‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ music creator looks back at the game’s 30th anniversary
Thirty years after its release, the sound of the YM3438 – the FM sound chip on the Mega Drive – still resonates dynamically and robustly. Although the Mega Drive was state of the art at the time, it could only generate six tones simultaneously, which meant it was much more restrictive than regular commercial music production. In an interview with Billboard Japan, Masato shared his process of creating music in such a limited environment.
“From a vertical point of view, only six notes could be played together, including drums, chords and melody. It wasn’t about chords anymore, it was about expressing the music with just those six notes, so I only used six notes to compose in MIDI, ”explains Masato. “I assigned two notes to the hi-hat and the bass drum, the third to the melody, and I used the other three to generate chords. It probably sounds restrictive now, but that was just what was given back then, so I worked on the assumption that in-game music could only generate six notes. I created it purely from a ‘This is all I can really use’ point of view. So the challenge was how good the music could be with just a good melody, a good bassline and a minimum of drums.
The resulting music for Sonic the hedgehog is a densely packed soundtrack of pop music from a variety of genres that precisely enhances the many different areas of the game. What’s remarkable is how the game console played full-fledged funk music. , with “Spring Yard Zone” from the first title being the most notable example. The bass emitted by the FM sound chip is clearly defined and three-dimensional, affirming their presence with a distinctive and bouncy quality. The way they bond to the strong, lean drums is also flawless, as Thundercat commented on the song on Red Bull’s. Digging in the carts: “It was like one of my first experiences with funk, I think, honestly.” This example of a Japanese pop artist’s influence on the contemporary funk scene through video games is a fascinating phenomenon.
Masato describes his first impression of Sonic the hedgehog – which was still in production when the soundtrack was created – as being cinematic. “When I first saw Sonic, I thought the graphics were revolutionary for the time. Side scrolling, really fast, and there were storyboards for different areas, ”he recalls. “And I was like, ‘I want to make music like it’s a movie.’ Before making my debut as DREAMS COME TRUE I had a long history of composing music and songs for visual works and commercials. I loved movies and always wanted to do movie scores so I was started to think about Sonic the hedgehog like a movie and started working on the music as if it were the soundtrack accompanying the story of Sonicis the great adventure. MTV was in its prime at the time, and many movies had theme songs, like Free of any tie and Lightning dance. Every song [in the soundtracks] has been a success. I wanted to Sonic being like that, that’s how I wrote every song for it.
Years after the game was released, Sonic the hedgehog has been adapted for the big screen. Masato’s cinematic gems in the Sonic the hedgehog soundtracks have retained their particular brilliance over the years, just like the films from which they were inspired.
Those who have known Masato Nakamura through Sonic the hedgehog might want to check out his band’s latest song DREAMS COME TRUE titled “Tsugino Seno! De – ON THE GREEN HILL-.” As the title suggests, the track is a majestic pop act inspired by and using the original music of the game, a rich cross-collaboration that only he could achieve, 30 years after the game’s birth.
DREAMS’s latest song COME TRUE and Masato’s tracks for Sonic the Hedgehog can be heard here.