|Namco||Game Developer||1989 - 1996||Composer, Sound Designer|
|Manikyua-Dan||Music Group||1993 - 1999||Co-Founder, Artist|
|Sampling Masters||Music Group||1993 -||Co-Founder, Artist|
|Arika||Game Developer||1996 - 2000||Composer, Sound Designer|
|SuperSweep||Music Production||2000 -||Vice President, Composer|
|Sweep Record||Record Label||2001 -||Artist|
|GE-ON-DAN||Artist Collective||2009 - 2011||Member|
Ayako Saso is a veteran composer who has worked closely with Shinji Hosoe on various video games, remix albums, and original releases. Born on March 5, 1967 in Miyazaki, Saso loved performing and listening to music as a child. She was exposed to a wide selection of music, ranging from Japan’s popular songs and anime theme songs, to Latin dance numbers and classical violin pieces conducted by her father. She took piano lessons from the age of seven and, after graduating from high school, performed keyboards in a wind instrument band. Wanting to perform professionally, she engaged in an intense study of the electric organ from the age of 16 and won Silver Prize at the Yamaha Electone Festival in 1987. She also developed an intense fascination of computer music and how it enabled unplayable music to be heard. Having been an avid gamer during her youth, she enjoyed listening to Hosono Haroumi’s arranged album dedicated to Namco’s classics and sometimes tried to arrange music of her own. Despite initially resenting composing, such experiences inspired her to pursue work as a game music composer and she was recruited to Namco in 1989.
Saso made her debut at Namco with the music and sound effects for Stealth Bomber. Composer Shinji Hosoe closely advised her throughout on how to produce suitable music and overcome hardware limitations. She found his words of encouragement, such as “Think for yourself and learn!”, to be inspiring and soon started to express her own voice. Following roles creating sound effects on Galaxian 3 and an enhanced score for Soukoban DX, Saso scored the action-packed arcade title Rolling Thunder 2, her first score released on CD. On seeing the game in action for the first time, she realized she wanted to offer a jazz influence on the score. Though she had developed proficiency with jazz improvisation while playing the electone organ, it was something of a challenge to program her ideas using FM8 and PCM24 sound modules. She persevered through trial-and-error to produce a distinctive and cutting-edge score. Another hit followed closely thereafter when she co-composed the music for Galaxian 3: Project Dragoon. Her undying love for Star Wars and John Williams&39; music certainly influenced her symphonic approach to the theme park version, whereas the Theater 6 version featured more modest pop arrangements.
While working at Namco, Saso participated in various original albums produced by her colleagues Shinji Hosoe and Takayuki Aihara. She shone with her single contribution to Troubadour Records’ Be Filled With Feeling in 1991, offering catchy melodies and sassy fusions, and went on to make diverse contributions to other albums, including Great Wall, gtr, TOURS, and Game Over, in each case expressing her individuality while enhancing their concepts. Also wanting to explore pop songwriting, she joined Hosoe’s unit Manakyua-Dan to pen pieces on Minna no Manikyua andZuki-In. While few of these releases were commercially successful, they gave Saso the opportunity for creative exploration and self-expression. Feeling more confident as a composer, she went on to single-handedly produce a haunting orchestral score for Godzilla Wars and some electronic eccentricities on Namco Adventure Quiz. Inspired by the precedent set by Hosoe’s scores, Saso was subsequently asked to produce a score for 1993’s X-Day inspired by the underground techno movements and soon established her own hybridised hardcore sound. She also supplemented Hosoe’s score for the smash hit Ridge Racer; while she only made one contribution, “Feeling Over”, it was impressive for its time both musically and technologically.
During her final years at Namco, Saso worked closely with Hosoe on a range of projects. The pair worked particularly closely together on the sequel Galaxian 3: Attack of the Zolgear and often passed the baton to one another; aiming to appeal to the masses, she blended pop influences with science-fiction touches throughout. The artist also returned to offer several pieces on Ridge Racer 2, driving each of her pieces with heavy beats and voice samples. The project firmly established the Sampling Masters team, comprising herself, Hosoe, Aihara, and Sano, and received a popular album release. She was also partly responsible for adapting the music of Ridge Racer for Laser Disc and PlayStation. In further racing works, Saso took a leading role on the fusion score for Cyber Cycles and blended new tracks with remixes on Rave Racer. During her final year at Namco, Saso produced some minimalist techno pieces on Xevious 3D/G and carefully preserved the image of the original game. In a further collaboration, she also produced dark electronic arrangements of several stage themes featured on Tekken 2’s PlayStation port. Wanting to continue working with her departing colleagues, Saso left her role at Namco to join Arika in 1996.
At Arika, Saso was principally responsible for scoring the Street Fighter EX trilogy alongside Hosoe and Aihara. Diverting from the series’ poppy routes, the composer complemented the 3D stages with rich fusions of electronic, rock, and ethnic elements. She also adapted the first two scores for their PlayStation ports and their highly experimental arranged albums using higher quality sample libraries. Continuing her work on fighting games, she went on to co-compose a rhythmically compelling score for Fighting Layer alongside Aihara. In other works at Arika, she wrote contemporary pieces featured on the original album Escape Goat and took lead roles on the industrial scores for Tetris: The Grand Master and its sequel. During this period, Saso was also given permission to assist Hosoe on several projects outside Arika. Most notably, she offered some exuberantly produced compositions for three titles published by Square: fusing electronic beats with traditional instruments on LightWeight’s period fighter Bushido Blade, sampling rich industrial textures on Positron’s kaleidoscopic shooter Internal Section, and adopting a familiar fusion approach on Escape’s racing title Driving Emotion Type-S. Her services were also requested as a composer on Custom Robo, arranger on the Saturn port of Battle Garegga, and sound effects designer on Deep Freeze.
In addition to numerous scoring works, Saso also continued to participate in independent activities through Hosoe’s Troubadour Records. Wanting to propel the Sampling Masters to the masses, she contributed numerous tracks to a series of electronic albums released under Troubadour Records; the initial trilogy of these albums took listeners on journeys through contemporary Asia and outer space – and often emphasised Saso’s flair for incorporating voice samples and ethnic instruments into her works – while a fourth featured a continuous 50 minute rave emulating a discotheque. Also continuing to enjoy her work with Manikyua-Dan, she wrote several original songs for them on Maninology and anime covers for three releases, and also made a special contribution to the concept album 2197. However, the pinnacle of her independent activities came in 1999 when she produced her first album to celebrate her tenth year in the industry, Dance! Having had an affinity for dance music since her youth, she decided to demonstrate this on the album – offering styles spanning samba, jazz, disco, and techno. Also desiring more experience as an arranger, she made contributions to the album releases for The Season of L, StarSweep, and Yukyu Gensoukyoku 3 alongside Hosoe.
In 2000, Saso left Arika to join Hosoe’s music production company SuperSweep. As a leading composer and vice president for the company, Saso was able to pursue work through numerous scoring, remix, and original activities. While many of her activities were novel, she was still able to develop her existing relationships with companies such as Arika and Noise. For example, she took larger roles on Custom Robo V2 and Custom Robo GX than the original game and enhanced their light-hearted atmosphere throughout. She also led the sound creation for the diving simulation title Everblue and its sequel; these titles rejected music in favour of sound effects that portrayed the feeling of being underwater. In other works for Arika, she contributed to the energetic score for Mega Man Battle Network Transmission, Tetris: The Grand Master Ace, and a mahjong title. Furthermore, she wrote original music and classic remixes to two rhythm games, Technictix and Technicbeat – carefully matching the rhythm of the gameplay while producing pleasant music to stimulate gamers. This success encouraged Konami to recruit her to beatmania IIDX 6th Style, where she made a single disco track. She returned to make special contributions to two sequels shortly thereafter.
Making her debut as a bishoujo game composer, Saso produced two character vocal singles for the PC title Lovers in 2002. She went on to co-compose scores for a succession of titles – Perfect Prince, Angel Maker, Intensive Care Unit, Hunks Work Shop, and The Witches of Salem – and penned arrangements for Mahou Shoujou Ai 2, Tobi Divine, and Death Meta. In each case, she offered a mixture of sentimental and frivolous sounds to appeal to gamers. Taking on numerous arrangement assignments elsewhere, she memorably contributed a fusion arrangement of F-Zero’s “Big Blue”, a dance remix of Darius’ “Captain Neo” , an oriental improvisation on Street Fighter II’s Chun-Li theme, and an expansive treatment of Karous’ drum ‘n bass lines. At request from various labels, she has dedicated other arrangements to Border Down, Record of Agarest War, Night Striker, and Cave’s various shooters. While her output on original albums slowed somewhat, she still took the time to offer some voice-heavy remixes on Sampling Masters’ Never Float, uplifting pop songs on the two Techno Rider Tammy releases,and tribal raves on NanoSweep’s bi-annual mini-albums. Since 2004, she has also taken her music to the stage for the first time with sets at Linear.
Despite being traditionally known as an electronic composer, Saso has scored numerous orchestral titles since entering SuperSweep. She initially offered several rich sampled orchestrations for Bandai’s Gundam Battle Online, initiating her work on numerous anime-to-game adaptations. She also came to prominence with four contributions each to Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Nippon Ichi’s Makai Kingdom; the light-hearted fantasy feel of both titles was enhanced with her colourful and lyrical chamber pieces. Following guest contributions to the RPGs The Nightmare of Druaga and Monster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner, she went on to craft her most moody and emotional orchestrations to date on the PlayStation 3’s Folklore. More disappointing was the outcome of her epic electro-orchestral scores to Namco’s Xenosaga Episode II, which was often compared unfavourably to its predecessor, and Square Enix’s MMORPG Ambrosia Odyssey, which was never released. Since 2003, she has also helped to score five instalments of Tomy’s Naruto: Clash of Ninja series – in each case appealing to fans of the original animes by blending traditional Japanese instruments with upbeat electronics – while working on the crossovers Azumi, Super Dragon Ball Z, SD Gundam: Gashapon Wars, Zatch Bell: Mamodo Battles,and Blood+: Battle Rondo of the Twin Wings.
In recent years, Saso has developed the Sampling Masters sound on several other remarkable projects. Through Ridge Racer’s PSP instalments, she re-established her ties with Namco’s internal development teams. Since then, she has gone on to make guest compositions and remixes for Ridge Racer’s main and portable instalments under the alias ‘Sampling Masters AYA’; these pieces have proven popular with the series’ fanbase, since they are often so reminiscent of the series’ classic titles. Also continuing to work on smaller scale titles, she and Hosoe composed the entire score for the indie shooter Prismatic Solid, developed by Internal Section designer Hayashi Yoichi; inspired by the game’s radiant images and relieved by the close-knit development approach, she created an especially dazzling techno soundtrack. Saso and Hosoe have also worked closely together on several nostalgic remix albums; moist notably, she expanded and revitalised the compositions of Technictix across a trilogy of arranged albums, and asserted her wild rave style on a tribute to Zed Blade. Furthermore, the inseparable pair recently penned Overdrive Hell – a series of extremely intense electronic mini-albums – and DJed together at the nostalgic club event Julianna’s Kawasaki. Long-running productions such as NanoSweep and Linear also continue to benefit from Saso’s involvement.
Saso continues to be involved in a multitude of scoring productions, although many of her recent projects have been low-profile ones. Among the biggest highlights include the breezy fusion jams of Aqua Extreme Race, exciting traditional hybrids of Oreike, and intense electro-acoustic soundscapes of Carnage Heart EXA. For the first time in her career, she has worked on the sound production of television shows such as YANS!GANS and wrote promotion songs for titles such as Ratchet & Clank, Osouji Sentai Clean Keeper, and Oh Heartless Moment. Her eccentric touches can also be found in the recent ensemble scores for Ridge Racer 3D, Ridge Racer Vita,Tekken 6, Taiko Drum Master 12, Let’s Tap, Walk It Out, and Otomedius G. Still extremely active as an arranger, she has made characteristically wild additions to the arranged albums Violin de Hiitemita II and Hyper Moe Trance Ayane 2, while making her mark on the Touhou and Cave remix scenes. Her other recent arrangements have been dedicated to Omega Five, Raiden IV, Hanii in the Sky, Arcana Heart 2,Power Dolls, and Mamoru Has Been Cursed. Remaining Hosoe’s most trusted employee and closest friend, Saso will continue to be involved in a spectrum of works in coming years.
- Various Game & Album Credits
- Official Site (English)
- Official Site (Japanese)
- Interview with GA-Core (Japanese, January 2009)
- Interview with Game-OST (English, May 2010)
- Interview with Indie Games (English, April 2011)
© Biography by Chris Greening (July 2011). Last updated on December 30, 2012. Do not republish without formal permission.