Koichi Sugiyama (すぎやま こういち, Sugiyama Kōichi, born April 11, 1931 as 椙山 浩一, which is pronounced the same as his stage name) is a Japanese music composer, council member of JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers), board member of Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and honorary chairman of the Japanese Backgammon Society. He is best known for composing music for the Dragon Quest video game series, which is published by Square Enix, and several Japanese anime, film, and TV shows, such as Space Runaway Ideon, Godzilla vs. Biollante, Cyborg 009, and Gatchaman.
A classically trained conductor, he is considered a primary inspiration for other game music composers such as Nobuo Uematsu, and has been referred to as a "Big boss of game music."
Early life and television career:
Koichi Sugiyama was born in Tokyo, Japan. While growing up, Sugiyama's home was filled with music, which ultimately inspired his passion. In high school, he began to recognize his passion, and wrote various small musical works.
After graduating from the University of Tokyo with full honours in 1958, he went into the reporting and entertainment sections of cultural broadcasting. In addition, he joined the Fuji Telecasting Co. as a director. In 1965, he left the telecasting company as a freelance director, and in 1968, he quit directing and concentrated on music composition.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sugiyama composed for musicals, commercials, pop artists, and for animated movies and television shows, such as Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman, The Sea Prince and the Fire Child, and Cyborg 009. He also assisted Riichiro Manabe with the composition for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, composing the record single of the soundtrack, and conducting for some of the tracks.
Dragon Quest and video game career:
Sugiyama's first contact with Enix was by a fan letter he wrote them regarding a PC shogi game in the early 1980s. After Enix's staff overcame the shock of receiving a handwritten postcard from a celebrity of Sugiyama's stature, they were so impressed by his depth of knowledge and appreciation of games that they decided to ask Sugiyama to write the music for Dragon Quest.
Sugiyama started composing for the PC-8801, and was working for Enix at the time. His first video game composition was for the game Wingman 2. In 1986, he composed for his second video game, Dragon Quest, for the Famicom. Dragon Quest would become the series he was most known for. Sugiyama says it took him five minutes to compose the original opening theme. His classical score for the game was considered revolutionary for console video game music.
Sugiyama was the first video game composer to record his video game music with a live orchestra. In 1986, the CD, Dragon Quest I Symphonic Suite, was released, utilizing the London Philharmonic Orchestra to interpret Sugiyama's melodies. The soundtrack's eight melodies (Opening, Castle, Town, Field, Dungeon, Battle, Final Battle, and Ending) set the template for most role-playing video game soundtracks released since then, hundreds of which have been organized in a similar manner.
In 1987, he composed for Dragon Quest II, and then held the very first video game music concert in the world. "Family Classic Concert" was arranged and conducted by Sugiyama himself. It was performed by the Tokyo String Music Combination Playing Group on August 20, 1987 at Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan. "Dragon Quest I Symphonic Suite" and "Dragon Quest II Symphonic Suite" were performed. The "Family Classic Concerts" have always had excellent turn outs; since then, Sugiyama has held over eighteen of them all across Japan.
Sugiyama continued to compose for video games from 1987 to 1990. In 1991, he introduced a series of video game music concerts, five in all, called the Orchestral Game Concerts, which were performed by the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra and Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The performances included over eighteen different video game composers, such as Koji Kondo, Yoko Kanno, Kentarō Haneda, Nobuo Uematsu, Keiichi Suzuki, as well as Sugiyama himself. These concerts were held from 1991 to 1996; during this time, Sugiyama composed for other video games and arranged for some of them to be performed in the Orchestral Game Concerts.
In September 1995, Sugiyama composed the Dragon Quest Ballet. It premiered in 1996, and returned in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2002. During those years, he also released the Symphonic Suites for the Dragon Quest games he had worked on thus far.
Sugiyama also has completed other projects, such as the fanfares for the opening and closing of the gates in the Tokyo Race Track and the Nakayama Race Track.
Koichi Sugiyama's non-work related hobbies include photography, traveling, building model ships, collecting old cameras, and reading. He has opened a camera section on his website, and he also has his own record label "SUGI Label" which he started on June 23, 2004.
In late 2004, he finished and released the Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King Original soundtrack, and the Dragon Quest VIII Symphonic Suite.
In 2005, Sugiyama was holding a series of concerts in Japan with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra with music from Dragon Quest VIII, as well as his classic compositions from the past. In August 2005, his music from Dragon Quest was performed live at the European Symphonic Game Music Concert. There, for the first time, his music was presented in a live symphonic concert outside Japan.
In 2006, Sugiyama began working on some diverse projects, one of them being the music for Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors. On August 19, 2006, Sugiyama announced Dragon Quest IX's production in Japanese video game magazine Famitsu by saying "I'm not sure when Dragon Quest IX will be released, but it seems that progress is continually being made. I'm personally excited."
Throughout Sugiyama's works, motifs repeat themselves to maintain a consistency and nostalgic quality in the different installments. This is especially true for the Dragon Quest series. Each of the games include a nearly identical, upbeat theme song titled "Overture." In addition, Dragon Quest III-IX include a simple, casual tune on the saved game selection screen titled "Intermezzo."
Sugiyama's style of composition has been compared to late Baroque and early Classical period styles. Composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Gustav Mahler, and George Frideric Handel are some of his inspirations, along with the type of melodic styles heard during the mid-20th century of American cinema. The influence of Arnold Schoenberg can also be heard in some of his more experimental compositions, notably starting from Dragon Quest IV.