By Jeriaska . August 18, 2008 . 10:56pm
Released in 2004, Forbidden Siren for PlayStation 2 was set in the mountain village of Hanuda, Japan. The macabre story centers on a small group of visitors that voyage to the isolated region to discover a mysterious cult, their bizarre rituals, and a group of murderous corpse-people. Called 'Shibito,' they follow the call of a strange siren scream echoing through the night.
Implementing a unique "sight-jacking" system, allowing the player to see through another character's eyes, the game's design emphasized the use of stealth and cunning in surviving a three-day sojourn across the village of Hanuda. Director Keiichiro Toyama further challenged players by depicting the events outside of chronological order. The musical score by Hitomi Shimizu and Gary Ashiya was comprised of ambient sounds, punctuated by chilling vocals and strange effects, adding to the personality of the desolate locales featured in the game.
Two years later, Siren returns to the village of Hanuda, this time on the PlayStation 3. A re-imagining of the series' premise, Siren: Blood Curse takes an episodic approach akin to TV drama. The game is comprised of 12 episodes, available through the PlayStation Network online store. Called SIREN: New Translation in Japan, the title introduces an American film crew to the threat of the Shibito, arming them with a new combat system and split screen sight-jacking capabilities.
Hitomi Shimizu has returned to compose the score for Siren: Blood Curse, which will be released in an official album by Team Entertainment on August 27 in Japan. Later this year, an original soundtrack for Forbidden Siren will follow.
Interview by Parjay and Jeriaska. Translation by Kaoru Bertrand. See it in Japanese.
Siliconera: Hitomi Shimizu, thank you for joining us for this discussion on the subject of your music for the Siren series of games. Does your work as a musician differ greatly from what you have written for these titles?
Hitomi Shimizu: Since I have worked on so many kinds of projects in my career, it might be difficult to categorize my work as a musician. I've created soundtracks for both movies and television, and in parallel, I perform as a member of Syzygys. This is a duo that includes violinist Hiromi Nishida, and we have published some albums on John Zorn's record label "Tzadik." When I'm working alone, it is as Hitomi Shimizu, but when i collaborate, it is for Syzygys.
By the way, fans of the group have no idea that I make this scary music for the Siren series. I think they would be shocked to find out about it. As a solo musician, I have done everything from horror stories to light-hearted comedies, so it might be difficult to convey a clear picture of Hitomi Shimizu in a nutshell.
Hitomi Shimizu: The major difference is of course that in videogames you do not have a fixed sense of time. In animation or live action, there is a smooth, uninterrupted progression of events and the total duration is predetermined. You don't go to a movie for a second viewing and walk out of the theater saying, "Man, it finished early that time!"
The flow of time is different in games. You can go back and revisit events, or you can choose not to. Those decisions are determined by each player. Time is essential to music, and in most media, it is fixed in place. Interactive games are unique in that regard. There is a very special quality to them, namely that the soundtrack loops.
Siliconera: The two films that were mentioned above are lighthearted in tone when compared to the subject matter of the Siren series. What are your feelings about survival horror in general?
Hitomi Shimizu: You know, I’m not all that familiar with the genre. I like John Carpenter and horror movies with female lead characters, such as Suspiria and Carrie.
Siliconera: How did it come about that you wrote the music for the original Siren game on the Playstation 2? Was it a significant departure from the kinds of projects that you were used to?
Hitomi Shimizu: It came as a result of working on the music for a televised series called GakkÅ no Kaidan (School Ghost Story), but because that was intended for a general TV audience, the show was rather light on scares. In transitioning to full-blown horror with Forbidden Siren, it took some time to figure out how to provide the right atmosphere. I had done music for the Playstation at that point, but it had been for Harvest Moon — a far cry from survival horror.
Siliconera: Were you offered any specific instructions on the score, or was the style entirely determined by your judgment?
Hitomi Shimizu: Forbidden Siren was the start of a brand new series, so I received quite a few directions from the sound director at Sony Computer Entertainment. The requests included a number of difficult challenges for a musician: "Try not to use any musical notes." "Avoid expressive music, focus on ambient sounds, and try creating tracks that are at least five minutes in length." "Make it sound primeval." While the game was still under development, there were few visuals to go by, so I relied on concept illustrations and the storyline to inform my image of the game.
Siliconera: How was it working alongside Gary Ashiya on co-composing the score? Did you actively work together or split the workload and focus on your separate goals?
Hitomi Shimizu: For the most part I focused on the songs including vocal components and Gary was responsible for the others. We also consulted with one another from time to time. It was easy to work with him because we come from the same agency and are familiar with each other’s strong suits.
Siliconera: What were director Keiichiro Toyama and scenario writer Naoko Sato looking for, as far as the sounds of Hanuda Village were concerned?
Hitomi Shimizu: They were interested in the idea of an abstract expression, the dread found in nature. Their concept was to represent threats that were not directly dangerous but induced a slight, creeping feeling of terror.
Siliconera: Much of the music has an ambient quality. Was giving the village its own voice a deliberate effort in creating the soundtrack?
Hitomi Shimizu: Creating a sense of the atmosphere of Hanuda Village was important. What we discussed together at the very first meeting was the how the villagers would chant, and that this custom was passed down over generations. We felt that getting this sound just right was indispensable.
This is why there are voices discernable here and there in the background music. People are very sensitive to sounds of voices. Placing them where they would not be expected, it seemed would elicit a sense of anxiety and fear in the listener.
Siliconera: Did you ever feel like participating in the voice recordings?
Hitomi Shimizu: No, I don’t want to be a Shibito!
Siliconera: Siren: Blood Curse sometimes employs sound cues that are similar to television dramas. Was this an attempt to make the game more accessible?
Hitomi Shimizu: This convention was intended to complement a new sales strategy, namely the format of downloading the game in parts and playing it episode by episode, a little like watching a TV miniseries. I was very surprised when I first heard about it. I'm a die hard fan of "Lost," and I always want to find out about what is coming up in later episodes. The idea of having previews in a game of what youwould be playing in future installments sounded like a lot of fun. I guess that's because I'm the type of person that likes to imagine what a situation will be like before finding out for myself.
Siliconera: The vocal theme from Siren has returned in new renditions for the Playstation 3 title. What were your intentions in revisiting this song?
Hitomi Shimizu: Up until this piece was finally completed, I was going back and forth on whether to actually remix the song. However, because the premise of the game is the return to Hanuda Village, I decided to make an arrangement that was a "New Translation," to match the subtitle.
I was delighted that fans of the previous Siren are still emotionally attached to the song. The vocal performance by singer Yula Yayoi is quite popular. For a new instrumental version, I wanted for there to be this sense of bending space and time.
To create that effect, this vintage electronic instrument of French original called an Ondes Martenot was perfect. Wakana Ichihashi is one of the few musicians who are adept in its use. I like to think that some people listen to this song and wonder to themselves, "Just what is that mysterious instrument?"
Siliconera: Is there a reason in particular that after years without official releases, suddenly Siren is receiving not one but three original soundtrack albums? What would you point to as a leading reason for the decision in favor of these albums?
Hitomi Shimizu: There has been a lot of demand for these soundtracks from people who are really into the Siren series. I couldn't be happier. This might be a good opportunity to express that I feel deeply in their debt.
Siliconera: Finally, we noticed on your website that you are a big sci fi enthusiast. We're interested to hear, if you could be any Star Trek character, who would you be?
Hitmoi Shimizu: You know, I do cosplay sometimes. I'm a little embarrassed that I just admitted it… Well, maybe I would be a Borg drone, one of the underlings. I guess after all, I yearn to be part of a collective consciousness.