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Music has been an essential part of the gaming experience for decades. From simple 8-bit tunes to orchestral compositions, the music of video games can be exceptionally beautiful. As such, it’s fair to say that composers of video game music enjoy a unique position in the entertainment world, straddling the line between being auteur artists and members of large teams of game creators. But what happens when you take the “video game” out of “video game music composition?” Something beautiful and unique!

We recently sat down and chatted with musician Smoke Thief about his new concept album and working renowned Japanese composers Manami Matsumae, Takahiro Izutani, and Saori Kobayashi. If you like video game music, you’ll definitely want to check out the new album Heart Beat Circuit!

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After completing a Master’s degree in music performance in 2010, Smoke Thief, real name George Baker, came to Japan where he began work on his first major release, Heart Beat Circuit. The album, available on Bandcamp, is just one of the many release from Brave Wave, a label focused on video game music in Japan and the West. Though the label may not be a household name just yet, they are certain only their way thanks to their numerous signed artists, like Manami Matsumae (Mega Man), Yuji Takenouchi (Dark Souls), and Yoko Shimomura (Street Fighter II). Brave Wave has also signed a host of Western musicians, Smoke Thief included, rounding out their roster with unique, talented artists from around the world.

Though the label obviously has a huge emphasis on video game music, not every release is exactly that, and Heart Beat Circuit is a perfect example. Smoke Thief’s album, which combines electronic, jazz, retro synthesizers, and crazy time signatures, is entirely original and unrelated to any game. However, the musician is quick to emphasize that he’s not just out there trying to mess with genre labels. “I’m just following whatever impulses arise. Heart Beat Circuit is all inspired by the muse, ‘Krystal’, this intelligent female android whose logic can’t rescue her from the infinity of human choices,” he explains. So, while it might not be music for a video game, it still has the same storytelling heart and atmosphere of “video game music.”

In addition to a wealth of musical experience and training, the musician also had some help with the creation of this album in the form of three beloved and exceptionally talented Japanese composers: Manami Matsumae, Takahiro Izutani, and Saori Kobayashi. Of course, the first question is, obviously, how the heck did he end up working with all three of these amazing composers?

“Essentially I’d dreamed of working with musicians from the golden era of Japanese gaming since I first played Mega Man, Kirby and Street Fighter II when I was, like, seven,” George explained. “I was hypnotized by how melodic the music was and I’d try to copy it on my Casio MT-240.” While discussing the album with Mohammed Taher, founder of Brave Wave, the idea of using collaborative elements came up. “I fell off my chair, got back in it, and said I agreed,” George told us. He later met the composers featured on the album — and many more — at the company’s annual party.

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From there, it was a “simple” matter of collaborating with each of the artists online, so everyone could get into the music without feeling stifled. And the plan seems to have worked out well. “I’m ecstatic about how these tracks turned out and I will definitely be buying each of them a drink to say thanks!” the musician told us. Explaining what each of the artists added to the music, George said that both “Matsumae-san and Kobayashi-san […] added their majestic touches to my arrangements.” As for Izutani, George tells us that the composer basically shaped “the raw melodic materials […] into some otherworldly voyage!”

Varying from song to song, the album melds together multiple genres of music while leading the listener through a singular narrative vision. Check out the piano-driven “Dusktone,” featuring Manami Matsumae, below.

You can get Heart Beat Circuit on Bandcamp and you can learn more about Brave Wave’s music on their homepage. Also, be sure to like Smoke Thief on Facebook to keep up to date with all his music releases!

References: Brave Wave, Bandcamp (Brave Wave), Twitter (Georgeartbaker), Facebook (Smoke Thief)
Art by Eric Lahaie, © Brave Wave Productions
Photo by Andrew Holtby, © Off Beat Photography Tokyo