Naozumi Takenaka

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2000

President, digitiminimi

by Daniel Scuka

For many, the Internet is the biggest, baddest moneymaking machine ever devised by Western capitalism, and that's what drives many of the companies and Netpreneurs reported on by mainstream media. But for some, money is not an immediate goal (or even a goal at all), and the Internet is instead an opportunity to explore new dimensions in art and communications, and build a global village. If we can communicate and share our humanity, the thinking goes, there's less chance we'll annihilate each other, or continue allowing starvation in a world of plenty. And just as there are engineers, developers, and content producers who enable online commerce, there are technical spirits who enable the online world of art. Naozumi Takenaka is one of them.

Takenaka is president of 3-year-old digitiminimi (, an interactive Web design and software development house founded by Takenaka and Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of Japan's best-known composers, musicians, and digital artists (see For webcasters Takenaka and Sakamoto, timing is everything: "Timing is very important for streaming video," says Takenaka, "and controlling how and when the packets arrive -- that's the trick."

Why the obsession with packet switching? "On the regular Internet, there's little control over when and in what order data packets -- the digital currency of exchange between the Net's routers and switches -- arrive at a destination. What we've done is combine VPN (virtual private networking) techniques with an interesting way of buffering, temporarily storing data packets until they're needed." Takenaka won't reveal the details, but he claims that his "dirty hack" involved developing a whole new software layer running on a regular Intel architecture machine. According to the young engineer, what he achieved was a new method of fixing the time and source of all packets arriving at a particular computer, creating what he calls a "virtual static connection."

But the results of his work, if not the technical details, became spectacularly public last September when his techniques powered a global webcast called Opera Life, featuring Sakamoto as producer of a three-stage, tightly synchronized opera spanning Tokyo and Osaka for the Japanese performances, Frankfurt for the European arm, and New York for the US. In the US and Europe, Sakamoto is probably more famous as a composer of music for movies such as The Last Emperor and Sheltering Sky. Recently, he's been focusing on bringing Internet technologies to the forefront of art and making his performances more interactive, and last year's webcast opera offered far more than just an MTV-style simulcast of your local rock band.

"We created a downloadable app that presented images on the viewers' computers," explains Takenaka, "and the music produced at each location was precisely timed to coincide with the images being displayed. This freed up bandwidth, which we used to increase the quality of the sound." Viewers could also choose to watch a video provided by another custom-made app, and Net audience feedback was measured with a "hand clapping" app that gave real-time feedback to the performers and audiences at the live venues. "We estimated that 400,000 people were watching via the Web based on server usage of the applause app," says Takenaka.

The opera required extensive resources and (expensive) bandwidth, but Sakamoto's name has spectacular drawing power. Corporate sponsors included NTT, PSINet, Cisco Japan, Cannon, and other heavyweights of the digital world.

But with the virtual curtain having fallen on last year's performances, like any artist Takenaka is now faced with the more prosaic questions of eating and rent. His next project? "We're developing an eticketing service for mobile platforms," he says. "It will provide electronically as well as visually verifiable ticket sales. We're also working on safe surfing technology for children." He's got a few other pots on boil as well, but won't be specific. "We don't really have a business plan; we take on projects case by case. Certainly no one's given us any investment money," he says. Sadly, changing the world via the Net sometimes pays far less than selling handbags or flogging Viagra.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.