When talking about arcade shooters, there isn’t much dispute that CAVE is the company perched proudly on the top of this field. So when they started self-publishing some arranged music CDs to accompany their awesome original soundtracks, people took notice.
One of these powerhouse discs was released in May 2009, the KETSUI Arrange Album, which features a dozen different VGM artists each bringing their own personal style into the mix. Prior to it’s release, I contacted a few of these arrangers to find out how albums like this come about. Since many arrangers in the game music field keep in touch frequently with their peers, when the call goes out to round up as much talent as they can and bring everyone to the table, they sure bring out the best and don’t hold back.
Read on to hear from 3 arrangers on this album: Jake Kaufman (Track 7: “Defensive Line”), Keishi Yonao (Track 6 “Canal Fleet”), and Noriyuki Iwadare (Track 12 “Last Words”), as these arrangers share their thoughts on how they came to contribute to this impressive album.
OSV: How did your involvement with this album begin? Did you have a connection with the producer, or did another arranger request your presence?
Yonao: I was called by Mr. Ryu Umemoto. For this work, I heard that Umemoto had done most of the casting. I wish to express my gratitude to him.
Kaufman: I’ve been friends with chiptune master Hally for many years now, and he’s always hyped me up to his friends and colleagues. I recently met Ryu Umemoto through an FM synthesis messageboard called Soundshock.se, and one way or another, these guys were involved in inviting me. It’s a rare treat for Western artists to be included even in doujin hobbyist productions, let alone official ones — Japan has more than enough talented artists to choose from.
Iwadare: I got an email from a friend and it said, “My friend is making an arrange CD. Do you want to join?” So that’s how I got the opportunity for this job. At that time, I had no idea who else was working on the CD or what song I would be arranging. I also had absolutely no knowledge of the game Ketsui at all.
OSV: Yonao-san, did you get to choose which BGM track to arrange, or was that decided by the producer earlier?
Yonao: The selection had already been decided. I thought that it was a tune that suited me well, as I like this tune.
OSV: Iwadare-san, this game series is very different from your previous experiences with RPG games. Were you surprised to be arranging music for a shooting game?
Iwadare: Actually, I’ve worked on a number of shooter games for the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis) in the past. RPG battle themes also have many similar qualities to shooter music in my opinion. Therefore, it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, and I jumped right into this project.
OSV: Have you visited a game center to play these shooting games by CAVE? The bullet patterns are very difficult to master! Is your ability good enough to try playing them?
Yonao: I don’t usually visit the video arcade, but this time I went to the arcade to investigate. I got excited by the image and the action. I like the shooting action in this game, I think it’s cool.
Kaufman: All of them! My friends were obsessed with them a few years back, and I got fairly hooked on them too. I approach shooters the same way as shred guitar — I practice a part compulsively for days on end, utterly demolish it, and then… forget it the minute I stop practicing. So if I picked up Dodonpachi or ESP.Ra.De today, I’d die early and often. This is why I fail at music lessons, too.
Iwadare: Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out to the arcades to hear the music from Ketsui. I’m not very good at games to begin with, and I figured that since the song I was handling was the ending theme, it would be impossible for me to actually hear it at the arcades. Instead, I was able to get the soundtrack CD and listen to all of the songs, mine included.
OSV: Yanao-san, did the producer specify using any certain style such as chip-tune, or was there freedom to choose any genre of sound style?
Yonao: I was permitted to act freely, so there was no special specifications from the producer. All the processes ran smoothly, so I was happy.
OSV: Jake, the track “Defensive Line” is a great tune which was one of my favorites on Ketsui’s soundtrack. Was it a clear choice to go with a very straight-forward arrange, rather than experimenting and going in another direction with this tune?
Kaufman: Clear choice. I’ve done lots of “metal-ified” arrangements of Zelda and Metroid and so on, but in a lot of cases it’s pretty clear what the composer was going for, and I take it “the rest of the way” with modern production values. Some people turn up their noses at covers that aren’t highly interpretive or in a different genre, but any hobby will have the “Serious Business” types. Look into online knitting communities, it’s a real eye-opener.
OSV: Iwadare-san, in the opening of your arrangement “Last Words,” an aggressive synthesizer is mixed with a relaxing piano, and the resulting sound is very enjoyable! Do you think you will continue to use this style in the future?
Iwadare: Do you happen to know the Japanese tune “Koujou no Tsuki (Moon of the Ruined Castle)” performed by The Scorpions? When I started this arrangement, that tune, “Moon of the Ruined Castle,” came to me immediately. I wanted to create that kind of atmosphere, and while doing trial and error, the combination of synthesizer and piano seemed to fit the best. I have no idea if I’ll continue this kind of style in the future, but if I come upon a similar song where that kind of imagery fits, I may do it again.
OSV: Yanao-san, you’ve composed many vocal songs as well as action BGMs. Do you think the instrumental tunes allow more personal creativity, or are the vocal tunes more satisfying to work with?
Yonao: It’s different for each tune. However, I think that I am allowed more personal creativity with instrumentals. I like instrumentals as a listener. Moreover, a vocal is a kind of instrument, depending on how you view it.
OSV: Jake, from your experience, does the freedom and opportunities of being a freelance artist compete with the steady paycheck and resume building that comes from being a company employee?
Kaufman: Dear God, yes. On one hand, being forced to get up at the same time every day is a very good thing for a married man. On the other hand, I get literally upset when I have to go to bed “so I can be up for work tomorrow” — I’m already working NOW, damn it. But life’s about trade-offs and choosing your battles. No, I take that back. Life’s about befriending a puppy and making sure he is cared for; everything else is icing.
OSV: Thank you for the opportunity to talk together. It’s good to see you both working on a variety of projects.
Iwadare: Thank you very much. In Japan, Growlanser PSP and Gyakuten Kenji DS have recently been released. Also Grandia Online and perhaps Lunar: Harmony of Silver Star in the fall. I’m also participating in various albums and events which are unrelated to games. Please give them a listen if you have the chance.
Yonao: Thank you. At this time, we wish to express our gratitude to you. The other works include Toystrumental 2, and gatherings like KORG DS-10 Meeting in Sendai.
Kaufman will be also featured on the upcoming Chip Tuned Rockman omnibus album by INTI Creates.
[Translation support by Justin Pfeiffer]Tags: Arcades, CAVE, Interviews, Iwadare, Keishi Yonao, Ketsui Arrange Album, Shooter