This is Patrick Gann of OSV here. Many OSV staff members have had their chance to bask in the presence of Nobuo Uematsu. I never thought I’d have my own opportunity, but on April 3rd, 2010, at Anime Boston, it happened.
My own experience started at a small press panel with five or six individuals asking questions, including (among others) myself and some lovely folks at Japanator. Afterwards, I went to dinner with Uematsu, Hiroki Ogawa (manager of Dog Ear Records), and Shota Nakama (founder of Video Game Orchestra). So, part of the transcripted interview below you’ll find with the other journalists present, whereas the latter half is OSV exclusive. Hence the “semi-exclusive” in the headline. During the press panel, Geoff Tebbetts translated, whereas Nakama-san did translation during dinner.
The following transcript includes questions from both the press panel and the following dinner. Questions asked by myself are designated as “OSV.” We also included some questions from other organizations, and we’ll list those organizations for you. We’ve broken it into two acts to help you follow the action!
What will you find out regarding Uematsu-san in this interview? Current and future projects, perspective and opinions on the industry as it currently stands (as well as current trends such as the resurgence of chiptunes); all of this and more after the jump!
Boston Bastard Brigade: Uematsu-Sensei, [how and] when did you first get involved with Squaresoft composing for the first Final Fantasy?
Uematsu: I started with Squaresoft around 1986. It was easy to get into game music in 1986 because it was a time before there were people specializing in game music. The game music was relatively easier to get into for someone like myself who wanted to be a composer because the famous composers had not found any value doing it so the jobs weren’t taken. Originally I had wanted to compose for the stuff that would be on the hit chart or film scores, but those gigs were usually taken by the famous ones. The game music was really the only thing that I could make living writing music at the time.
OSV: Will there ever be a release of very early Uematsu music (including pre-Final Fantasy) such as Alpha or the Tom Sawyer RPG? Whether it be from Dog Ear Records or Square Enix, there are fans who are interested in getting ‘official’ recordings of this music.
Uematsu: There was talk of bringing these scores. We wanted to make the complete soundtrack that includes everything I wrote in Squaresoft since I joined the company. I cannot remember which games, perhaps Aliens for MS X, but some of the original files were lost. So the idea hasn’t been pursued further since anything we’d release would be an incomplete set of music.
Japanator: As a youth, did you know that you always wanted to compose? Or was there another job that you were interested in doing?
Uematsu: I always say this but no one really believes me – I wanted to be a pro wrestler.
Boston Bastard Brigade: How difficult is it to compose for a video game today, for an orchestra with a hundred or more musicians, compared to back in the day when one composed using chiptunes and synthesizers?
Uematsu: There are different challenges, different difficulties, for each. On the one hand [with chiptunes], you are limited, and limitations can be hard. Today, we have nearly endless choices [for sound production], and those choices can be hard to make as well.
OSV: Many of your fans still fondly remember your work on the Famicom (NES) and the Game Boy. There’s been renewed emphasis and a resurging popularity in and with chiptunes. There are artists today who specialize in chiptunes — people like Hally. Do you, Mr. Uematsu, have any opinions on the trend of reverting back to the chiptunes of 20 years ago? Also, do you think it was a good canvas for composing?
Uematsu: I acknowledge the returning popularity [of chiptunes]. Perhaps it is because its “rough” sound texture is really fresh for the current generation. The trend comes and goes so I think this chiptune movement will go away at certain point just like any other trends. To make an analogy to cooking: the ingredients and techniques used to make food a long time ago are different from those now. They both served their purposes for their time and both can still be enjoyed today. I like both styles and I would still do both. I do feel that there were a lot more individuality of the composers when we used to do the 8-bit sounds [of chiptunes, etc].
Japanator: Uematsu-san, you recently scored the soundtrack for the anime Guin Saga. We were wondering how you were approached for this and why you decided to take the project on.
Uematsu: The company Aniplex published the soundtrack for Lost Odyssey. One day, the people at Aniplex were in the office listening to the Lost Odyssey soundtrack and the producer of Guin Saga just happened to walk by and thought the sound matched his image of the Anime. Learning it was Mr. Uematsu, he said, “well we should get him for our project!” and I agreed to do it.
Japanator: Given the opportunity, would you compose for any non-video game projects?
Uematsu: I would do something that does not have battle scenes (laughter)
Japanator: Are you enjoying your first American anime convention?
Uematsu: I like that the cosplayers are so confident here. In Japan the cosplayers are very humble and even embarrassed.
Boston Bastard Brigade: Is there any plan for a fourth Black Mages album?
Uematsu: Yes, there is a plan to release a CD in that musical direction yet it might come under a different name. Stay tuned!
MC Radio: What is your favorite work in game music, outside your own?
Uematsu: The Super Marios Bros Theme. There aren’t many pieces of music that make people happy like that. It’s kind of like Japan’s national anthem, and it’s helped make things lighter in my country. It would give a real happy feel if it plays when handing out medals at the Olympics.
Anime Boston Blog: Would you come back to Anime Boston if asked?
Uematsu: I would like to come back because I did not get a chance to walk around the city as much. I’d like to come back again and maybe cosplay as… a Chocobo? (laughter) to disguise myself Or I could wear a T-Shirt that says ‘I am not Nobuo Uematsu’ and see if it fools anyone!
MC Radio: Are there any American soundtracks you like, be it videogame or movie?
Uematsu: I liked Jeremy Soule’s work in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which we featured at a PRESS START concert. I also really liked Nino Rota, an Italian composer who composed classical music as well as film scores. Recently, I’ve also enjoyed Danny Elfman’s work.
OSV: Do you have any opinion of Joe Hisaishi’s work in the Miyazaki and/or Studio Ghiblifilms?
Uematsu: I haven’t seen many Miyazaki films. I am so certain that they will move me [emotionally]. I think what I want to express through my music is quite similar to what he wants to express through his music. I have not watched them because I am so sure that I will be influenced by his music. If I retire from composing music, perhaps then I will watch the films.
OSV: Regarding your new solo album “10 Short Stories,” we understand that an English version is coming. Can you give us details on this?
Uematsu: The new album “10 Short Stories” is something I’m very excited about. Every song has an illustration that goes with it. The Japanese version comes as a CD with a booklet; currently, the English version is planned for a digital-only [iTunes] release. Ogawa is working with others to produce a website that has the English lyrics and pictures available for you to download. We hope many fans will enjoy it!
OSV: Among the music that’s been written for Final Fantasy XIV, how much of it is “live recording” — orchestra etc — and how much of it is synthesized?
Uematsu: Only one piece was recorded entirely live.
OSV: And that’s the trailer music?
Uematsu: No, the trailer music is all sequenced.
OSV: So just one song is live?
Uematsu: Well, there is some guitar overdub and other instruments against the sequenced/synthesized music.
OSV: When the soundtrack is published, how large will it be? Are we talking two discs, or four discs, or …?
Uematsu: Perhaps it will be four CDs. There’s enough music that it could go beyond four. In the end it will be Square Enix’s decision since they’ll be the ones publishing the soundtrack.
OSV: Last time we spoke, we discussed the Distant Worlds II concert and the possibility of performing “Troian Beauty” from Final Fantasy IV. Is this going to happen?
Uematsu: I forgot! Maybe for Distant Worlds III!
OSV: There’s been talk of a “Best of Uematsu” compilation album. How are plans on that progressing?
Uematsu: We may have to postpone this album’s release. But it is still something we’re working on.
OSV: There have been a few game music albums in the past, that are like tribute albums wherein many different artists will rearrange and perform one individual composer’s works. Have you, Mr. Uematsu, or has Dog Ear Records, considered coordinating a tribute album?
Uematsu: Of course, the Final Fantasy music belongs to Square Enix, but there are still ways to do this. If we were to do an album like this, we’d like to work with more than just other game music composers. We’d want major artists, primarily Japanese artists, to do such a tribute album. It is something we’d like to do in the future.
OSV: Speaking of arranged albums, almost every Final Fantasy had an arranged album: Celtic Moon, Dear Friends, Fithos Lusec, Grand Finale, etc. Among these albums, which did you enjoy creating the most, and are there any that you still enjoy listening to?
Uematsu: I don’t really like to listen to my own work. Among the albums I worked on, to this day I think that one of the most interesting projects I worked on was Celtic Moon.
OSV: Almost every Final Fantasy also has a “Piano Collection” album. But I II and III do not have piano collection arrangements. The fans would love to have this, even if it were a single-disc “Final Fantasy I-II-III Piano Collections” album. Will this ever happen?
Uematsu: I would like to do this eventually. I am too busy to make it happen now, but it is certainly something to keep in mind.
OSV: What kind of musical style, and what kind of instrumentation, will we hear in Fantasy Life from Level-5 and Brownie Brown?
Uematsu: We’re still early in the production. I’ve only written fragments of some of the melodies. But I suspect this soundtrack will have a very similar sound to “10 Short Stories” — soft. It’s a very “soft” kind of game.
OSV: Do you like working with Level-5?
Uematsu: They are very eager to make fantastic products. I appreciate this about them.
OSV: You mentioned earlier that the Super Mario Bros theme has become a “theme for Japan,” but in my mind, when I think of the videogame theme that’s taken Japan by storm, I think of Koichi Sugiyama’s Overture for Dragon Quest. And it’s interesting to note that Sugiyama has said this melody took him five minutes to write, the same time it took you to write the Final Fantasy “Prelude.” Do you think that the Overture is a fitting anthem for Japan as well?
Uematsu: There’s a sense of courage and bravery in [the Overture]; perhaps that song fits Japan’s culture too well. I want the Super Mario Bros theme to bring lightness and humor to Japan.
OSV: Yes, there’s something of a “military march” sound to the Overture. Something akin to “Rufus’ Welcoming Ceremony.” I can see what you mean about wanting to have a happier, or even sillier, song for Japan.
Uematsu: This is off-topic, but I wanted to tell you about a concert I attended in Japan last week with Yasunori Mitsuda. We saw Klaus Schulze and his band. They focus primarily on electronic music and synthesizers. I was very tired and almost fell asleep during the show, but Mitsuda was awake and enjoying the show thoroughly. But it is very interesting music.
OSV: Speaking of Mitsuda, the biggest work that you and he collaborated on together was Chrono Trigger. There never was a full orchestral arrangement; there was Natsumi Kameoka’s arrangement for the DS game, and many arrangements for concerts, and then there was the “Brink of Time” jazz album. Did you or anyone else want an orchestral album for this game in 1994? Was it not possible, or was it just not desired?
Uematsu: I cannot say for sure. But Mitsuda didn’t want to do the same thing everyone else was doing, and back then everyone was doing orchestral albums. So Mitsuda chose to do a jazz album and everyone was supportive of it.
OSV: Do you have any sort of relationship, be it professional or a friendship, with artist Yoshitaka Amano?
Uematsu: We’re not close friends, we’re not drinking buddies or anything like that. But we’re definitely acquainted with one another. Amano has a strange personality. One time we did an interview together, and he stood up in the middle of an interview and walked out of the room. Twenty or thirty minutes later he comes back into the room and says “sorry, I was drawing. I had to draw.” One might call that ‘genius.’ (laughter)
OSV: Final question: does your wife enjoy your music?
Uematsu: I never asked her! (laughter) However, she did say she loves 10 Short Stories.
OSV: Have you ever written a song for your wife?
Uematsu: No… but I probably should!
Thanks to Mr. Tebbetts for his translation work, as well as to Shota Nakama for further translation. Thanks to Hiroki Ogawa for all of his cooperation and of course to Nobuo Uematsu himself for taking the time to speak with OSV again. Finally, a word of thanks to Ken Eith, who provided some of the photographs found within this feature article.Tags: 10 Short Stories, Anime Boston, Cosplay, Distant Worlds, Dog Ear Records, Fantasy Life, Final Fantasy XIV, Interviews, Last Story, Nobuo Uematsu, Piano Collections, Square Enix, Yasunori Mitsuda, Yoshitaka Amano