E3 2016: Akira Yamaoka Talks Let it Die, Sound Design, a Bit of Konami

In an industry that doesn’t put as much stock in the impact of audio as it does in graphical prowess, it takes a special talent to be recognized. Akira Yamaoka is one of the few composers/sound engineers to reach the height of fame. Known for creating the music and audio for the likes of Silent Hill, Contra: Hard Corps and pretty much every Grasshopper title since 2010, this is a man who went on tour based on his game music alone and came out a success. I was provided a chance to speak to the legend and did quite well at making a fool out of myself, thank you very much.

[Hardcore Gamer] So, I got to try Let It Die earlier today, and I really enjoyed the game. I very much liked what I heard as far as the music. What are you listening to these days?

[Akira Yamaoka] Flying Lotus. I’m a big fan.

So, when you are composing, do you like to intentionally bring in these influences, or do you take care to avoid sounding similar to something else?

I mostly try to separate myself out, and just take little pieces . I want to re-imagine it for myself.

I had read that you are a Nine Inch Nails fan and a fan of industrial music in general. I am what they call a “rivet head,” somebody who is a big fan of that genre of music. Any other bands you like there?

AY: I really like Ministry and Rammstein.

Ah, so you like the heavy guitars with the electronics. So, KMFDM and Pig?

Yes! Very much.

But that last Ministry album, though. (From Beer to Eternity) I wasn’t a fan of it…

Well, because Ministry had such a long career, I felt that they were more trying to experiment.

Yeah… I remember reading somewhere that Al Jourgensen said that they were breaking up because they can’t put out a good album when a Democrat is the president. 

Ah, that sounds right.

Silent Hill Music
So, back to games: Sound is very important in games, something that more people are realizing. Still, most of the audience focuses on the visuals. So you feel, just as a whole, that audio is underrepresented in the industry?

I feel like the industry doesn’t actually focus on sound, though much of the responsibility falls on the composer or sound designer [to stand out]. You will see individuals who stand out, but others will make excuses like “oh, they don’t care about sound. I don’t have to try.” There needs to be more…well, all of the composers really need to up their game (if they want to be acknowledged.)

When you were doing the music for Let It Die, what were you hoping to make the player feel?

Because it is an action/survival horror (game), I wanted to get that tense feeling into the music. That’s were my starting point was for the music, the sound design. I worked hard to make everything work together.

Going back to the question beforehand, with how sound should be more important in games: I feel it is also important to incorporate more mainstream orchestras and bauhaus. I feel that game music should be more of a collection of sound design, as opposed to traditional music. I would like to see more incorporated sound design in the games industry.

Well, that philosophy is part of what made Silent Hill and Lollipop Chainsaw so effective. In Silent Hill,  you had those ethereal, creepy sounds going on. In Lollipop Chainsaw, it was this mixture of bubblegum pop and then you threw Atari Teenage Riot in there. Because you focused so much on the feel, the sound elevated the games to be more effective. The music in Lollipop made it feel…more badass. (to the interpreter: Please tell me that there is a better translation…)

(They laugh at me. It was deserved.) Thank you.

Shadows of the Damned
You’ve worked for Konami, who is now known worldwide for not being the best with their employees. Now, of course, you work for Grasshopper. So, is it very different, or is Konami receiving too much criticism?

In terms of Konami, it’s kind of a complicated situation. At the same time, the game industry, the entertainment industry have to care for the clients first. We must please them. Konami has their business where they want it to be. The reason I went to Grasshopper was simply because I wanted to do some new, innovative stuff. Grasshopper is more focused on innovation than Konami.

So, it wasn’t as bad to work there as everybody said at the time. But, obviously, you made a good move.

(Laughs) (For the record, I only try to interpret and note what I know I was think or feeling at the time. This is an exception. Despite his statements, his laughter sounded relieved.)

Are there any other projects that you are looking forward to working on besides Let It Die? I’m not trying to get you to talk about something that you cannot yet, of course.

I am working on something else right now, but I cannot reveal anything about it, yet.

Game or solo project?

Games…though I am working on some elements that aren’t linked to traditional gaming. I’m hoping that you look forward to that surprise element.

Lollipop Chainsaw
I will! So, it’s time for my normal interview closer: what is the one question that people would ask you that nobody ever does?

That’s a good question.

HG: Nah. That is my “I’m not a very good interviewer, so do my job for me” question.

(Laughs)  Nobody ever asks me about my favorite motto.

Okay. So what is you favorite motto?

You first.

Okay. It’s not so much a motto, but I like to tell people “They all know what you did.”

Mine is “Compromise is the equivalent of death.”

(And this is why you never try to negotiate a business deal with Akira Yamaoka.)

Image: Electric Bloom Webzine