J-Pop Exchange Radio Show Exclusive Interview
SeanBird (J-Pop Exchange): Hi Ms. Yamane, thank you for taking the time to speak with us…
Michiru Yamane: Thank you very much for inviting me to your program. I'm very pleased to have this chance to be interviewed by an American radio program for the first time in my life. I have been looking forward to spending time with Sean today.
SeanBird: Did your interest in music begin in your childhood? How did you become interested in music?Michiru Yamane: According to my memory, the first song I remember hearing was a children's song played on the radio named, "KOJIKA NO BAMBI," when I was about 3 years old. When I was 4 or 5, my mother took me to take group lessons at music school in my neighborhood. My family had an old organ, and I played with it as one of my favorite toys.
SeanBird: Please tell us about your musical studies and training.
Michiru Yamane: I started taking piano and organ class seriously when I entered elementary school. Yamaha Electone was the name of the electric organ. During the electric organ class, I learned how to write music notes which I played in improvisational style. I really liked to play in free style, but I didn't like writing down the notes. However, this stress was dissolved after the emergence of new recording systems and music software which almost all songwriters are using today.
SeanBird: How and when did you decide to pursue a career in music? Was it always your intention to pursue a career in music?
Michiru Yamane: When I was 12 or 13, I had a vague image of wishing to take music related work in my future adulthood. I was very interested in working on writing songs for movies and commercials. It was during the time when family computers (Famicom or NES) had just started selling at stores, and there weren't high quality TV games like the ones we have today. I also had a dream of becoming a jazz-pianist when I was a high school student.
SeanBird: Can you give us some insight into your writing process? When you compose music, how do you progress from inspiration to creation?
Michiru Yamane: At the beginning, I only have very vague images of sounds and ideas, and I keep playing piano until I can put them into one composition. Little by little, rhythm, chords and melodies will come together. And then, I start to paint on and decorate the framework (or plan of the song) I made by piano. We commonly call the next process "orchestration." In other words, speaking of the orchestral process metaphorically, it’s like we speak of decorating, it’s like choosing the material and color of walls and floors, the furniture you'd like to put into each room when you build a new house and get ready for living there. In actual work, I separate the song into separate parts and phrases, so as to pick and choose the tone and instrument for each.
SeanBird: Who are your musical influences?
Michiru Yamane: From classical music; very academic songwriters such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Also from the modern music scene, Ravel, Debussy, and Stravinsky influenced me a lot.
I was positively influenced by Jerry Goldsmith and some other song writers from popular movie soundtracks, too.
Maybe younger generations don't know these names but I listened to American pop artists a lot, such as Burt Bacharach, Barry Manilow, Eric Carmen, the Eagles, the Doobie brothers... etc. I think I can't list all the names right now because there are too many.
By the way, Mr. Ryuichi Sakamoto has been my hero since he was in the band named, Yellow Magic Orchestra.
SeanBird: What music do you listen to?
Michiru Yamane: Currently, I listen to jazz music a lot more often than before --Especially, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charley Parker. I also listen to Brazilian music such as Antonio Carlos Jobeam and some other ethnic music apart from the music from western countries. Also, I am very in to the unique sound of Japanese saxophone player, Naruyoshi Kikuchi, these days.
SeanBird: How did you become involved with composing music for videogames?
Michiru Yamane: When I was about to graduate from university, I found a job opening at a game company. So, I applied and I was hired. At the beginning I was a member of the group which created the game software for the Nintendo Famicom (family computer) games. I made many jingles for the game, "Hyper Olympic". And then, I changed employment, going to Konami, and wrote more songs for games, such as Goemon and TwinBee.
SeanBird: Please tell us about the scoring process behind a production such as Castlevania. Where in the process do you, as a composer, become involved?
Michiru Yamane: Well... it depends on the size of the project. Sometimes, I'll be in the team from the start of the project, and then we begin our work from scratch. Although, when I have a really tight schedule, I will get into the project when the storyboard is ready. There are some cases that I get involved in the project when the test version of the game is ready to be played. In general, I take proper steps to meet the situation.
SeanBird: Are there particular instruments that you prefer to use in your compositions or orchestrations?
Michiru Yamane: I use piano to think through the image and transform it into music. Through this process, 80% of the instruments are decided in my mind. In the next process, I like to use acoustic instruments, such as strings and woodwinds for the actual arrangements. Depending on the kind of songs, I pick electric instruments, for example, distorted guitar sounds and synthesizer. Sometimes I choose folk instruments for the simple sounds.
SeanBird: Of all of the background music you have composed for the Castlevania series, are there any particular pieces that stand out as favorites or have a particular significance for you?
Michiru Yamane: I have been asked the same question quite a lot and it's always very difficult to choose the one because there are too many songs that I like. If I have to pick one, I'd say "GEKKA NO YASOUKYOKU (Symphony of the Night)" is my favorite. This is the song I wrote over 10 years ago, but I still receive messages that say "Very impressive song", or "I grew up with this song" from my fans.
SeanBird: Have you ever considered releasing a CD comprised entirely of your own work?
Michiru Yamane: Yes, of course! I have several ideas about this, so I'm trying to realize this album little by little.
SeanBird: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you would like to talk about?
Michiru Yamane: Right now, I'm working as one of the songwriters for the shooting game named, "Otomedius X". This game will be out in America, too. In this project, creators are gathered from several different countries and I can feel the international flavor of this project. As far as I know, there are creators from America, the U.K., China and Japan.
Also, I'm taking part in a project run by the American game software company, Reverge, the fighting game named, "Skull Girls". In this project, I'm working for an American game company for the first time in my life. I'm sure people who play and hear my new songs in this game can find and enjoy a new dimension in my creation. As for smaller projects, I wrote songs for short films. I hope someday I can get a chance to write songs for full length movies, because it's been my dream since childhood.
SeanBird: In conclusion, is there anything you would like to talk about that we have not discussed thus far?
Michiru Yamane: As you all know, a huge earthquake struck Japan several weeks ago, and people are still suffering and struggling from this disaster. Many people lost friends and family when the Tsunami washed away everything. Moreover, the problem from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant occurred. Still today, we are facing troubles after troubles. However, we are receiving many heartwarming messages and supplies from America and all over the world. I have never felt such a sense of close friendship like this before, and feel that we are really connected as one. I'd like to thank you for your support and love through this chance to have my voice air-played on the radio. I strongly believe Japan will revive someday again soon. Personally, maybe my steps are slow, but I will keep creating songs, and steadily make efforts to create good music that can enchant your life even more. Thank you.
SeanBird: Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us.
Michiru Yamane: My pleasure. I'm very happy to have this chance to be on the J-Pop Exchange. Thank you very much.