Game Music

Anime Boston Attendees Show Adoration For, and Ignorance of, Nobuo Uematsu

April 10, 2010 | | 9 Comments Share thison Facebook Anime Boston Attendees Show Adoration For, and Ignorance of, Nobuo Uematsuon Twitter

The OSV staff had the opportunity to do our own interview with Nobuo Uematsu during Anime Boston, which took place from April 2nd to 4th (“Easter Weekend”) at the Hynes Convention Center. But before we met with him, we attended a large-scale Q&A that packed a room with 1000 plus attendees, and over 30 zealous fans who lined up at a microphone got to ask their questions to Uematsu.

So before we tell you about what we asked, we wanted to report what was revealed during the fan-based Q&A. Some interesting statements were made by Uematsu. Some of the fans had humorous questions, while others expressed a strong sentiment of gratitude. Yet, other fans managed to ask questions that showed ignorance as to the scope of Uematsu’s work. We’ll touch on all this and more after the jump.

Let’s start with the obvious stuff: favorites. Everyone wants to know about a person of admiration’s favorite this-or-that. So let’s just get this out of the way. Uematsu told the crowd that his favorite full score in the FF series is Final Fantasy VI; furthermore, it’s also his favorite game in the series because of the strong teamwork demonstrated by the development staff at the time. As for his favorite character theme, no surprises here, he picked Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy VII. The audience cheered for this, of course. Another fan asked about how Uematsu writes character themes in general. For Uematsu, the script comes first, then the character design itself. A moment in the game that expresses the character’s key traits helps Uematsu craft the theme that will likely play during that moment.

Two individuals were digging to find Uematsu’s “inspiration.” When first asked, Uematsu said his primary inspiration for his work in game music was the deadline. This drew laughter from the audience. When pressed again for favorite composers or artists that inspired him, Uematsu went back and forth between Tschaikovsky and The Beatles, but ultimately sided with Tschaikovsky as his favorite. Later, at a press panel, Uematsu also admitted that he was impressed with the work of Jeremy Soule based on the music he heard from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (at one of the PRESS START concerts in Japan).

The joke of the weekend, for Uematsu, was finding new and creative ways of answering the question “why did you leave Square Enix?” Uematsu withheld any personal reasons and instead gave other, external, reasons for leaving. When first asked by an audience member if he had “unfinished business” when he left S-E, Uematsu said “they were far from my house, so I had no problem leaving!” Others asked about the difference between working with Hironobu Sakaguchi in Square and in Mistwalker. Uematsu admitted that working with Sakaguchi-san is much the same, though he facetiously lamented that Square Enix enforces monthly deadlines, which Sakaguchi (presumably) doesn’t do at Mistwalker.

Many fans came to Uematsu seeking advice: for composing music, and for life in general. Here’s the information we gleaned from Uematsu. First of all, too many composers are good at making great music that sounds just like everyone else’s music. Uematsu believes that the key to great music is finding one’s own individual style. Uematsu gave this same advice for aspiring music educators: find your own way.

As for anyone who wanted to “make it” in the game industry, Uematsu told us something that is a hard but certainly noteworthy truth: inside connections. After all, that’s how Uematsu got started at Square in the 1980s. The audience member who asked this question then boldly inquired, “will you write a letter of recommendation for me?” I don’t think she got that letter.

There was also an eager young man looking for guidance in life. “How does one carve their own identity in the world? What can I do to make my way?” Uematsu’s answer? Again, individuality was the key. “It’s not that difficult. Just do as you see fit. Don’t do the ‘safe’ things that others tell you to do.” A simple message of nonconformity that resonated with the audience, to be sure.

My favorite question from the Q&A session? A clever young man presented the following hypothetical: “Mr. Uematsu, imagine if you were in Boston and found yourself in a random encounter. Your party members are dead, but your limit break is ready to be used. What is your limit break, Mr. Uematsu, and how do you save the day?” After the question was translated for Nobuo Uematsu, he pondered the question for a bit while small bursts of barely-contained laughter sprung up among the crowd. Then finally, he turned to the microphone and, in unbroken English, declared: “DRINK ALL THE BEER I COULD!” Much cheering and laughter ensued. We knew that Uematsu loved his beer, but that this would be his limit break is pretty hilarious. I guess spinach is to Popeye as beer is to Uematsu. Uematsu also let the crowd know that he especially enjoys Sam Adams beer.

Two serious questions regarding life in Boston were presented to Uematsu. First, Uematsu was asked if he liked the city. First, Uematsu admitted that he had been feeling sick (a resounding “awwww!” was the crowd’s response), so he hadn’t seen much of the city. Uematsu then went on to talk about the music school, Berklee, and how it was a childhood dream of his to go, but that he had no money at the time. “Being here now, near the school of my dreams, is a wonderful feeling.” A follow-up question asked by another audience member went like this: “I’m applying to Berklee and am excited about it. If you had gone to Berklee, do you think you’d be where you are now?” The response? “No. Had I gone to Berklee I would’ve been stuck in the rules and guidelines of music theory.” Yet again, Uematsu was stressing the importance of individuality. However, he didn’t want to dishearten current or prospective Berklee students. So he followed up with this statement: “my friend, arranger and orchestrator Shiro Hamaguchi (who has worked on multiple FF titles) studied at Berklee later in life and it was very beneficial for him.” In other words, stay in school, kids! We can’t all be exactly like Uematsu.

I do not remember the question that provoked this response, but Uematsu shed some light on the creation of the well-known “Prelude.” The story, which he has recited before, goes like this: Final Fantasy was almost completed, but last-minute, Uematsu was asked to craft some music to play during the prologue text sequence. The result was a series of arpeggiated chords that took Uematsu “about five minutes” to put together. The result, of course, is the famous prelude. Readers would do well to note that another big name in game music recently said one of their most famous tunes took five minutes to compose.

As you can see, the crowd was genuinely interested in learning more about Uematsu and, it seems, about life in general. But some sorry fans showed their ignorance when asking questions. It takes guts to stand at that microphone, but a word of caution: if you go up, make sure you’re not asking a stupid question. Is there no such thing as a stupid question? Find out, as I delve deep into my jerk-like elitism, as I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

“I heard a rumor that Final Fantasy XIV will be your last FF composition. Is this true?” Of course, Uematsu’s answer was “No.” I have no idea where this rumor came from, but it clearly didn’t come from an knowledgeable source. The young man asking this question prefaced it by saying that Uematsu had been hard at work on “Final Fantasy XIII and XIV.” Wait, XIII, seriously? That’s Masashi Hamauzu, buddy. Uematsu didn’t touch that score.

Another case of mistaken identity came when a very emotionally choked-up lady said that Uematsu’s music had gotten her through hard times, and that the one piece in particular that has helped her was “Eternity ~ Memory of Light and Wave” from Final Fantasy X-2. You know, the piano piece composed by Noriko Matsueda? The fan said she was so in love with the piece that she had learned to play it herself, and she wanted to know how Uematsu crafted such a beautiful melody. Talk about a gaffe. After a solid minute of trying to figure out how to answer this, and much discussion between Uematsu and his translator, they determined that the young lady must’ve been asking about “Melodies of Life” from Final Fantasy IX. Uematsu actually gave a great answer to this now re-interpreted question. Uematsu told the audience that when he wrote “Melodies of Life,” he was asked by Square to imagine writing a song for a loved one to remember you after you’d died. The result was Melodies of Life.

And this one I have to report, even though it technically happened at the press Q&A. I won’t reveal who said it because I like the guy, but readers as snobby as I am are sure to enjoy it. Uematsu was asked, “what was it like rearranging the music for the DS version of Final Fantasy VI?” Everyone in the room looked around at each other, and someone spoke up: “um, Final Fantasy VI isn’t on the DS.” So he corrected himself: “What was it like working on Final Fantasy IV for the DS?” More people in the room felt comfortable with this question, as though it was legitimate. But before the translator could relay the question to Uematsu, I simply said: “Junya Nakano and Kenichiro Fukui did the arrangements for the DS version of FFIV. Uematsu had no involvement.” See? Snobby to the max. Maybe I’m not the lovable guy I like to think I am. But I figure Uematsu had taken enough misdirected questions that day.

The final questions from the fan Q&A I want to report was one that really captures Uematsu’s personality. A fan asked what Uematsu’s career goal was, other than making money. Response? “You don’t become a musician to make money. Music is a universal language, and it can bring peace. It can make people smile. That’s my career goal.”

Mission accomplished, sir. But don’t stop now!

I’ll leave you with Uematsu-san’s parting words for the audience at the Saturday afternoon panel, regarding peace and progress among nations and his gratitude to be able to make connections with his American fans.

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