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  #1  
Old Mar 28, 2013, 12:12 PM
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Question A few questions on Japanese-styled musical composition

So here is something I've always wondered about. What makes Japanese game/anime music have that unique sound? What in their culture/education creates this sound? I know next to nothing about music theory, but I'm pretty sure they use the same primary scales as the west does. Could anybody with advanced musical and/or Japanese culture knowledge answer these?

1) How much of an impact has Japanese traditional music had on modern Japanese music? I'm not talking about old era styled songs (like in Okami), but rather something to do with certain chord progression or a type of mood.

2) Is it possible the Japanese language, and the way it's spoken, has influenced the rhythmic, monophonic melodies of game and anime music? The instrumental chiptune type stuff I mean. I don't write music, but if I make up Japanese-esque nonsensical words, I find it easier to make a certain melody than I would just humming or using something like English. Most likely because Japanese is syllable based, I'd reckon. (Off topic, but has anybody ever noticed Japanese is almost never stuttered? even at a fast tempo, it's spoken almost without error)

3) Off topic, but does anybody else think that in a few hundred years, some of these soundtracks will be looked at as a type/sect of "classical music"?

Soo yea, it would be pretty cool if somebody could answer these haha.
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Old Mar 28, 2013, 01:14 PM
Hellacia Hellacia is offline
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To answer question 3, only if game music becomes widely recognized and way more popular than it is now. I don't see that happening. Video games don't get the same recognition as other outlets of media, like movies. Movies will always be looked at as more "impacting" and "important", so its related products, like movie soundtracks/scores, will always get more recognition as well. Though video games have grown in popularity since the 1980s, I can't see their soundtracks being considered "classics" by any people other than its loyal fans, whereas with movies, everybody just kind of accepts that movies are "impactful" and "important" and if we're going to call them classics, cool.

That's my take on it.

The thread topic is really interesting. Did you ask this because of the few orchestral soundtrack threads in which everyone has continuously said they have no soul, etc? I agree with those comments and I agree that Japanese game music is more interesting, even when it's not Japanese themed (like ethnic sounding, using Asian instruments, etc), but I also can't put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it this way.
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Old Mar 28, 2013, 01:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dissident93 View Post
So here is something I've always wondered about. What makes Japanese game/anime music have that unique sound? What in their culture/education creates this sound? I know next to nothing about music theory, but I'm pretty sure they use the same primary scales as the west does. Could anybody with advanced musical and/or Japanese culture knowledge answer these?
Fascinating questions! And definitely worth discussing.

Quote:
1) How much of an impact has Japanese traditional music had on modern Japanese music? I'm not talking about old era styled songs (like in Okami), but rather something to do with certain chord progression or a type of mood.
If you go study music at the college-prep or university level, your primary focus will be western theory. This is true around the world. However, due to the culture one comes from, culture-specific traditions will influence what you already know coming into postsecondary education and it's likely you will analyze traditional music in context depending on where you attend. If you're attending school in the United States, you'll encounter analysis of traditional folk song (Home on the Range, Dixie, Danny Boy, etc.) from America as well as other closely-related cultures. I'm sure it's the same situation anywhere else.

Of course, no one is limited in what they choose to study; but, by default, you'll study some folksong of wherever you are attending school.

Quote:
2) Is it possible the Japanese language, and the way it's spoken, has influenced the rhythmic, monophonic melodies of game and anime music? The instrumental chiptune type stuff I mean. I don't write music, but if I make up Japanese-esque nonsensical words, I find it easier to make a certain melody than I would just humming or using something like English. Most likely because Japanese is syllable based, I'd reckon.
I'm sure all languages have influenced their corresponding folk songs. Take a look at classical vocal music from the 17th-20th centuries and, depending on the language the lyrics are in, the structure of the melodies will certainly have been shaped in part by the language itself.

However, that's only when there are lyrics (this includes nonsense lyrics). Nonlyrical melodies (including vocals without lyrical structure, singing every note on 'la' or 'oh' or 'ah, humming, etc.), because it doesn't directly use language, naturally has less of a relationship with language than lyrical melodies.

That said, I don't think language has a particular influence on nonlyrical melodies. Certainly some composers might think about words to go along with their nonlyrical music, and to some extent that might shape their composition, but I don't think it's common if your goal is non-vocal music.

Quote:
3) Off topic, but does anybody else think that in a few hundred years, some of these soundtracks will be looked at as a type/sect of "classical music"?
Well, "classical music" is defined as such only from a Western perspective, and since the Western perspective dominates formal music education, classical music refers to the same thing everywhere.

That said, because music-accessible devices are now ubiquitous and access to music in general is practically limitless, it's no longer just the formal music institution that will define and maintain such classifications as "classical music". Mixed in with the digital age and having a fanbase larger than ever, VGM has already carved its own part in music history, even if it isn't formally recognized as such. In a few hundred years, VGM will continue to live on in digital form just like all other genres of music. Someday they might come up with something to distinguish "old VGM" from "contemporary VGM", and maybe that's where terms like "classical" may arise. Classical VGM? Right now we use "old-school" but that's a bit nondescript and sort of cheesy. I think we could do better.

OK, so, the real reason I think "Japanese-styled" music in games and anime sounds the way it does is the same reason "Western-styled" music in games and film sounds the way it does: both are products of their culture. I don't mean this in terms of traditional folk song, but in terms of what influenced people in the field at the time of their entry into the music industry.

For example, popular American music (not pop music) has been absorbed into and popularized around the world, but always lagging (sometimes by years) behind where it began. So things like big-band in the 50s, prog-rock of the 70s, and synth rock of the 80s eventually found their way into other cultures but not immediately. And by the time they became popular elsewhere, they may have faded in popularity where they started. America does a lot of taking too, considering the popularity of brit-rock of the 60s and club/dance/electronic music from all over Europe of the 90s. Sometimes a style sticks, sometimes it goes underground; but once it's there, it's there to stay.

Japan? Well, considering the similarity of early Japanese VGM to popular Japanese music of the 80s and 90s (bleedover from progressive electronic music of the 70s and 80s in America and elsewhere) I'd say there's no coincidence. Not to mention some of those pioneering Japanese artists are still active and even doing music for games and anime (Ryuichi Sakamoto, anyone?)

Well, I've written a wall of text, haven't I. Not sure if I made sense at all, but it was fun to think about nevertheless.
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Old Mar 28, 2013, 01:40 PM
jdkluv jdkluv is offline
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This fascinates me too. Although I'm fully aware that even if there is an answer to this, my puny mind's probably not gonna be able to comprehend it.

One thing that's struck me is that in general, the Japanese tend not to be as snobby or discriminating, when it comes to say, different genres of music. Unlike someone like Koshiro, for example, I just can't imagine his Western counterpart composing a beautiful orchestral and an amazing trance soundtrack, all in the same year. That might be an extreme example though.
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Old Mar 28, 2013, 03:52 PM
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I think it has to do with attitude...I feel like a lot of Japanese composers looked at the limited resources of early machines and saw it as an opportunity to create quality music and this ate its' way into the whole culture of VGM as technology advanced. So you had the in-house sound teams composing a consistant stream of awesome music.

I think western composers largely didn't take VGM seriously until streaming became available (and until gaming became mainstream). At least, growing up, I can only name a small number of western composers I ended up listening to via ingame soundtracks (the Follins, Tommy Tallarico -Cool Spot-, the Rare team -mostly David Wise- and Fat Man -Maniac Mansion-). Now you have kind of a new wave of western composers, but they are directly influenced by old school VGM (virt and Souleye immediately come to mind).

And if by "classical", you mean some of them will be looked at as cornerstones or representations of VGM as a whole down the line, yes. The early Megamans, Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Zelda theme, SMB theme...These will be around many years from now.

Last edited by GoldfishX; Mar 28, 2013 at 03:55 PM.
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  #6  
Old Mar 28, 2013, 07:46 PM
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What has an enormous impact on the style of music is how the cultural valuation of said style is. In the West classical music is commonly agreed to be the peak of musical articulation, cinematic orchestral music commonly sees itself as one successor of that style. Seriousness and abstractness are considered better qualities than the pure focus on melody that ended with the Baroque period and gave way to the increasingly multifaceted interplay of instruments, performances and the execution abstract concepts.

In Japan and East Asia the valuation of pure melodies appears to be more widespread still. I personally link that to the higher acceptance of the concept of cuteness as something beautiful (that can be kept) instead something childish (that need to be done away once reaching adulthood). Music genres like Progressive Rock only enjoyed a rather limited time in limelight in the West while in Japan it was more readily accepted as a valid style in the scene and still influences many musical areas, often indirectly by embracing the Baroque style of composing.

As for how game music is seen in like 100 years later I'm afraid 99% of it will be forgotten as its recognition is simply not widespread enough, seldom archived, made available and listened to outside of games. That aside popular chiptune compositions already form the rise of an own genre which will keep the classic style game music alive as a specific retro electronica genre. Newer compositions relate more to the actual genres they are composed in, but whether they'll be noticed and valued as equal to more popular compositions in the respective genre depends on the knowledge about and popularity of those pieces. That's again limited to a very small amount of the whole amount of music available in any form of games.
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Old Mar 28, 2013, 09:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jormungand View Post
However, that's only when there are lyrics (this includes nonsense lyrics). Nonlyrical melodies (including vocals without lyrical structure, singing every note on 'la' or 'oh' or 'ah, humming, etc.), because it doesn't directly use language, naturally has less of a relationship with language than lyrical melodies.

That said, I don't think language has a particular influence on nonlyrical melodies. Certainly some composers might think about words to go along with their nonlyrical music, and to some extent that might shape their composition, but I don't think it's common if your goal is non-vocal music.

That's actually not true at all. Language plays a HUGE part in the way melody in music written after about 1830 is made. I wish I could explain it better....If I could find the video, I'd let Leonard Bernstein do it.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 05:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TerraEpon View Post
That's actually not true at all. Language plays a HUGE part in the way melody in music written after about 1830 is made. I wish I could explain it better....If I could find the video, I'd let Leonard Bernstein do it.
I've seen the lecture/performance you're referring to. Bernstein is speaking particularly about how folksong (which is undeniably influenced by language) frequently finds its way into classical music.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvqiy...ailpage#t=214s
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 05:42 AM
GoldfishX GoldfishX is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Datschge View Post
What has an enormous impact on the style of music is how the cultural valuation of said style is. In the West classical music is commonly agreed to be the peak of musical articulation, cinematic orchestral music commonly sees itself as one successor of that style. Seriousness and abstractness are considered better qualities than the pure focus on melody that ended with the Baroque period and gave way to the increasingly multifaceted interplay of instruments, performances and the execution abstract concepts.
Maybe someone more educated in the realm of classical music can correct me, but I thought the focus on melody continued through into the period of Haydn/Mozart and became less important once Beethoven hit the scene (and the Romantic period). I just speak from experience...I enjoy listening to Haydn/Mozart and can readily envision much of their work as game-ready and melodic, but 95% of Beethoven just kind of drones me to sleep.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 10:56 AM
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To question 1: I think Japanese traditional music sets the Japanese up to make soundtracks naturally because a lot of traditional music kind of has an atmospheric or mood quality as opposed to a tune set to certain lyrics which I think represent more Western folk/traditional music. Think festival music versus contemplative music. This appreciation for mood allows the versatility soundtracks require.

question number 2 is a little beyond my depth, that is something for the anthropologists, but I am fairly certain spoken language translates directly into music, especially in the traditional sense, when in more tribal settings music is used as a backdrop for storytelling, historical retelling, etc.

question 3 is difficult to answer because in 100+ years the volume of music extant will be ridiculous!
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 11:51 AM
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I'm under the impression that the 80-90's vgm composer generation (or perhaps Japan's music itself) was *heavily* influenced by Yellow Magic Orchestra (and prog-rock), you may want to check them (ex).
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 12:05 PM
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What Dag said is 100% true.
I also think the hardware limitations were a crucial aspect to create the Japanese style of VGM (arcade hardware in particular).
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GoldfishX View Post
Maybe someone more educated in the realm of classical music can correct me, but I thought the focus on melody continued through into the period of Haydn/Mozart and became less important once Beethoven hit the scene (and the Romantic period).
The way I see it (i.e. overly generalized and simplified) is that before the Baroque period there was "only" folk music, that is "incidental" mood based improvisations as compositions and technically rather unpolished instruments. In the Baroque period the efforts giving the act of composing a scientific framework reached its peak, and instruments where improved accordingly with that knowledge. Classical composers heavily profited from that ground work, the just polished piano became the primary instrument, the knowledge about harmonies, chords and how to interweave increasing polyphony compositionally allowed for ever increasing ensemble sizes toward modern orchestras. In my eyes (ears) the classical period is the first performance based period, improvisations that were still a huge part of the Baroque period, gave way to a more strict adherence to the written compositions where subtleties of the execution matter more than the content itself. I liken that to chiptune music (the 4 voice or less variant) that has an inherent plainness that makes the melody/composition stand out in its bare nakedness while there is little to no room for expressive performances that is not part of the actual composition. With more channels, sample based synthesizers and finally streamed music video game music basically fast tracked through the music history development, at each stage moving away from the melodic base of any composition toward focus on the quality of the actual performance.

At least that's how I see it. ^^
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 05:43 PM
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Sooo...Beethoven probably wouldn't have been that great if he was stuck on the harpsichord then? Similar to how most US VGM composers would suck if they were stuck on chiptunes? lol

That makes sense, but both the Baroque and Classical periods have a lot of tracks that just sound like they would fit in a good JRPG soundtrack.
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Old Mar 29, 2013, 06:14 PM
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Why "but"?

Re YMO, I personally find the repeated specific mention of YMO a little disingenuous. They were the most popular and successful example of a general trend, and as such helped the national self-esteem in the face of otherwise foreign influences. But they by far don't reflect the variety of influences they keep being credited for. If we were to look for the one decisive influence that caused the modern music development in Japan it's rather the piano boom in Japan starting in the 1960s that ensured an increasing part of the population became music literate (while this went downward fast during the same time in the West).

Did you know the classical counterpart of the loudness war, the pitch inflation? lol
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Old Mar 30, 2013, 11:21 AM
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Wow! this generated alot more response that I though it would, haha.

@Hellacia - "Did you ask this because of the few orchestral soundtrack threads in which everyone has continuously said they have no soul?" This was one of the main reasons I began to ask myself these questions. But then if you looked at the non-orchestral, western chiptune stuff (Tommy Tallarico, Rick Fox, Mark Miller) you'd hear that it wasn't as good (imo) as something Kondo would do, or Koshiro. But now that I think about it, what GoldfishX said makes alot of sense. The Japanese looked at the limitations, and made the best effort possible to overcome them and make a legit form of music from these beeps and bloops. Some western composers (I'm looking at you Mark Miller) hate it if you even mention the worked on video games. I guess they looked at it with contempt or something. "/

@Jormungand - "Certainly some composers might think about words to go along with their nonlyrical music, and to some extent that might shape their composition, but I don't think it's common if your goal is non-vocal music." Just look at Masato Nakamura who did Sonic 1 and 2. His stuff is very singable, but that may be in part due to him being in a J-Pop band haha. But I think I've read in some interview that some composers would have a certain melody created due in part to a human voice being able to sing it with lyrics. Even when they knew it would just be FM/square wave in the end. Or maybe it's just because Japanese is very simple to speak in small pieces, and 10 note simple melody could perfectly fit a Japanese sentence or something. (think Eight Melodies from Mother)

@Dag - Yea I know about YMO. Everytime I read about a Japanese composer's influences, they almost always include YMO (and Debussy too). I think YMO basically invented that sort of music, (progressive synth pop?) and the composers that followed tried to emulate this style. (Or at least they made it mainstream in Japan). YMO also influence hip hop and electronic music in general, with the hardware they used.

@Yotsuya - This is exactly what I thought. Japanese traditional music was built around atmosphere and for specific events (festivals etc). This directly correlates to the original purpose of VGM!

Alot of good answers, thanks!

PS: 90% of the western vgm that I do like is from the UK it seems. People like Matt Furniss, Allister Brimble, Follin bros, Tim Wright, and Rob Hubbard have songs/production values that are just as good or even better than the Japanese stuff. Probably a matter of how many there were (demoscene had a huge impact over there, when US had none I think) but still interesting..

Last edited by dissident93; Mar 30, 2013 at 11:31 AM.
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