Ongaku Concept Interviews: Hajime Hyakkoku
If you’re an anime fan, you’ve probably heard of K-ON!, a KyoAni series about a highschool band. And if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the show (being a musician myself), and its music has taught me a lot about music theory and guitar technique. Many composers, arrangers, and performers were involved in creating the music for K-ON!, but the show’s BGM was almost single-handedly composed, arranged, and produced by longtime anime composer Hajime Hyakkoku (百石元). Aside from K-ON!, he’s also known for his work on GJ-bu, Ace of Diamond, and Saekano. Recently, I had the chance to talk with him about music theory and his composition process.
Ongaku Concept: How did you first become interested in playing music, and how did you get started working as a composer?
Hajime Hyakkoku: I listened to The Beatles for the first time at 10 years old and thought “this is what my occupation will be!!” Originally, I was a guitarist and was playing guitar in concert tours for many Japanese artists. [Editor’s Note: He’s the guitarist in this video] Later on, I met a lot of people in the music industry and sent my demonstration tape to them. I began working on a small project, but I worked very strenuously, so I was commissioned for more work after that. The repeat of this process made me the composer I am now. So, if you’d like to work as a composer, I think it’s best to send a demonstration tape to many people in the music industry and offices, right? ;-)))
OC: What’s your composing process like? Do you approach writing for vocal songs differently than for BGM?
Hyakkoku: When writing the music for vocal songs, I write along to the format of Japanese songs, and I always choose a melody of a Japanese taste. However, when writing a soundtrack (BGM), I make music which promotes a worldview of contents. When I make a song for voice and BGM, it’s different.
Hyakkoku’s music is rich with complex harmonies and modulations. “Na-i-sho!” from K-ON!! or “That’s It?” from GJ-bu are great examples of his penchant for tasteful dissonance. I asked him about his experience with music theory, and he had an interesting response.
OC: How did you learn music theory? Do you think much about it while composing? I’ve transcribed some of your songs and there are some complicated chord progressions going on!
Hyakkoku: My music theory is a ‘mode’ of JAZZ. I learned that in a Japanese music school for 1 year. When writing music, I don’t consider music theory, it’s only my sense. When I find something to be “bad,” that’s wrong theoretically. In such cases, I consider music theory. About the “complicated chord progress” you felt: I sometimes insert much tension in a chord and make the harmony taut. Most of this technique depends on modes of jazz. Sometimes I even ignore that and simply make tones conflict. In other words, when making music, the theory is insignificant. Hmm.
OC: When you say that you rely on the “modes of jazz,” are you referring to modes like Dorian, Mixolydian, the harmonic minor scale, and such?
Hyakkoku: Yes it is!! Because I was aiming to be a jazz guitarist from 20 years old until I was 25, my sense is caused by jazz modes. It isn’t academic knowledge like classical music.
OC: Your arrangements are really unique; you have a distinct sound. Your vocal arrangements in particular are extremely well-written (“Ichiban Ippai” from K-ON! Movie comes to mind). What are some of your musical influences/favorite bands?
Hyakkoku: I arranged this song in [the style of] The Beatles. I underwent the influence of a lot of artists I’ve listened to so far, but I’ve [been influenced most by] The Beatles. And, without sticking to a genre, I was listening to a lot of music. All artists I have listened to so far are favorites.
OC: Any advice for new composers?
Hyakkoku: Anyway, I think it’s best to touch the music of a lot of artists, and analyze the tunes of your favorite artists especially thoroughly. After that, copy the song and compose another tune for oneself. This repeat work will build your individuality. I learned this way, too.
Hyakkoku is one of my biggest inspirations as a composer and arranger, so it was a huge honor to be able to do this interview. Check out VGMDb to see a full list of his anime and game work.
Note: This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.