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Norihiko Hibino :: Biography

Overview Biography Discography Game Projects Interviews

Note: This biography was written exclusively for Square Enix Music Online by Chris. The act of using it without advance written permission is regarded as a copyright infringement. It was last updated on April 5, 2008.

Born in Osaka on September 3, 1973, Norihiko Hibino is the head of music production company GEM Impact famous for his compositions on the Metal Gear series. He has become renowned for a style he describes as 'metallized symphonic jazz' and is an accomplished saxophonist. Hibino was introduced to music at the age of four when his parents arranged him piano lessons. While he developed a strong sense of musicianship during his lessons, he decided to quit at the age of nine, self-conscious that the piano was an instrument for girls. Some years later after developing a fondness for jazz, he joined a big band and was forced to learn the tuba. While he became one of the best young tuba players in Osaka, he appreciated the timbre and flexibility of the saxophone far more so decided to teach himself how to play it. Having become more self-assured in his teenage years, he started playing the piano again after he was requested to support his school orchestra. Furthermore, principally due to the influence of his idol, the Japanese rock singer Shogo Hamada, he learnt to play the acoustic and electric guitar. While a multi-instrumentalist, it was nevertheless the saxophone that Hibino was to excel at. He found performing music rewarding as both a soloist and ensemble player, attributing his early musical experiences as a major influence in the development of his now apparently warm and humorous personality.

At Osaka University, contrary to his musical inclinations, Hibino majored in Human Sciences. While there, he enjoyed participating in a big band and reflected his virtuosity on the saxophone when he won first prize for 'best soloist' at the 25th Yamano big band jazz festival and the 1st Tenpozan big band competition. This accomplishment and his dissatisfaction with his major inspired him to make the important decision to undertake a musical career. After graduating in 1996, he joined the esteemed Berklee college of music for an expensive one year course in jazz composition. He learnt under George Garzone, Bill Pearce, and Greg Hopkins, among others, and also studied film scoring and synthesizer programming that proved helpful for his game music work. With the intention of becoming an independent jazz musician, Hibino settled in Kansas. As a saxophonist, he made numerous appearances on television programmes, radio shows, and jazz festivals, including the Kansas city international jazz festival. He also set up his own jazz band, jazzstrut, and released the solo albums Voices from Heaven and Now I'm Here to Hear... under his personal record label Boylstone Records. The compositions featured on these albums mostly synthesized instruments using programs such as Protool, Sound Designer II, StudioVision, Adobe Premiere, and Director, though Hibino performed their saxophone parts. While at Konami, Hibino released further solo albums under his record label — Sharp Sounds, I Surrender All, and harario — but none of them received popular exposure.

In 1999, Hibino decided to return to Japan and, in August, was recruited by Konami after he impressed its executives with his resumé. He initially scored the non-canon Game Boy Color title Metal Gear: Ghost Babel (misleadingly named Metal Gear Solid in its English localisation) with Kazuki Muraoka. The pair overcame the technical limitations of the console to produce an especially atmospheric accompaniment to the game. Hibino impressed Hideo Kojima so much that he was subsequently paired with Hollywood composer Harry Gregson-Williams for 2001's technically extravagant Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Designated all the in-game music and a large proportion of the FMV music, music director Muraoka requested Hibino produce Hollywood-style action music that would complement Gregson-Williams' compositions. His Berklee training, frequent email/FTP communications with Gregson-Williams, and meticulous attitude favoured his success and the final results were praised by Kojima and Gregson-Williams. Nevertheless, he expressed some individuality; his works, whether symphonic or electronic, were often punctuated by jazzy rhythms and sometimes featured focal saxophone solos that he personally performed. The reception of Sons of Liberty's music was almost universally positive; the in-game music superbly fitted the espionage and action of the game while the cinematic music from both composers was striking and effective. Unfortunately, Hibino made a meagre appearance on the game's one disc official soundtrack and his name was absent from the title credits, reducing his popular exposure. However, the additional soundtrack 'The Other Side' was entirely dedicated to him.

During the production of Sons of Liberty, Kojima requested Hibino compose for Zone of the Enders, assisting Maki Kirioka and Akihiro Honda as the project quickly approached its release date. Despite feeling initially restricted by the request to compose principally using electronica, he persevered to compose nine dynamic, atmospheric, and emotional compositions. In 2002, he contributed his only Bemani work, "Ain't It Good", for beatmania 6th Mix + Core Remix and scored the PlayStation anime adaptation Hikaru no Go with several others. He also scored new material for the update Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance to accompany the game's multitude of VR missions. The additional tracks maintained Sons of Liberty's overall sound and included some interesting remixes, but as they were created to accompany the missions' environments and encounters, Hibino's stylistic approach was quite different; most compositions were layered from electronic beats, but the dynamic and experimental features in the foreground ensured they were colourful and atmospheric. With the Ultimate Sorter Editions of the game, significantly different regular and limited edition bonus soundtracks were available. On behalf of The Documentary of Metal Gear Solid 2, a game-based 'making of' released shortly after Substance, Hibino contributed the opening theme. Also in 2002, Hibino made his debut on Konami's long-running series of card-based game adaptations of the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime / manga franchise with the Game Boy Advance's Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters 7: Kettou Toshi Densetsu.

Between the announcement of Snake Eater and its late 2004 release, Hibino contributed to several more collaborative works at Konami. He adapted well to the change in musical direction of 2003's Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (aka ANUBIS Zone of the Enders). His five compositions provided an intricate and dramatic accompaniment to the final battle and FMVs such as the ending sequence. The same year, he composed Kojima's innovative Game Boy Advance RPG Boktai: The Sun Is in Your Hand with Kazuki Muraoka, Masashi Watanabe, and Shuichi Kobori. The score was excellently received among gamers, who were endeared by its memorable melodies, atmospheric qualities, and technically commanded use of the console's hardware. Due to the lack of a soundtrack release, no individual credits are available, but close inspection of the outwardly fluid score reveals Hibino's harmonic fingerprints in many pieces. He returned to co-compose four more Yu-Gi-Oh! titles in 2003 and 2004, the Game Boy Advance's Duel Masters 8, The Sacred Cards, and Reshef of Destruction, and the GameCube's The Dawn of Destiny. Obligated to create these scores as a Konami employee, they received less exposure than his other works, but were mostly regarded as a fitting accompaniment to the game. Between The Sacred Cards and Reshef of Destruction, he composed Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django with six others. While his contribution was smaller in quantity than its predecessor, he helped to maintain its musical quality and also contributed some reprises.

In early 2003, Hibino completed work on Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, a GameCube remake of the original game in the series developed by Silicon Knights. Joined by the developer's Steve Henifin and Konami's Toshiyuki Kakuta, Shuichi Kobori, and Waichiro Ozaki, Hibino produced two thirds of the FMV music for the game, but had no role on the in-game music. As with his previous productions, Hibino carefully watched screenshots of the scenes to establish their musical colour while meticulously working to specifications to determine the dramatic pacing of a particular piece. Unfortunately, the game received no soundtrack release. Hibino's breakthrough in terms of mainstream popularity was Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater. The game retained the cinematic intent of Sons of Liberty within a '60s environment providing Hibino with two contrasting tasks. Like its predecessor, he composed the in-game music and, with Gregson-Williams, FMV music for the game, both of which fitted flawlessly and were musically profound on a stand-alone basis. In order to also reflect the aged theme of the game, he enjoyed composing the hit James Bond parody vocal theme "Snake Eater", sung by Cynthia Harrell, and, under pseudonyms, the '60s jazz healing tracks. The production compensated for previous disappointments concerning album releases, as Hibino featured prominently on its two disc soundtrack release and the promotional album 'The First Bite', where he enjoyed expressing individuality in the Japanese version of "Snake Eater" and its 'abstracted camouflage' remix.

Confident he had firmly established his name in the industry, Hibino left Konami at the end of 2004 to become a freelancer. He initially scored the high-profile original album Akashi. Bonded by a recurring melody established in "Against This World", the album mixed vocal performances from harario and instrumental music in a variety of styles. "Survive Now" and "Catastrophe" were akin to the dark symphonic jazz of the Metal Gear Solid series, while the classically-oriented "In Peace", the '70s-flavoured "Like A River", and the country hybrid "Rose Hunter" were fresh additions to Hibino's repertoire. Reputable for his vocal work, Hibino was entrusted to arrange the theme songs for the animes Lupin the 3rd and Hohoemi no Bakudan and the string parts of "Maria" and "bitmania" for Akira Yamaoka's solo album iFUTURELIST. After being hired by Team Entertainment along with nine other major names, he created the jazz vocal arrangement "Ghost Ship" to the Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange. Despite his status, he nevertheless continued to contribute to the Metal Gear series, directing four composers of the PSP's Metal Gear Ac!d titles to preserve the distinct sound of the series and subsequently composing the award-winning 2005 E3 trailer for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. On behalf of 2Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, he produced eight new compositions that subtly coloured the score while seamlessly transitioning with the work of the other five composers. Also for this title, he directed and arranged Akihiro Honda's composition of the striking operatic vocal theme "Calling to the Night".

Hibino is also a highly successful businessman. In February 2005, he founded GEM Impact, a music production company that focuses on video game scoring and arranging, but has other specialities. Hibino and colleagues are regularly contracted by J-Pop artists like Yuki Koyanagi, Chihiro Yonekura, and Akiko Shikata in diverse roles such as composition, arrangement, and saxophone performance. However, they are also eager to work with original artists, for example specialising in the use of Japanese instruments like the shakuhachi. The company has also been contracted in concert production, lecturing, and even miscellaneous roles on movies and animations. Its current associated artists are Takahiro Izutani, Yoshitaka Suzuki, Hakuei Kim, DJ Uraken, and Takahide Ayuzawa. Hibino also owns the central Tokyo jazz bar Vanilla Mood Roppongi, the jazz vocal institute Megurogawa Studio headed by harario, and the new label GEM Impact Records. Fluent in English, he makes many efforts to bridge cultures and acts as a mediator for his collaborators in their international activities. In 2006, he also became the saxophonist, computer programmer, and synthesizer operator for the new band The Outer Rim with bassist Jeff Curry, keyboardist Hakuei Kim, and drummer Fuji Nobuaki. The well-connected multi-instrumentalists hybridise jazz, funk, rock, and other music to create unique soundscapes and an instantly recognisable but difficult to define style. Since their conception, they have taken part in an average of two gigs each month across Japan, establishing a good following. They are currently touring across the world to promote their debut self-titled album.

Hibino is active in many video game franchises outside the Metal Gear series. In 2006, he was responsible for composition and strings arrangement of some of the vocal and instrumental music for Konami's fighting game sequel Rumble Roses XX. The same year, Sega hired him to compose six pieces of battle music for Yokuza 2 (aka Ryu ga Gotoku 2). He used this as opportunity to be especially experimental, crafting wild action-packed pieces using a mixture of Asian instruments, electronic beats, hard rock guitar riffs, and abstract saxophone work. Committed to improving awareness of video game music, Hibino was one of the organisers of the mainstream-oriented Extra: Hyper Game Music Event 2007, where he created a joint Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill live stage with Akira Yamaoka and The Outer Rim and recorded the haunting original vocal theme "Out of Nowhere" for its official compilation. He directed Etrian Odyssey's arranged album with the aim of integrating Yuzo Koshiro's retro original music into a diverse artistic album; to do so, he oversaw members of his company to produce jazz, rock, orchestral, and vocal items and even hired famous guest musicians such as Hiroshi Miyauchi, Michio Okamiya, and Rebecca Evans. Hibino also produced the Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Album, a mixed instrumental arranged album and vocal compilation. In addition to overseeing the inclusion of reprises, he co-arranged a 15 minute orchestral arranged medley of the series' music and a sublime extended interpretation of Sons of Liberty's "Memories of HAL".

Hibino's last major score was Spike's strategy RPG Elvandia Story. Here, he focused on the core elements of composition to achieve rich refined symphonic sounds spanning a wide emotional spectrum. The score was also technically accomplished, sequenced with Logic/Gigasampler for sequencing, mixed with Pro Tools, and enhanced by some performances from orchestral and ethnic instrumentalists. In other recent projects, Hibino has offered a piano arrangement to Kenji Ito's Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku Wo album, produced an outrageous remix with The Outer Rim for No More Heroes' remix album, commemorated three years of Monster Hunter with a bonus album arrangement, appeared on the Idolm@ster series, and performed saxophone in Yuzo Koshiro's multi-console Kateikyoushi Hitman Reborn! project. GEM Impact and Hibino are currently working on multiple projects. On behalf of the Xbox Live, Hibino has scored revivals of two classic Capcom series with Commando 3 and 1942: Joint Strike. He has also overseen the audio of the German-developed Mobile Phone version of Boulder Dash and is working on a new German PSP and Wii title. Hibino is also scoring his first full anime project for Studio Gonzo's Blassreiter, working on a Korean-developed title, and overseeing the arranged version of Etrian Odyssey 2. Finally, it has been recently confirmed that he and several others from GEM Impact participated on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots late in its production. A prolific and successful freelancer so far, Hibino continues to juggle roles as composer, arranger, performer, and manager, maintaining the motto 'from Japan to worldwide' concerning the scope of GEM Impact's music.