playforjapan1_coverLast week we heard from musician Yasunori Mitsuda on his participation in the Play For Japan charity album. In this follow-up, project organizer Akira Yamaoka discusses the creation of the fundraising initiative.

Yamaoka, chief sound officer at Grasshopper Manufacture, reached out to various game composers from around the world to participate, among them indie game creator Laura Shigihara. Joining this interview are two additional participants.

Mitsuto Suzuki is one of three composers currently writing music for Square Enix's upcoming role-playing game Final Fantasy XIII-2. His original albums In My Own Backyard and Neurovision have both been published on the Square Enix Music record label. For the Play For Japan album, the artist participated independently, providing the original composition "Play For You."

Hip Tanaka.β performs chiptunes, techno and electronica at clubs and cafes in Tokyo. Last year his original compositions were remixed by Baiyon, art and music director on the independently developed PixelJunk Eden, for their EP In the Collaborations 03. On Play For Japan: The Album, he expands on his Famicom-era tunes on track "HVC-1384," an homage to R.O.B. the Robot, aka HVC-012.

We had the chance to hear from the three musicians on their music for Play For Japan. Further discussions on the making of the album can be found on Gamasutra and IndieGames.com.

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Akira Yamaoka at Grasshopper Manufacture in Tokyo

Being based in Tokyo, how would you describe your response to newspaper and television reports related to the Tohoku earthquake?

Akira Yamaoka: As a citizen of Japan, it had a tremendous impact on me. It awoke feelings of concern and anxiety, emotions that I think will persists here following the tragedy.

I have observed many people reevaluating their priorities as a direct result of this experience. In all regions of Japan, people became motivated following the earthquake to contribute however they could toward the recovery. There have been considerable stresses experienced throughout the country, but now I believe a positive attitude about the future is emerging throughout Japan.

Grasshopper Manufacture's sound team has uploaded the Otomodachi songs, dedicated to those encountering hardships due to the earthquake and tsunamis. How did this activity, your charity iPhone application and auctions, lead to organizing this album?

Directly following the earthquake, I was touched by the outpouring of well wishes I received from people from all over the world. It was this widespread concern for our situation that encouraged me to strengthen my will and respond.

Over the years, as a game creator, I have maintained contact with composers based in various geographical regions, all working in the game industry. With this aspect of my profession in mind, moved by all of the heartfelt messages that I had received through email, I felt inspired to act on those feelings. This was what led to "PFJ." Bringing game composers from around the world together to lend their artistic strengths to this album was my way of expressing hope for the future.

Looking back on the making of the album, what were you interested in communicating through your original composition "Ex Animo"?

Of course with such negative consequences of the earthquake in mind, my initial idea was to write something hopeful. On further consideration, what I felt was equally important was expressing my own musical style.

There are a wide variety of musical approaches contained in the PFJ album. As with the music these artists have written in the past, there is a strong sense of personality underlying each track. In one album there are numerous expressions of individuality. That is what has inspired me, in my music for the album, to express my own uniqueness.

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Mitsuto Suzuki, composer of In My Own Backyard and Neurovision

Akira Yamaoka praised your album In My Own Backyard. Would you describe the artist as having played a significant role in your career as a musician?

I would say that Akira-san is someone that always reaches for the stars, while keeping his feet on the ground. Having that kind of personality makes it easy to look up to him as an artist. Beyond those characteristics, I admire the breadth of his experience and that his spirit of curiosity makes it possible for him able to adapt to any circumstances.

He wrote that comment about my solo album when it was released, and since then we have often hung out together. Among my friends, I consider him one of the most thought-provoking artists.

As you are based in Japan, could you tell us how you have observed game creators and composers in the country lending their skills toward recovery efforts following the earthquake?

backyard_tn.jpgI think that everyone has responded to this situation by asking what they themselves can do. For musicians, that means creating music, and for artists that means creating art.

For myself, I'm the type of person that can never feel satisfied just thinking about the negative consequences. I feel compelled to do something. It therefore makes me very glad to have the chance to join this effort in the hopes that my abilities can be put to good use.

How would you compare "Play For You" on the new compilation with the music found on your original albums?

Apart from when it's serving the purpose a given game, all of my music is written in the same creative mode. The date of arrival is the most significant change when I set about writing something new. The central theme of this song is communicated in the lyrics: PLAY MORE MUSIC, PLAY FOR YOU.

It's a somewhat specialized interpretation of the language, because ordinarily the meaning of these words carries other connotations. It's rare that I mix old school electronic music and more modern audio design, so to me the process had a special kind of appeal. After I was invited to contribute to the album, I wrote "Play For You" in just two days.

On this album I am contributing independently, as an individual, but my participation was made possible only through the support of Square Enix.

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Baiyon and Hip Tanaka.β in Tokyo

In your observation as the president of Creatures Inc, would you say there are ways in which companies in Japan are responding to the crisis that people outside the country might want to be aware of?

Hip Tanaka.β: Well, this is something that is affecting the entirety of Japan and significant problems are continuing to arise to this day. Corporate life aside, simply as a person residing in Japan the sense of tragedy is difficult to put into words.

As is reflected in your Play For Japan contribution, you are known for having been an innovator in music and engineering. How would you describe the ways in which your engineering background has guided the design of your music?

I think what got me started was discovering a kind of magic to music, something that can't be reduced to notes on a page. For instance, there's the impression of delay and echo effects, the complex temporal orientation of sound emitted from the left and right speakers, to say nothing of overall sound structure and organization.

There are properties to music that standard compositional practices often overlook. I find that in freeing myself of such self-imposed limitations, I can enter the domain where the elusive magic in the music is found.

When you've performed at live events like the EXTRA Hyper Game Music Event, Blip Festival Tokyo and Cheapbeats, your stage names have included Hip Tanaka.ex, Acerola Beach and Otona Buranko. Are they meant to reflect an alternative stage identity or musical style?

Not all of those stage names are active at the same time and aren't clearly delineated. Mainly I go by "Hip Tanaka something-or-other" when I am working on Nintendo-esque game music. When it comes to writing something new, remixing other artists' songs as a DJ, or mixing my own stuff, that's when I'm taking on pseudonyms like Acerola Beach and Otona Buranko.

On the Play For Japan website, there is mention of your music as "Hip Tanaka.β" being intended for a series of projects. Would you be able to describe them any further at this time?

Lately, there are three things motivating me to use the name Hip Tanaka.β.
 
First, my inspiration to write music began with work in the game industry at Nintendo. For the past five years I've been remixing my game-related music tracks composed during my time at Nintendo. Through this process, I came to rediscover the appeal of music created and remixed by DJs in the club scene, and I found myself getting more and more fascinated by it.
 
Second, I became reacquainted with the beauty of 8-bit sound sources through relationships with friends who enjoy "chiptune" music outside of gaming. 
 
Third, as a music enthusiast, to this day I still listen to reggae, techno and rock music and enjoy these genres very much.
 
Acknowledging these three interests, I resolved to compose music that is purely aimed at expressing the entirety of my personal interests. This would be a departure from what I've done up to now during my time at Nintendo and as a composer for the Pokemon animated series.

[This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current. Images courtesy of Play For Japan - A Game Industry Relief Effort and Square Enix. Translation by Yoko Wyatt. Photo of Mitsuto Suzuki courtesy of Square Enix. Other photos by Jeriaska. For more information on the artists, see the official websites for Grasshopper Manufacture, Square Enix Music and Sporadic Vacuum.]