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Interview with Tenpei Sato (RocketBaby - October 2000)

The following interview was carried out by RocketBaby.net, a sadly defunct site that once interviewed numerous game composers. Square Enix Music Online is hosting the interview to avoid it being lost forever. The translation was by Shinsuke Fukada.

Introduction: Tenpei Sato was only six years old when his musical journey began with piano lessons. Leap ahead to his first composition, a love song written for guitar at the age of twelve. Times change, but a musician's vocation never fades. Today, Mr. Sato writes for anime, video games, live action films, and his own solo endeavors. He also writes books, creates articles for magazines, and produces a band. Currently, Mr. Sato's preferred instruments are synthesizer, piano, and guitar. Meet this irrepressible artist who is on one heck of a prolific streak!

RocketBaby: How did you get the job for Rhapsody and how long did you work on it?

Tenpei Sato: Ever since I was a junior high school student, I have been interested in plays — besides music, performing as an actor and making plays as a director. I have made a lot of musical songs since then and that's why I took charge in Rhapsody, which is musical RPG. I still work as a voice actor sometimes. I spent about three or four months on working on Rhapsody and wrote about 40 pieces of music. Among them about 10 pieces are songs. I bet you can enjoy more than 20 songs from the second game. I am not sure if they will release the second game in the United States, but please look forward to it, since the music is much better than the first game.

RocketBaby: What was your influence for the music of Rhapsody?

Tenpei Sato: I like Disney music and drew much influence from them. I especially like The Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. I hope I will be able to work with them on music for musical animation movies in the future. I recently enjoyed Toy Story 2.

RocketBaby: How did you approach writing the music for Rhapsody?

Tenpei Sato: I naturally came up with the music when I was looking at pictures of cute characters. I tried to make it simple so that everyone will feel like singing along with the music. Nowadays, music tends to be made by focusing too much on the rhythm, but I dare to persist in melody and harmony.

RocketBaby: How much freedom did you have writing the music for Rhapsody?

Tenpei Sato: I had as much freedom as I wanted. However, I tried to make the music full of interesting ideas so that it would be easier for the staff in charge of the computer graphics to do their jobs.

RocketBaby: Tell us about a specific memory working on Rhapsody?

Tenpei Sato: I really had a good time when many of the voice actresses and actors came to my private studio in Shibuya and we recorded the songs together. I also tried singing some of the vocals. At my studio I have many recording systems, which the voice actresses like, as well as the pretty atmosphere.

RocketBaby: What was your favorite aspect of Rhapsody?

Tenpei Sato: More than anything else I prefer the musical scene. I love to see pretty characters singing and dancing. I recommend you to listen to the songs with a big stereo set, while singing and dancing along.

RocketBaby: Are you working on Angel's Present: Chronicles of Marl Kingdom (if released in USA would be Rhapsody 3).

Tenpei Sato: Yes, I did. I worked on it this past summer, which was very very hot. I had begun to use ProTools24MixPlus recording System at my studio for the game. Because of this newest system, I could record the songs with high quality sound better than before. I like two duets that I composed. One is a ballad of friendship and one is a ballad of love. Both Ssngs have beautiful melodies and harmonies.

RocketBaby: Who are your influences?

Tenpei Sato: Queen, Kate Bush, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Isao Tomita are my major influences.

RocketBaby: That's a name I haven't heard in a long time. What do you like about Kate Bush?

Tenpei Sato: I think she is fantastic! I like her originality, emotion, vocal style, and sense of indivuality.

RocketBaby: What is your favorite genre to compose for?

Tenpei Sato: I like blending the classic, pop, rock, and ethnic sounds with synthesizer music. I studied ethnic sounds when I was in Geinou Yamashirogumi. People in this group are studying ethnic music from all over the world such as Asia and Africa. Their musical performance, such as Gamelan music, Kecha from Bali and Bulgarian chorus, is highly praised. I am going to dance Kecha every summer. They produced music in the highly praised Akira by combining Gamelan, Asian, African and rock music, though I wasn't involved.

RocketBaby: How did you get the job for Combat Choro Q?

Tenpei Sato: Mr. Odagiri, who was the game's director, liked my music and he called me.

RocketBaby: How did you approach writing the music for Combat Choro Q and how long did you work on it?

Tenpei Sato: I tried making magnificent and heavy sounds that would be as good as music in Hollywood special effects movies. Please listen to the music with a big speaker. I worked on the game for three months.

RocketBaby: Any memories of working on Combat Choro Q?

Tenpei Sato: I tried pretending that I was using a real orchestra by using synthesizer, programming MIDI data. Making music with MIDI techniques is one of my policies. This is an important technique to put real life into the machine and make the best of it. I also wrote a book at the same time called Computer Music Super Beginners Manual from the Softbank company.

RocketBaby: Are you working of the PlayStation 2 version of the game, Choro Q HG?

Tenpei Sato: Yes. In September I composed and recorded a theme song for the new Choro Q title. The song is written in English and is very soulful. The singer is a woman who has a very powerful voice! The new Choro Q will be released some time in December in Japan. I also recently worked on Billiards EX and the pinball game American Arcade for the PlayStation 2.

RocketBaby: You have composed music for live action films. Care to inform more?

Tenpei Sato: D#1 is a movie that was released in 1997 in Japan. This movie was exhibited at some film festivals in Europe. The soundtrack is very artistic and received a prize at a festival in Sweden! It was more of an honor than an award.. I performed as an actor in the movie and even had a few lines. I wanted to be a hero, but...

RocketBaby: What are the positives and negatives about creating music in Japan?

Tenpei Sato: The positives: I love Japanese instruments and enjoy playing them. I am producing a rock band called "Tora Band", who play Japanese instruments. I love the sounds of shamisen, shakuhachi, wadaiko, and fue. The negatives: I wish I could write more English songs and also study more English.

RocketBaby: What do you think is the future of game music?

Tenpei Sato: I guess the game music scene is becoming hot. I hope the media will except it as an art form and treat it like other genres of music.

RocketBaby: Please tell us about your work on Brigandine Grand Edition?

Tenpei Sato: Brigandine Grand Edition is a simulation game released in 1998. I received a commission to compose new sound track by E3 Staff (Atlus USA). Brigandine Grand Edition has better music, graphics, and animation movies. The music has a splendid orchestral sound just like movies about history.

RocketBaby: Who would you most like to make music with?

Tenpei Sato: Brain May {from British rock group Queen}. Because I want to make grand music by combining his guitar arrangements with my synthesizer arrangements.

RocketBaby: Do you have any advice for people who want to compose music?

Tenpei Sato: Music is an estate given to human beings. I want them to listen to lots of music and create lots of original music. The music which exists now is too much on the side of dancing music, and even digital music has begun putting break beats in. I wish they would persist in making original music with melody and harmony.

RocketBaby: Any last words?

Tenpei Sato: Please listen to my new album Shell Bullet ~Thanaphs68~. This one has very artistic and beautiful sound with singing and poetry readings. The disc is produced by Kunihiko Ikuhara, who is very popular with Anime festivals in America and Europe because of Utena. It was released by King Records on July 21, 2000. This is one of my most favorite albums because it has a very charismatic and experimental sound.