Tenpei Sato Interview: A Detailed Retrospective
Tenpei Sato is one of the best-loved composers in the gaming industry. During his 25 year career, he has offered music for projects spanning classic game titles, anime crossovers, solo albums, musicals, and even a certain robotic dog. However, he is best known for offering the vocal themes and background music for Nippon Ichi Software’s RPGs, including Disgaea, Marl Kingdom, La Pucelle, Phantom Brave, and Soul Nomad.
Tenpei Sato took the opportunity to engage in an autobiographical interview about his works. He discusses the concepts, impact, and highlights of each of his works, spanning from Valis II to the newly released Princess Antiphona’s Hymn, giving plenty of insight into his philosophy, technology, and collaborators along the way. The final interview is a must-read for anyone who has played and heard Nippon Ichi’s classics.
Interview Subject: Tenpei Sato
Interviewer: Don Kotowski
Editor: Chris Greening
Translation & Localisation: Shota Nakama, Ben Schweitzer
Coordination: Don Kotowski
Don: Tenpei Sato-san, thank you for allowing us to interview you today. For those of our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you please introduce yourself? What is your musical background and what would you consider your musical influences?
Tenpei Sato: Thank you very much for introducing my music to others.
From my early childhood I took piano lessons, and enjoyed a wide variety of classical music: Chopin, Debussy, and so forth. In middle school, I learned how to play guitar and formed a band. I sang as well as composed music for the group, and we played on the streets of Harajuku as well as in various clubs throughout Tokyo. At the time, Japan was undergoing a massive surge in the popularity of bands, and the streets of Harajuku had become holy ground, so I was very glad to have been able to play there. The band that influenced us most was Queen.
While I was playing with the band, I joined a brass band and played clarinet with them, and also started to study composition in earnest with my teachers. Then I joined Geinoh Yamashirogumi, which was noted for its music for Akira, and studied ethnic musics of the world as well as Japan’s traditional music. I performed a kabuki rock musical while there. I was heavily influenced by Balinese Gamalan and Kecak, as well as the the traditional choral musics of Bulgaria, Asia, and Africa. I still participate in Kecak performances from time to time. In that way, I moved from classical, to pop and rock, and then to ethnic music, and I came to be exposed to and enjoy all types of music.
Also, at the same time as I was pursuing music, I actively pursued theater. Instead of just acting, I formed my own theater group and composed all of the original music for plays and musicals that we produced and performed. I make use of the experience I received at that time even today. My music for theater and stage was strongly influenced by the art of Mr. Shuuji Terayama.
Don: Some of your earliest video game work was for Telenet. Could you please describe the difficulties of composing music on limited hardware and reflect on your scores for XZR II, Cyber City, and Valis II?
Tenpei Sato: Valis II was a big hit, and it achieved the number one spot on the weekly rankings. The animated cutscenes were fully integrated, and the music to the thrilling opening scene (“Virgin Crisis”) and the music to the ending scene when the heroine lingers behind by herself (“Ever Green”) were very well received, so a soundtrack was released.
Cyber City was produced for the launch of the first Japanese PC to have a CD-ROM drive, FM-Towns, so the music used synthesizers and sampling instead of the internal sound source, resulting in a more genuine sound. XZR II meanwhile received an award from Login Magazine in its game music awards.
It was very fun to work with the data on platforms that allow a limited number of audio streams, trying to find ways to write varied music. I had three voices of FM synth and three of PSG synth, and I liked the particular swelling sound that came from emphasizing two tracks of downtuned PSG. As for FM synth, the first synthesizer I bought was a Yamaha DX7, so I have a lot of affection for its sound. It’s capable of very dynamic expression, and I used the electric piano, synth bass, and rock guitar sounds a lot.
Don: Another company for whom you composed music was Glodia. Perhaps the most popular of these works were Emerald Dragon and Bible Master II: The Chaos of Aglia. What was the overall musical direction of these soundtracks and could you reflect upon any favorite themes you had from these games?
Tenpei Sato: I could never forget the night when the young staff at Glodia came to my studio with high ideals and technological skill and passionately discussed their works. Emerald Dragon was a big hit and achieved the number one spot on the rankings; certainly, it was a major work, even now loved by many fans. The beauty of its visual scenes far outstripped the competition, and the emotional story left an impression on me, so I composed the music with its worldview firmly in mind.
Bible Master II: The Chaos of Aglia was partially installed onto the hard drive instead of simply being played off of the disk, so I was able to move on to using MIDI synth. That time, I got the chance to perform and introduce my soundtrack CD on a TV program.
Don: Could you please discuss your solo breakthrough solo score to Alshark and its remake on behalf of Right Stuff?
Tenpei Sato: Alshark was a big hit space fantasy RPG, and it achieved number one on the weekly rankings. My favorite piece is the opening theme, “Alshark,” as it gives the thrilling sensation of flying through space. After the game was released, it was remade for the MEGA CD (SEGA CD in the US) and the music was performed by a live band. It was reinvigorated as cool rock music. Again, I was able to perform and introduce the soundtrack CD on TV, and the sales were good.
I also composed and produced the debut single for the idol trio that sang Alshark‘s image song, PUFF. The next year, I produced the cyber-idol Reiko Chiba-san’s debut single. She was extremely popular, appearing as a magazine pinup and as a heroine in several TV Dramas. She also performed the image song for SNK’s Fatal Fury Special.
With both PUFF and Reiko Chiba-san, every morning I led them in basic vocal exercises, and I would personally supervise the actual recording from noon until dawn the next day. You couldn’t simply record to the computer and edit freely like you can today. The studio I used had a standard Sony 3348 multi-track digital tape recorder worth several million yen. For that reason, the vocal had to be redone many times, and the recording took an exceptionally long amount of time, but they always gave it their best, singing until we finished.
Today, there are countless game music CDs released monthly, and a lot of tie-ins with various artists and idols, but in the early 90s, the number of titles released annually numbered in the dozens, and tie-ins were rare. Game music as a whole has gone towards the normal music industry, both in its business model and in the quality of its music, and I feel it was very worthwhile to have been part of the buildup of this wave of the future.
Don: As you moved towards streaming sound, you worked on two other exploratory scores, Eko Eko Azarak: Wizard of Darkness, and Combat Choro Q, both of which received album releases. Where do you feel these scores stand in your career?
Tenpei Sato: Eko Eko Azarak was a horror adventure adapted from a popular anime and film series. As I had specialized in a horror-related madness sound from my days at Geinoh Yamashirogumi, I had a lot of ideas about how to compose it. I achieved my horror sound by basing the music on a sample of the heroine Kimika Yoshino’s scream and a broken-down, out of tune piano.
Combat Choro Q was an action game involving tanks. I composed weighty classical music for the game’s battlefields. The music was very well received. With the sequel, Choro QHG, the soulful English vocals on the opening theme attracted attention.
Don: Despite being a very active game music composer, you were also able to work on a variety of non-game projects. In 1995, you released a solo album titled Imagination. What would you consider the overall goal of this original work and could you reflect on any favorites you might have?
Tenpei Sato: The studio where I work and the place where I live are always one and the same, so it is very important to my creative work to choose the right location. At the time I created the albumImagination, I lived near Shinjuku station. Shinjuku has the tallest buildings in Japan, and features Japan’s most bustling street, Kabuki-cho; it is an exciting area with a diverse population, and for a long time it has been a birthplace of cultural movements. I would walk along the street searching for inspiration, and I would express in music my feelings of seeing the scenery there, of meeting the people there. For that reason, the names of actual people and shops appear in the titles and lyrics.
The pianist Kaori Oosuga, who is still active today under the name Rosco, performed a number of piano pieces on the album. You can hear her delicate, beautiful piano solo playing on “Imagination ~ Long Night” and others, which were inspired by French composers such as Debussy. Telekura had become a problem within the company, so I enjoyed writing “Welcome to the Telephone Club,” a rap dialogue between a man and a woman. I challenged myself by trying my hand at rap on the track.
Since then I have moved to Shibuya. Walking along those streets, I constantly feel flashes of inspiration in the overwhelming speed and vigor, in the outgoing people, in the bombardment of music and images, in the lines of restaurants and fashion shops. I normally walk past the wide Yoyogi Park, and I am washed by the pure air that comes from the abundant natural greenery. I think that, next time, I will base my new solo album on this area.
Don: Five years later, you released Schell Bullet: Thanaphs68, an album based on the manga Schell Bullet. To many, this is considered one of your most experimental albums. Could you describe the overall theme of this album and the difficulties associated with composing an image album for a printed manga?
Tenpei Sato: The original novel was a very original effort by Mr. Kunihiko Ikuhara, director of the anime shows Sailor Moon and Utena. It had aesthetic, radical, and vulgar imagery, so I created an extremely experimental album, with a sound that could be called something like cyber-progressive-space fantasy. The jacket design, by popular Manga artist Mamoru Nagano, created some interest.
In order to realize my sound concept, I utilized “voice percussion”. Using Mr. Ikuhara’s and my voices, I created a sampled loop of various obscene sexual words (“Shell Bullet”). The two of us read revolutionary speeches like poetry and screamed and punched each other violently (“Centurion”). Over this avant-garde backing, Maria Kawamura sung a beautiful melody, like an angel healing one’s wounds.
For the jacket, which was Mr. Ikuhara’s idea, he wore the prisoner’s outfit, Kawamura-san was a dominatrix, and I cosplayed as a princess with a fake dress. So that I could dress as a woman, all of my leg hair was shaved off, I wore heavy make-up, and wore a fake dress, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as beautiful a transformation as I had hoped. The picture was published in large form as a fold-out in the anime magazine Animage.
Don: On a related theme, you have also composed for a lot of games originally based on animes, such as Gunslinger Girl and Mistlarouge. What was your process for composing for these games and could you describe the difficulties of composing for a game that already had a set musical style based on its anime?
Tenpei Sato: The Gunslinger Girl game for the PlayStation 2 was sold together as a package with the anime series DVDs in three volumes. In order to match the violin playing of the heroine, I composed a good number of impressive pieces with aesthetic and decadent violin solos.
Mistlarouge was the first Internet anime to have a Drama CD based on it, so it created a stir. There was even a public presentation in a movie theater. That year was called the first year of the broadband era, and we had entered the era of high-speed communication on the Internet, and one after another, many new kinds of expression appeared online. I composed music from those passionate discussions of the possibilities and the future in the Internet with the new project leaders. It has been 10 years since then, and as you all know, there has been a dramatic movement in music, videos, and games towards the Internet.
Don: Even though you’ve worked on a variety of projects for a variety of companies, most people associate your name with Nippon Ichi Software. Your first major work with them was The Puppet Princess of Marl’s Kingdom (known as Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure in the US). Could you describe how you approached composing the soundtrack to match the style of the game? What were the most challenging aspects of creating a soundtrack that imitated a musical?
Tenpei Sato: The Puppet Princess of Marl’s Kingdom had a gentle, heartwarming story, and its cute characters sang and danced; it would become famous as the first musical game. I love musicals, and I still remember coming home from the end of the first meeting, trembling with excitement. I had already composed and performed some musicals for the stage, so when I began composing for the game, I was overflowing with ideas, and one after another, I wrote the musical numbers. The ending theme, “Thank You,” became especially popular, and even now, 10 years later, people are singing it at karaoke.
So that I could record so many musical numbers in a short period of time, I upgraded my studio in Shibuya with real recording booths, mikes, pre-amps and such, and got the standard recording software, Protools TDM. The singers Maria Kawamura-san, Ikue Ootani-san, Yukari Tamura-san and so forth were all popular, talented, wonderful voice actresses, and I was moved by their professional-level singing. I was able to learn from them.
The overseas version, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, had some wonderful songs in English performed by American singers, and I enjoyed them. The music is the same, but when I heard the songs performed by native English speakers, suddenly I was able to hear the styles of Disney and Broadway. It was very fun.
Don: Two sequels, Little Princess: The Puppet Princess of Marl’s Kingdom 2 and Angel’s Present: Marl’s Kingdom Story were released, but only in Japan. Could you reflect upon these two soundtracks? Did you approach these soundtracks differently from the first game in the series?
Tenpei Sato: For Little Princess: The Puppet Princess of Marl’s Kingdom 2, I raised the quality of the music and wrote more pieces, so in its variety and songs, I practically did create a musical. Because of this, the music is the most popular in the series among Marl’s Kingdom fans, and I would love for it to reach audiences overseas.
The theme music, “The Little Princess’s Decision,” is arranged to fit various scenes in the story, and it is wrapped up in a magnificent orchestral version in the ending. Also, I will never be able to forget the exquisite harmonies by Maria Kawamura-san and Ikue Ootani-san in the duet “Because We’re Always Together.” I also participated as vocalist in a number of the tracks.
The comical and slightly eerie “Sabbath” from the third game, Angel’s Present: Marl’s Kingdom Storyfeatured Yukari Tamura-san as part of a trio in a fun dialogue that became very popular.
There are a lot of fans of the Marl’s Kingdom series, and even now some continue to hope for a sequel. I would absolutely love to revisit the world of Marl’s Kingdom in music again.
Don: In July 2009, the game Princess Antiphona’s Hymn: Angel’s Score Op. A was released for the PSP. Considered a spiritual successor to the Marl Kingdom series, what would you consider the differences between your approach to this soundtrack and those from the Marl Kingdom soundtracks?
Tenpei Sato: I really love Princess Antiphona’s Hymn: Angel’s Score Op. A. Set in the Antiphona Kingdom where the heroine Miabel lives, it is a fun and heartwarming musical RPG. The characters and story are cute, and since I love them so much, I composed every piece wholeheartedly.
The game was created as a successor to the Marl’s Kingdom series, but according to the director’s plan, the music is a little bit different. Marl’s Kingdom uses the style of classic musicals, while Antiphona uses the modern pop musical style for a number of songs. But both of them share beautiful melodies and a warm sound, and many people have enjoyed them.
For the game, I composed and recorded more than 30 pieces of BGM and 15 musical-style songs. I participated as vocalist in a number of the songs once again. The whole cast sang in the ending song “She is an Ally of Justice,” and the deeply sad ethnic choral pieces, such as “Blacker and More Fragrant than Secrets,” have gained some popularity. The BGM pieces also fit the story perfectly, as with “Humming Hill” for bandoneon and violin.
The ballad that the heroine sings at the climax, “Bird of Dawn,” expresses her feelings and prayers in surpassingly powerful singing. Matched to the wonderful cutscene, it has become my favorite piece from the project.
I love the game, and it is truly unfortunate that it has not been sold overseas. If there is a sequel, I would like for people abroad to enjoy it as well.
Don: Moving away from musicals, La Pucelle: Tactics features a variety of styles, ranging from soft, emotional music to playful, more bombastic themes. What inspired the overall direction of this soundtrack and could you reflect on any favorites you have? In composing for the PSP remake, La Pucelle: Ragnarok, did you alter the way you approached the music for the new themes featured in the game?
Tenpei Sato: In La Pucelle, a young exorcist named Prier is the heroine. In order to express the holy ritual of exorcising demons, I composed “Legend of the Holy Maiden of Light” in a made-up language for a mysterious and ethereal sound. With the unique and beautiful voice of Lynne Hobday, who is English, and the mysterious harmonies provided by a thick chorus, it turned out to be a very memorable and popular piece. Since Prier is a very happy girl, full of emotion, I wrote many different types of BGM in order to match the story. The ending ballad, “Miracles Happen,” has entered karaoke, and many people love it.
In contrast to “Legend of the Holy Maiden of Light,” I composed La Pucelle Ragnarok’s image theme, “Legend of the Holy Maiden of Darkness,” which is dark and heavy. I used the same basic melody, but the sound is very aggressive, and I added a thrilling choral arrangement.
Around that time I performed on a TV program. An idol came to my private studio suddenly to collect material and report live. It was an interesting idea. Producing and filming the interview in the place where I compose and record music, I was able to introduce the visuals and the soundtrack CD of La Pucelle.
Don: One of my personal favorite scores is for Phantom Brave. It’s a very emotional score full of beauty and sadness. What would you consider the overall theme of the soundtrack and could you describe your inspirations for this soundtrack? Out of all your soundtracks, I find this one to have the most beautiful vocal themes. What sorts of images did you want listeners to have after hearing each one?
Tenpei Sato: Thank you for enjoying the music to Phantom Brave so much. It is an important work to me, and I love it dearly.
The game’s main characters, Ash and Marona, are siblings living on an island out in the ocean. They are very kind people, and the story is sad. So I primarily composed “Healing” music, warm and gentle, featuring violin, acoustic guitar, and soprano chorus, but also with some ethnic influence.
The story begins with the theme song “Angel Breath,” sung by the magnificent soprano Serena-san, accompanied by string orchestra. Rei Tateishi-san brought many people to tears with her excellent singing ability in the insert song, “Friend”. Closing the story is “Heavens Garden,” with its beautiful violin ensemble and heartwarming, affecting vocals. I very much hope that there will be a sequel, since there are so many fans of Phantom Brave‘s music.
Don: Another soundtrack I find near and dear to my heart is the soundtrack for Soul Cradle (aka Soul Nomad and the World Eaters). Given the dark scope of the story, how did you approach scoring this soundtrack? Do you have any particular favorites on the soundtrack? What would you consider the most difficult aspect of composing for this soundtrack?
Tenpei Sato: I also like Soul Cradle a lot. The story was very dark and heavy, with a sorrowful atmosphere, so I emphasized a heavy orchestral sound focusing on strings in the music. Its beautiful, lonely, emotional melodies have stuck with me.
For the boss battle music, though, I composed a violent piece — very avant-garde. “Crying for the Dark Sky” has a sexual vocal, sultry bordering on madness, and of all of my battle music it’s the most violent and the one I like most. On the other hand, I also composed some gentle ballads for acoustic guitar and solo violin. “Love Letter” is a very popular calm piece, for instance.
The ending theme, “Cradle of the Ivory Moon” is a magnificent ballad that combines a beautiful and mysterious chorus with a rich, warm vocal with an ethnic sound. The oboe melody in the bridge has stayed with me, and it’s my personal favorite piece from Soul Cradle. Given there are so many fans ofSoul Cradle‘s music, I eagerly anticipate a sequel. I would like to try my hand at an authentic, grand orchestra sound.
Don: Many would argue that your most popular work is for the Disgaea series. In particular, the score for the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is often hailed as an excellent fusion of styles that really fit the scenario of the game. What were some of the most difficult aspects of composing for this soundtrack compared to some of the more lighthearted works you are known for, and can you reflect on some of your favorite moments on the soundtrack?
Tenpei Sato: Since the game became a worldwide hit, many people have come to love its idiosyncratic music. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them from the bottom of my heart.
Disgaea has a very original story — comical and crazy. The main character is Laharl, a demon prince, and the story is set in the demon world. The other characters, such as Etna and Octalley, are very unique and have become more popular than the protagonist. I composed many pieces for the game, but in contrast to one’s dark image of a demon world, the music is comical, lively, enthusiastic, and intense. Producer Sohei Niikawa asked that I write unique music, so I was able to compose freely and playfully.
The main theme song “Laharl’s Hymn” uses a large and magnificent chorus, and it has an eerie sound, but its lyrics are fun and comical, so it’s become quite popular. On the insert song “War Comrade,” I did the vocals myself. The song praises the brave, and I used an old, nostalgic rock sound. That’s why it became the most popular piece from the game. At video sharing sites, it has been posted and played many times, and there are many enthusiastic comments. When I composed and recorded the song, I could never have anticipated that it would achieve that level of popularity.
The ending theme, “Flower of Happiness,” is a warm ballad that features a beautiful chorus like petals in a meadow in the spring, floating and fluttering about. It is my personal favorite piece from the original Disgaea. These three pieces have all been transferred into karaoke form, and even now are sung and enjoyed by many people.
Don: Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, but at the same time also managed to create its own sound. What would you consider the key differences between the overall musical direction of this soundtrack compared to the first game? Having had an established sound for the Disgaea series, did you find it easier to compose this soundtrack and could you reflect on some of your favorite themes?
Tenpei Sato: The sound director changed for Disgaea 2, so the sound of the music was oriented more towards rock. Many of the tracks are fast and intense.
The theme song, “Sinful Rose,” became very popular, and it is the most loved song from Disgaea 2. Known as a very cool piece, it has a thrilling and enthusiastic performance from the violin and an intense Spanish guitar. Many people were moved by the ending rock ballad, “Sparkle, to Become a Star,” and I have received many happy responses about it. Like the ending theme of the predecessor, it is my favorite piece from the game.
I recorded the vocals for “White Tiger”. It is the theme of a very popular character, and this enthusiastic and intense song became very popular. I enjoyed singing it together with everyone. These three pieces also became karaoke, and every night many people sing them.
When Disgaea 2 was released, the television anime Makai Senki Disgaea was being broadcast. For the show’s soundtrack, the music was re-recorded with full orchestra and mixed chorus, and a soundtrack CD was released. I undertook the arrangement and recording direction, even for the orchestral tracks.
Don: The music for Disgaea 3 was much more lighthearted and playful then the previous games in the series. Could you please reflect on the musical direction of this soundtrack? Due to the technological advances in the gaming industry, Disgaea 3 received a downloadable expansion with a new musical direction. Out of these two soundtracks, what would you consider some of your favorite themes?
Tenpei Sato: Disgaea 3 and the Raspberyl part of the additional content are set in the Maritsu Evil Academy. A lot of the music is in the particular style of older school dramas, so I composed a lot of parodical and light pieces.
The opening theme is composed like a Disney song, somewhat akin to a demon world musical. The large chorus is eerie, comical, and fun, and both the song and the promotional video, which features the characters singing and dancing, were well received. A good number of singers participated, and the resulting sound was gorgeous, lively, and unique. The track has become karaoke, and it seems that singing it has caught on at karaoke boxes.
The chorus in “Extreme Outlaw King” is filled with emotion, and I find it very memorable. It was used as the base theme without any regard for the lyrics, but it fit the scene perfectly and the chorus was unforgettable. It became very popular.
For the ending theme “A Song For You,” I tried writing gospel music. A duo of popular gospel singers, Miki-san and Haru-san, sang the song’s flashy and soulful harmonies, and I joined in for a trio. The high point is when the gospel choir enters with a powerful adlib at the very end; it was a moving finish to the game’s story. It is my personal favorite piece from Disgaea 3.
Don: The Disgaea series also spawned a visual novel game entitled Disgaea Infinite. Could you describe your experiences in translating the musical style of the Disgaea series into a form more fitting for a visual novel? How would you compare composing for a visual novel to composing for a normal video game?
Tenpei Sato: It had been a long time since I had last composed music for a visual novel, so I enjoyed it a lot. The story was set in the demon world gallery. I started with the comical sound of Disgaea’s demon world, and in order to achieve an elegant and traditional feel, composed primarily classical music. The ending theme “Midnight Hero” is upbeat pop rock, however.
Don: Given the popularity of the Disgaea series, Nippon Ichi decided to release a spinoff game focusing on the iconic Prinny character. Rather than being a strategy RPG, this game was considered an action game. Could you describe your approach to scoring this soundtrack and any difficulties that came with adapting the Disgaea style of music to an action game? How did your approach for the sequel compare and contrast?
Tenpei Sato: The Prinny series games are light-hearted action games, so I composed a lot of fast and thrilling music for them. I composed the serious, fast pieces straight, and it felt very good.
The theme song of the popular character Asagi, “Asagi Metamorphose,” is a comical rock song, bursting with concert atmosphere, and it became very popular. The ending theme, “Wrinkled Dream,” is a refreshing but slightly oppressive ballad, and the composition and its charming, beautiful vocals have been very well received. It’s my favorite piece from Prinny.
Prinny 2 will be more like Disgaea, having a number of pop and comical pieces. With “Beyond Asagi (tentative title),” I tried my hand at writing my first Enka song; Masako Ookouchi-san gave a wonderfully sorrowful and passionate performance.
Don: Many of your soundtracks are bundled with the Japanese release of the game. However many of these soundtracks also receive arrange albums in the form of commercial releases. When it comes to these arrange albums, how do you decide what themes to include and what is your intended goal for the listener to experience that they might not be able to on the original soundtracks?
Tenpei Sato: For the arrange albums, I record the full versions of tracks that people were unable to hear all of in the game. I upgrade the quality of the sound source for each track, replace the synth with live performances from top notch players, and I am able to achieve a more magnificent and dynamic sound. It might be something like an upgrade and full version album. For the selections, I try to find a balance between the fans’ requests and my own preferences.
Don: Although you are primarily known for your Nippon Ichi and other gaming soundtracks, you are a frequent contributor to other forms of media, such as the film Flowers. Could you please reflect on your experiences in composing for various forms of the musical industry and discuss any of these projects that you are particularly proud of?
Tenpei Sato: I love movie music, and I have composed for several films and anime projects. D#1 is a Psychic Horror movie in which the protagonist is a youth guilty of murder. I composed fantasy-themed music in an avant-garde style in order to express the instability of the protagonist’s mental state. The movie played in overseas film festivals, and I received an impressive award at a Swedish film festival for the music. So Europe was introduced to my soundtracks, and I received a work offer in the mail in German. But I was unable to respond well in German, so I didn’t get the job.
Flowers is a romance movie. In order to express the particular relationship and the feelings of distance between the couple, I used only piano, strings, and acoustic guitar. Allowing for the gaps, the space between individual sounds, I composed very delicate and beautiful music. These two works are available on CD as well as DVD.
I would like to list some things I have done in other areas. I helped to present the popular Tsugaru-jamisen instrumentalists, the brother and sister Ichidai and Tenbi Fukui, and I created an original song with Olympic athlete Masako Chiba. I also created the music for AIBO, the robotic dog developed by Sony. Although it was the first time in a while that I was restricted in the number of simultaneous voices, I enjoyed composing for it.
I also wrote a book on composing computer music, “Computer Music: A Super Beginner’s Manual,” published by Softbank. A lot of computer music magazines started up during the 90s, and as the machines have become cheaper and composing music on the computer has become more normal, the era called the computer music boom began. I contributed articles to numerous music magazines, and have helped the movement to make MIDI data public. In the discussion sections of magazines, I talked with many popular artists who use computers and synthesizers. We talked about music and touched on the newest machines; I felt that, in synthesizers and computers, I could feel an endless future, and I was very happy in that era.
As computer music evolved, game music began to attract attention, and the synthesizer maker Roland held an event for game music creators. I was the host, and Yuzo Koshiro-san, Hitoshi Sakimoto-san, and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi-san participated. We introduced our own music, and held a panel discussion.
Don: Given the rapid advancement in technology in the video game industry, what do you see for the future of video game music? Do you think that the advancement in technology has helped your music grow as a musician?
Tenpei Sato: The thing I have found more exciting than anything else working in game music is to have the feeling of being at the forefront of technological evolution, and utilizing that technology, to be able to express myself in music. One breathes life into cold machines, and imparts warm emotion. Can I get this machine to play almost like an instrument… no, to sing like a bird, like a human? Am I able to express myself?
From PSG synth to FM synth, from sampled internal sound source to streaming audio, from internal MIDI to the large sample banks of today’s software… Ever since the 80s, I have used the most recent technology for musical expression: researched it, used it, and mastered it, and I have enjoyed every bit of it. It is probably like the feelings of a child who returns to a toy to play with it until it breaks. I never want to forget that pure spirit of curiosity and playfulness.
I think that more games will exist online from now on, and that the data and applications for music production will be put up on the internet. At the same time the connections built between us composers will progress rapidly, and when our musical ideas are no longer shut away on our individual studio computer hard drives and memory cards, and can be reconstructed freely on the web, I look forward to seeing what new music will result.
Don: Thank you very much for your time today, Tenpei Sato-san. With the recent releases of Prinny 2and Disgaea Infinite, what does the future hold for Tenpei Sato-san? Would you like to give a message to your fans around the world?
Tenpei Sato: At the moment I am busy working on the music for a sequel in a very popular series. I am giving it my all so that people around the world may hear it soon; please wait just a little bit longer. I have gotten back into a band, and we are rehearsing so that we can perform everyone’s favorite pieces live. I would love for all of you to come see us live and sing out loud together with me. I look forward enthusiastically to meeting everyone there.
Here at the end I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all who have supported me. More than anything else, your feelings have allowed me to create music. I look forward to working hard for you in the future as well. Thank you all so very much for reading to the very end.
Many thanks to Don Kotowski for organising the interview, Shota Nakama for translating all the questions, and Ben Schweitzer for his extensive and elegant translation of the answers. Finally, special thanks to Tenpei Sato for being such a friendly and helpful interview subject, and giving such detailed and fascinating answers.
Posted on August 15, 2010 by Don Kotowski. Last modified on March 2, 2014.