Norihiko Hibino Profile
|Also Known As:
|Date of Birth:
September 3, 1973 (Osaka)
Metal Gear, Boktai, Ninja Blade, Shinobi 3D
|AMC Theatres||Movie Theatres||1997 – 1999||Movie Theatre Manager|
|Boylstone Records||Record Label||1997 – 2004||Founder, President, Artist|
|Konami Computer Entertainment Japan||Game Developer||1999 – 2004||Composer, Music Supervisor|
|jazzstrut||Music Group||1999 – 2002||Founder, Composer, Saxophone|
|GEM Impact||Music Production||2005 –||Founder, President, Composer|
|Megurogawa Studio||Recording Production||2006 –||Owner|
|Megurogawa Studio Vocal School||Education Institute||2006 – 2009||Owner|
|Vanilla Mood||Music Venue||2006 – 2009||Owner|
|The Outer Rim||Music Group||2006 – 2010||Co-Founder, Composer, Saxophone|
|GEM Factory||Record Label||2008 –||Founder, President, Artist|
|Hibino Sound Therapy Lab||Music Therapy||2008 –||Founder, President, Composer|
|Max Steiner Agency||Artist Representation||2010 –||Member, Affiliate|
|Gentle Love||Music Group||2011 –||Co-Founder, Composer, Saxophone|
An experienced jazz composer and saxophonist, Norihiko Hibino is head of the music production company GEM Impact, a long-running composer of the Metal Gear series, and, most recently, a successful music therapist. Born in Osaka on September 3, 1973, Hibino was introduced to music at the age of four when his parents arranged for him to take piano lessons. Some years later, he developed a fondness for jazz music and started to play tuba as part of a big band. Also idolising the Japanese rock singer Shogo Hamada, he learned to play the acoustic and electric guitar. Yet it was the timbre and flexibility of the saxophone that appealed to him the most. He taught himself how to play both the tenor and soprano saxophone, and regularly performed the instrument as a soloist and ensemble player at high school. The artist has attributed his early musical experiences as a major influence in the development of his warm and humorous personality. Contrary to his musical inclinations, Hibino majored in Human Sciences at Osaka University. While there, he enjoyed participating in a big band and reflected his virtuosity on the saxophone when he won first prize for ’best soloist’ at two long-running big band competitions. After graduating from Osaka in 1996, Hibino struggled to find any jobs that were well-suited for him — offered only a position at a restaurant chain, to the disapproval of his parents. Despite having no money or job waiting for him, the artist decided to take the leap into a musical career.
After a short period working as a truck driver, Hibino received a scholarship to take a one year course in jazz composition at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. While there, he learned under George Garzone, Bill Pearce, and Greg Hopkins, among others. He also took the opportunity to study the process of film scoring and spent much time exploring the cutting-edge pro-tools and synthesizers there. While the studies were expensive, the combination of such studies would later prove invaluable to his scoring career. After graduating, the artist took a position as a movie theatre manager in Kansas City in order to learn about business management and develop his command of the English language. He nevertheless continued to work extensively as an independent saxophonist, making numerous appearances on television programmes, radio shows, and jazz festivals, including the Kansas City International Jazz Festival. He also established an independent label, Boylstone Records, to release his own original albums. His first release, Voice from Heaven, was a contemporary jazz album featuring recordings from his Berklee era. Upon returning to Japan in 1999, Hibino spent the day managing a new movie theatre in Fukuoka and spent the night performing as a saxophonist at a jazz club. During this time, he also composed and recorded the jazz quartet album Now I’m Hear to Here. Filled with beautiful melodies and sophisticated improvisations, Hibino regards the album as one of his finest productions. He also continued to perform at live events.
While balancing these two jobs, Hibino was intrigued to learn from a friend that Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo were looking for a game composer and decided to apply. While game music had the reputation of being the work of second-rate musicians at the time, Hibino was aware that the hardware of the next-generation would bring orchestral recordings in 5.1 surround mixes. He was particularly interested in getting the chance to work with the advanced gear that he used at Berklee once again. The executives of Konami Computer Entertainment Japan were particularly impressed by his resumé, feeling his Berklee studies and jazz background made him well-suited for the Metal Gear series. He started work in the company in August 1999, moving to Tokyo in the process. In his debut work, he learned the basics of game sound creation on the non-canon Game Boy Color title Metal Gear: Ghost Babel (misleadingly named Metal Gear Solid in its English localisation) alongside Kazuki Muraoka. The pair overcame the technical limitations of the console to produce an especially atmospheric in-game accompaniment. Hibino subsequently assisted Maki Kirioka and Akihiro Honda on the soundtrack for the PlayStation 2’s Zone of the Enders, as the project quickly approached its release date. Though he initially felt restricted by the request to compose principally using electronica, he persevered to compose numerous dynamic yet atmospheric compositions that matched the Hideo Kojima’s vision for the title.
Hibino impressed Hideo Kojima so much on these projects that he was subsequently assigned to 2001’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This PlayStation 2 title was Konami’s most technologically ambitious work up to that point, aspiring to the production values of Hollywood movies. Responsible for all the in-game music, he matched the mood for the game with moody ambient pieces and intense boss themes, all rendered using top-quality samples. Much of the background music was adaptive, reflecting the shifts between alert, caution, and evasion mode with different levels of intensity. Hibino also extensively arranged, extended, and supplemented Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for the extensive cinematic scenes; by studying the film composer’s contributions stem-by-stem, Hibino was able to create a perfect copy of a Hollywood-styled track. Though the soundtrack generally aspired to modern electro-orchestral film scores, Hibino nevertheless expressed considerable individuality by incorporating jazz influences and a strong rhythmic focus. The artist also secured the budget to record some solos from instrumentalists, including himself on saxophone, and hybridised these acoustic performances with cutting-edge samplers. Despite the glorious reception of the score. Hibino made a meagre appearance on the game’s one disc official soundtrack and his name was absent from the title credits, reducing his popular exposure. However, the additional soundtrack ’The Other Side’ was entirely dedicated to his work.
Following the release of the main game, Hibino created all the new music featured in the multi-platform update Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance. Given most of these tracks were used during the VR missions, most tracks featured thrusting electronic beats and colourful foregrounds. The artist also took charge of the opening theme for the game’s ’making of’ documentary and a remix for beatmania 6th Mix + Core Remix. Hibino wrote most of the music for the anime-to-game adaptations Hikaru no Go for the PlayStation and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters 7 for the Game Boy Advance; while he found such obligations less creatively rewarded, he persevered to match the tone of the franchises while responding to specific requests from the directors. The following year, he flected the gothic premise of Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand with a range of rich orchestrations and inspiring themes, programmed into the Game Boy Advance by Shuichi Kobori. He additionally penned a handful of dramatic compositions for 2003’s Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, used during pivotal scenes such as the final battle and ending sequence. In the years thereafter, the artist worked on four further Yu-Gi-Oh! titles and Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django, but wrote few tracks of his own and instead focused on directing other in-house composers to realise the desired sound. Having risen through the ranks to become the most respected composer of KCE Japan, Hibino was trusted by game producers and respected by his juniors alike.
Even during his time at Konami, Hibino continued to work extensively as an independent musician. He regularly performed at jazz clubs with his new band jazzstrut during evenings and weekends. With the steady income from his day job, he was also able to continue producing new albums through his label Boylstone Records and often explored stylings he could rarely incorporate into his scoring works. For example, he developed an edgier sound on 2002’s Sharp Sounds, hybridising contemporary jazz, drum ’n’ bass, and rap stylings. By contrast, the 2004 album I Surrender All featured arrangements of beautiful hymns in the style of healing music. The artist also produced Grace, featuring beautiful duets between vocalist harario and pianist Yoko Nakamura. Though none of these releases garnered much publicity, Hibino found it liberating to be able to express his individuality and develop as a musician. He found it particularly interesting to learn about vocal composition and performance through harario — while working on both this album and “Snake Eater” — and the two eventually married. Having developed a strong network within Tokyo’s indie jazz scene, the artist was also invited to write the nu jazz piece “Imaginary Garden” for the compilation album Inner Child, between performing saxophone for original albums by artists such as Takero Ogata, Jeff Curry, and Yasuko Hirata. Now more financially secure, Hibino started to seriously considered becoming fully independent and establishing his own businesses.
In early 2003, Hibino completed work on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, a GameCube remake of the original game in the subseries developed by Silicon Knights. Responsible for two-thirds of the FMV music for the title, Hibino carefully watched screenshots of the scenes to establish their musical colour while meticulously working to specifications to determine the dramatic pacing of a particular piece. On this production and Metal Gear Acid, he also advised Konami’s next-generation of Metal Gear composers on how to preserve the Metal Gear sound during the main gameplay. The artist dedicated most of his final years at Konami to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. The game retained the cutting-edge cinematic feel of Sons of Liberty, but transitioned to a 1960s setting, providing Hibino with two contrasting tasks. Once again, he composed all the in-game music for the title and built on the adaptive approach of its predecessor. He also took a central role on the cinematic music, frequently exchanging ideas with returnee Harry Gregson-Williams through email and FTP. The centrepiece of the score was the award-winning vocal theme “Snake Eater”, which he composed in a James Bond-influenced big band jazz style long before the game entered full production. Hibino also served as the mixing engineer for the release, rendering tracks with a 5.1 surround mix. Helping to compensate for his treatment on the predecessor, Hibino’s name was extensively publicised in the game’s credits. He also featured prominently on its two disc soundtrack release and the promotional album The First Bite.
Confident he had firmly established his name in the industry, Hibino left Konami at the end of 2004 to become a freelancer. With support from Bellwood Records, he initially released the original album Akashi as a portfolio to showcase his capabilities. Bonded by a recurring melody established in “Against This World”, the album mixed vocal performances from harario with instrumental music in a variety of styles. “Survive Now” and “Catastrophe” were akin to the dark symphonic jazz of the Metal Gear Solid series, while the classically-oriented “In Peace”, the ’70s-flavoured “Like A River”, and the country hybrid “Rose Hunter” reflected his eclecticity. Despite being well-received, the album was a commercial failure that made Hibino reconsider his business strategy. During his initial years as an independent composer, Hibino also received a range of offers related to vocal production, thanks largely to the buzz made by “Snake Eater”. Hibino was entrusted to arrange classic theme songs from the animations Lupin the 3rd, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Astro Boy for special albums by Team Entertainment. Also on behalf of the label, he joined nine other legendary game composers on the Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange, writing the abstract jazz vocal arrangement “Ghost Ship”. In further works, he remixed the main theme for Monster Hunter 2 for a special compilation album, arranged the special image song for Loon Moon, and handled the string-writing of “Maria” and “bitmania” for Akira Yamaoka’s solo album iFUTURELIST.
In February 2005, inspired by the model of Remote Control Productions, Hibino founded the production company GEM Impact to expand the impact of his work in the video game industry. To help expand the productivity and range of the company, Hibino specially selected three composers to work for him: Takahiro Izutani, a rock band veteran who specialises in cutting-edge sounds and J-Pop arrangement; Yoshitaka Suzuki, a Konami School graduate inspired by the sounds of Hollywood; and Takahide Ayuzawa, a computer music specialist and classically-trained orchestrator. Two scores that initially reflected the opportunities of a collaborative approach were Elvandia Story and Yakuza 2. While Hibino was hired and credited as the composer for these titles, he in fact dedicated most of his time to supervising his assistant composers. Hibino developed an emotional filmic sound for Elvandia Story in collaboration with Suzuki, whereas Yakuza 2 was filled with raw contemporary fusions created with Izutani. Both titles were also technically accomplished, blending performances from instrumentalists with samples from Gigasampler, all mixed with Pro Tools. Under his lead, the team also blended modern and retro sounds with the short soundtracks for Boulder Dash: Rocks, 1942: Joint Strike, and Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. The team also handled sound design for a number of productions, including Tokyo Majin Gakuen.
While Hibino focused his attentions on the video game industry, he also produced music for a wide range of other productions. In 2006, he made his debut as a cinematic composer on Gonzo’s ROBO ROCK, a light-hearted, well-received mix of sci-fi and rock ’n’ roll influences, before entering horror territory on Tohokushinsha’s Scary Nursery Rhymes. The artist was subsequently scouted to score the supernatural anime series Blassreiter by director Ichiro Itano, who was a fan of his Metal Gear compositions. Given just four weeks to write two hours of music, Hibino asked all composers of GEM Impact to supplement the score. Reflecting his efficient but heartfelt approach to writing the score, Hibino’s main theme centred on a saxophone solo that captured all the anguish and tragedy of the scenario, supported only by a few dusky ambient synthpads. The score was sampled and mixed concurrently with the composition process, while the recording sessions were completed within a day. In further television works, Hibino co-composed TV Tochigi’s The Sun — collaborating with in-house electronica artist DJ Uraken on the main theme — as well as TV Asahi’s detective show Meitantei no Okite. The artist also received a few offers to work with J-Pop artists, notably penning the spectacular song “Prelude to Suicide” for Yuki Koyanagi, between roles alongside Chihiro Yonekura and Akiko Shikata. The company has also been contracted for concert production, lecturing, and corporate promotion.
Despite this wealth of productions, Konami continued to Hibino’s biggest client. During his first years as an independent composer, he had roles on Thrill Drive 4, Yu-Gi-Oh Online, and the collaborative score for Rumble Roses XX. He went on to produce the Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Music Collection, a best-selling compilation album featuring theme songs and brand new medleys. In collaboration with Takahide Ayuzawa, Shinya Kiyozuka, and Mutsuhiko Izumi, he arranged and recorded a 15 minute symphonic medley dedicated to the series’ history, as well as a spectacular jazz improvisation and a rock-orchestral jam. The artist also took a major role Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops for the PSP. In addition to composing several highlights and arranging the theme song, he briefed assistant composers Izutani and Suzuki on how to develop tracks for the series from the ground up. While initially absent from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, due to a decision to change the musical direction of the series, his team was called in last-minute after the volume of cinematics proved too overwhelming for Nobuko Toda’s team to handle; within a three week period, he and his assistants composed and arranged 90 minutes of music for major cutscenes, often integrating Harry Gregson-Williams’ music in the process. He further adapted Harry Gregson-Williams’ music on Metal Gear Solid 2 Bande Dessinee.
As an aspiring businessman, Hibino also founded several businesses alongside GEM Impact. Megurogawa Studio combined a high-quality recording studio with a vocal institute run by harario. Targeted to the “office ladies of human society”, the artist gave an opportunity for aspiring singers to receive vocal coaching and record songs in an efficient, low-cost manner. In collaboration with six singers from the school, Hibino recorded Cuffy Musical, an album written in the style of a musical and filled with personality. He also established Vanilla Mood, a classy 40-seat café and performance venue in Rappongi, Tokyo. The venue offered regular live performances by jazz groups and other acts, as well as weekend DJ performances and a monthly midnight jam session. Hibino was able to interact with many emerging artists through this location, some of whom he went on to perform with in his future releases. With administrative support from DJ Uraken, the artist also established the record label GEM Factory to distribute his latest album releases. Each of these projects required considerable financial investment and the training of new staff. Benefiting from his experiences working overseas, he also made efforts to overcome any language and cultural issues to give such productions an international scope.
One frequent performer at Vanilla Mood was The Outer Rim, a band that Hibino was personally involved with. Led by bassist Jeff Curry, the band featured four leading jazz instrumentalists and offered a unique hybrid of jazz, funk, and rock music. While they initially only had a niche appeal, Hibino put his business acumen to good use to bring them to international attention. The band performed a set with Norihiko Hibino and Akira Yamaoka at the Extra: Hyper Game Music Event 2007, giving away the original piece “In Peace” in a mini-album in the process. In addition, their performance of Hibino’s remix of No More Heroes’ main theme headlined the game’s arranged album. The band went on to release their commercially and critically successful self-titled debut album through GEM Factory in 2008. They also made regular live appearances, appearing in shows across Japan and embarking on a tour of South East Asia. Also developing a collaboration with Yuzo Koshiro, the artist served as the sound producer for the arranged albums dedicated to Etrian Odyssey and Etrian Odyssey II; he closely guided his in-house employees and several external stars throughout the arrangement and recording of these diverse albums. He also personally conceived and arranged the entirety of the Live Music by Piano and Strings albums dedicated to Etrian Odyssey and 7th Dragon, both low-budget but high-quality productions focusing on relaxing acoustic sounds, and performed a live set alongside the composer at Extra: Hyper Game Music Event 2008.
Though it appeared that Hibino was building a corporate empire, in reality, few of his new business ideas were profitable. His live venue and vocal school particularly suffered from little interest, leading to staff departures, debt accumulation, and legal problems. Hibino also experienced personal problems, including a car accident, deteriorating family relationships, and a high level of stress. He realised that he has expanded too quickly and would be better to focus on a smaller, streamlined business. By 2009, Hibino had closed his vocal school and Vanilla Mood, left behind The Outer Rim, and downscaled his recording facility and record label. Instead, he turned his attentions to expanding his sound production business. To achieve this, he established a new post-production facility in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He also developed a collaboration with Gloria Soto’s Max Steiner Agency to build an international network of affiliated composers and voice actors. While game scoring offers had slowed down — and opportunities in the film, anime, and pop industries were next-to-none — Hibino found new clients in emerging markets. His team now offer music, sound effects, and voiceovers for a wide range of mobile games and applications, particularly on behalf of Mission One. They also work extensively in the highly profitable sector of pachinko machines — requiring the company to build specially customised, multi-layered audio mixes on the platform — between handling voiceovers for toys by Fisher-Price and others.
Having long been fascinated by the healing effect of music, Hibino also entered the multi-billion sound therapy industry in 2008. With support from director Toshihiko Hibino and project manager Emi Kitta established the Hibino Sound Therapy Lab to study music’s spiritual and acoustical effect on human beings, as well as its application to therapeutic, palliative, and psychiatric care. He realized from his early experiences in this field that music cannot heal people, but that “providing music with love” can help to alleviate suffering. A central interest of the laboratory is how sound is partly transmitted as high-frequency transverse waves, which are inaudible to human ears but may affect a person on a cellular level that are inaudible to the ears, but may affect a person on a cellular level. As a result, he re-evaluated his entire approach to music production, from composition, to performance, to recording, to post-processing. He shifted from relying on standard Pro Tools setups that could only handle medium-frequency sounds, to using a Prism A/D converter that can handle purely up to 70-80 Khz. During his initial years in the laboratory, Hibino released a library of healing music in collaboration with Minako Takizawa. It featured performances from six acoustic instrumentalists — with whom he had worked with previously on the Live Music by Piano and Strings albums — recorded and mixed in high-frequency.
Despite this shift, Hibino continued to work on high-profile video games. 2009’s Ninja Blade was a tour de force involving all four composers at GEM Impact. Throughout the soundtrack, the team developed a moody, edgy sound by hybridising cinematic electro-orchestral timbres with traditional Japanese instruments and a jazz component. Spanning some eight minutes, Hibino’s breathtaking main theme for the title not only inspired his assistant composers, but also influenced the wider direction of the game. His team were also asked to write a large proportion of the cutscene music for PlatinumGames’ Bayonetta. To accommodate the tastes of producers and westerners alike, their tracks hybridised influences from both Hollywood films and Japanese animes. In the years prior, Izutani and Suzuki had grown to what Hibino describes as “the core of GEM Impact”. As a result, he was happy for these artists to take the lead on these projects and also independently work on wider productions, such as The Eye of Judgment and The Last Story. As a solo artist, Hibino also made noteworthy guest contributions to the Dariusburst’s arranged album, Half-Minute Hero’s diverse score, and the vocal album Message. The artist was also invited to tour with Video Games Live, having inspired Tommy Tallarico with a presentation at the Game Developer’s Conference 2009. He performed at several concerts across the world, hosted the tour&39;s show in Malaysia, and helped to negotiate performance rights with Japanese publishers.
Since his corporate restructure, Hibino has continued to maintain strong ties with his former employee. His team returned for 2010’s Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and wrote approximately 90 minutes for the various cutscenes. Through his links to Gloria Soto, Hibino also coordinated the involvement of Jeremy Soule and Todd Haberman on the release. He also lent his experience to Metal Gear Arcade and penned a medley for the Metal Gear 25th Anniversary Music Collection, though had no final involvement on the recently released Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Also on behalf of Konami, Hibino served as the music producer for the parodic shooters Otomedius G and Otomedius X. On both projects, he coordinated responsibilities among a large team of famous game composers from within and outside Konami. Whereas the former was filled with remixes of legendary shooting scores, the latter mostly focused on original themes that build on the foundations of classic game music. Hibino personally wrote tracks for both titles, including the ending theme songs. Additional tracks created for these projects were released both as downloadable content and on dedicated soundtrack releases. He also reflected his light-hearted side as a music producer on the bishoujo game Love Plus, penning the light-hearted pop-flavoured main theme “Eternal Diary” and arranging several other theme songs.
In the last few years, Hibino has continued to centre much of his attention on sound therapy. In order to help sufferers of sleep deprivation, he bundled his music into the combo pack Prescription for Sleep in collaboration with Malaysia’s Rilax Zzz. Alongside mobile development partner Mission One, he went on to develop the iPhone application of the same name, intended to help listeners enter the first stage of sleep using peaceful music and imagery. Both productions were successful — with the app selling more than 400,000 copies — leading him to produce follow-ups in the years thereafter. He additionally released the best-selling album Gentle Love, featuring smooth jazz covers of pop standards from Asia and the West. Its success led Hibino to release two further volumes and establish a unit of the same name with pianist AYAKI. In contrast to his previous original albums, these releases were all about being humble and letting music take a natural flow without any human intention or showy techniques. Through this approach, he felt his music could “reach out to a human’s soul, beyond the barrier of language”. To extend the outreach of his sound therapy, the artist has also presented at conferences and organised special concerts, namely Gentle Love, Gentle Christmas, and Music in Heaven ~The Comfort in Spirit~ He has additionally directed and released albums produced by collaborators, namely Japanese Songs, Amazing Grace, and Josie’s Audiobook. Multiple new albums currently in the works.
Concurrent with the success of the Hibino Sound Therapy Lab, the artist has developed recording and voiceovers into a central pillar of GEM Impact. The company works with 40 voice actors from musical theatre backgrounds, most of them from Legendary Gekidan Shiki, in Japanese and English voice recordings. In addition to providing voiceovers for numerous toy, smartphone, and pachinko products, Hibino has recorded voices for productions such as the Dance Central series. The artist has also helped to give an international scope to scores such as Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 4, and Time and Eternity as a live recording coordinator and director, between writing lyrics and recording songs for the Wii’s Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Vita’s Ridge Racer. As a composer, Hibino recently wrote the majority of the soundtracks for Sega’s Shinobi 3D and Namco Bandai’s Go Vacation; he reflected the scenario of a ninja in a modern world with plenty of fusions on the former, between arranging numerous Namco classics in an upbeat jazz style in conjunction with numerous vocalists and instrumentalists on the latter. Always keen to venture into new areas, his latest work was to compose and arrange the musical Rhythmic Town, which was performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and Zero Project at the prestigious Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Hibino continues to juggle roles as composer, arranger, performer, and manager, maintaining the motto “from Japan to worldwide”.
– Various Game & Album Credits
– VGMdb Discography
– Liner Notes Translations
– Music Production Site (English)
– Sound Therapy Site (English)
– Record Label Site (English, Archived)
– Interview with SquareMusic (English, January 2005)
– Interview with Music4Games (English, March 2008)
– Interview with Original Sound Version (English, June 2008)
– Interview with Original Sound Version (English, July 2008)
– Interview with Game Music Online (English, September 2008)
– Interview with Game Music Online (English, April 2010)
– Interview with Original Sound Version (English, May 2010)
© Biography by Chris Greening (September 2007). Last updated on April 2, 2013. Do not republish without formal permission.
Posted on April 2, 2013 by Chris Greening. Last modified on March 21, 2014.