[Continuing his 'Sound Current' interview series for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska speaks to Capcom composer Yuko Komiyama as Monster Hunter Tri debuts in the West, looking at the big-in-Japan series' musical history and inspirations.]

Musician Yuko Komiyama, an in-house composer for Capcom, was among the musical guests appearing onstage at Monster Hunter's 5th Anniversary orchestral concert to introduce her original compositions.

The live event was organized by Harmonics International, whose game concerts have included Kenji Ito’s gentle echo meeting, and was performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at the Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro.

In addition to classical orchestration, multi-regional musical influences pervaded the performance. Virtuosic vocal themes were sung by Ikuko, Koji Ezaki performed an Indian bamboo recorder, and Satoshi Yamamoto played the bouzouki, a long-necked Greek lute.

The orchestral pieces appearing at the event included songs from all three console Monster Hunter games. In this interview, Komiyama offers an overview of the musical influences underlying the game series, whose carefully considered mixture of international styles mirrors the hybrid creatures of the game series.

Komiyama-san, thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this interview. Your work as an in-house composer for Capcom has included writing music for various titles in this game series. Could you describe your approach to the music of Monster Hunter, such as the songs that were featured in this live event?

For this concert of Monster Hunter music, Masato Kouda was responsible for composing most of the songs. I think his achievements as a musician are reflected in the overall quality of the Monster Hunter soundtracks, as he has been involved in writing music for the series since it was first conceived.

In terms of my own participation, it began in 2005 with Monster Hunter Freedom, the third installation in the series. Mainly I contributed concepts for background music, and worked with Kouda-san on creating music that both mirrored the environs of the game world and expressed his personal style.

Following Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, together with other staff members I became responsible for creating new music, all of which greatly benefited from the groundwork laid by Kouda-san. First and foremost, we sought to invest in the series the richness and variety that he'd instilled in the numbered series titles.

The Monster Hunter game world has a number of unique properties. The heritage of the in-game cultures is fundamental to the storyline. There is grittiness to the design of the monsters and a sense of ease in the daily life of the villagers, which are inextricably linked. There are funny moments... scenes of grilling meat come to mind. There is music for the symphony as well as music of traditional cultures. Happiness, anger, sorrow and pleasure, as in writing, all require a vocabulary as a means of communication and as composers musical instruments provide our words and phrases for describing the teeming world of Monster Hunter.

Another aspect to playing these games is the sense that the hunters on the screen have an actual existence and are in balance with the natural environment. On the flip side, I think you are given a sense of the weight of their lives and the travails of struggling to coexist with the brutality of nature. These are themes which are often difficult to express in words, but whenever I work on a Monster Hunter project, I feel my task is to create music that evokes the act of living life to the fullest.

In addition to orchestral instruments, traditional regional music has played a prominent role in the Monster Hunter 5th Anniversary concert. Do you find investigating diverse musical traditions to be a rewarding part of writing for the Monster Hunter soundtracks?

For this concert, orchestral instrumentation was added to the village themes. I think the it made them sound even more appealing than before. I was hopeful that the arrangements for this concert would manage to reflect the emotional range of the source material by beginning with regional instruments in the foreground and witnessing greater orchestral instrumentation as the themes develop. The more instruments you hear, the clearer your memories of the game become... That was the effect I think this helped achieve.

The hunting themes that are triggered upon encountering monsters in the field are included in the game to emphasize the specific attributes of particular monsters. For this reason I requested that the tempo of these songs be reproduced faithfully by the regional instruments featured at the concert.

Normally we as game composers have computers as our primary means for making music, so there are fewer opportunities to listen to live music, especially when it comes to regional influences. As a consequence our team was often learning how to play these traditional instruments by reading online or thumbing through books. The four gifted individuals who performed traditional regional instruments at the Monster Hunter Orchestral Concert have taught us the distinctive features and characteristics of each one. It gave us an even deeper appreciation for the heartwarming sounds and the rich history of these handmade instruments.

To my knowledge these instruments were made with natural materials and played by local people. They are not manufactured. If you look at it that way, they should fit perfectly with scenes set in towns and villages, and a fitting choice for the hunting tracks appearing in the field, don’t you think? While it had been my belief that regional musical influences are an indispensable part of Monster Hunter, the experience of this concert may have played the greatest part in strengthening that notion.

Have you been making music from a young age?

My mother took me to attend music lessons at the age of five and that was how I learned to play the electone. I’d always hoped to work in the music industry, so as a hobby I was writing music from the time I was young. Later I became more serious about composing for the electone in high school, and finally decided to go to university to study.

Any type of music you can think of can be made on the electone and improvised spontaneously. For me it offered all manner of advantages in the study of music, so in retrospect it was the perfect choice.

Outside of the background music, there are other aspects of the Monster Hunter audio design that are particularly involved. For instance, the sounds belonging to the various monsters that appear in the field are manipulated recordings of wild animals such as tigers, alligators and sea lions. As a composer, have you found it worthwhile to work with sound designers together on this game series?

At Capcom composers work closely with sound designers to create audio together. For Monster Hunter Tri, I teamed up with sound designer Momora. He is able to bring sounds that give the game a pleasant atmosphere, while foreshadowing events that are coming just around the bend. Music and sound effects co-exist, so cooperation in their creation makes perfect sense. As a composer I get lots of great ideas from sound designers, and the inspiration is mutual. We all have the same goal, spectacular sound, so it's easy to get along.

An extraordinary amount of effort went into organizing the single-day Monster Hunter Orchestral Concert. Could you describe the experience of attending the rehearsals leading up to the event?

When all the participants were finally assembled for the rehearsal it was staggering to see just how many people were involved in the making of the Monster Hunter Orchestral Concert. While only two shows were performed, everyone involved gave it their all so that every moment of the concert could be special. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for all the dedication that made this concert possible.

I wish I could have been less nervous during all the preparatory stages so that I could have fully taken in the entire experience. To tell you the truth the whole time I was preoccupied with looking over the sheet music, having detailed discussions with the arrangers, and relaying various requests to the conductor, tinkering with the program schedule and... well the list goes on and on. I watched the video footage at the after-party and was moved by the performance, the commitment of the conductor and the beauty of the lighting.

For the making of the soundtrack to Monster Hunter Tri, you were recording in the Czech Republic. What kind of dialog took place between you and the Czech musicians participating in the recordings?

I was very impressed by the direction of Maestro Adam Klemens and the FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague. They brought a richness of emotion that we'd all hoped these compositions would engender with such ease. Their interpretation of Monster Hunter was rugged, sensitive and brave in turn. It touched my heart. I learned so many things on the technical side by interacting with the recording director Ms. Sylva Steiskalova and the engineer Mr. Jan Kotzmann.

I only speak Japanese, so all communication was mediated by an interpreter. Whenever I had requests or suggestions, I relayed them to the Maestro and Ms. Sylva through translation. Oftentimes I was delighted to hear them say, “That’s just we were thinking!” There were even times when we were humming along together and our thoughts were, “That’s it! That’s it!” We didn’t speak the same language, but I felt that we were still able to communicate on a deep level entirely through music. Those moments of excitement were deeply memorable.

The orchestral concert concluded with "Inochi aru monohe" from Monster Hunter Tri, which you composed. What do you feel it reflects in terms of your personal approach to the music of Monster Hunter?

“Inochi aru monohe” was written specifically for Monster Hunter Tri. It is intended to complement the theme of the diversity of an “ecological system" and reflect such elements as the swarm behaviors of the monsters found in this title, the controlled regulation of their stamina that gives them the sense of being alive.

I wanted to convey through the music that in the world of Monster Hunter nature pervades everything alive, both gentle and harsh. This was my impression first viewing Monster Hunter being played. While it's a videogame, an electronic device, its inspiration is the beating of the heart, the flow of blood, scents and warmth.

“Eiyu no akashi,” a march which gives you the sense of being eye-to-eye with the hunters, has always been among my favorite tracks from Monster Hunter. A central theme of Monster Hunter Tri is the magnificence of the ocean, which both “ Eiyu no akashi” and “Inochi aru monohe” are meant to contribute to. They are planned to make an appearance in the promotional videos for the release of Monster Hunter Tri. I hope you might keep an eye out for them and see if you can pick up a sense of the drama we intended for these songs.

[The Monster Hunter 5th Anniversary Orchestral Concert album and Monster Hunter Tri Original Soundtrack can be imported from Amazon.co.jp. This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current. Interview conducted by Jeriaska. Translation by Kaoru Bertrand. Images courtesy of Capcom and Harmonics International.]