(This is a blog reposted from my page "The Tao of Video Games", a blog focused on the interaction between video games and the mind)
A wonderful article appeared on Gamasutra detailing the life and unfortunate death of Ryu Umemoto. He is held in high regard among Japanese video game composers, and I was very intrigued by some of the connections between Umemoto's work and his practice of Zen Buddhism. Umemoto was using the rhythms of Buddhist breathing techniques and the visual composition of Zen temples in his music, which is a fantastic example of the fundamental connections between the art of programming and Zen practice.
Composing music for video games in the late 80's and early 90's was the work of programmers. The workloads were enormous, but the music was being used in video games, so the composers were able to reach a potentially huge audience. Like Yuzo Koshiro's Streets of Rage, Umemoto's sound is from a time when game music was composed by people that needed a subtlety of control earned from a deep understanding of the digital processes generating every sound in their music. This also meant that music programming was slow and tedious, but it was taking part in a worldwide explosion of new inventions in electronic music. Video game companies are notorious for insanely long hours and pressured deadlines, but the industry was exploding at this time, and the audience was growing rapidly. Umemoto was said to have adapted Zen into his life as a response to the extraordinary stress of his production schedule, and it seems his expression was deeply tied to his Buddhist practice. I thank him deeply for his sacrifices, and I feel empowered by the quality of his work under these circumstances. It is easy to see why Zen would be so appealing to Umemoto in these grueling years.
It was also moving for me to learn that Umemoto played a substantial role in improving the artistic standard for erotic games. While "ero-ge" had no obvious need for well-layered narrative and carefully produced art, the teams which employed Umemoto sought to make games that had great stories paired with some steamy bonin', Umemoto and his collaborators lent their talents towards nuanced and heartfelt storytelling in their erotic work. Umemoto's particular school of Zen Buddhism has a very complex relationship with issues of sexuality, and many Japanese Buddhists have appealed to me through their openness to sexuality and eroticism. Umemoto's eroge soundtracks possess a sensuality that goes far deeper than the skin, and I am more interested than ever before to play some of the games he worked on.