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The Melody Of Change: Akira Yamaoka At Grasshopper
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The Melody Of Change: Akira Yamaoka At Grasshopper

April 9, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

So what style are you going for in your current composition work, perhaps compared to before?

AY: Hmm... Compared to before, I don't think I've changed that much. Some people say that my work is a fair bit more complex, featuring a lot more color than it used to, and I think I have noticed that myself as well.

In the past you did a lot of work involving calmer music in tense situations. Is that something you'll continue here, or will you go in a more abrasive musical direction?

AY: I do like the more abrasive styles as well, but in tense situatons, I tend to prefer music that doesn't play completely into what you're seeing.

With situations like that, while I naturally don't plan to stick slavishly to any one style, that type is what I personally like the best. So I have that to go with while I'm also simultaneously pursuing new styles in my work.

At Grasshopper they often do very interesting things with sound design, where there'll be a big, loud, or unexpected sound at certain places in the game. Have you studied this at all in Grasshopper's games, and do you think it'll continue; do you have something to add to it?

AY: Sound effects, right? Well, I'd like to do that sort of thing, yes. Like you put it, doing something unexpected or unanticipated. There's something very interesting about that from the gamer's perspective, after all. That's the way I like to think as I approach a sound package, so that's what I want to keep going with.

It seems like it could be a place for you to experiment more with the kind of thing you were talking about at GDC -- placing the footsteps ahead of what's actually there onscreen. It seems like Grasshopper is somewhere where you could push that even further.

AY: Certainly, I would like to pursue that sort of thing. And some of the things I didn't discuss, I'll be doing -- or I'd like to be doing -- within the next year.

Can you think of ways to push that further? Is there anything you're thinking about now?

AY: Oh, I can't have them get out yet! (laughs) Once we show off something it's involved in, I'll show it off; I'll say "this is it". It's easier explaining it that way, besides.

Based on that, I assume you can't talk about what project you're working on, right?

AY: Ahh, you overseas interviewers are always after secrets! (laughs) But, really, my current situation's about what you'd think it is -- the title that people have been talking about on the Internet is the one I'm working on.

I also noticed that you don't often use symphonies, or a lot of orchestration. Why is that? Do you think that'll change in the future? Or are you comfortable dealing with guitar and electronic instruments?

AY: I do think that a change of pace in that respect could be a good thing. I think that, but... going back to the first question for a moment, whether you're using a symphonic or heterophonic approach in Asian or Western music, first you have a rhythm -- beating out time in one way or another. To that you add harmonies, the chords that are played at set times to this rhythm. Melody is the thing that puts these chords together.

In heterophony, you think of each aspect as being on its own axis -- you come up with melodies, then you come up with the rhythm and harmonies to make them work. Western music often begins with the composer thinking about harmonies first, but within music, there are only a limited number of harmonies -- about a hundred or so -- that are suitable to use. It's a matter of combining those together.

I thought about this for a bit once, and I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but for example, the English alphabet has 26 letters, while there's a practically infinite number of kanji characters -- not infinite, but quite a lot. So in English, you take this small set of characters and form words like "god" and so on with them -- but playing with these same letters can give you very different results, like taking "god" and turning it into "dog".

The Eastern line of thought simply has a character, kami, for god, and then creates a completely different and unrelated character to signify dog. In much the same way, Western music often takes this given set of chords and comes up with new and novel ways to combine them together, while Japanese heterophony is more concentrated around melody. So thinking symphonically is actually pretty difficult for me -- it's not like I couldn't do it if I studied a bit, but it's tough. I am interested in symphonic composition, though, definitely.

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