Zuntata – 2009 Composer Interview
This lengthy interview with Hisayoshi "OGR" Ogura and music team Zuntata was featured in the Darius Odyssey book published last year. It covers the history of the series, from the original arcade Darius to Dariusburst on the PSP. It was translated by rancor from shmupforums, who runs the Tokyo Shmups! store that specializes in doujin shmups and related goods. rancor has graciously allowed it to be hosted here at shmuplations.
Katsuhisa Ishikawa: Works as a sound engineer for Zuntata. Recently he took care of total sound design often. For Dariusburst he was responsible for both sound direction and sound effects design. Notable compositions – Metal Black (sound effects), Darius Gaiden (sound effects), Psychic Force series (sound director)
Shohei Tsuchiya: Works as a composer for Zuntata. He takes part in creating music for products ranging from arcade games to mobile applications. He is renowned for his wide range of music sense. For Dariusburst, he acted as the main composer. Notable compositions – Haunted Museum.
Hirokazu Koshio: Works as a composer for Zuntata. He takes part in not only composing but also developing sound development aiding tools and sound systems by making use of his deep knowledge of sound software. Notable compositions – Space Invader Extreme series, Music Gungun! series.
Hisayoshi Ogura (ex-Zuntata): Works as a freelancer currently after having created numerous reputable music under the name OGR for Zuntata. For him, “music” should provide visually active experiences and fuse sounds and images. He was one of the composers of the production of Dariusburst. Notable compositions – Darius Series, Arkanoid, Kageno Densetsu, Galactic Storm, Kiki KaiKai.
Echoing Life’s Pulse In The Universe
The story of the grand battle behind the Darius series – what are the unknown tales from the sound magicians behind the making of this series? For the first time, the secret production story from the Darius sound crew is revealed.
—Ogura, would you please talk about the concepts and methods for composing the music?
Ogura: Since I am the type of person who cannot compose music without first coming up with words and letters, I begin by selecting the right keywords. I could not have composed the music for the Darius series without these keywords I’ve conceptualized. To achieve these ideas, I search for inspiration that my musical antenna would catch as I read a book or take a walk around the town. That’s how I found the keywords needed for the composition. The keywords often reflect the title of the music. For instance, the theme for the score VISIONNERZ of Darius Gaiden was “illusionary sight.” I first decided on a music title that reflected the theme, and it guided me to completion.
—The first Darius was loaded with Body Sonic1 which had an enormous impact. How did you compose for it?
Ogura: The soundboard for Darius was special. It was made of two FM sound chips that each could produce three sounds. Each chip was turned into data after the three sounds were grouped together, and both chips had to be played at the same time. But, a glitch in the design could cause them to play out of sync. Because the company’s sequencer at the time was an inconvenient type that used hexadecimal, it was quite difficult to fix the time lag. The adjustment of the volume balancer was tricky too. Volume in general gives different impressions to people depending on their physical condition that day (laugh).
Ishikawa: I have heard that Darius’s Body Sonic was created simply by switching the low tone “on” and “off.” For works after Ninja Warriors, a part of the available PSG channels was allotted to Body Sonic, which was vibrated by synchronizing it with the explosions; in Darius, however, it would start vibrating only when you entered the boss zone.
—Three years after that, the sequel Darius II was released. Do you have any interesting episodes from this entry in the series?
Ogura: Darius’s music was composed under constant pressure. Since the first Darius was a success, the release of sequels could be expected, but coming up with the keywords to meet those expectations was hard. Hints for composing Darius II came from the Bible. The keyword derived from the chapter taking about “child of light,” the music was composed based on it. And in response to the request to incorporate the voice of a child calling “papa” from afar, the cry of the child gets clearer as the stages progress.
—Is that idea linked to the fetus boss (Biostrong) as he appears in Darius II?
Ogura: It was just a coincidence (laugh). You must have seen Biostrong while the game was being developed, but it was not the source for the idea. Composing starts both simultaneously and separately from game development, so it is extremely rare that game images are available while the compositions are being written. As such, verbal specifications are usually given for what it needed.
—I never knew that. I had the impression that all last stage bosses in the Darius series appear synchronized with the music; that being the case, I thought the game development was done before the composition began, especially for the last stage in Darius Gaiden.
Ogura: Darius Gaiden was a special case. For example, synchronization was applied consciously to both the concepts, screens, and sounds. The sound direction was adjusted by constantly communicating with the programmers. The last stage begins with no music but only sound effects first, and then the music starts when the climax arrives.
Ishikawa: That type of direction is used in Dariusburst too. In the last stage, the same music continues from the beginning all the way to the scene where the boss appears, and the tone of the music changes when the boss finally shows up. I got the idea from the method used in Darius Gaiden.
—G-Darius is regarded as a new starting point of the series, does the sound used in it also reflect that concept?
Ogura: Not really, I wasn’t aware of that because the story given to me was really simple. I didn’t even know the tagline “You Will Witness the Birth of Life” until the game was released (laugh). At the time, I was studying about chimeras created by immunology, and used what I learned as the concept for the music in G-Darius. The theme was that the enemy is the fusion of a biological being and a machine. Coincidentally, the image of the music I developed based on that theme matched up with the developer’s concept.
—I have been asking about the making of the first Darius through G-Darius, but what are the most memorable works for you, Ogura?
Ogura: In terms of direction, it is Darius Gaiden. I myself am fond of the idea to play the same music through both stages 1 and 2.
—The bonus CD album contains a compilation called OGR SELECTION which you personally choose the tunes to be included, what standard did you use in order to pick them?
Ogura: When I got the offer, I had no idea how to choose the music. Once I started selecting songs, I realized that it was impossible to compose the selection with the 7 pieces of music. This selection is not what I consider “The Best”, but I rather tried to select the pieces that would tell a complete story. The first tune is CHAOS and the seventh is KIMERA II, that was already decided at the beginning, but the order and arrangement of the rest was up to me, and it was hard to do. I was not sure if it was a good idea to include the tune FAKE, or if the fifth track should be DADA or NETWORK, and I only completed it after repeated trial and error.
—Ishikawa, From your point of view as the producer of this bonus album, what was your impression of the OGR SELECTION?
Ishikawa: I honestly thought the album came out fine reflecting what Ogura’s music is all about. I was worried that he would choose a tune like Captain Neo, which plays in the stage 1 of Darius, caring for Zuntata (laugh).
—The bonus CD album doesn’t only include OGR SELECTION but also the Super Famicom version of Darius Twin tunes. Why did you include them?
Ishikawa: That’s purely fan service. To add premium value to the sum of the Darius ODYSSEY series, I thought it was appropriate to include Darius Twin which is not available on CD yet. Darius Twin’s music was composed by an outside contractor. But the direction and programming were done by us, so I guess you can say Darius Twin is a work of Zuntata. Aside from Darius Twin, there is SAGAIA GAME BOY version that is not available on CD yet, but it is going to be downloadable on iTunes Store as of December 2009. With this one too, you will be surprised it was created with only 3 simple sounds and some noises.
The Latest Work Dariusburst – Sound Making Behind the Scenes
—Ogura, Tsuchiya and Koshio, the three of you participated in the composition of the music in Dariusburst. What were you thinking about while making the sounds?
Ogura: In hindsight, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the keywords in making the tunes were “prime numbers.” Although the way the producer Aoki expressed it and the way I did it were different, the belief that Darius sounds should be one of a kind was completely the same for us. The image I had in mind during the composition of the music was the establishment of a “network without a core” and “multi-dimensional structure,” but when I began thinking about the titles for the music, it became the keywords “prime numbers,” which were basically the words that related to the numbers that don’t have any divisors other than themselves. But there was more than meets the eye to it – a lot. Then I changed the thinking process for a bit, and came up with titles using some English words and numbers that had meaning to them, and then when I researched about them further, I found that those meaningful numbers themselves were prime numbers. It was also the case with G-Darius: these coincidental chemical reactions have been responsible for the creasion of the music for the Darius series (laugh).
Tsuchiya: I began using a different approach to that of Ogura. I started by not feeling the atmosphere, but the words. Plus I haven’t heard any of Ogura’s music for Darius since I heard it once at the beginning of the project. Actually I tried not to. It was simply impossible to interfere with Ogura’s already existing world. What I was working on was to create music that lives up to what people expected in Dariusburst, and I hadn’t heard Ogura’s Dariusburst music till recently.
—My impression on listening to the music by both Ogura and Tsuchiya was that as if you two had met up and composed the music together in a secretive meeting regarding the unified sprit you felt in the sounds.
Tsuchiya: That coincidence is what makes Darius sounds so interesting in my opinion. Although I was conscious the whole time not to be aware of the sounds Ogura created, but the end result has all the essences that Darius sounds should have. That proves to me that Darius itself has the definitive presence that determines the way the music sounds, no mater who makes it.
Ishikawa: This time around, we asked Ogura to join as a sound team member while Tsuchiya was chosen to be the main composer. As the sound director, I was relieved to get responses from people who heard Tsuchiya’s music that it was undoubtedly the Darius sound (laugh).
—Was there any problem you had to overcome before you started composing?
Koshio: First of all I made some demos, but was told by Ishikawa they were not fitting for Darius (laughs). Then I thought again what the Darius sound was all about, by listening to Ogura’s past Darius music. Finally I came to the conclusion that the music of Dariusburst exists somewhere and has nothing to do with the worldview of Darius that Ogura has created with his music up to now, which have so far been merely impressions of Darius… For me, actual direction for the composition only became apparent after having listened to Tsuchiya’s music. Tsuchiya’s music was new and well represented Darius’s world.
Ishikawa: As the sound director, regarding the Dariusburst’s music creation, I was nervous what kind of music Tsuchiya and Koshio would come up with after telling them to create something new instead of mimicking Ogura’s style. After all, I figured that most users were anticipating a Darius world created by Ogura. Honestly, in the beginning of the production, I was thinking that it was such a pain in the butt to direct it due the undeniable impact Ogura had created in the past (laughs). But Dariusburst was the only chance to show the world what Zuntata could do in its present progressive form.
WHO IS Zuntata – TAITO’S RIGHT-HAND MAN?
The name Zuntata was first used when the Taito sound development team released the album Darius in 1987. Zuntata has since been active for over 20 years. The main figure, Ogura, later became a freelancer. Together with current leader Ishikawa and members Tsuchiya and Koshio, Zuntata continues to progress toward its next stages.
Out of the many video game sound teams, Zuntata is surely one of the most reknowned. Its said that Zuntata themselves decided the sound specifications for Taito’s arcade PCBs.
Ishikawa: Even after Ogura left Taito, Zuntata is paving the way to revolution and continues to give birth to new sounds. The music of Dariusburst expresses the determination of Zuntata. What constitutes Darius must be somewhere deeper than where Ogura’s music lies. I am pretty sure Ogura can describe what Darius is made out of, but we really don’t want to know. Otherwise there is no point for me to direct the music (laugh). I firmly believe that we achieved something significant by trial and error in pursuit of the essence of Darius.
—Speaking of what makes up Darius, would you tell us what the future holds for the series?
Ogura: How we make the music is ever-changing. What we’re feeling, and what is caught on our antennae at the time significantly changes the atmosphere of the sounds. There are no set ways the sound should fall into. We’d rather not spell it out but as long as we abide by it, I think we can keep creating new Darius music, be it for the arcade or for the PSP.
Tsuchiya: I, more than anyone, am well aware that Darius music has to be created by Ogura. Nevertheless, I would honestly be glad if players were interested in my other music after playing Dariusburst.
Koshio: What I noticed after completing the composition was that both the game creators and fans have strong feelings for Darius. So, I’d like to discover more of those feelings through Dariusburst. I would be truly honored if I could incorporate that synergy in creating future sounds.
Ishikawa: The sound direction for Dariusburst was extremely difficult. If I can join the team again for the next project, I would love all the composers to let me hear their fresh and imaginative music again. Darius is a very special title to us, and we will continue to reinvent the music as well as the game itself.
—Finally, please give a message to the readers who will play Dariusburst.
Koshio: The visuals are beautiful and sounds fit contemporary trends. We’d like the players to feel something that exists though the series by both watching, and listening, to the new Darius.
Tsuchiya: I hope they can discover something new in the sounds if they read our interview once again after playing the game.
Ogura: Even though Dariusburst is for PSP, which is a small device, it is created so that you can feel the vastness of the world and the hugeness of the enemies. We really hope that the players enjoy it by expanding their imaginations without boundaries. We also recommend them to pay special attention to the original soundtrack album, which is on its way to be released. If you listen to it as a CD album, you’ll start seeing a different Dariusburst world altogether.
Ishikawa: This latest Dariusburst songs are high quality, both as game music and as music in general. That’s only possible because it exists within a game, and it can be considered as “the game sound.” We’d really like the fans to enjoy the music and sounds as they play the game without any preconception whether it is a Darius game or any other shooting game.
—Zuntata and Ogura, thank you for the valuable talks today.
Postscript – 2013: ZUNTATA TODAY
Since 2009, when this interview was recorded, Zuntata has continued to thrive. In 2011 they held a solo live concert for the first time in 12 years, in conjunction with the “Dariusburst – Another Chronicle” developer talk show. In 2012, they released the album “COZMO ~ Zuntata 25th Anniversary ~” celebrating the 25th anniversary of the start of the company. It received much attention from game music fans for its luxurious content, which included the work of 12 members of the team. It also contains their music from game companies other than Taito, too.
~Zuntata 25TH Anniversary~
Planning・Production: Taito Zuntata Inc.
Sales: Sony Music Distribution
Model Number: ZTTL-0072~0073 (Regular version)
Price: ￥3,800 (￥3,990 price with tax)
Release date: October 31, 2012
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Body Sonic refers to the special benches with subwoofers installed in the Darius cabinets↩