Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka is a Japanese composer and
musician best known for his scores for various video games produced by
Hirokazu Tanaka got his start in music at the age of five when
his parents enrolled him at the privately run Yamaha Music School in Japan.
He studied piano from age nine to age 11, when his musical training ended.
His mother played recordings of classical music and film soundtracks
regularly, which gave Tanaka an appreciation for those forms of music.
Tanaka became interested in rock music when the TV show The Monkees aired
in Japan when he was nine, which prompted him to start a band with some
friends. From nine to 30, Tanaka played in and out of groups on various
instruments, including guitar, keyboard, and drums, and in various styles
from rock to jazz and fusion.
Tanaka entered college as an electronic engineering major, but he saw
little success since he was more interested in electronic applications for
music than what his professors considered more useful pursuits. In 1980,
Tanaka saw a newspaper advertisement for a sound engineer position at the
Nintendo video game company, a position he secured for himself. Meanwhile,
his current band had made the finals in a music competition, a major
breakthrough in their quest to get signed with a major label. Nevertheless,
Tanaka chose to work for Nintendo, and he left the band.
Tanaka's first projects with the company were on Nintendo's arcade
machines. Music was extremely primitive on these machines, so Tanaka
primarily worked on sound effects. His job required him to personally
program the sound in binary code as well as to design and install the actual
sound equipment on the arcade machines.
Nintendo began development of its Famicom home video game console in 1984
(known as the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe),
and Tanaka worked on early titles including Duck Hunt and Kid Icarus. The
new system had four sound channels, but one of these was reserved for sound
effects. This left three channels to produce melody, harmony, and
percussion. Though a vast improvement over the simplistic sound of the
arcade machines, the Nintendo hardware still left Tanaka and the other
composers severely limited in the complexity of the music they could write.
Even though sound tools had been written for the Famicom, Tanaka continued
to write his music using assembly language, a fact he credits with helping
to set his work apart from that of his colleagues. By 1986, Tanaka was
writing over a third of the music for the Famicom's games.
This increase in sound technology, coupled with the composing talents of
Tanaka and his coworkers such as Koji Kondo helped raise the popularity of
game music in Japan. The increased attention spurred good-spirited rivalries
between many game composers, a development that bothered Tanaka, since it
forced composers to write in a way that he felt was contrary to the
atmosphere of the games themselves.
It was this dislike that inspired him to compose the subdued themes of
Metroid. In his words, he tried "to create the sound without any
distinctions between music and sound effects." He composed the music so as
to deny the player a simple melody to hum along with; only after completing
the game is any "catchy" music played. At the time, the Metroid soundtrack
was criticized as being too "heavy", but today, the score is widely regarded
as Tanaka's masterpiece.
Tanaka also worked in a programming capacity for Nintendo. He had always
wanted to get more into project development, and it was this that inspired
him to design the Gameboy Camera and the Gameboy Printer.
Tanaka began work on the score for the Pokιmon TV series in 1997. He says
he never took the job too seriously and that the unprecedented popularity of
the franchise took him completely by surprise. Because the series was not
directly produced by Nintendo, the company told Tanaka that he could not
continue to work on it. This prompted Tanaka to quit Nintendo in 1998.
He went to work for Creatures, Inc., a game developer and producer of
Pokιmon cards. When the president of the company left in 2000, Tanaka took
the position, which he holds to this day.
Tanaka's music has been greatly inspired by the rock performers of his
youth, including The Monkees, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Burt
Bacharach. He was also greatly inspired by reggae in the 1980s. He says he
also takes inspiration from the visual arts, especially portraiture and