Toaplan – 1989 Composer Interview
This interview from PSG magazine, an 80s publication in Japan that focused on computer and video game music, features the Toaplan sound team as of 1990 (minus Lee Ohta). Although Uemura and Yuge’s music has been covered in detail elsewhere, this is a rare interview with Tomizawa, who did Horror Story and Zero Wing. For those seeking more on Toaplan, I recommend the liner notes collection here.
—What are each of your representative works?
Yuge: Tiger Heli, Hishouzame, and Kyuukyoku Tiger are my collaborations with Uemura, and Slap Fight, Tatsujin, and the new release Same! Same! Same! are by me.
Uemura: What about Get Star?
Yuge: That isn’t “representative.” (laughs)
Uemura: Mine are Tiger Heli, Hishouzame, Kyuukyoku Tiger, Hellfire, and Zero Wing.
Tomizawa: Only Horror Story and Zero Wing for me.
—Is your sound staff only the 3 of you?
Uemura: No, there’s also Ohta. He worked on Wardner no Mori and Dash Yarou.
—He hasn’t worked on any STGs?
Yuge: He did the music for Daisenpu.
—That makes sense. I thought it had a somewhat different atmosphere from your games. How did you get involved in composing game music?
Yuge: It was when I first joined the industry. During my interview I said I played piano during elementary school, and they just told me I would work on game music then. (laughs)
—Are you really good at piano?
Yuge: No, no, not at all. I can play nekofunjatta for you though… that’s about the level of my skill.
—Wow, then wasn’t it tough working as sound stuff?
Yuge: Yeah, it didn’t go well at first. But with experience, you know, I improved.
Uemura: For me, I came to Kyoto because I wanted to do some kind of musical work. I worked at a recording studio first for a bit, but there were some troubles there and I quit. After that I was looking through job ads and one for computer music caught my eye… at the time I didn’t know that company made games. Right now game companies are flourishing, but back then it was all just getting started. Making music with computers sounded interesting to me, and when I joined they had me start making games. Since then its just been going along.
Tomizawa: In my case, I came to Tokyo because I was interested in computer music. I went to a music school there for 2 years, and worked at a part time job for a year after that. I was into games then, and I thought I’d try making game music. I applied all over the place until I got picked up by Toaplan, and here I am. But I never studied piano, and I can’t play it at all.
—The team at Toaplan does double duty on programming and sound. Is there a reason for that?
Yuge: Because they’re cheap. (laughs) If one person can do multiple things you can save on personnel costs.
—The three of you all work as game designer, programmer, and music composer?
Uemura: I’d have to say Yuge has more work than me.
Yuge: But its also easier to come up with ideas for sound if you do the programming too.
—When composing, is there any music you refer to?
Yuge: Hmm, there are some things I’ve made use of. But if you overdo it, people will think you ripped something off. So its best to do that only for things people won’t be able to easily recognize, like drum rhythms and such.
—What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Yuge: A lot of rock, but there isn’t something specific I can point to.
Uemura: I was a heavy metal boy back in the day (laughs). Lately…
Yuge: Min’you? (laughs)
Tomizawa: I like computer music, so I listen to stuff like YMO. I also like Pink Lady, Kayoukyoku, and the Godzilla soundtrack.
—Do you have any favorite artists?
Yuge: I love Yes, and for piano music, Beethoven.
Uemura: Deep Purple was one of my first loves. I’ve always loved rock with strong melody lines, so lately I’ve been listening to European artists.
Tomizawa: I got into YMO and Kayoukyoku through Paul Mauriat.
—How do you compose your music?
Yuge: I use a keyboard at the office, and at home I use a piano.
—What about guitar?
Yuge: I also use guitar. Same! Same! Same! and Kyuukyoku Tiger were almost all composed on guitar. Tatsujin was keyboards.
—Does anyone check your work?
Uemura: For that, we share our music with the team and everyone gives their opinions.
Yuge: People who don’t make music don’t give us very clear opinions. I think they have a hard time telling us what they think, so we play the songs for them, then sneak closely behind them and listen to what they’re saying about the music. Then we revise it in secret. (laughs)
—How do you get your image for the game music?
Yuge: I do the sound effects first, and get ideas while I play through the game.
—Have you ever come up with ideas for music in interesting places?
Yuge: Mostly in the bathroom. I’ll be whistling or tapping out a rythym in the bathtub
Uemura: It happens on the train pretty often. I mostly use a keyboard to make things at the office, but since I can’t play very well, even now I can’t play the songs I’ve written. (laughs) So usually I whistle or hum things and put it all together in my head, then transcribe it.
Tomizawa: I usually get ideas on the way back from somewhere like the sento [[public bath]], while I’m in a good, relaxed mood. Then I get home and sit in front of my synthesizer, and hum the melody out as I enter it into the computer.
—You must have to hurry home so you don’t forget it. (laughs) Now I’d like to ask a bit about Zero Wing. What was your image for the music?
Yuge: For the one song I did, to be honest, it was done just after we finished Tatsujin, and the image for it was still in my mind. So I didn’t really have a clear image for Zero Wing particularly.
—Tomizawa, after you finished Horror Story, I understand Zero Wing was your first STG soundtrack. Are there any interesting episodes you had while composing for it?
Tomizawa: With Horror Story I had a lot of freedom, but for Zero Wing I had to make my compositions align with Yuge and Uemura. I had a lot of rejected tracks. I was also told my songs sounded too much like Uemura’s. I guess I’m easily influenced by others.
—Moving on to Same! Same! Same!, is that game supposed to be “Hishouzame 3”?
Yuge: I would say its more like Hishouzame 2. People usually say Kyuukyoku Tiger is the sequel to Tiger Heli.
—Did you try to tie the music into Hishouzame?
Yuge: Not particularly. The art resembles Hishouzame in a number of ways, but I handled the music as its own original work.
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