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January 25, 2024

Go Hiyama, Representative of sound design company ECHOES BREATH, talks about the features of AISO, an internally developed automatic BGM generation system, the differences in awareness of sound design in Japan, and other topics.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Go Hiyama. In 2002, my debut as a techno producer was released on the Code Records label run by English DJ/artist James Ruskin.
I was still at university at the time. Following my debut, I launched a music production company called ECHOES BREATH in 2010 while also staying active overseas. Later, I expanded my perspective and started working in proprietary sound design, which ultimately led to the development of the AISO automatic BGM generation system.


Why did you decide to make a product like AISO while working on sound design?

Originally, I was investigating the possibilities for the vibrations in air from music or sound to have a connection with society. Previously, I had also experienced collaborating on a project to make pottery that make sounds with a potter called “224porcelain” specializing in Hizen Yoshida ceramics. I looked at the AISO BGM construction system as something along the same lines as those ideas and collaborations.
Development of AISO began I received a request to produce a sound environment for an entire space. There was a store called “The Cotton” by Shiseido in the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi, and my assignment came via the company that was designing that space.
Actually, in recent years I’ve been receiving more requests for creating something in sound than requests asking for a particular type of track.
I had past experience of bringing my ideas to life by making interactive devices, for example, but this time I decided to propose “music without end” as a concept. This was the start.

Please tell us about where the idea for “music without end” came from.

Having worked on BGM production for stores, the feedback was always the same: “The staff get tired from hearing the same music on a loop.” Of course, this has a negative impact on their level of customer service, which in turn affects the brand experience value. And then the staff may find their level of enthusiasm dropping when they switch the music on after arriving at work the following day.
I once curated a playlist of around 200 tracks, but the owner of the store [using that BGM] told me that even with such an extensive playlist, the staff inevitably start to remember the music because they’re hearing it every day, and he wanted me to take that into consideration. Plus, regular customers might experience a similar feeling as the staff…
While in the past there was an era of selling items at a high turnover rate, we’re now in an era of having shoppers understand brand stories and feel comfortable spending a long time in-store.
Shoppers don’t visit stores to listen to music, but the music in playlists is designed for them to hear. As a way of resolving this paradox, I started out thinking about music that would go in one ear and out the other before finally reaching the idea of “music without end”.


Are your main clients brand stores?

Recently my clients have become more diverse. I’m working with more companies that are office-focused, such as the furniture retailer ACTUS and ASKUL. They want to care for the well-being of their staff by creating a good environment for them to work in. I’m also being contacted by companies like Okahata Kosan Co., Ltd that are thinking of introducing the ideal BGM for a working environment.
In the first year of the pandemic, I also had a commission from car audio manufacturer Alpine that involved communicating positive messages to encourage users who could not get out and drive.
We launched a dedicated website for AISO that could be played in a browser together with messaging, and put together a plan where anyone could enjoy BGM at home free of charge. That generated quite a lot of buzz on social media too.

Regarding your products, how are sound sources installed in AISO?

We refer to our sound samples as “fragments”. There are various fragments within AISO, and we can set broad playback rules affecting these fragments.
Anything that can be described as a sound, whether it be a piano tone, birdsong, or the sound of the forest, can be input as a fragment. The producer determines the rules for how these will be constructed as time passes, and then the fragments build up and change in real time according to the set rules. The sound design is perfectly adjusted, so no matter what sounds are played, they mysteriously come together as music. Nobody knows how the music will develop. The music will progress randomly within the rules set by producers.


Is there a limit to the length of fragments that can be input?

 No. Fragments can be long or they can last less than a second.

Please tell us about how AISO works in terms of expansion. Apparently its music rules can be determined by factors such as the weather and time of day…

We have installed AISO at the entrance to ASKUL’s office, and there the fragments of sound selected vary depending on the weather, the month, and the day of the week. ASKUL’s company name is derived from the idea “tomorrow comes”, so the sounds played change depending on the next day’s weather. If it’s going to be raining tomorrow, rainy sounds play; if clear skies are forecast, there might be the sound of children playing in a park. There are even sounds connected with typhoons.
AISO has expandability such that value can be increased beyond that of simple music by combining brands with sounds. That’s why various factors, noy only the weather but also things like the time and the number of people present, can be reflected in what plays.


And you are collaborating with various artists…

I wanted to experiment by seeing what would be produced if we handed AISO over to musicians. The concepts vary from artist to artist.
As I mentioned earlier, AISO was developed not only in response to commissions from stores but also for artists.
My impression was that artists could express themselves musically only through public performances or recording, selling or streaming their music. But AISO’s composition method is very different from what has gone before. It doesn’t allow for composition by thinking about how the music will develop. The relationship between music and time is completely different. And on top of that, it’s endless. Believing this to be a new method of expression, I decided to have other artists use it as well rather than keep it to myself. 

Switching to a different topic, what are your thoughts on the role of sound in lifestyles in Japan and overseas?

I feel there are differences in how we listen. Japanese people tend to feel the urge to fill long silences with sound. For example, the devices that play melodies or flushing sounds on bidet toilets are adding sound, putting aside the question of whether that’s really necessary. On the other hand, I feel that in other countries any necessary sound is there from the beginning.
Also, in terms of Japanese sound design, there is a tendency to select music that everyone knows, such as children’s songs and classical pieces.
When I first began working in sound branding, I researched companies overseas, particularly in Europe, and found that there was already a lot of what the Europeans call sonic branding. But it seemed that in Japan such sound branding or sonic branding was very rare. I also felt a difference in sense there between Japan and other countries.
Overseas tourists are becoming more present [in Japan], so I think that Japanese awareness will gradually change, but a hotel supervisor once told me that there is serious commodification at play. These days, you can get the same service everywhere, he explained, so the pressing issue is how to add value. I believe that sound is the solution.


Finally, what are your future plans? 

We want to roll things out overseas. We’re currently looking at distribution methods. It would also be a good idea to make products in a slightly lower price band. 
I’m also hoping for good things from co-creation and R&D with companies in other fields using the AISO engine. We’re actually working on collaborations with multiple companies right now.


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