable. That was expressed in the puzzling "é" added to Swim. Every adventure (and our adventure in sound is no different) has many layers besides the physical obvious one. That's what we tried to show in this album.

When we were kids and even now from time to time, we were capable of having wonderful and complex imaginary adventures just triggered by a book, a pack of cards, a poster, some small cheap plastic toys or a very pixelated and archaic computer game. We remembered all these adventures and wanted to create one of our own. An album different from the rest, an album that triggers adventures in listener's head and in ours, every time it's touched. All ingredients are there, I won't name them! Just discover them for yourself!

4. This sort of music paints landscapes and scenes in front of listeners eyes. Are they intentional (you imagine picture, and try to put it into sound) or accidental, you just experiment and improve on the results?

Valentin: Painting landscapes and scenes is intentional. However, every listener will probably create his own scenario and "see" something different - we like to leave their imagination free to wander through the Makunouchi Bento realm. As for how we do it, well... sometimes, we start by imagining a picture - other times, we just experiment with sounds and melodies, and let these inspire us to build the landscape.

Felix: Most of the sounds/music I do is cinematic by it's nature and what we want to achieve is something like the opposite of the silent movies - movies compressed in a song/soundscape, movies that don't need visuals to be complete, songs that unfold intricate visual realms in the listener's mind. I start with a small story/image/mood and I describe it in sounds. Imagine a theatre scene where all sounds are actors and I am the director / screen writer / props man and stage pimp.

5. How does the creative process happen, in studio or over the internet? Who does what?

Valentin: We don't have a proper studio to work together, we prefer the intimacy of our own bedroom "studios". Then we transfer our bits over the internet. There are a few songs made by only one of us, but usually we work together. Basically we can both do anything, but Felix is maybe better with interesting themes and melodies, while I'm more patient to do all the arrangements and fine tunings - or rhythm and percussion, where there is any. The ancient art of ping-pong. 🙂

6. Which kind of software and hardware do you use?

Felix: I use Renoise and Reaper mostly + a ton of free apps and plugins. I also build plugins in Synthedit. (I released a few a long time ago.) Also we earn a lot of plugins/apps by betatesting them / helping the developers (latest example is http://www.densitygs.com).

Speaking of hardware, we don't use much hardware actually. We both have laptops with modest M-Audio soundcards and we field record with a Zoom H4 & Olympus LS-10.

And I forgot to add some MIDI controllers we use: M-Audio Keystation, M-Audio Trigger Finger and Novation Launchpad.

7. What is the live setup, how does the magic happen?

Valentin: When playing our songs, I use a laptop with Ableton Live to play, modify, "destroy" and filter diffrerent audio tracks, while Felix adds percussion, sound effects and synth from his Zoom ST-224 sampler, Nintendo DS and Korg Kaossilator. Now and then, he also adds some weird flute, kazoo or vocal mumblings. If we're up to experimental improvisational music... well, you can expect anything.

8. Do you have any other projects. Which are those?

Valentin: My solo project, Qewza is idle for many years now, and will probably stay that way - I only used this moniker for a few mixes (you might want to check my "Unu Mai" trilogy: 3 releases summing 7 mixes of Romanian music of all genres).

As for Urban Experience, Felix (as Waka X) and his old mate G-Man are still available for (dance-oriented) DJ acts from time to time - however, they've stopped producing music almost 10 years ago.

Makunouchi Bento was also part of Jebel Chamber Orchestra - probably a one-release project based on crazy improvised acoustic music together with some friends from USA (John Fisher AKA Ricemutt, Patrick Sheng and Justin Lazarus). Me and Felix might play with dance beats again soon, expect us to show up as Mac Bentley. That's about it for now.

9. Renoise! What new features would you like to see in it? How does it work for you so far?

Felix: Well, I was in Renoise boat since the Arguru started the early project, helping him with a homepage for the ancestor of Renoise. So I'm really happy with new Renoise. The actual development team is doing wonders and they are coding fast and solid, and the most important aspect for me - they listen to users. There are actually just 2 audio apps that I praise nowdays : Renoise and Reaper. The rest... well... you can judge for yourself. 🙂

In the next Renoise builds I really want to see (even) more live / improv oriented features. Actually - Renoise looks quite complete in v2.6 - now that it has LUA scripting and everybody could code it's own crazy ideas. So the final answer is "waiting for v2.6 to end its beta trials!".

10. Any movies, albums, artists or other art which has influenced your music?

Valentin: We couldn't name any particular piece of art that influenced our music. Unwittingly, we probably pick up bits of everything that surrounds us, but at the end of the day, it doesn't sound like anything we've ever heard or seen.

11. Anything else to add?

Felix: Yep. "The End" banner. And the BzZzzzZzzt sound.