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More Than Just Noise: Silent Noise


Look at the picture above. Many of you will instantly recognize what game this is from. For the ones who don't, it's from Silent Hill 3.

Now I want you to take the main character standing there out and put yourself in her place (her name is Heather, by the way but it doesn't matter right now). Look down at the monstrosities laying dead at your feet. look around you. Where could you be? A hospital? A basement perhaps? A Morgue? You can't trust you eyes so you go for the next best thing: Your ears.

What do you think you'd hear in a place like that, or this one below taken from Silent Hill 2?

Clanging of pipes? disembodied whispers coming out of nowhere? Somebody screaming: "BLOODY MURDER!" from a room just beyond? Perhaps nothing at all?

Silent Hill has always been about subtle fear that doesn't bite your head off at first meet, but it will sting you softly and sweetly on the cheek as it slowly and steadily spreads its dark poison inside your veins and finally takes control of your paralyzed body and mind to do evil deeds. Or just drag you into some sewage tunnel and eat you up.

What I'm trying to convey is, sometimes you DO hear scary or creepy stuff. But you know what you hear BEFORE you hear the screaming lady or the groaning monster just around the bend in a video game or perhaps even in real life? You hear your own Fear. You hear what's inside your HEAD. That's the scariest thing of all, the dread and feeling of isolation. Mr. Akira Yamaoka is well aware of this fact.

He is the composer for all of the Silent Hill games (and the underrated movie). Even if a silent hill game is not made by Team Silent, the original people behind the first three (and best) Silent Hill games, the replacement developers and Konami beg him to contribute to the audio and music department for their iteration of the game. Why, you say? Because they know that without him, their vision of Silent Hill will be little more than "another survival-horror video game".

So what does Mr. Yamaoka know so much about Silent Hill which makes him the definite composer for the series? What has made him one of the most revered video game composers of our era? Probably because he knows by heart that in order to truly terrify someone, you have to delve into their subconscious. Go under their skin, so to speak. So maybe he also exposes his own personal buried demons for us to witness through his works.

So you may claim: "Everybody knows that! Hell, even the cheapest piece of straight-to-DVD crap movie can scare you with those annoying, deafening "WREEEEEEE!" violin crescendos when the bad guys appear out of nowhere!"

You may be right to an extent. Most movies from the Horror genre do portray scary, or at least eerie images and music. But I want you to go out (or online) right now, acquire any of these movies soundtracks and listen to those very tracks which scared the crap out of you without watching the movie. Except for maybe a few (Alfred Hitchcock's famous Psycho soundtrack comes to mind here) exceptions, the music alone just won't affect you as much as it did when it was attached to its visual counterpart. The same can be said of most horror video games.

Now go and acquire one of Mr. Yamaoka's Silent Hill soundtracks (preferably from Silent Hill 1 through 3) and I want you to imagine you're chewing some delicious candy while picking flowers from a beautiful rose garden or imagine you're in some kind of an exclusive "single gamers only" party where you're the only guy. And you're banging a Playboy bunny... or whatever else that makes you tick. Now pop in the Silent Hill soundtrack you have just acquired. Do you feel the difference? Are you nervously peeking over your shoulder yet?

I don't think Mr. Yamaoka wants to impress people (although he unintentionally ends up doing it anyway). He wants to crank the volume of the noises you THINK you hear to up 11.

The screaming of monsters and clanking of pipes can only take you so far, but we have all more or less had the experience of THINKING we heard something really creepy when everybody else denies hearing anything particular at that moment. That's your subconscious fear talking. That's what Yamaoka is trying to bring to the forefront rather than let it linger aimlessly in the back of your head.

Of course I'm not saying all horror OST should be like this. There's a time and place for everything. But there are very few Franchises (video game or otherwise) whose soundtracks are part of their identities and Silent Hill is one of them. That's what Akira Yamaoka and Silent Hill are all about. They define each other. Each and every Silent Hill game has its own mood, its own sounds.

On an end note, I'm going to show you that he is not just a one trick pony. He can also make quite beautiful melodies which brings fond memories to all Silent Hill fans. Here's an example from the latest Silent Hill game dubbed: "Shattered Memories" which is quite a good game. As close as western developers have come to realizing the core of Team Silent's much-loved franchise.
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About kviznosone of us since 10:49 AM on 09.22.2010

Single player love all the way. Lovin' video games circa Atari 2600 and still going strong.