By Jeriaska . September 27, 2008 . 12:27am
Otograph is the group name of Sachiyo Oshima and Takashi Iura, the artists behind the original soundtrack to PixelJunk Monsters. Their music to the tower defense title by Q-Games was included in the first album available for purchase on the Playstation Network. Titled Dive Into PixelJunk Monsters, it can be listened to on PS3 and PSP for three dollars. Here the Kyoto-based artists discuss their background as creators of audio-visual installation projects and the process behind the first game in the PixelJunk series to include an original score.
Translation by Ryojiro Sato. Japanese-language version forthcoming.
Siliconera: How would you describe Otograph’s approach to audio-visual design?
Otograph: Our group is named after this combination of “Oto,” which is the word for “sound” in Japanese, and “graph,” meaning all manner of visual representations. We are concerned not only with making music to match images—we also produce visuals to complement our sound designs. Our interest is in creating the kind of music that brings images to mind when you listen to it.
We are currently working on museum installations and related projects in central Kyoto, but in an effort to reach a wider audience, we are looking into shifting our focus to events happening at art galleries and museums overseas. A wider assortment of our visual designs will be available online soon.
Siliconera: Can you tell us a little about how you both focus on different components of the music of Otograph?
Otograph: Creating music is of course a multi-staged process comprised of elements like composing, arranging and mixing. From the beginning we are working closely together to determine a song’s concept and then establish how to develop it. Iura is largely responsible for composing phrases, while Oshima brings these constituent pieces together into an organic whole. We find that this arrangement often brings about the best results, though we try not to be too fixed in our method. We each admire different genres and draw inspiration from just about every style of music.
Siliconera: When did you decide to submit a music demo to Q-Games, and what was it about the company that convinced you that collaborating would prove worthwhile?
Otograph: [Shouichi Tominaga] of Q-Games had been attending our live events for some time. He had a good understanding of our approach to music, so it was a beneficial situation for beginning a joint project.
Siliconera: Tower defense games and museum installations seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of artistic projects. How did considering the gameplay of PixelJunk Monsters compare with the challenges attending your previous music compilations?
Otograph: Something that I noticed only after the release of PixelJunk Monsters was that the activity of playing a realtime strategy game shares some similarities with performing live music. You have a countless number of actions available to you, and from there you have to choose what paths are necessary to reach your objective. All this planning and execution of goals is taking place in real time. You could consider the act of placing a tower on the stage map along the lines of writing a note on a page of sheet music. Furthermore, our museum installations have an interactive component, so in that sense there is a degree of similarity between these two forms.
Siliconera: Dive Into PixelJunk Monsters includes both electronic sounds and acoustic instruments. What software do you typically use, and what instruments are featured on the soundtrack?
Otograph: We typically use Logic Pro and Max/MSP. Our music is created through the use of synthesizers and samples of live instruments. We begin by recording acoustic and electronic instruments and then proceed to edit and arrange these separate music tracks on the computer. In other words, while the entire song is electronically processed, it begins as a series of performances.
In terms of instruments, we sometimes experiment with ways of capturing unique sounds. We use guitars which are out of tune or slightly malfunctioning keyboards. So much time goes into tweaking the audio for the final version that synthesized sounds often end up sounding organic and acoustic instruments take on an artificial quality.
Siliconera: Is it difficult to record electronic and acoustic sounds in a way that organically weaves the two together?
Otograph: The need for balancing the two varies depending on the song. One thing that is important to keep in mind in creating background music is whether a song is interfering with the sound effects. We started off not including percussion instruments while we were working on the sound effects. Later, once we were knew what kind of percussion to add without obscuring the sound effects, we focused on bringing out the rhythm. These are fine details that can be important to contributing to a rich play environment.
Siliconera: One element of the soundtrack that is very noticeable is that there are somewhat random and chaotic elements that nonetheless have a natural feeling to them because they are so well situated within the overall structure of the song. Was freedom an important element of the music that you wished to emphasize?
Otograph: Actually, this is a question that we have in mind while creating music. How can we discover a new experience in this new song that has not yet been explored? The approach sounds hard to grasp, but it definitely has something to do with the ideal of freedom of expression.
Siliconera: How were the track titles decided? Some are straightforward, like “high pressure area,” while others like “45×8 60×6 90×4″ are very enigmatic.
Otograph: “45×8 60×6 90×4″ refers to the angle of the mirrors that are placed inside a kaleidoscope. That is to say, we were hoping that the experience of playing this game might be analogous to rotating the cylinder of a kaleidoscope. Many of the other tracks are named after games, puzzles, and toys and are intended to spark the imagination of the player.
Siliconera: You have stated that you are interested in bringing together elements of high art and popular art. Was that the case for PixelJunk Monsters?
Otograph: High art and pop art had a perceivable influence on each other throughout the 20th century. Now there are not so many distinctions that can be drawn between them. There is also something to be gained not only from making products that sell, but from creating art which has no intrinsic value.
In terms of writing the music to PixelJunk Monsters, we were aiming for an expression that many people would find enjoyable. In that sense, our process changes depending on the objectives of the project. Art always begins as a personal form of expression, regardless of the circumstances, though in creating it you are free to expand beyond those boundaries as it comes into contact with an audience.
Siliconera: What is meant when you talk about bringing the feelings of floating and balance to your work? Are there aspects of your music that demonstrate this concept?
Otograph: Taking for instance the setting of PixelJunk Monsters, you find yourself surrounded by forests and lakes. In preparing the soundtrack, we drew from our experience visiting Switzerland the previous year. The beauty of the mountains there is breathtaking and of a different quality than the natural landscape found in Japan. On the way to a stop-over in Helsinki, we had a good look at the lakes of Finland from our view from the plane. Their numerous shapes left a very strong impression. We took away all sorts of inspiration from viewing the many rural landscapes of Europe from our vantage point in the air. That is the sense of floating that we were interested in capturing in our music for the game.
Read more about Otograph on the official website. Dive Into PixelJunk Monsters is available via PSN. Images of PixelJunk Monsters courtesy of Q-Games.
Photo credit: Jeriaska/ Siliconera