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Interview: Sakamoto's Record-Breaking Echochrome II Soundtrack

In this interview, noted video game composer Hideki Sakamoto talks with Gamasutra about his work on Echochrome II, which has a Guinness World Record for the longest single game soundtrack composition.

August 24, 2011

8 Min Read

Author: by Jeriaska

[In this interview, noted video game composer Hideki Sakamoto talks with Gamasutra contributor Jeriaska about working on Echochrome II's Guinness World Record-holding soundtrack, and starting up his Noisycroak company and record label.] Late last year, game composer Hideki Sakamoto was officially recognized by the Guinness World Records for the music score for Echochrome II. The game is distinguished by having the longest single video game soundtrack composition in history. The record-breaking 75-minute music track can be heard uninterrupted while playing through Echochrome II, the PlayStation 3 puzzle title published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Released through the PlayStation Network, the game is works exclusively with the PlayStation Move controller. As with the original title, the player is tasked with guiding a marionette called a "cast" across a series of platforms. This time the environment is manipulated by altering the angle of light and shadow through the use of the motion sensor peripheral. Sakamoto recently released an album of orchestral renditions of his music from Echochrome and No Heroes Allowed!, titled "Hideki Sakamoto Orchestral Works." We had the chance to sit down with the composer to hear about the development of his record-setting game score and his Tokyo-based sound studio, Noisycroak. What led to the decision to introduce popular music styles to the Echochrome II soundtrack? Was this choice associated with the decision to have the entire score contained in a single track? Composer Hideki Sakamoto: Because the music score for Echochrome featured a string quartet, I thought it would be too predictable to return to the same style. Also, just a quartet might not provide enough variety to fill a score lasting 75 minutes and 7 seconds. Producer Tatsuya Suzuki suggested including the piano this time, so the feel of the music score emerged from that idea. Doing something unique has been our goal with the music score since the game series began. In the previous game, one of ten compositions performed by a string quartet were played randomly during game sessions. This was an interesting concept, but again, it was important to try something new for the sequel to the game. While I was brainstorming, Suzuki-san offered another suggestion. This was the idea of trying something very long in duration. I embraced the challenge, as I felt it was a very rare opportunity. Suzuki has been a central figure in Sony's "PlayStation CAMP" project to recruit unique, inventive talent in game design. Having worked with the producer previously on the original Echochrome, how would you describe his philosophy to providing you with feedback as a musician? Among game directors and producers, you find there are many different personalities. Some game designers will demand you do exactly what they say. However, when Suzuki-san hires you, he expects that you will bring a lot to the table and actively seeks your input. It was only during the very preliminary stages of development when he made these suggestions of having the long duration for the soundtrack and the inclusion of the piano in the quintet. He never asked me to revise any portion of the 75-minute score and basically afforded me complete freedom. Were there stylistic elements introduced to the design of Echochrome ii that informed your approach to the soundtrack? Visually the essential difference from the previous game has been the addition of color. Echochrome takes place in a corridor floating in space. This time, the cast is situated in a box and the corridor has more of the texture of wooden blocks. This was actually something I was interested in mirroring through the choice of music for the game. For example, I decided on using an upright piano rather than a grand piano so that image of wood was reflected in the music. The music incorporates the sounds of knocking on wood and flapping stacks of papers as design elements. Seeing as gameplay events would not be triggering the introduction of additional music tracks, how were you looking for the piece to develop as the game was played? It's really a very unusual experience to write a 75 minute, 7 second piece of music. Something I tried to reflect in the score was the idea that each minute represented a year of life. For example, the thirty minute mark would correspond with the life of a thirty year-old. This was something that I hoped might motivate someone to listen all the way through. Can you provide an explanation for why all of the music tracks for the Echochrome series, including the single track on the soundtrack for Echochrome II, have been named after numbers? I've always been into in mathematics and for a long time have had a particular fondness for prime numbers. There's something romantic to the notion that these special numbers can only be divided by themselves and 1. All the music tracks in Echochrome are titled after prime numbers. For Echochrome ii, I came up with the idea of applying a prime number to the length of the track. It occurred to me that 75 minutes is the maximum length a compact disc can hold. 75 minutes adds up to 4,500 seconds. Looking for prime numbers in that region, I discovered the number 4507 qualified. The soundtrack is 4,507 seconds in length and that became the name of the track. The staff of your sound studio in Tokyo has written music for many game titles, including Suzuki's PSP interactive novel Diamond and the Sound of a Gunshot. Why focus on games exclusively? For music of professional recording quality and a lengthy running time to be integrated into a game like this, a good deal of technical prowess and hard word is required. I think that to face a challenge like this one with the proper approach, you really need to be devoted to the gaming medium. That is why I founded my company Noisycroak with the mission to work only on games, rather than opening up services to film and television scores or background music for commercials. What led to your fascination with games and their music scores? I began learning piano as a child. Around the age of 10, the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System) first went on sale and I immediately became very interested in the music for those games. It shocked me that such a small number of notes could express so much, and that early I was determined to make this my occupation. That explains where I am now. The staff of Noisycroak often posts videos and details about your game scores to the web. What benefits do you see there are to posting this information online? Echochromeii_soundtracktn.jpgWhen I was young, there were no readily available resources for learning about making music for game soundtracks. The internet did not yet exist, and there were no books on the subject. There was no way to know who was creating this music, or how you could be hired as a composer. Now we have the internet and social media resources like Ustream, making it easy to share information for free. Still, few game composers are making use of it. This made me decide to go online and describe how I create music. I started these web programs to explain about the job of a game composer. Noisycroak hosts two programs. "Otoya" (Sound Guys) is a variety show where famous game composers make appearances. "Noise na Yatsura" (Noisy Folks) is dedicated to the technical side of sound design. It's meant to demonstrate how to go about developing music scores for games. The soundtrack albums to Echochrome II and Zombie Daisuki have been published through your studio. How are you looking to make products related to your game scores available for purchase in the future? This past December, we began the record label Noisycroak Records. This has made it possible for our company to publish compact discs and sheet music. Not all the details have been decided upon yet, but this will allow our music to be distributed more easily. In general, you find that whether a game soundtrack album is published depends on the sale of the game itself. I always feel let down when an outstanding game soundtrack never sees the light of day because the game didn't sell. Of course, our staff shares the same opinion. To guarantee people the chance to hear our music, we were motivated to create this record label. In closing, what would you count as your highest priorities in writing scores inspired by classical music for the Echochrome series of games? The conventional wisdom is that classical music needs to be composed in a very particular way, and as a result classical music is burdened by its rules and has remained static over the years. Classical musicians tend to read all the same books on music theory, harmony and counterpoint. Writing music, I think you should be allowed greater freedom. I really do not share the opinion that any style of music must be done a certain way. I always want to give some new idea a try, to see how things turn out. An expert on classical music might perceive that something is strange about the soundtrack to Echochrome. That doesn't bother me at all, because I feel I can do it my own way. When you attach your name to a piece of music, what counts most is that you express yourself freely. This interview is available in Japanese as part of the Videogame Music in Context DVD series and in text form on Game Design Current. Images courtesy of Noisycroak and Sony Computer Entertainment.

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