Akira Yamaoka is a master of horror composition. His legacy was forged with his work on the Silent Hill series, mastering sound design and atmosphere to make the already terrifying world feel that much more real and unnerving – read on for our interview with him over his newest work, in Grasshopper Manufacture’s LET IT DIE.
He cemented his genius with his work on Grasshopper Manufacture games like Shadow of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Killer is Dead. He expanded his scope to include an executive producer and composer role for the live action Silent Hill movie as well as projects outside of the gaming circle. His newest collaboration with Grasshopper Manufacture, LET IT DIE, was released recently and features an absolutely jaw-dropping soundtrack with over 100 musicians from Japan who created original works designed specifically for the game. We sat down for an interview with him to discuss his process of creating such an amazing collection of artists as well as touching on his past works.
Matt: Can you tell us how your musical journey began? I know that you have mentioned previously musical influences that showed off the combination of Art and Music; was composing games always in the plan or did that influence, and the desire to combine the two direct you down that path?
Akira Yamaoka: I simply enjoy creating/building something from the scratch, and see how my creations spread to the world and become some sort of influences in a society. It does not need to be always a music, and it can be anything such as video images, games, or even cooking.
I was originally interested in art and majored art in college. When I began to study computer graphics, I found out that I can create music by using a computer. I learned how to use software tools, created music by myself and submitted some of my works to the contests. I happened to receive lots of awards with my works, and that’s how I started to enjoy creating music. The reason why I am making music for video game is that I simply likes playing video games, so that was a perfect fit for me.
Matt: LET IT DIE is your fourth title for Grasshopper Manufacture. How did you begin working together, and how has the creative relationship evolved with each subsequent game?
Akira Yamaoka: I can say that I was assigned to be a music composer for LET IT DIE simply because I am currently employed at Grasshopper Manufacture.
I, as individual, and Grasshopper Manufacture, as a company, do not rely on each other for any works nor career, however, I can see we both are growing together through each titles we work together.
Matt: LET IT DIE uniquely features over 100 Japanese musicians from a vast array of genres. How did you arrive at this choice for the game? Was the concept something you had been wanting to do or did the game influence the decision?
Akira Yamaoka: I came up with this idea of this campaign to feature over 100 Japanese bands and I have personally met all of them and led the project by myself.
There are 3 themes in this project.
1. “Video Game as a Media Platform”
I came up with an idea that I don’t see the video game console as a platform to play video games, but a platform to listen and discover new music.
Players listen the soundtrack/music in the video game while they play the video game, follow the game story, be immersed in the game world, and then grow attached to those music and sounds. In this theme, the video game console could be seen as a platform to discover new music you never heard before. I thought players might enjoy finding new songs and listening diverse music in LET IT DIE.
I am trying to build a new form of how the music is supposed to be, and how to listen music through this project.
2. “Breaking the Wall Between Video Game and Music Industries”
It might not be widely known, however, there are so many rules and restrictions on how to create and use music in a video game, as well as how to promote a video game with music. Video game and music seems so close each other, however there has been a hidden wall between those two.
I could not understand how those two major entertainment industries cannot interact and promote each other for a while. Especially in Japan, soundtracks of video game are almost always created by “video game music composer”. In my opinion, there should be no such limitation that only video game music composers can compose the soundtrack for video games, but any other great artists in music industry from any genres should be able to contribute their works to the music in video game industry. With this in mind, I have gathered talented Japanese bands who are creating a new music scene today in Japan to join this project.
I do hope that those bands who joined the LET IT DIE project got the idea that promoting their music in the video game industry is not that difficult as we imagined before,
and I do also hope that this project will be the starting point where video game and music industries together will create something new in the entertainment industry.
3. “Creating New Global Contents”
Video game contents can be widely distributed to the world and its power is more than what the movie industry has in my opinion. Video games have achieved their globalization since way before the term “globalization” got popular. I believe that we can spread the Japanese music through the video game and even get their interests in Japanese culture and our movements. There is a fact that people all over the world still enjoy the music in video games even with the different language used in the lyrics.
The music won’t be just music when it gets integrated with a video game or story. I want to let people among the world know that there is something more than just a video game soundtrack in LET IT DIE,. I want them to know there are new Japanese music you never heard of, Japanese music is more than anime songs, and I hope to see more new Japanese artists to be recognized worldwide, through this project.
Matt: How was the process of curating the musicians to include in the game? How did the game influence the approach of what to include?
Arika Yamaoka: I have personally selected all the musicians with my own taste, regardless of their genres and popularities. All I gave them was a phrase “LET IT DIE” and did not show them any game footage nor explain the game concept, so they can develop their song with their own theme, inspiration, and imagination they get from the phrase “LET IT DIE”. All songs are their original pieces and titled as “LET IT DIE”.
There are 100 songs called LET IT DIE, and there are 100 different patterns of LET IT DIE. All songs have different lyrics with different themes under the same title of LET IT DIE. I might should say that there are 101 LET IT DIE themes including the actual game story.
Matt: Given the contrast between a more traditional soundtrack and LET IT DIE’s high concept approach to the soundtrack, what did you find to be the most challenging with the different approach?
Akira Yamaoka: I have never featured more than 100 bands in a video game soundtrack before, however, I have been trying something new which users never experienced before and get surprised in my every work, and that’s my style. Thus, I don’t consider any projects as challenging.
Matt: Do you feel by expanding the exposure of these Japanese musicians to audiences who may not be familiar, it is bringing a much needed light to not only these individuals but also the Japanese music scene to a global level?
Akira Yamaoka: That is possible. I can say that from my own experience.
Matt: Is there any plans to release the LET IT DIE soundtrack to those of us who can’t wait to get the amazing collection of music onto heavy rotation of our personal playlists?
Akira Yamaoka: We do not have such a plan yet, but I am willing to consider.
Matt: As fans of Silent Hill we have you to thank for the sounds that many of us still hear in our nightmares to this very day! How do you feel about your time with the franchise now that you can look back on it and everything you accomplished with it?
Akira Yamaoka: Because of that opportunity and experience I had with Silent Hill, I am able to be here to have an interview with you today. I am truly thankful that I could work on that title and discovered lots of new things, as well as discovering myself.
Matt: What are your preferred tools in your own studio to create your unique compositions for either games or your outside musical endeavors?
Akira Yamaoka: I use my mouse and keyboard attached on my computer. I usually do not use any musical instruments.
We appreciate the opportunity to discuss LET IT DIE with Akira Yamaoka, his work on the soundtrack is truly inspired. You can listen to the phenomenal bands curated for the soundtrack by checking out LET IT DIE right now, available for download free for PlayStation 4.