Interview: Motohiro Kawashima

Yuzo Koshiro’s close collaborator on Streets of Rage speaks to Nick Dwyer about composing for video games

Motohiro Kawashima began composing video game music as employee number one at Yuzo Koshiro’s company, Ancient, back in 1992. The two of them became great friends, bonding over a shared love for all the incredible new club music exploding in Tokyo at the time. They would go on to spend many late nights on some of the city’s most infamous dancefloors, where they would soak up house and techno sounds, return to the studio and put that influence into their video game music.

Kawashima-san got his start composing titles like The G.G. Shinobi and Batman Returns for the Game Gear, and then contributed to a handful of tracks on Streets of Rage 2. But it was on Streets of Rage 3 where he really came into his own, forging his own VGM take on harder-edged German and Detroit techno to create some seriously groundbreaking music that still sounds fresh today.

Ancient Team Yuzo Koshiro

Whereabouts did you grow up in Japan, and can you tell us a bit about your hometown or your neighborhood?

I was born in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. I came to Tokyo for university at the Kunitachi College of Music. I don’t really remember much from my time in Nagoya, but I often spent a lot of time playing outdoors with my friends. Once I got to Tokyo, I found that I really liked the big city life. Even when I was in Nagoya I still had dreams of coming to Tokyo. I prefer urban landscapes over tons of greenery. Music and the city are strongly connected in my mind.

When I was really small in Nagoya I often listened to classical music. My favorite composer was Gershwin, especially “Rhapsody In Blue.” My father was a composer, and conducted, too. He was also a fan of Gershwin, and would conduct some of his songs. I’d always go around behind the orchestra and listen. The tympani are too loud if you listen from behind the orchestra, so the balance is thrown off a bit, but I had fun anyway and often tagged along with my dad to listen in on the orchestra.

The record of “Rhapsody In Blue” – back then I listened to pretty much everything on analog – the jacket of the record had a night view of Manhattan on it. I think that maybe me looking at this while I listened to “Rhapsody In Blue” and Gershwin’s music as a kid just formed a link between music and the city in my mind. Even when I listened to classical I always liked the sounds that I felt reminded me of the city the best. When I came to Tokyo I wanted to make really urban or city-like music. I was really into what we call in Japan “black music” – music of African-American origin – and then got into techno later. Anyway, I really liked any music that had a clear link to cities.

So you moved to Kunitachi when you were how old?

I took a bit of an indirect route there. I had aspirations of becoming a vocalist and I sang. I took an entrance exam for singing, but while I was studying I became ill with a pneumothorax, a condition that caused both my left and right lungs to collapse.

I had always wanted to be a composer originally, so I decided to set my sights back there instead and started studying along those lines. But that resulted in my father, who himself was a composer, taking me aside and telling me that it’s tough to make a living in music as a composer, so I should try for someplace that would leave me with a little bit more of a backup plan. I enrolled in Kunitachi College of Music’s theory department, basically a training school for musicologists, so I took the test for there and, while it took a bit of time, I eventually got in. So, I came to Tokyo when I was 22. I was in Nagoya the whole time before that.

Being 22 years old and coming to Tokyo, it was the 1980s, it was an economic boom and a lot of technology was everywhere – synthesizers, video games. Was it exciting to be 22 and living in Tokyo in the ’80s?

Of course it was. There was one other thing I really liked: When I was in high school I also did dancing. So music and dancing were extremely linked for me, and dance music a particular love of mine. I often went to discos when I was in high school. I’d even visit some of the discos in Tokyo as a high school student. So I had that connection, too, that I really wanted to go to the discos in Tokyo. So I had this drive to check out the discos in Tokyo here at the height of Bubble.

When I was in high school I liked to come from Nagoya to Tokyo. I went to the disco a lot when I was in Nagoya, but when I finally came to Tokyo for university I actually stopped going to discos pretty much. I think the boom was probably over by that point. There was a disco boom when I was in high school. I feel like disco is making a bit of a comeback lately, but in my generation it was while I was at high school. I feel like disco had cooled off a bit by the time I was up in Tokyo for school. This is probably around when I was 23, but there was this CD rental shop in Kichijoji called 33 that had tons and tons of techno and house. Once I heard that stuff, I knew that was where it was at for me.

To be honest, I wasn’t really sure if I was working or partying.

What was the moment when you went from just going to discos to dance and drink to start to be more in-the-know and passionate about DJ culture, about house and techno?

The truth is, between when I was crazy about disco while in Nagoya and my intro to techno culture at 33 in Tokyo, there was actually this point where I was hooked on the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. The reason being that his music brings together classical and rock in a way that really captivated me. I was never that into YMO, but Ryuichi Sakamoto’s sort of boundary-less style that brought classical, pop and rock together just too hold of me. He was a pretty big influence on my decision to go to the College of Music. I failed an entrance exam at an art college, actually, because I had tried to go that route, too.

The song that really sealed the deal for me was “Perspective.” It was on YMO’s final album before they “spread out.” The reason “Perspective” really grabbed me was that it had this Debussy feel, Debussy as in the classical composer. There was a beat put to this Debussy atmosphere. I still remember how it made me feel today. It took me completely by force, just that one song.

I later became really interested in Ryuichi Sakamoto the person, the way he worked with a hybrid of all types of music, putting beats to ethnic music, things like that. The way he tried all these different approaches was extremely… Well, it introduced me to a lot of music I never knew about, music I had never heard before. At the same time I was also into the work of Haruomi Hosono; the way those two put beats with ethnic music. That was around when I started playing around with synthesizers, so I would make my own demos of that kind of music.

You were Japanese and most of this technology, be it Roland, Korg or Akai, were all Japanese products. Was that in itself inspiring for young Japanese people, the fact that all the technology to make this new, futuristic music was being created in this country?

In my case I was introduced to a lot of music by my father, my parents, and one of those artists was Isao Tomita, who was what I guess you could call a “synthesizer arranger” – at any rate, a famous songwriter. My dad bought me a bunch of his records, For me, this mix of synthesizers and classical music was just so appealing. The stuff I would play on my own, like Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” Isao Tomita would do renditions of this on the synthesizer. With piano you only have a single tone, but with a synth you have a huge range of sounds you can produce, a rich variety. Another artist I loved was Wendy Carlos, who did the music for the movie A Clockwork Orange. I loved her songs from Switched-On Bach. It was on that border between synthesizer music and classical. I couldn’t get enough of that kind of music, and I was listening to a ton of it, so one day my dad took me to this place and showed me some synthesizers, an ARP 2600. It was a really old synthesizer, and it isn’t easy to get the standard solfège intervals out of it. They didn’t have those kinks worked out – the tuning, either.

Now it’s much easier to do, but at the time I thought that it was just part of the way synths were that they didn’t really do “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do.” A few years passed and then I found out that synthesizers could do intervals with a Yamaha DX7. Actually, there was a Roland before that, a Roland Juno-106. That was the first synth I bought, the Juno-106. I later got a DX7. So my family taught piano lessons. We had five grand pianos in our house, actually, so we had a lot of people from Yamaha coming by and one of them brought by a synthesizer, and that was the DX7. That ended up being one of my favorite synths. Maybe the fact that it was made here in Japan did have something to do with it, but either way I ended up really enjoying Yamaha synthesizers.

So you were studying in Kunitachi, which is in the west part of Tokyo. It’s very close to Hino, where Yuzo Koshiro lived. How did you meet?

When I was at the Kunitachi College of Music, in my fourth year, I was introduced to him. There was this guy doing game music that was looking for staff for a company he was starting. I heard from one of my classmates that this guy was looking for someone to compose music with. I was making my own techno music at the time, so I gave that to him as a sample.

It turns out that Yuzo Koshiro’s mother was a piano teacher at the high school affiliated with the Kunitachi College of Music. (She’s also known as the teacher of Joe Hisaishi, I think.) So my techno made its way into her hands, and from there reached Yuzo Koshiro. He listened to it and was interested, so he called me up. I had no idea who Yuzo Koshiro was at the time. I remember the first time I met him I thought he was super handsome. So yeah, Bare Knuckle [Streets of Rage] was already out at that point – the first one, I mean – so he suddenly had me listen to the Bare Knuckle music. I hadn’t really played many games at that point, so I remember being blown away that games could have audio like this. I had no idea that he would be asking me to help with Bare Knuckle II at that point, but then a year or so later he brought me on for the project.

When you finally met Koshiro-san, what was your first impression of him, and was it quite unusual that someone so young had started his own company?

Koshiro-san and I hit it off well right from the get-go. I remember we talked a lot. I remember that we both were really into the bass of techno music – we both loved bass. There weren’t many things in Japan that had those stomach-rumbling tones at that point, even in popular music. But he had found a way to get good bass in game music despite this. I was really picky about the bass when it came to club music, too, so it turned out that we were kind of finicky about the same things and just clicked right off the bat. I remember thinking it would be great to make music with him, and he said something similar to me.

When did you join [video game developer] Ancient, and what can you tell us about the company back then? How many people were working there? What was the environment like?

I was probably the first employee, and then I remember there was a programmer, too. So in the beginning it was just Koshiro-san, his younger sister Ayano, and then we also had various freelancers coming and going, but the only official employees were me and the programmer, so it was a very small operation in the beginning. But more and more people joined as time went on.

So you were there from the very beginning. At the time, video games were created by big companies like Namco and Konami and Nintendo. Was it rare back then for such a small company to be making games?

Actually, I feel like there were a few [smaller studios] at the time. I don’t know a whole lot about the industry, but we did work with some “sister companies,” as it were. Games was an up-and-coming industry, so I think there must have a lot of smaller companies around.

Shinobi II - The Silent Fury

What was your first job at Ancient? Tell us about the first thing you worked on and the experience of that.

The first thing I did was for the Game Gear, a portable console. The title was Shinobi II, and then there was Batman Returns. Thinking back on it, they were probably trying me out with those projects. They asked me to work on these two games during my first year. I made them with a PSG [programmable sound generator], the built-in sound chip [of the Game Gear]. It was really difficult because I had to make the music while programming it with an 8-bit computer.

What was the experience having to make music with limitations for the first time, with a PSG with very limited capabilities?

Before I started I thought it would require a lot more musical ability out of me, but once I actually got into the work I found there was a freedom there of a sort. What I’m getting at – and these are all things I learned from Yuzo Koshiro – is that there are ways to get things out there effectively, possibilities that can be found within limitations. That’s what he taught me. I came to learn that I can make good game music by adopting an approach that is at once more musical and effective.

In that sense, was Koshiro-san a great teacher? Did you learn a lot from him in the beginning?

I did. He gave me a sort of manual explaining the different effects. This applies to both Shinobi II and Batman Returns, but the effective technique I used to do the music for these games was one I learned from Koshiro-san.

Was it exciting to be making game music as a job? I guess back then if you loved making music there weren’t many regular jobs, and I think even in Japanese society just being a musician wasn’t really a stable job. But being a game music composer, was it the best of both worlds? You got to make music, but you got to work for a company.

It was difficult to get by purely on making music back then, yeah. I tried sending demos around to some of the major places, but mostly they would all tell me to add vocals, say that I need to be doing pop music. I was completely hooked on synthesizers at the time, so I didn’t really want to make tracks with vocals. All I wanted to do was see how far I can take music instrumentally, and that was what game music asked me to do.

Streets Of Rage 2 - Full Soundtrack OST

Can you remember the moment when Koshiro-san asked you to work with him on Streets of Rage 2?

The moment I realized Koshiro-san would let me work on Bare Knuckle II was also the moment when I knew for certain that he had recognized the quality of my game music. I had thought he would never let me handle a project as big as Bare Knuckle II. I had done music for Shinobi and Batman and a few other games, so I remember when he asked me to join him for Bare Knuckle II I realized that he was recognizing my past efforts.

Yuzo has said that it was you that introduced him to so much club music, and you were going to Yellow at the time. Can you tell us a bit about this period where you and Yuzo were going to nightclubs, getting deeper and deeper into cooler house and techno?

At the time I was absolutely addicted to techno. The demo I gave to Koshiro-san back when I was in college was house music. (Well, either house or techno in my mind.) As I said earlier I was hooked on disco when I was in high school, and from there I moved on to club music. Those pitch-black clubs seemed so mysterious to me.

I loved going out in places like Nishi-Azabu. I often invited Koshiro-san to come with me. We used to go to Juliana’s Tokyo together. I think he liked it better there than I did. I remember well that he had a really original take on the place, in that he said loved how decadent it was. I remember being like, “Yeah, now that you put it that way, Juliana’s Tokyo was pretty decadent,” but I think that’s how he saw it. We often partied the night away together. Back then there wasn’t much difference between work and partying for me at Ancient.

Even when I did go into work, I did all my songwriting at home, so I would bring my music into the offices and Koshiro-san would be like, “This is great! OK, now let’s go out and have fun.” So to be honest I wasn’t really sure if I was working or partying.

Juliana’s really had that Bubble-era air about it. When you went to Yellow, what kind of music were you getting into there? On Streets of Rage 2 there’s a very strong Detroit influence. Were there particular producers from Detroit or Europe that you were enjoying at that time?

I’m not sure what they call it now, but back then there was this genre called trance, German trance, that I think had the biggest influence on me. There was this Japanese DJ called Kudo-san that spun German trance, and I often went to check out his sounds. I think he was at Yellow on Fridays. I think Detroit techno was also a powerful influence for me, too. I went to see Underground Resistance live. I think that had the biggest influence on Bare Knuckle.

It was all really solid back then. I wasn’t sure what the music was meant to express… There was something unidentifiable about it for me, an unidentifiable charm that I found irresistible.

I remember thinking that was the kind of sound I wanted to make, and I poured that unaffected desire straight into the game. With Bare Knuckle, Koshiro-san was able to get this soft “black music” sound, so I wasn’t really sure that he would be okay with having techno, this rougher Underground Resistance-style sound, for the sequel. I think I probably just put something out the way I wanted to do it, and he was really interested in what I had made. He was like, “Well, if you’re going to make that sound, then I want to make this one,” so the Bare Knuckle soundtrack came together through this kind of back and forth between us. This was for the second half of Bare Knuckle II. He had already finished a lot of it by the time he brought me on board.

Streets of Rage 2 - Expander

Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I think he was worried about getting it done in time, so he wanted me to take over, but overall I think he wanted to see what sort of sounds I would make for a Bare Knuckle game. When I actually did something he actually shot it down at first. Bare Knuckle II’s soundtrack is credited as a joint work between me and Yuzo Koshiro, but – I’m not sure I should talk about this – it was a screw-up on my part. Koshiro-san had to go in and fix a lot of things. When I saw the finished results I was blown away. I was able to turn things around with a song called “Expander.” I remember Koshiro-san being like, “This is awesome!” when he heard it.

Just how influential were Underground Resistance? I get the feeling that there were a few shows where Underground Resistance came to Tokyo and they were so influential on so many young artists. What was the experience like for you of seeing Underground Resistance live, and how much did that shape your music?

When I saw Underground Resistance back then I think they had a sax player with them, which I actually didn’t like. I was more interested in seeing how solid of a sound they could get out of their synthesizers. I later understood that Detroit techno has a lot of that human element in it, but I was drawn to that solid part of it with none of those human touches. I guess I felt like having techno within black music just created this really hot techno. I really loved it. I had always been into black music, disco and other black music. At the time I loved that solid part of techno music, but I think what really grabbed me was techno made by black people, the power or dynamic aspects of it. It was powerful and extremely solid. I guess that’s where the human aspects of it come from. That’s what really hooked me.

We were really, really of a mind to change the face of game music.

At the time in the early ’90s when you were working on Bare Knuckle II, you and Yuzo Koshiro were still very young. When you think of all the different video game music that was being made at the time, what you guys were doing was so revolutionary. Did you feel like you were doing something different, like no one else was doing what you’re doing?

Well, the first thing Koshiro-San told me is to do whatever I wanted. I didn’t know much about other game music, and he told me not to listen to music from other games. I didn’t really play games much at the time to begin with, though. I feel bad, but all I really cared about were my own experiments, the music I was delving into. So in that sense, Bare Knuckle had music that I was exploring.

One thing Koshiro-san always told me was, “It’s fine. It’s fine. This is fine. All I want is for you to make things the way you want. Don’t worry.” He was always saying those sorts of things. He did tell me to put in stronger melodies, though. “Put in stronger melodies, but don’t make them too strong.” It was a bit difficult knowing if it was the tuning or maybe melodies or effective audio for Bare Knuckle. I’m getting ready to rearrange some of the Bare Knuckle II tracks for this tour I have coming up, but even when I look at the tracks I still don’t know exactly the boundaries between these things. There is a unique “interpretation,” I guess you could say, that I do still find interesting to this day. I think one thing we were both on the same page about when we made that soundtrack was doing our best to make something that didn’t sound like other game music at the time. We were really, really of a mind to change the face of game music as we worked back then.

I had no idea if what we were doing was good or bad, whether we were going too overboard.

What I think a lot of people don’t realize at the time is that Ancient actually did a lot of the development of the game. Could you give people an idea of just how much of the game was developed by Ancient, because I know Koshiro-san’s sister designed all the characters.

The character design was done by his younger sister and her husband. They did pretty much all of it. I remember some of the other production team, too. At Ancient we had a regular ski trip that we all went on each winter, so we all hung out then, but that’s what I remember most. From my perspective it looked like they were just playing video games at work. I’m sure they were actually working, but whenever I stopped by for my weekly visit at Ancient everyone was playing games. I would be like, “When do these guys ever work?” I wonder if I should say this… They were always playing Street Fighter.

Can you talk us through the process of making tracks back then? What was your studio? What kind of equipment were you using to make the music of Bare Knuckle?

Bare Knuckle was for the Mega Drive, so we were programming the on-board sound chip. As for the tracks, the kick and snare used PCM sounds. We could present sounds we had sampled, so the drum beats were all samples. The rest was all FM audio. It had UC FM audio, so we didn’t have many tracks, but we were able to make things work. But all of it was programmed.

After Bare Knuckle II, which was very successful, did you get any feedback from the bosses at Sega? Did yourself or Koshiro-san have any idea that around the world, young kids in America and Europe and England and New Zealand were just loving the music that you guys were making?

I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. We did get interviewed a few times back then, so I knew that the game as a whole was a big deal, but I didn’t hear anything directly about the music that I had done for it. It wasn’t about the music so much. All that mattered was if the game sold or not, is how it seemed. I didn’t know much about critiquing game music. I knew that before I made a track I would wonder if it was right for the game or not, but I myself was honestly never interested in what people had to say after the fact. I was just doing what I wanted to do and that was that. I was just leaving the afterthought part of it to Koshiro-san, I guess. If he was fine with something, then, well, I was a full-time salaried employee, so once I got the okay from Koshiro-san I didn’t really care what anyone else thought later.

Streets of Rage 3

The next thing was Bare Knuckle III [Streets of Rage 3], which you ended up doing a lot more work for and you really developed your voice on. How did you find yourself in that position?

We had said it would be like half and half. I would often talk with Koshiro-san about sounds I liked. Before he was someone I worked with he was a friend, a fellow listener of music that I enjoyed hanging out with. He was also extremely busy, so I was always the one finding stuff for him to check out. So we would often be like, “Yeah, if we’re going to put something out then it should be like this.” Koshiro-san found that working with me was okay while doing Bare Knuckle II, so he decided to have us each take on half of the next game.

A bit of the ways into Bare Knuckle III he came to me one day really excited about some bit of programming. It was an automatic composition apparatus that could take the numbers you programmed in and convert them, that he had made with one of the languages they were using at the time. He wanted me to use it, too. I used it for “Fuze” on the Bare Knuckle III soundtrack, but I didn’t use the automatic composition apparatus for all of my tracks. For example, “Poet,” I programmed that one the normal way. I think I used the automatic composition apparatus less than him. You can tell it when you hear it. It’s got this random effect sound to it. With Bare Knuckle III we got rid of even more of the human element (in the music). We were really trying to crank up the meter with what we were making for that game. I think that’s what Koshiro-san had in mind when he came up with (the automatic composition apparatus). He wanted us to give III a more decadent feel, I think.

So Koshiro-san was coming up with a new programming method to get more out of the FM chip?

Yeah. I’m not sure how he made it, though. Thinking back, he probably made it with sound materials. When we compose a song we have to control everything on our own, but all we have to work with are those FM sounds, so we can’t really go on any adventures there. So, for instance, seeing what it would be like if we did the “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So” scale on another instrument, and so on. If we had that instrument changing at random each time, with each note on a different instrument, we could get a really crazy sound. Bare Knuckle III was made with this type of method. We would sample sounds and then deform them a bit before using them.

That’s one of the things that I guess a lot of people might not realize: One of the strengths of people like Koshiro-san, or even someone like Sakamoto-san, is that they would make their own programs to get the best out of the chip. And the program that Koshiro-san made for you guys, other people didn’t have that. Was that the reason the Bare Knuckle soundtracks sound so good, that Koshiro-san made these programs that no one else had, to get the most out of that chip?

I’d agree with that. You weren’t hearing that level of sound quality from the base chip in those days. He kind of went along with the direction I set for the music, too. So maybe I got angry at his uncertain way of doing things, but he’s a true professional, a craftsman, and finds it really easy to work according to other people’s styles. I’ve really expanded my style since then, but at the time it was really limited. I could really only make techno, so he went along with my limited, kind of fanatical style, maybe even made this program to go along with it.

He did a lot to make me happy. But to be honest, when I heard the music he made I remember thinking that he had maybe taken things a bit too far. I wanted to make musical phrases, so I had some mixed feelings [about what he was doing]. But when I heard the music he had created, how it was getting even further out there with all these cool sounds, I did my best to master this apparatus he had made in order to make sure I didn’t fall behind.

Both Koshiro-san and I had this question in our minds of what we could do with game music. We were trying to push the limits.

One thing is for sure, it is definitely the most heaviest game soundtrack of not just the era, but of probably all-time. What were you listening to at the time, because it seems you went from this Detroit kind of Inner City / Kevin Saunderson / Underground Resistance to very much like hard techno, like Jeff Mills, Robert Hood. I want to know what the influences were, because it is so heavy.

We were trying to push the limits of game music. Both Koshiro-san and I had this question in our minds of what we could do with game music. We both decided we would try to do the most difficult thing in the sense of normal music, like where you start to ask yourself if something is even music. Underground Resistance and Jeff Mills definitely have these points, like playing the same sound over and over, or warping sounds, making things super noisy. They made music that would question whether what you were hearing was even fit to be called music. The ’90s was a really experimental time for club music, experimental in the big sense, but also in that there were a lot of experiments going on within the music. I think we shared an interest in seeing what would happen if we took those kinds of experiments and put them into game music.

Did you guys have complete creative freedom? Did any of the bosses at Sega say, “Oh, it’s a bit heavy,” or did they just give you complete freedom to do whatever you wanted?

Oh yeah, I remember hearing even some of our co-workers voicing some concerns about the music. But Koshiro-san was the one who was like, “This should be fine.” That was one of the great things about him. But I didn’t have any idea. I didn’t know anything. I had no idea if what we were doing was good or bad, whether we were going too overboard.

Particularly the music for the gay character that he made with the automatic composition apparatus, “Come Out” or something… There was this gay character and music for him was just awful, like, “Are you sure this will be okay?” But even then I remember he was like “Yeah.” He said it was okay with this really pleased look on his face. I think that sense when it comes to game music is a unique bit of tuning you’ll only get with Yuzo Koshiro.

Diggin’ in the Carts - Streets of Rage’s Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima

23 years on, in 2017 Streets of Rage 3 is being re-released, and yourself and Koshiro-san will be performing live for the first time. Did you ever think that you would get the opportunity to perform music that you made 23 years ago around the world, and that music you made is for the first time going to be released on vinyl around the world?

Not at all. Never in my wildest dreams. It hadn’t crossed my mind even once.

Are you excited?

I had always wanted to do more performances, so I am looking forward to it in that sense, but the thing I’m worried about are the Bare Knuckle fans. I have absolutely no idea what they will think of our performance now. I don’t know how much we should re-arrange [the music]; I’m even thinking they won’t want to hear any re-arrangement of the music at all. But all the same, I can’t accept the idea of just going out there and playing the original music as-is.

I’ve been pursuing music, making music, for all of these past 20-odd years, so for me, just playing sounds from 23 years ago exactly the same is completely unnatural. I want to put my own interpretation on things, do something that feels natural for me as I play this music from 20-some years ago. I’m just concerned about what the fans are going to think of the sounds I’m going to make now, I guess. But I’m still going to just do what comes naturally, and I’m looking forward to seeing how people react.

You’ve continued to make game music, but when you think back to the early ’90s and working within limitations to break the boundaries of what game music could be, what do you miss about making music how it was back then? You had limitations, but it was kind of exciting to see what you could do. Is a bit of that magic gone now in this modern era where you can do anything and make anything you want?

I think that the ’90s were when club music was at its most interesting. That excitement is missing for my generation now, I feel. As for a reason why, I guess it’s that there is too much freedom. Everything is made entirely inside a computer. Back then, like with Bare Knuckle, we were using built-in sound chips and working with a computer, but you couldn’t make techno music without using hardware synths. That was the stuff that inspired what I put into the game music, that feel of picking through sounds by hand. Nowadays it’s all about plugin software. Sound materials in particular are way too freeform now, I think. Everything works a little too smoothly and therefore just isn’t as interesting.

On the flip side, though, one thing I think people want now is maybe the plugins they have for anticipating the hardware that makes the creative process so much easier than it used to be. It makes it easier to do the things I’m thinking of directly. I think that’s one thing about now that is more interesting. Like, if I want to make a certain kind of music, I can go where my mind takes me. If can link my musical fantasies with the computer, I can make the kind of sounds I’m thinking of more directly. So I see both sides of things. It isn’t about one era being better than the other. As someone who has experienced both, I feel that I want to make music that draws upon the tastiest bits of both time periods.

By Nick Dwyer on October 17, 2017

On a different note