Michiru Yamane and the 'Castlevania' Soundtracks

An exploration of the legendary video game composer's work on multiple 'Castlevania' games and beyond.

Tokyo-based game developer Konami released the first Castlevania game in 1986. Originally created for the Family Computer Disk System console in Japan, it made its North American debut for Nintendo in 1987.

Players were immediately drawn to the unique blend of action, adventure, gothic, and horror elements—as well as the gameplay and superb music. Castlevania has since become an iconic video franchise with its very own comic books and Netflix original animated series to boot.

Shortly after the original Castlevania hit stores in Japan, Michiru Yamane was entering her fourth year of college. Having studied piano since a young age, she based her thesis around the work of Bach and listened to plenty of dark classical numbers during her undergrad experience. Her immersive study of sound proved a valuable asset before she even graduated.

One fateful day before her senior year began she saw a job posting from Konami while looking around a recruitment office. Yamane subsequently applied and ended up working as a Konami composer for 21 years, first joining the company with contributions to Nemesis 3: The Eve of Destruction (1988) and later working as sole composer on Ganbare Goemon 2 (1989).

She further demonstrated impressive versatility, range, and dynamic sound on scores like the 1990 Game Boy release Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Fall of the Foot Clan.

Outside of her work for Game Boy, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and other gaming consoles, the increasing popularity of Sega Genesis led to additional scoring opportunities and more creative control for Yamane. “For that system I got to do all the work, not just composition, but also synthesizing the music into the program,” she told Game Developer magazine in a 2006 interview. “So it's particularly memorable for me.”

She made her Genesis debut in 1993 with contributions to the game Rocket Knight Adventures.

One year later Yamane’s role as sole composer for her Castlevania debut Castlevania: Bloodlines proved to be another game-changing career moment—though the high stakes environment of scoring for such a prestigious series was stressful at times. “I now and then met for me unknown employees, for example in the elevator, asking me if I was the composer for the music to the new Castlevania game,” she told Johan Köhn in a 2016 Spelmusik.net interview. “I said ‘yes’ and then got comments like ‘make sure you do a good job.’”

Despite the considerable pressure, she executed the score beautifully for a Castlevania series addition that eventually achieved classic status.

As memorable as her first entry in the Castlevania series is, Yamane’s singular work four years later on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night might be the finest soundtrack in her catalog. Much as people have nostalgia for the creative constraints that informed the sound of early video game music, Yamane demonstrated how far composers could go with the sound provided by Sony’s custom 16-bit chip for PlayStation. Give a listen to “Lost Painting” for just one of many jaw-dropping examples of her next level artistry and execution.

Stylistically different but equally effective numbers like “Metamorphosis” provided gamers with an appropriate sense of dread while “Prologue” once again showed the diversity of influences Yamane could seamlessly channel into her work.

In another highlight moment Yamane’s pianist skills shine brightly on “Abandoned Pit.” Her creative flair truly makes the composition pop with some added skin-crawling effects.

Michiru Yamane continued to work for Konami for another 11 years after Symphony of the Night hit shelves, scoring and working on many more entries in the Castlevania series during her remaining tenure—including the impressive Playstation 2 release Castlevania : Lament of Innocence.

Though she left Konami in 2008 to pursue freelance work, the esteemed veteran has continued to demonstrate her musical prowess. Recent contributions to the beautiful score for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019) on Playstation 4 prove that her musicianship is still top notch.

Though people are quick to point to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as her best work, so many of Yamane’s other scores also deserve our time and attention. From early consoles like the MSX2, Family Computer Disk System, and Nintendo, all the way up to the Playstation 4, she has adapted and evolved her sound with style and grace while providing gamers with a memorable listening experience.

Surviving, thriving, and trend-setting for over two decades in fiercely competitive, rapidly evolving, and ever-changing industry are some of the many reasons Michiru Yamane has achieved legendary status.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.

The 'Addams Family Values' OST for Super Nintendo Slaps

A look back at the game's visionary composer Keith Tinman and some of his other work.

Born in the UK in 1966, Keith Tinman started making music for fun with a Roland SH-101 keyboard and a tape recorder. He broke into computer and video game composition at age 18 with the Commodore 64 release The House Jack Built. Though the score was the first of his prolific career, Tinman’s chiptune efforts sound more like the work of a seasoned veteran than an inexperienced novice.

As impressive as his early creations for the Commodore 64 are, Timan really started to flex his skills a few years into his career. The epic score for the 1986 Commodore game Hypa-Ball gave him a place to showcase a unrivaled depth and range of sound, with the end result working as both a standalone recording and the perfect compliment to the retro game’s visuals.

Though Hypa-Ball became one of is early successes that he was most widely-recognized for, Tinman also noted a special pride in his work for the games Scary Monsters (1987) and CABAL (1988) in a 2002 remix64 interview with Neil Carr.

After joining Ocean Software at the beginning of the 1990s, Tinman’s work began to feature more prevalently on a variety of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. Tracks like the “Winner’s credits” finale from The Untouchables (1990) demonstrated an continually evolving sound.

Though the game itself received lukewarm reviews, the 1995 Super Nintendo version of Addams Family Values may be one of Tinman’s true masterworks, providing listeners with a deliciously dark and catchy soundtrack. On the somber, creeping “Dark Dungeons,” Tinman played with layering while adding and subtracting textures throughout the song to give the music the desired dramatic effect.

The synth sounds on “Creepy Creatures” give off retro cult movie vibes that work perfectly as a pithy, punchy bit of music.

Meanwhile “House of the Dead” features Tinman doing an excellent riff on the late Fred Myrow’s oft-sampled “Intro and Main Title” from Don Coscarelli’s horror classic Phantasm. Fans of the movie will appreciate his ability to pay homage to the film while creating something compelling and original.

If you dig the Addams Family Values vibes, make sure to check out Tinman’s carefully crafted numbers on the 1997 PC game Last Rites. The score makes a nice listening companion to his darker SNES numbers.

Though Tinman’s page on the indispensable wiki resource Video Game Music Preservation Foundation notes more recent video game scoring work, it seems like he started to move towards other artistic outlets in the early and mid-2000s. His current website lists an impressive resume of post production sound service work for film and television, but his equally notable video game career is completely absent.

Keith Tinman’s contributions to computer and video game music were vast, varied, and important. With London’s Data Discs doing a wonderful job reissuing classics like by Yuzo Koshiro’s score for Streets of Rage, it would be much-appreciated to see them or a like-minded label give Tinman’s soundtracks some of the same care and attention.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.

Rest in Peace Chick Corea

Let us take a moment to appreciate and celebrate Chick Corea, the legendary jazz keyboardist who passed away on Tuesday, February 9th at age 79.

Born on June 12th, 1941, Corea had short stints studying at Columbia and Juilliard, but it was his early live performances with the likes of Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, and Blue Mitchell that really sent the wheels of his career into motion.

After recording his solo debut Tones for Joan’s Bones at age 25, the album didn’t see release until two years later in 1968. The highly regarded record was an indicator of thing to come in Corea’s remarkable and lengthy career. Noting the influence of late, multiple GRAMMY award-winning pianist McCoy Tyner, AllMusic’s Jim Todd wrote of Tones, “Anybody with an interest in this vital and exciting period will find this session indispensable.”

Corea followed up his debut effort with another classic that also saw release in 1968. Recorded one year after Tones for Joan’s Bones, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs showcased Corea’s deft skills on the piano alongside the flawless playing of drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Miroslav Vitous.

According to Corea, the desired chemistry between the three players took some time to develop. He credited Haynes for bringing the necessary levity and rhythm to make things work. “The recording sessions had a concentration and intensity that was thick in the atmosphere of the studio,” he told Don Heckman in a 2014 interview on the GRAMMY website. “[Drummer] Roy [Haynes] and [bassist Miroslav Vitouš] were meeting for the first time and we had all these new tunes to deal with without any rehearsal. So it was tense for a while. But then, when Roy put his beat on things and added his humor and lightness as our "elder," things loosened up and the music started to fly.”

Cited as an all-time favorite album by multi-genre singer songwriter Bilal, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1999. This nod from the Recording Academy was one of many—Corea won 23 GRAMMY awards during his career in addition to being nominated for 67.

Corea consistently managed to create deeply absorbing compositions, even on his less-celebrated projects. In 1978 he released three solo studio albums including Secret Agent, a modest critical success and somewhat forgotten part of his vast catalog. Though the album didn’t have the same accoldates as some of his other records, it still provided listeners with many powerful musical moments.

A modernized rendition of Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók’s “Bagatelle #4” is a particularly compelling selection. Featuring somber keys coupled with the layered harmonies of Corea’s wife and vocalist Gayle Moran, the song takes a gorgeous, unexpected turn when he starts wailing on a synthesizer around the 55-second mark. It literally sounds like he’s trying to communicate with the heavens above while he plays, evoking a broad range of emotions in the process.

The fact that a musician could creative something so strikingly beautiful and not have it counted as one of their best compositions is a testament to the rare level of mastery Chick Corea demonstrated throughout his career.

His loss will be deeply felt by many, but there’s no doubt his music will continue to provide comfort and inspiration for countless generations.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.

A Brief History of the Koala Sampler with Insight from Creator Marek Bereza

From full instrumental albums made with Koala, Twitter sample challenges, and a multi-day company-sponsored beat battle, here's how the $3.99 iOS app is making waves in the beatmaking community.

Marek Bereza has been in the audio software game since 1999. His lengthy resume from the past 22 years is impressive, including a recent 2-year stint with Apple. As of late, however, you can find him working under the pseudonym elf audio, where he designs music making apps. Though elf audio currently has three apps available for sale (Koala Sampler, Koala FX, and Sampletoy), the most popular one in the online beatmaking community is the Koala Sampler.

Early inspiration for the Koala app came from the late/great J Dilla. According to Bereza, he started fully to grasp the depth and breadth of the legendary producer’s catalog around 2015/2016. He also marvelled at the way Dilla wove disparate sound sources together. “The art was in the expert discovery and curation of a handful of samples that sound like they were born to be together, even if they were from different ends of the musical universe,” he wrote on the Koala website. “And it seems J Dilla was the king of that.”

Further inspired by the fact that Dilla used the BOSS SP-303 to create his timeless Donuts album right before his passing in 2006, Bereza wanted to incorporate the 303’s embrace of limitation into the Koala app design. “The thing that inspired me with that is how much he accomplished with so little to work with—it's a common story in hip-hop music I think,” Bereza says. “And it's also where a lot of the beauty of sampled music comes from, the minimalism and curation of those samples. And in general giving yourself constraints is a massive creative tool, often overlooked.”

During the design phase Bereza paid particular attention to fine-tuning the resampling capabilities of Koala, a feature that helps unlock the creative floodgates for producers. “You can make something, resample it, rework the result, resample that and so-on,” he says. “It's like a spirograph. A spirograph is just a plastic circle in a plastic circle—can't get much simpler than 2 circles, but it makes these mesmerizing patterns. It's more than the sum of its parts.”

In addition to trying to keep the design simple while maximizing available features, he also tried to picture what sort of instrumentals producers would craft with the app and how they would use it. According to Bereza, “I got a lot of inspiration for Koala also from listening to the music I imagined making on it, trying to imagine how I would want to move my hands and fingers to make those songs.” 

No single song inspired him more than the Guilty Simpson-assisted Dilla remix of Four Tet’s “As Serious As Your Life.”

In just a few years of existence the Koala app has already become a major player in the beatmaking community. Dibiase was one of the first notable producers to start sharing his work on the app publicly, frequently taking to Twitter to share screen grabs of his productions. The impressive beats coupled with the highly visual, eye-catching interface of the app made his videos an immediate hit.

Before long producers like Dayon, Ohio’s lo-tek started to construct entire albums with Koala and nothing else. The ease and efficiency of video sharing on Instagram and Twitter has helped birth a vibrant community of Koala-specific producers. And Twitter sample challenges that help showcase the program’s capabilities have also furthered the app’s popularity considerably.

The sampler certainly featured prominently in all of the Micro-Chop sample challenges I ran in November and December.

And in a new wrinkle, Dibiase and elf audio joined forces to host the first Koala Sampler vs. SP-404 beat battle live on Twitch on Friday, February 12th. The idea came to Dibiase from a Koala vs. 404 debate in one of the Facebook SP forums. Pairing artists who preferred Koala or the 404 against each other seemed like the perfect opportunity to give a bunch of talented producers a showcase.

It was an exciting event featuring two teams loaded with talent along with Dibiase and Elaquent judging submissions. If you missed it, click here to check out the Team Koala roster and here and here to look at the Team SP roster.

You can also watch the entire battle on Twitch by clicking the link below.

Make sure to tune in for the final round tomorrow at 12 PM PST/3 PM EST to see tvkii (Team Koala) and Vinyl Sim (Team SP) face off. Whatever the results, this battle will certainly be another interesting chapter in the evolution of the Koala app.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.

What’s the Best Day and Time to Share Your Music on Social Media?

Some thoughts on getting people to engage with your work.

On Saturday producer and Micro-Chop flip challenge participant Joe Fritz asked a good question on Twitter.

Thinking about when people are most likely to see (and listen to) the fruits of your labor is a worthwhile endeavor. Being thoughtful and deliberate about your posting schedule probably has some benefit.

However, if I’m being honest, there are probably artists/musicians/producers much more qualified than I am to answer the question because I’m bad at planning out my social media feed and usually post on a whim or when I feel inspired to.

I also think making your social media feed a trusted space and a community is the best way to get people to engage with your work and probably more of a valuable long-term investment than optimizing the day and time of a post.

Here are a few suggestions for how to turn your social media feeds into destinations:

1) Teach People and Share Information- Is there a basic skill, unique or unconventional production technique, or mixing/mastering advice that you’re willing to share with your audience? Could you demonstrate it in a video or break it down in a short article or tweet thread? Knowledge is power and people tend to respond very positively to informative posts that teach them something new.

2) Use Your Feed to Celebrate the Work of Others- From the daily playlists I did a few years back to reading lists and sample challenges, nothing has helped me connect with people and expand my audience more than sharing the work of others. If you’re a producer, you can use your social media feed to shine a light on and celebrate the music of deserving and under-appreciated musicians/producers/vocalists/etc.

3) Show an Appreciation for History- This is somewhat of an extension of #2. Few artists have inspired the aesthetic of the Micro-Chop Twitter feed more than DāM-FunK. The way he uses his sizeable platform to educate people about important artists and records of the past is very inspiring and appreciated. You can tell he has a deep appreciation for the genres and spaces he works in and he cares about preserving multiple musical legacies besides his own.

4) Engage with Other People’s Work- I honestly struggle to do this at the level I should and I sometimes need to take extended breaks from being active on social media. That said, it’s nice to like, reshare, and reply to other people’s posts about their projects to let them know that you value their work.

5) Start a Substack Newsletter- Yes, it’s another thing to add to the endless list of things in life—but I also think it’s a really good idea. Every email you send can work as a article/email hybrid and it fosters a direct connection with your most intimate fans. Read more about starting a newsletter here.

6) Participate in Community Events Like Beat Showcases and Sample Challenges- This is pretty self explanatory but I’ve seen a lot of producers level up their visibility in a major way just by being a part of a few sample challenges or hopping on one of Battle Ave’s Sessionin beat showcases. Both are definitely a good way to get people to listen to your music.

Luna Loops out now! @naj_ahead
Big up to @micro_chop for the #SwinginFlipChallenge. I was swingin' my arms in frustration trying to flip this joint! Here is "Mo' Bounce Than Swing", w/ glitchy video footage of me cruising around San Fernando Valley at night. Soundcloud link:

Micro-Chop @micro_chop

I've been really inspired by @nelacthebeatnja and @darealdibiase's sample challenges so I'm gonna throw a #SampleFlipChallenge out out there. I'll retweet anyone who gives it a go. Hashtag: #SwinginFlipChallenge YouTube link below. https://t.co/WcOeUxtJY1 https://t.co/dA0vYOoKoB

I hope these strategies work well for all of you, I’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for engaging with people if you have them.

If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to the Micro-Chop newsletter to support independent music journalism.

Loading more posts…