Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack and Why It’s Important for Independent Artists

Now for my first analysis of an album, I wanted to do something relatively different. I could have done any of Joy Division’s albums since they’re my favorite band, but I would be missing the mark. The fact of the matter is, they were at the right place, at the right time, with the precise set of perfect circumstances to create their music. For me to write praises about them would be too easy, and it would be antithetical to this blog to write about people who already have enough written about them. Especially since most of the blog articles written are about underground musicians who are trying to make it.

So, to set the stage why I am reviewing this album, we gotta go back in time. Back when I was a struggling make believe filmmaker. When I quit trying to make films because I kept encountering the same problem. That I, and everyone that I worked with, couldn’t make the art we wanted due to some unforeseen circumstances that we couldn’t overcome . The actress didn’t like the script and refused to be apart of it, the cameras were cheap and the image quality was poor, we didn’t have good enough audio recording equipment and we could barely hear dialogue over the background noise, we didn’t know what we were doing etc.

We all had grandiose ambitions, they wanted to be Meryl Streep or Marlon Brando; and I wanted to be Stanley Kubrick. I wanted so badly to make movies, that every film I watched I would take notes on: where the camera was placed, how the shot was framed, the lens filter they used, the mis-en-scène, where it was filmed, how the director got the performances he wanted etc. I wanted so badly to be an independent filmmaker. To have complete creative control over my art.

Yet my family was down to one car, and for a few weeks we had no car. I applied to every job where I lived and couldn’t even get a job in McDonalds. Reality forced me to abandon those ambitions, and with no other options I joined the Navy. The people I tried to work with stayed in school studying acting, and at this moment are still in school studying to be actors.

I didn’t do anything creative until two years into my navy career, when I found a guitar in one of our shops. I began playing it, and fell in love with it. I had complete control over it–strumming a few chords–I could create a new world. A world that was mine, a world filled with everything I liked, that I could escape to and seek shelter in.

Orson Welles’ had a great quote on this, “The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.” So when I was reading Akira Yamaoka’s interview, it struck a chord. When asked about what he thought about other video game composers, he said, “Unfortunately, there isn’t any game music I like. I do not have any favorite game music composer, either. It seems to me that many of the game music composers do their work as their side business. I cannot really have respect or a close feeling toward much of the game music I’ve heard. I suppose many of the video game music creators are really shallow… In other words, those people seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc.

“Of course, that is not true for all game music composers, but in any case I think there are many shallow creators who seem to do their work as a side business. Also, as to the music style itself, I don’t think there are many composers who are making really interesting music. The structure, the focus on ordinary music theory, regular instrument formations, etc… Everything like that seems very boring to me. The originality is often lacking and that’s very boring.”

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This is from a man from an entirely different set of circumstances from most rockbands I admire. Most of them came out during the end of the punk scene, or were–as mentioned before–in the right place, the right time, with precise set of perfect circumstances. This was a guy who was making video game music in 2001. Back then to see video games as anything other than a kid’s toy, or some nerdy niche, was absurd. Now in hindsight, we can see that video games especially during that time were art, but the rest of the world didn’t.

When reading his interview, I couldn’t help but see myself in that quote “[Video game composers] seem to be in the business just because their true dreams did not come true; person A might have wanted to do business in the music business, person B might have wanted to play in a band, but could not make enough money, etc..” It could be that I’m solipsistic, but I believe that no matter what circumstance a creative person is in, a creative person is going to create. Yet no other video game soundtrack I had ever heard then sounded anything like Silent Hill 2.

Take the opening song Theme of Laura, when I first played the game I couldn’t believe my ears. Firstly that it was really well done rock song; and secondly, that was so moody, and introspective. It wasn’t the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure, or some leftover soundtrack from some action movie that was never used. It was different. It was unique. It was something that I could have heard in all those bands that I admired so much, it had a unique vision that could rival Kubrick’s. In other words, it was art.

So compare Theme of Laura to another video game soundtrack by another–not so blind–Japanese video game composer.

 

Does that invoke any emotions in you other than confusion? Does that sound like an artist trying their hardest to make the best possible music? Are they doing the best they can to express themselves? No, of course not. It sounded like somebody who was in the business of making video game music because their dreams failed.

Akira Yamaoka stated that his influences for this album was Angelo Badalementi, Trent Reznor, Depeche Mode, and Metallica. I bet you that if any of them heard any track from this album–even if it wasn’t their cup of tea–would still respect the music. There wouldn’t be anybody calling Akira Yamaoka a sell out or anything like that. In fact, take listening to a track like Black Fairy you can’t help but feel the intense sense of foreboding, and creepiness. Yet most horror music, even for films, at that time sounded quite like it.

The whole album is drenched in an introspective melancholy, the kind that is so beautiful and sincere that it almost becomes comforting–which is why sadness always seems so hard to get rid of. Until, like most things melancholy it devolves into a dark sinister sound that devours any trace of hope, and you’re left with nothing but pure misery. Yet there is still hope, like when people jumping off the Golden Gate bridge still hopes that someone reaches out to save them. For a video game album to convey such deep and rich emotions, is so bizarre. It’s an album that can stand on it’s own on the music scene. Even without the video game associated with it, with it’s tank controls, obtuse puzzles, and dated game mechanics.

So why is this album important to independent artists? Quite simple. Even if your dreams fail of you being the next Marlon Brando, David Bowie, Ernest Hemingway, or Stanley Kubrick; it doesn’t mean that your dreams are over. It just means that you have to adapt. And by adapt, I don’t mean join the music industry because you know how to make music–what I mean by adapt is to work your hardest to make the best music you possibly can. To make it yours, and for your vision to shine. Even in a field of video game composers, in an industry people don’t even consider art, Akira Yamaoka created a timeless masterpiece that people will still listen to 50 years later.

Don’t stay fixated on one idea of what it means to “make it.” Stay fixated on one thing and one thing only. To make art, and music that is yours, and yours alone. And no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, stay true to yourself.

(Insert name here)wave: Review

It all started with New wave, which makes sense, it’s a “New wave” of artists that are making NEW sounds, and experimenting with NEW genres. So it makes sense that the term would eventually come into existence. Then “No Wave” comes along, which was a tongue n’ cheek response to New wave. Flash forward a bit, and then Vaporwave comes a long. How can something be a wave and a vapor? Then you read up on it, and oh you find out that “It’s about some Marxist critique against capitalism.”

Alright then so where does Zeldawave fit into this narrative? Well I have my own personal theory on this, but basically everything that can be made lo-fi, reverbed out, and sound like hypnagogic pop is a wave now. So here I am to review it.

ZELDAWAVE

 

Are we even able to be nostalgic about Ocarina of time? They literally just released a game for the 3DS a few years back. Plus does the original track really need trap music over it, or for it to be lo-fi? The music video is nice, but after a few views of this type of aesthetic, it no longer has it’s retains it’s novelty. Plus the video itself is over 20 minutes long and doesn’t really craft a coherent emotional story like other “waves” do, and as a result is lot less substantive than other videos. It breathes life into a few songs, and gives it a new spin, which I do appreciate. But at the same time if you look up on soundcloud any Ocarina of Time song, you’ll find 3,000 remixes. At the end of the day this is just a Ocarina of Time soundtrack remix with VHS glitches from footage from the game. So it’s not breaking any new ground. I give this one a 2/5 Hey, Listens.

J B P W A V E

 

This type of wave is only for those lobsters who have climbed up the top of the socio-hierarchy, cleaned their rooms, and washed their balls. I can unpeel this onion but it’s going to be a pain, and I’ll end up crying.

This “wave” is so bizarre since the music video contains two anime women, some lo-fi hip hop, and Jordan Peterson monologues. This video is less about music, and more about a descent into madness. Jordan Peterson’s monologues taken out of context–or even in context–can at times be a bit of word salad that devolves into gibberish. But having this music over it, just makes me lose my mind. Like seriously what the fuck did the person have in mind when sampling Jordan Peterson? I don’t know what he’s talking about! The samples seem to be chosen at random, they have no theme or anything. Just imagine taking anybody speaking, randomly sample large parts of their speeches, and then put a lo-fi beat over it. Which makes it impossible to listen to what he’s saying, and completely detracts from the MUSIC–which is crazy I know, that a music video should contain music rather than random samplings of a Professor speaking cleaning your room, socio-hierarchies, and lobsters over music for 45 minutes. I give this “wave” 1 lobster out of 5.

COWBOY BEBOP

Technically not a wave, and not as popular as its constituents this one actually makes a bit of sense. Since lo-fi hip hop uses so many jazz influences and Cowboy Bebop contains some of the best jazz music ever in Anime, it would be fitting that someone would make a wave of this. Jazz itself really works well with hip hop, where the complexity of jazz gets reigned in, and put into a simpler and more digestible form than it would have otherwise been. The visual aesthetics of Cowboy Bebop gives it an edge over it’s competition. That and the fact it was played on Adult Swim all the time, which always had on this chill type of music, really gives it an advantage in the nostalgia department. I give this “wave” 4/5 cigarettes.

SYNTHWAVE/RETROWAVE

 

Obviously I had to include this one in there. Considering I’ve reviewed countless synthwave albums, and this is a “wave” that makes sense, since it’s a “wave” of musicians who use synths, and have an 80’s aesthetic towards everything they do. If there is any genre that deserve legitimacy in having “wave” in it’s name it’s this one. Plus who doesn’t like the 80’s? I give this one 5/5 cars driving on virtual grids towards a virtual sunset.

SIMPSONWAVE

 

The most popular of the “waves” this one really became loved at one moment and hated the next. The formula is simple, find some already popular vaporwave/electronic/retrowave music cut up some Simpon’s clips. And bam. You got a youtube video. The problem with this, is that when it’s well done, it’s really well done. This track above is surprisingly emotional, and is rich in aesthetics, more so than any recent Simpsons episodes. Not to beat a dead horse, with the Simpsons circling down the drain, it makes me recall those fond memories of watching Simpson’s episodes in the 90’s. The reason it became stale is that like anything popular, imitators come along, do poorly constructed versions of it. To the point where the original music, and the original music videos lose their mojo. When done well Simpsonwave can be enjoyable (as seen above), but when done poorly, makes you hate life. I give this bipolar “wave” a 3 d’ohs out of 5

FASHWAVE

Nope.

Well that’s all the waves that I found this morning on youtube. It’s all marketing and whatever. Like how in the early 2000’s there were AMV’s playing Linkin Park, it’s the exact same thing, except with vaporwave, lo-fi hip hop and whatever. It’s all gibberish, because in the end it doesn’t even matter.

 

Also 10/5 for Chester Bennington RIP press F to pay respects.