I had the pleasure of speaking with composer Nobou Uematsu and collaborator Arnie Roth last Saturday prior to the “Distant Worlds II: music from Final Fantasy” concert. Here's some of the highlights of our conversation and the video itself:
Eduardo Soliz: What do you think about orchestra vs. synth in video games?
Nobuo Uematsu (via translator): Videogame which is released recently, most of it has orchestra sounds and to do orchestra sounds for him is not a best way maybe. Because you know, there are so many, too many orchestra sounds in videogames, and it all sounds similar. So what he is thinking is for the new project, he wants [to use] the analog synthesizer only, not using those orchestra samples.
ES: So it almost sounds like its not ‘special’ anymore
Arnie Roth: There is such a prevalence of orchestra that I think you are seeing a reaction going back to, you know, more synth stuff. That’s a more…further reaction saying that we’re going back to the analog synth sounds, which have been sampled now and are being played digitally. We use that as well, that’s really…we were talking about Mannheim Steamroller, that’s all analog synth sounds. Chip [Davis] stays in that area all the time, he feels he’s established a sound and he wants to stay with that…but orchestra around that. I think the combination is more commonplace, a combination of synth and orchestra. That seems to be what is mostly happening now…
NU (via translator): So there is no orchestra recordings in XIV, we used those orchestra samples so it sounds like the real orchestra. So what he wants to do next is not using those synth with the orchestra, it sounds different with the analog synth.
ES: Mr. Roth, have you scored any games yourself?
AR: I’ve done arrangements, and I actually worked…a lot of people don’t know I worked on the original Halo. Believe it or not, that was born in Chicago. Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatore were the composers of that and I actually wrote some of the arrangements for the original recordings, and performed. I played violin on it as a matter of fact! So, I actually did that, but no, I wouldn’t say that I have ever scored a full videogame myself…I’d love to work on it at some point.
ES: Given the opportunity, is there any particular game series you would like to write music for?
ES: How do you gentlemen determine which music you’re going to perform at a particular concert? Is it based on fan feedback, do you try to set a particular ‘mood’ for a concert? What is that process?
AR: Both and more!
ES: As you said, there is a lot of music to draw from…how do you narrow it down to…you’ve only got, what is it…2 to 3 hours?
AR: One decision is a logistical one..a production one…what do we have?
ES: What was the inspiration for the forming of the Black Mages?
NU (via translator): So the beginning of the Black Mages…there is ? the composer at Square Enix…he was arranging Final Fantasy music in the rock style just for fun
NU: Just for fun.
NU (via translator): He let Uematsu-san listen to it, and he also starts music…with the rock music, so he thought that it would be interesting doing a rock style Final Fantasy.
ES: So it started out for fun is what it sounded like…hey, let’s try this as a rock song and see where it goes…and I notice you play keyboard, so is that part of your Elton John desires? [laughter]
ES: You [Uematsu] last spoke of a new Black Mages album for spring of 2011 earlier this year. Can you offer any additional details regarding the upcoming Black Mages album?
NU (via translator): So, to tell the truth, the Black Mages is, the name of the Black Mages is the license of Square Enix, so it is very difficult to use when he wants to do something, so actually, he changed the name to The Earthbound Papas…and [they] start recording this August or September, and try to release the album in next…in 2011…by March, and I think the band’s [live debut] will be October in Japan.
ES: Now, Mr. Roth, I see from your bio that you’ve been involved with bringing videogame music to the concert hall, and forgive me if this date is wrong, since 2006 with your involvement in Play: A Videogame Symphony. How did you come to be involved in game music?
AR: When the “Dear Friends” had a very short tour of the United States…the “Dear Friends: music from Final Fantasy” and it was, its an interesting story. is that it did that premiere concert in Los Angeles and after that point, the producer of that kept trying to sell the concert series in the United States, and no orchestras…
ES: Nobody wanted it.
AR: Nobody was taking a chance, and the reason was, because that concert, which was May, I think it was, of 2004, or June, or something like that. That concert was in Los Angeles during E3, right, and they thought: “Well, it was during a convention, and its not really a concert type of event.” So the whole rest of 2004 went by, nobody was agreeing to do it. My orchestra, in Chicago, the Chicagoland Pops, I just decided, arbitrarily, that I was going to do this…let’s give this a shot, and that was my very first experience with videogame music, and it was the “Dear Friends” concert, and meeting Nobuo for the first time in Chicago when he came in for that as well…
[discussing Play: A Videogame Symphony] AR: One of the greatest all-time parties I ever attended was at my house in Chicago with…what did we have, 12 composers? It was unbelievable! I mean, Uematsu-san, we had Koji Kondo, we had Akira Yamaoka, we had…uh, was Yuzo Koshiro there? I can’t remember, there were so many…[lists others]
NU: Koji Kondo played…Super Mario [on piano]
AR: Yeah, in my living room, he was playing Super Mario Bros…it was very funny!
ES: I hate to put you in this argument, but we have to ask, are video games art?
NU (via translator):Mozart was an artist when he was composing, he was an entertainer at that time.
AR: That was their entertainment. He was the court musician.
NU (via translator): It’s not the topic I will decide soon. I’ll continue what I want to do whether it’s entertainment or art.
AR: If you the consumer are transformed in any way by a game, something that makes you think and feel, yes I would call it art. That’s what art is supposed to do, it’s supposed to move you. I can’t say all video games are art, but I can say there are aspects that are art.
We'd like to thank the staff of AWR Music Productions, Arnie Roth, and Nobuo Uematsu for allowing us the honor to do this interview. If you'd like to see where Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY will be, visit their website FFDistantWorlds.com. You can also read the impressions of the concert by Mike and Eduardo.
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