Interview: Silent Hill Composer Akira Yamaoka

by Manu G.,

Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka, renowned for his work on Silent Hill's soundtrack, attended this year's Granada FicZone. He's also credited for many other video game scores such as Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw, and Killer Is Dead. At the convention this year, he gave a concert for his Spanish fans. We talked to him about his career as a musician, his relationship with Konami, and his thoughts on the future of video game music.

It's impossible not to think about Silent Hill when your name is brought up. How much would you say working on the franchise has boosted your career?

Silent Hill has influenced my life like nothing else. I'm here because of Silent Hill. Yeah, I've worked in some TV series and movies, but for the world outside Japan, Akira Yamaoka is Silent Hill. It's the 100% mark of my life.

It's been a while without new Silent Hill games. Do you ever feel nostalgic about those years?

Not really (laughs). But it's true that I really enjoy working on Silent Hill, and I'd love to get back to the series if there's a chance for that.

Is there even a chance given Konami's current situation?

My relationship with Konami is not broken (laughs). As an individual, I still have ties with everybody working in the company. So if there's a chance of more Silent Hill, I'll get back to producing some music for them.

Talking about horror games, what would you say is the key to create a good game soundtrack?

It's about the timing. While listening to horror soundtracks, if you get the same sounds over and over, you get used to that and lose the feeling of fear. So it's important to create changeable music, like a rollercoaster that sometimes increases its intensity and sometimes decreases it. The thing is being able to measure how long those ups and downs last.

Does this approach affect your way of composing music for the games specifically?

Sure. It's not a movie, so every player can take a different time to pass through an environment or scene. What I do is meet with programmers to kind of estimate the time that players will spend in each part of the game. Once I have that information, I compose the music.

Being a horror game composer working in Japan, what are your thoughts on the country's game industry?

Well, we can create good stories, but when it comes to the video games themselves, I would say western productions are better. Yeah, there's some originality in Japanese video games, but they're worse than western ones on a technical level.

While working on your last game at Grasshopper Manufacture, Let it Die, you said you wanted to “break the wall between video game and music industries”. How did it go?

Besides soundtracks for video games, there's not a lot of music coming out of Japan to a global market. Traditional music and even other genres are not really popular outside the country. So my idea was to change that. I put some Japanese traditional music in Let it Die so it could be listened to wherever you are through your PlayStation. The influence video games have should be used to break that wall.

Do you think video games and music are going to keep overlapping in these ways in the future?

I don't think the relationship between music and video games is going to change, but I do think it's going to change the way we interact with video game music. Right now, people can listen to it outside the game, through their computers, smartphones, or CDs. In the next few years, people interested in video game music will be able to listen to it easily through their consoles outside of playing the game. Although consoles are mostly used to play video games right now, some new applications will make people able to enjoy music from video games outside of that.

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