Akira Yamaoka Interview - Jumping Around With the Grasshopper Manufacture Composer
Written Sunday, April 08, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Famed for his fine work in composing the eerie and memorable Silent Hill series, Akira Yamaoka has recently been collaborating with Suda 51 on a whole range of Grasshopper Manufacture titles including Shadows of the Damned and Sine Mora.
Still to come is Yamaoka's work on Lollipop Chainsaw and Black Knight Sword, but with so many different projects, how does he keep coming up with fresh ideas for music? What's it like for the prolific video game composer when he's working with a mad auteur like Suda 51?
We sat down to talk with Yamaoka about his influences, his catalogue of soundtracks, the music he likes, working on Silent Hill and much more.
What was it like coming off Shadows of the Damned to compose scores for games like Sine Mora and Black Knight Sword? How does your approach have to differ as a composer?
Well, Sine Mora is an old-skool action game, so the music should be straightforward and fit with the atmosphere of the game. And it's so different to Black Knight Sword or Shadows of the Damned, so the approach has to be different.
Having worked with Suda 51 quite a lot lately, what is it like collaborating with him? How does it differ to experiences you've had on other projects?
He's crazy. An absolute nutter! But he's so much fun to work with and I discover something new every day when I'm working with him. He'll always surprise me somehow. It's a very creative partnership.
Do difficult challenges ever arise from working with Suda 51? Are there things that he asks for that seem a little too 'out there'?
He's not too demanding, so he'll usually just let me do whatever I want to do... Most of the time.
Talking about Black Knight Sword for a little while, it's a very distinctive game, inspired by Eastern European fairy tales, Monty Python and so on, but with a Japanese twist. What influences did you draw upon for the music?
Monty Python was definitely a clear influence on me, but also Czech puppets and animations. I wanted to pay homage to these influences, because I also like these things and wanted to share that with others.
What kind of music are you into then? What kind of music do you listen to and do you listen to something different when you're composing a soundtrack?
I don't listen to different music while I'm composing. Music is music anyway. I'll listen to whatever I want to, whenever I want to. So, I don't think the music I listen to now would directly influence what I'm composing.
Having composed music for the early Silent Hill titles, how do you feel about the series now that it's being handled by western developers?
I'd like developers to make Silent Hill again in Japan, but obviously now that it's a western production, clearly there's nothing we can do about that.
Do you ever miss working on the Silent Hill franchise at all?
It's not like I miss it that much, but if there was ever an opportunity to work on the Silent Hill franchise again, I'd love to work on it.
Presumably you're not tied into working exclusively with Grasshopper Manufacture then? You could pursue projects with other developers if you wanted to?
I'm not working exclusively with Grasshopper, so yes, I could pursue other projects with other developers besides Grasshopper. But what I'd really love to do is work on a game like Heavy Rain or work with a Spanish developer called Tequila Works (XBLA title Deadlight). I really want to work with them.
Do you think something like that could be on the horizon perhaps? Working with a western developer on an action title?
Yes, I can definitely see that on the horizon. This year I'd ideally love to work with teams in Europe and the United States on various different titles.
What do you think are the most difficult challenges facing a prolific video game composer like yourself? What are the primary hurdles that you have to overcome when working on a soundtrack for a game?
It's always a challenge because the interactive part of a video game is obviously the important bit. Movie scores are relatively straightforward because the music only needs to go in one direction, but when you're composing for a video game, you always have to think of the player. And depending on the player, the game can be fast or slow, and players might take different paths or diversions. So, you have to consider the diversity of the storyline and the game itself, which is the hardest part, but also the most important part.
Have you ever found yourself hitting a creative wall while working on a video game soundtrack?
Fortunately, not yet. It's more that I have so many ideas that I don't know which one to go with and what to do with them.
Are you more at home in the studio working with technology or do you prefer the more hands-on approach with orchestras and live instruments?
I can't quite choose... Sometimes I like to work in the studio, sometimes I like collaborating with people. I think I like both!
Do you ever get given a list of requirements or goals for a soundtrack, or is it a case of you always being left to your own devices?
Normally I'm left to my own devices, but sometimes a developer will chip in with input or opinions now and again. Most of the time I'm given free reign to do what I want.
What's your favourite genre of video game to compose music for?
Adventure games with strong storylines, because you can use music to help form and tell the story. Titles like Shadows of the Damned and Black Knight Sword.
Sine Mora is out now on PSN and Black Knight Sword will be releasing later in the year.