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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 3 of 3

Your compositions are very melodic. If there's harmony, it's in tune. Have you thought about experimenting with dissonant sound? Like when, instead of harmony that flows together, the melody clashes.

AY: That's actually one of the things I'm working with right now -- music that doesn't work by the book, so to speak. Since most of the world's music does work by the book, when something doesn't, that has the effect of making it stand out. It's something that goes off the beaten path, and that's why I like it.

In Western game soundtracks nowadays, composers are very afraid of using loops -- they'll try to hide loop points so you don't actually hear an original melody. It's all very flowing and in the background.

I feel that in Japan, people will still do a good job of introducing a real melody, so you can tell where a song's beginning, middle and end are located. I'm wondering what you feel about that. Western composers seem to be afraid of showing music structure and loop points, and in Japan it's not so.

AY: You're absolutely right there! And it's not just with music -- you could say that symbolizes the entire approach Japanese studios take with game development. Their games have a distinct beginning and a distinct end -- they draw a straight line from start to finish. They begin by coming up with field maps and so on, then figure out how to make a game out of it.

Western games, on the other hand, are getting more and more open in what they let you do. The same applies to music, too. Japanese composers string a bunch of melodies together, and that leads itself to a natural end at some point or another. If you think in terms of harmonies, though, suddenly it doesn't really matter where you are in the song at any given point. That's why you can't spot the loop point right off.

Vincent Diamante, who composed the music for Flower, feels that loop points aren't something to be afraid of and that melody should be embraced and used more; that there are ways you can use melody in a large field map. You can bring back in certain melodic themes that players can recognize, and it's a good thing to let players identify with melodies instead of just creating atmosphere. What do you think about that?

AY: Well, either way is fine, really, in the end. I divided these two types of music into melody and heterophony, but it's not a matter of fearing one method over another. This is something I'd like to work on myself, but since games are interactive entertainment, there's no set standard for when the player will begin and where it'll end, like there is with movies. As a result, you, the composer, have no idea when a player will decide to move from one section of the game to another, something that'd require a change in music.

That doesn't mean loop points should be avoided, but at the same time, you have to keep that fact in mind when you're composing. One way of dealing with that is to just fade out the music, but what I'd like to do is work on ways to always have the music come to a believable end whenever the game situation calls for it. That would be a much more interactive and game-like approach than simply fading out the volume.

It also may be possible to do it without fading to black if you fade it into another piece. You can tell that one piece is winding down as another ramps up, so there's no real gap in the music.

AY: True, but if the two pieces have a different rhythm, then it's going to sound off. I'd like to have the music come to a full and decent ending before the next piece begins, just like it would in other forms of media.

One thing I've been thinking about is that, in the Famicom era, some music was actually written with the Japanese scale -- you can play it on a shamisen -- but nowadays that's not done so much. Do you think there's any kind of opportunity to bring back that?

AY: Oh, I know what you mean! Of course, that may just be an age issue -- a lot of composers back then are pretty old now. (laughs) Maybe that way of thinking about it changed with the generations.

But sounds like that are pretty nostalgic, and there's an opportunity there for Japanese composers.

AY: Well, people in Western studios should contract with me to make that sound, then. (laughs) I'm not sure young people today would be able to understand the nuances of that sort of style -- it may be one of those things where you had to be composing on the Famicom at the time to get it.

You yourself like industrial music, but I have never heard you use it in games. Will you at some point?

AY: Well, I haven't created any straight industrial-genre music for games, but I have put in little pieces -- the essence of it, in other words -- in the past.

The clanging environmental sounds in Silent Hill, for example...

AY: Yeah. The essence.

Would you ever try to use it in a more melodic part as well?

AY: I would like to, yes.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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