Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Hirokazu 'Hip' Tanaka

Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka is a Japanese composer and musician best known for his scores for various video games produced by Nintendo.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Musical Style and Influences
3 Video Game Soundtracks (Incomplete)
4 External Link


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 Pokémon TV series in 1997. He says he never took the job too seriously and that the unprecedented popularity of the franchise took him competely 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 Pokémon cards. When the president of the company left in 2000, Tanaka took the position, which he holds to this day.

Musical Style and Influences

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 photography. He eventually became known as the mentor of Yuka Tsujiyoko.

Video Game Soundtracks (Incomplete)

External Link