Chip Music, Featured, Game Music

R.I.P. Ryu Umemoto (1974-2011): Memories Of A Friend.

August 19, 2011 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook R.I.P. Ryu Umemoto (1974-2011): Memories Of A Friend.on Twitter

It’s one of those days that you fear will come all your life. The dreaded message to let you know someone close has passed, no longer with us. That pain never gets easier, and you are never prepared no matter how much you brace yourself. The sudden emptiness that fills your heart, the complete silence that clouds your mind, and the immense hurt that follows and never lets go. Sadly today, I received that message, and I wasn’t prepared, it’s no easier than before.

As a child, in the very earliest days of CD-R’s and internet, I found a little box filled with unmarked CD-R’s that my big brother had acquired from a friend with material that ranged from bizarre to incredible. From emulators to music to primate mating, it was a treasure box for a young mind eager to learn and explore. One of these CDs contained a game that would musically change my life, that game was EVE Burst Error. By that point, game music was a huge love of mine, having taped soundtracks directly from the TV onto cassettes, but Eve Burst Error had so much depths, so much spirit, it took over my imagination and made me play through the game from start to finish without ever wanting to stop. I learned of the name of the composer; Ryu Umemoto.

Fast forward to 2009, after years of collecting and following his work, I was finally formally introduced to him by mutual friend Hally, whom I had the pleasure of seeing at Blipfest Europe. While it was just simple e-mails and short messages due to my humble behavior, even in his simple English he presented himself with such grace and care for people around him, always offering words of advice, always taking the time, always being there for you. Over time, our friendship grew, and grew into a small circle along with Mattias Häggström Gerdt. On what felt like a few days notice (mainly because it was on a few days notice), Umemoto sent me and young Mattias a very simple message, “I’m coming to Stockholm to visit you”. Suddenly, the 3 of us found ourselves around a table, eating pizza, playing video games and talking about life, friends and future.

Umemoto was someone who seemed indestructible with a clear mind, incredible wisdom and unmistakable charm. Around me and Mattias, he always had something to share, always wanted to know all about us and our lives and hopes, and was never one to neglect or hurry. He had all the time in the world for us, and continuously, he would smile and tell us how beautiful the wintery Stockholm was and his desire to move there with his wife. His dedication to his craft never faded for a single second either, as we both experienced as he tumbled into the kitchen to cook some coffee in the morning getting ready for a work session with composing and mixing. 3AM in the morning to be exact. Shortly after Mattias and I managed to stumble out of bed 4 hours later, the strangely energetic composer took us through a morning Zen ritual to clear our minds, he was always eager to teach and to include everyone.

But in all his dedication and focus, he also had such a warm and infectious sense of humor which seemed to find its way in the most surprising of times. He would bring his Otomatone with him and play rendition of After Burner and other classics in the middle of deeper conversations without warning, he would joke about himself unmercifully, he would even play through Strip Fighter II on the PC Engine. In the beginning, both me and Mattias had been nervous to meet someone we both had near idolized for years. We both knew we were very humble and quiet people, but “what if he expects us to be smart?” I asked Mattias shortly before Umemoto’s arrival at the train station. Umemoto came with a smile and such openness, presenting us with gifts and immediately making us feel like the friends we had actually been for some time already. There was no language barrier or confusion, Every minute of his time was one that was deeply appreciated, time that will never be forgotten.

Ryu Umemoto’s music was ground breaking, and held in regard with the likes of Yuzo Koshiro for his incredible mastery of FM Sound Modulation. This enabled him to do exactly what he strived to do, make deep melodies with emotional and spiritual content, mirroring and building upon what happened in the actual game. His music was such that even without the visual guidance, his melodies told you everything you needed to know. Umemoto always looked deep within himself to craft his scores, remembering feelings from his childhood, hometown or his using his own zen spirituality. His music wasn’t just simple background material based on a developers request, his music was like a personal diary, with all the details written down in his own notebook. I remember as I looked through this notebook, it was fill of diagrams, names, memories, all mapped out in order of where it belonged in his heart. In the morning as I woke up and spent some time with him watching him work, he would play different melodies from Eve Burst Error as I recalled them and explain the meaning behind each one. Second for Second, note for note, there was meaning, his soul was firmly placed within every song he made.

There was also deep affection for his family and friends at home. Umemoto always spoke of them with high regard. On our last day together, we headed out to the malls and gift stores through ice cold weather to buy gifts for the people waiting for him at home. “My wife has a love for cute pigs” he shared with us, “if you see any cards or books with cute pigs, show it to me”. Sure enough, cards and pictures with cute baby pigs were purchased, and the various clerks couldn’t help but find it a bit humorous over how happy this gentle little man seemed to be over having found these little piglets. He mentioned his uncle who had been ill in the hospital for a long time, and how he would take a train to go see him every other day, despite it being over an hour in the opposite direction from his work to his home. He wanted to educate himself on culture, music, anything Scandinavian, so classic children’s books, traditional and modern music, he picked them out left to right with excitement. As we walked through the local Gamestop, he noticed a DS game that caught his eye, Batman: Brave and The Bold. While initially interested since he was a Batman fan, I told him that this particular game was composed by Jake “Virt” Kaufman. “Jake Kaufman!? Virt-san? He’s my favorite composer, I’ll buy it right away!” was his reaction as me and Mattias chuckled at his shock and glee.

Ryu Umemoto wasn’t just the nicest man I ever met because of the laughs we shared, but he was a man who even when traveling across the world, even when it was our very first time meeting, he made us feel honored with his kindness and open heart. He was always more concerned about us than himself, even in the winter cold, it was us who had to get inside and stay warm, not a word about him, he wouldn’t hear it. His friends and family always came first.

It breaks my heart to think of all the plans he shared and all the dreams he had. He had started plans of a new trading company, one of which me and Mattias helped out. He had gone to embassies and business partners, he always spoke of his excitement to come back to Scandinavia, to start building a home there. As we had dinner his last night here, he was in such a festive and warm mood. “You have become like brothers to me” he told me and Mattias, “I will come back soon, make this my home”. The last time I spoke with him in May as he congratulated me on my birthday, he still assured me he would return soon to see us, never once letting his illness come to attention.

As much as it breaks my heart, it also gives me a little bit of comfort to know that the home he wanted with us here, we gave to him, and he will always have a place with us. He was a dear friend and brother. The loss of him will never be healed, but the memories will never be forgotten.

Good bye my friend.
Good bye my brother.

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