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Akira Yamaoka :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on April 30, 2008.

Born on February 6, 1968 in Niigata, Akira Yamaoka is a Konami employee that has worked on the Silent Hill series as a composer, sound director, and, more recently, producer. He was captivated from an early age by a myriad of popular musicians he found to have a persuasive and original sound. His earliest memory was being blown away by Visage's "Moon Over Moscow" when he heard it on the radio and, in his teenage years, enjoyed the music of Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Metallica, Angelo Badalamenti, and Vangelis, among others. After buying a computer while at high school, he learnt about sequencing and started composing for a punk rock band he set up, having enjoyed the genre since it was first conceived. However, he hoped to become a designer as opposed to a musician, so studied product design and interior at the Tokyo Art College. This influence nevertheless was reflected in his future compositions as, after seeing the bands Visage and Japan successfully combining art and music, he was inspired to do the same. He would continue to do so throughout his career as a game composer, having adopted the philosophy that art and music are interrelated by self-expression. During his education, he also developed strong opinions, particularly about music, and has confidently expressed them often to controversy. While an avid gamer, he has never listened to game music for personal enjoyment, for example, stating that he believes many of its composers are shallow people creating music as a side business. Nevertheless, he contemplated becoming a game composer after graduating college, confident of the influence he could have and interested in using inspiration from games to create music.

After pursuing a career as a freelance composer in his early twenties, Yamaoka made his video game debut on Jerry Boy. Afterwards, he found stable work when he was recruited at Konami in September 1993 and initially co-composed the two versions of Sparkster; due to limitations of the hardware specifications, the project brought considerable trial and error, but his compositions were fresh and hard-edged. On behalf of the 1994 Sega CD version of Snatcher, Yamaoka had a role as a sound designer; he enjoyed sound programming and sound effects design in this demanding project, feeling his capabilities should extend beyond just composition and arrangement to creating sound itself. For the PlayStation, he adopted a similar role for another Snatcher remake and the RPG Vandal Hearts, and also added a rock touch to two themes on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In 1996, he co-composed the fighting game Lightning Legend and rewrote the score for the PlayStation port of the Arcade game Road Rage (aka Speed King); initially assigned to port the latter's original music, he was disappointed with its sleazy sound and created a dynamic cyber-flavoured new score incorporating a variety of electronic styles. For International Superstar Soccer Pro '97 and its sequel, he offered a club sound to reflect the style's popularity at the time, featuring break beats influenced by The Prodigy. He subsequently composed a chirpy and upbeat score for the puzzle game Poy Poy (aka Poyter's Point) and a rock- and techno-based accompaniment to another fighter, Kensei: Sacred Fight (aka Bugi). None of these projects provided Yamaoka with recognition, though their scores were often accomplished.

In 1999, Yamaoka volunteered to create the sound for the survival horror title Silent Hill, under the believe that he was the only Konami employee capable of this role since its concept planning. With the exception of the inappropriate vocal theme "Esperándote", Yamaoka was responsible for everything related to the sound of the game. Wanting to make the differentiation between other scores in the genre, he opted to compose mostly using industrial ambience and experimental noise despite never listening to the genres otherwise. He carefully created the score early in the game's production to be representative of its cold and rusty environments, using descriptions of scenes to inspire him. The score's main purpose was to be psychologically disturbing, however, and this was principally why Yamaoka opted for a relentless unmelodic sound. His other roles included meticulously creating numerous sound effects for the game, engineering and programming the sound into the limited PlayStation hardware, and mixing its soundtrack release after finalising the track selection. Indeed, in a project that would normally require six to eight people, Yamaoka competently dealt with all aspects alone. While the soundtrack did not appeal to all on a stand-alone basis, the sound came together excellently with the other aspects of the game and was a landmark achievement for video game audio. The same year, Yamaoka created his first composition for the Bemani line of music games, "Love This Feelin' (Remix)", for Dance Dance Revolution 2nd ReMIX. This small role encouraged him to return to create over twenty more compositions for the beatmania and Dance Dance Dance Revolution Max series. He subsequently created compositions for the new movies and title screen in the PlayStation 2 compilation Gradius III & IV.

Over an extended period, Yamaoka worked on 2001's Silent Hill 2. The game exploited the PlayStation 2's hardware to become more advanced in terms of interactivity, graphics, and sound quality. Yamaoka's score was psychologically affecting like its predecessor, but more emotionally expressive and stylistically rich. The Japanese and European soundtrack releases, while only featuring a specially selected collection of the game's themes, were big hits and rock tracks like "Theme of Laura" and "Promise" were especially popular. In order to enhance the interactivity of the title, he worked especially hard making a large number of realistic sound effects, creating 200 footstep sounds alone. Following its completion, he requested he compose the Arcade shooter Contra: Shattered Soldier (aka Shin Contra), having loved the series' previous instalments. Joined by Sota Fujimori, he retained the characteristically intense feel of the series through ferocious electric guitar-driven stage and boss themes. On Silent Hill 3, his responsibilities increased again when he took on the role of producer. As a consequence, Yamaoka was responsible for the game's concept and implementation in a massively time-consuming and tiring role. He focused on increasing the element of interactivity that he considered so integral in the distinction between video games and movies. The score was largely continuous with Silent Hill 2's, but Yamaoka made some innovations; he produced alternative rock vocal tracks sung by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Joe Romersa and collaborated with Swedish band Interlace to produce its soundtrack's bonus track. Following its production, he produced two remixes of the McGlynn for Dance Dance Revolution Extreme.

Yamaoka returned as producer and sound director for 2004's Silent Hill 4 The Room. On this project, he and director Masashi Tsuboyama created a psychological focus and claustrophobic atmosphere reflective by a first person perspective and, as inspired by Ryu Murakami's book Coin Locker Babies, the concept of 'The Room'. The soundtrack mixed rhythmically compelling ambience with more vocal themes by McGlynn and Romersa and, in its Japanese release, was packaged with Inescapable Rain in Yoshiwara, a dramatic story narrated by Teisui Ichiryusai featuring Yamaoka's background music. For the first time, there was a limited edition American soundtrack featuring remixes and original compositions not available on the Japanese and European releases, while Silent Hill 4 Robbie Tracks featured experimental remixes inspired by European electronica artists. Around the same time, Yamaoka composed two guitar-based tracks for the fighter Rumble Roses and took a slightly larger role on its sequel, all the while continuing creating tracks to the beatmania IIDX and pop'n music franchises. In early 2006, Yamaoka released his first solo album, iFUTURELIST. The album contrasted greatly from what Silent Hill music enthusiasts were used to, upbeat, energetic, infectious, and often complete off-the-wall. The composer explored a variety of dance music and electronica, particularly from European artists, while expressing much individuality. Most tracks featured vocals, including Yamaoka's own on three, while a few were related to tracks he made on the Silent Hill and beatmania IIDX series. Though not all warmed to it, it provided a fascinating insight into Yamaoka's musicality.

In the last year, Yamaoka's Silent Hill music has reached other media. In 2006, Yamaoka was the executive producer of the film adaptation Silent Hill. Despite not composing any new works, he oversaw Jeff Danna's integration and arrangement of over 30 of his game compositions throughout the movie. The perfectionistic composer described himself as 70% satisfied with the final result. The same year, Silent Hill's music was performed live for the first time when PLAY! A Video Game Symphony made its Chicago premiere; accompanied by a full orchestra, Yamaoka stunned audiences with his electric guitar performance of an arrangement of "Theme of Laura" and returned to the tour a year later for two Stockholm concerts. Also on the concert front, Yamaoka created a live stage at 2007's Extra: Hyper Game Music Concert with Norihiko Hibino dedicated to Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid. Also produced by Yamaoka, the PSP prequel Silent Hill Origins to considerable critical acclaim. Its soundtrack both captured the essence of the game and established the stylistic origins of the series with a mixture of vocal themes and ambient pieces. Silent Hill: Homecoming has also completed production and is due for September release. Yamaoka, principally excited by the increase in graphics potential and memory of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, took the role of the game's producer and sound director. Yamaoka has also recently announced he is directing an untitled project. He is also keen to one day produce an arranged album of Silent Hill music, intending to collaborate with various international artists to do so. What can we expect to see next? Always a visionary into the next big thing, Yamaoka can't wait to surprise us.