Interview: Michiru Yamane

The legendary and so far one and only performance of Castlevania: The Concert took place in the Stockholm Concert Hall in 2010. Prior to the concert, I was invited to a press conference where I got the opportunity to meet Michiru Yamane, the composer of the brilliant soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Did you get surprised when the guys behind this concert contacted you?

Yes, definitely!

What are your impressions of Sweden so far?

When I exchanged my money at Narita airport, I noticed that there actually is sheet music on the Swedish 50 crown bills and I immediately thought “what a wonderful country this is!”. So, you should not change to euros in Sweden; better keep the sheet music on the crown bills!

How did you end up becoming a video game music composer?

I have been playing video games since I was young. I played Pac-Man, the first Mario game and so on. At the time, it was not easy to find a full time job where you could get paid to compose music. When I was about to graduate from university and was looking for a job, one day I found an ad and it just happened to be for a job at Konami. So this was my first job, but my goal had not really been to become a video game music composer; I just happened to end up in the business. And now I have composed music for video games for over 20 years, so although it was not a specific decision by me to end up being a video game music composer, I just became one and obviously liked it.

Tell us about your first assignment as a video game music composer at Konami.

My first assignment was to compose the main theme to the NES game Legend of the Fairy Lisa, a game about singstars. Later on I composed some fanfares and jingles to Track & Field. This was in 1988.

How was it to begin working with such a limited technology as the NES? Was it an interesting challenge or just frustrating?

First and foremost it was a challenge. It was interesting to see how the other composers expressed themselves just by using three sound channels. And now when looking back, I can’t believe that we actually worked like that!

How did you get involved in composing music to the Castlevania series?

The first music I composed for this series was the music to Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Mega Drive. I felt a lot of pressure since this was a game series known for both good graphics and very good sound and music.

Did you feel that you had a lot of freedom when composing the music or did you try to get the same feeling as previous composers?

I was told to listen to the music from the previous games and the instruction I got was to follow the theme and not to break from this when composing the music. During this time, I now and then met for me unknown employees, for example in the elevator, asking me if I was the composer for the music to the new Castlevania game. I said ”yes” and then got comments like “make sure you do a good job”. I didn’t feel less pressure from getting such comments, haha!

Violinist Maria Eklund, Michiru Yamane and producer/organist Erik Eklund

In Symphony of the Night you showed skills in composing many different styles of music. What was your favorite style to compose?

Up until then, I had not composed any rock music so that part was the most interesting for me. Before starting to compose the music, I listened to a lot of rock to get inspiration and tried to mix in this type of music in the game. Also, I got a lot of inspiration just by looking at the beautiful graphics of the game, for example the chapel; the part where you walk on stairs. Another memorable experience was to produce ambient background music; for example there is an underground lake where there are a lot of bats flying around and it was quite special to create the right atmosphere there.

Did you feel that it was a relief to have the opportunity to create music more freely then?

Partly I was actually relieved to finally be able to use real instruments. When I composed the music to Bloodlines the FM sound chip was used and it was rather limited. So partly it was fun to be able to finally use real sounds and I was partly relieved, yes.

What type of equipment did you use when composing the music to Symphony of the Night?

What we used for Symphony of the Night was an Akai sampler that we connected to a computer and used an application called Logic, which I actually happen to use up until today. There was also this other sampler called Pro Tools that I used but at that time it was not live music that we recorded although the sampler could simulate almost anything. So, from this time we could actually start making music that at least sounded as it was recorded with live instruments. We actually had a guitarist and a singer involved as well.

In the middle: Erik Eklund (producer/organist), David Westerlund (producer) and Michiru Yamane

Is there any specific reason for you not to compose the music to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? Will you continue to compose music for the Castlevania series or is that a closed chapter for you?

Well, it’s both a closed chapter and not because after Symphony of the Night there have been many different people composing music for the Castlevania series and before I was involved there were other composers involved in the series. And sometimes the developers change the attitude of the music, so in that aspect I feel that Symphony of the Night is a closed chapter for itself, but at the same time there is this soundtrack box which is to be released in the end of March which contains about every piece of music for Castlevania ever and for that one I have done two special arrangements. So, I’m still involved in some Castlevania projects and if there will be a possibility to compose music for new Castlevania games, I would definitely be interested.

When did you realize that you have fans all over the world?

The first time I realized this was when an American journalist came to interview me when Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was about to be released in 2003. He told me that I have a lot of fans all over the world and I thought like ”do I?”. Shortly thereafter I went to E3 and met a lot of fans there and attended interviews. That was the first time I realized that ”oh, this game is actually quite popular abroad”.

When you composed the music to Symphony of the Night, did you have in mind that your music could someday be performed live?

Well, when I was composing the music for Symphony of the Night, I never thought in my wildest dreams that the day would come when this music was going to be performed live. However, for some of the tracks I actually thought “what if this would be performed live someday”.

When was the first time you performed your Castlevania music in front of an audience?

It was in Leipzig in 2006 when I performed ”Wood Carving Partita” at the Symphonic Game Music Concert, the first ever video game concert in Europe. I was quite nervous at that time, but it was a really memorable moment to perform my own music in front of a crowd.

You left Konami in 2008 to become a freelance composer. How is that different from being an employee?

The biggest difference is that I can decide how to spend my days and that I can compose music for games not published by Konami. I left Konami mainly to get the opportunity to choose freely which projects to work on. I thought it was about time considering me working at the company for over 20 years. I think that creators of all kinds prefer this kind of freedom.

Have you considered making a solo album?

Yes, it would indeed be an exciting project. I actually have done some solo stuff, for example on the Akumajo Dracula Best Music Collections Box, considering that there are two newly composed tracks by me on it. Other than that, I have also made two arrangements of old Castlevania tracks and additionally five arrangements of my own Castlevania music.

Do you have any personal favorite game music composers?

I am very fond of the music by Hitoshi Sakimoto and of course Nobuo Uematsu. There are many skilled composers in the games industry, but lately I have also come to like the music of Yoko Kanno who is also composing music for films and animation.

Do you have any thoughts on future development of your composition skills?

I find it especially interesting when a third part is involved in the process, like in previously mentioned two arranged pieces I made for the Castlevania soundtrack box. Aside from a few collaborations, there has mainly been me and the computer. I think it would be interesting to collaborate more in the future.