Ship To Shore Phone Co. Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of Hisayoshi Ogura’s score to Taito’s DARIUS with a vinyl release
Taito was one of the leaders in innovative video gaming. From the game room to the home, the Japanese company were purveyors in creating timeless and now legendary games like Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, Double Dragon and more. When Taito released DARIUS, it was not a game to be played, it was a game to be experienced. Launched in 1987, the game cabinet sported a three-screen display, non-linear level designs and multiple endings.
Not only was it known for its dimensional perspective, the music played an important role in video game history. Taito formulated Zuntata, founded by experimental electronic composer Hisayoshi Ogura. Taito’s house band transformed video game music from noisemakers and simple blips and bleeps to well thought-out soundscapes. This accentuates the mood of a situation or emotive tone of the game. It was a game changer.
Fast forward 30 years and Ship To Shore added the DARIUS soundtrack to their video game album release series. This is one of various eclectic gems found in Ship To Shore’s catalog, re-releasing rare and out-of-print artistic timescapes. This includes ’80s movie soundtracks to 1960s Greenwich obscurities. Aaron Hamel, co-founder of the label talks about the history of the label, how they choose their projects and what led to the creation of revitalizing Ogura’s work.
First off, tell me a little about the label and what all you have been doing lately?
We started off in 2013 by producing a replica Edison cylinder record that contained an unreleased Tiny Tim track and after that success we just branched out from there. I think that my both mine and Justin’s interests shine through in our catalog, which has helped us have, in my opinion, one of the most diverse catalogs going.
Lately we’ve just continued to put out a really diverse selection of music, including the soundtrack to Hideo Kojima’s SNATCHER, Richard Barone’s latest albumSorrows & Promises and a reissue of the seminal early 80s hardcore album A Diet for the Worms by ISM.
There is a dedication not only to bring back to life rare and influential albums, but also a dedication to quality in presentation and preservation. How important is that to the label and what is the philosophy in this?
We definitely try and pick stuff that’s a little off the beaten path and give that kind of material the deluxe treatment. Take our recent release of Konami’s Lagrange Point soundtrack. There you have a game that was not released outside of Japan and that not many Westerners know about, but the soundtrack is phenomenal and we felt it was important to bring it out and expose a completely new audience to it. I suppose our general philosophy is that if the music is good, we believe it will find an audience.
How are projects decided at the label?
There’s always a variety of factors at play, but generally it just has to be something that both Justin and I really enjoy and think that lots of other people will enjoy, too. I’d like to believe that most of the time we’re right on the second part of that.
What made you want to re-release Ogura’s score for the 1987 classic arcade game soundtrack? How did this come about?
DARIUS is definitely one of the seminal early game soundtracks. Around that time you had composers actually taking the time to create atmosphere and moods as opposed to the simple beeps and boops you heard in the late 70s and early to mid 80s. ZUNTATA, Taito’s house band which Ogura-san founded, was definitely on the cutting edge of that trend and you can hear it in DARIUS.
The project came about after I reached out to Taito, having been a long time fan of both their games and ZUNTATA’s music. I was lucky enough to meet with some of the members of ZUNTATA when I was vacationing in Japan last year and they were absolutely thrilled by the idea of this music coming out on vinyl.
Why do you think this soundtrack is important, especially 30 years later?
I think Ogura was totally ahead of his time in creating a unique mood and atmosphere for a game. When you listen to tracks like “Boss Scene 3,” for example, it doesn’t necessarily feel like what you would expect from a space shoot ’em up game like DARIUS, yet it works both in the game and outside of it. To me, that’s what makes it interesting all these years later: it stands on its own as a piece of electronic music and not simply as a video game score. I’ve heard from several listeners who were not at all familiar with the game and think it’s a truly astounding work. That’s the mark of a good score, whether it’s a game score, film score, etc.
Zuntata – Captain Neo (Darius I)
The timing with musicians reverting back to analog and movements like Outrun and 8-bit, for example, continuing to thrive. How has Ogura influenced the current generation and what would you tell someone who did not grow up in that era of video gaming?
I think that fascinating thing about Ogura’s work, not only on DARIUS but on his other early Taito output as well, is how it flies in the face of convention. Certainly no one was setting shoot ’em ups to this experimental, atmospheric music before him. Certainly other composers were pushing the limits of what could be done with a video game soundtrack at the time, but I don’t think any were as brazen as Ogura. To me, his lasting contribution is the idea game music could be anything and everything.
The experimental attributes to Ogura’s work is phenomenal not just capturing a specific time in history but also a universal feeling. What is it about Ogura that exemplifies this?
Ogura definitely had bigger aspirations and ideas than what the medium would technically allow at the time. His music encompassed big themes. To quote his liner notes from our release “CHAOS [DARIUS’ main theme] will always remain nearest and dearest to me because it succinctly captures how I imagine the Big Bang and the birth of the universe to have felt like.” Personally, I find it totally fascinating that he attempted (and in my opinion succeeded) to capture that level of feeling with 1987 arcade hardware.
What are some of your favorite albums you have worked on?
For me, getting to release the MOTHER 2 (EarthBound in the west) soundtrack on vinyl was a total dream come true. It’s one of my favorite games of all time and I think it has a phenomenal soundtrack that stands on its own as experimental electronica, much like DARIUS does.
What are some of the interesting reactions you have received from releasing these works?
I think the most satisfying reaction we tend to get are from people who have said that its our records who got them into collection vinyl in general. As collectors ourselves, its a great feeling to know that we’re helping to start someone else’s addiction.
What is in store for the label?
We’ve got a lot of great projects coming up, including the soundtrack to the 1988 film Troma’s WAR, Konami’s Rocket Knight Adventures and some super secret surprises that I can’t reveal yet, but fans are going to go gaga for! We’re also bringing Italian film composer Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond, Zombie) to America for his New York City concert debut on October 29th and 30th!