The Final Fantasy Remix album features club style arrangements of songs from eight different Final Fantasy games. The project was directed by series composer Nobuo Uematsu and selections were featured live with the Black Mages for their Darkness and Starlight concert to promote the album. Here, Ian shares some of his experiences participating on the making of the album and performing as a DJ in Tokyo.
Siliconera: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Final Fantasy Remix.
No problem. My pleasure!
Q. How long have you been performing music in Japan and when did you start your own label, kikaizuki?
I've been living and working in Japan since 2000. So that's 8 years now. I love Japan! I started kikaizuki in 2002, as an umbrella for various musical projects I was working on.
Q. Have you brought Final Fantasy mixes to public performances outside of the Black Mages concert? What manner of trials and tribulations must a DJ endure before performing in famous clubs like WOMB in Shibuya?
To date, these remixes have not been performed anywhere outside of TBM's concert on 09/08. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to play these tunes out some more.
I came to DJing after years of playing in bands and ensembles. I still play with bands, and I consider myself a musician who happens to DJ. When I started producing dance tracks, promoters started to ask me to DJ at events. I did some music to promote the FIFA world cup in 2006, and that raised my profile a little...but I don't really consider music to be full of trials and tribulations. I always try to remember that we "play" music, and that a party is supposed to be a PARTY! Going to parties, networking with other promoters, producers, and DJs...it is usually all good fun.
Q. Final Fantasy Remix has been in development for quite some time. When did you first begin working on the songs that would later appear on the album?
I was pushing this project forward from Autumn 2006. I handed Uematsu san the demos in Spring 2007. He was excited, and I was really happy when he decided to set the remix project in motion.
Q. The Famicom sound card is a prominent instrument on "Eternal Wind," accompanied by live percussion instruments. Having listened to orchestral renditions and the Nintendo DS remake it can be easy to forget just what a haunting quality the original chiptune version had. Did you play the title way back when it was on the shelves, or did you discover it later as an album? Did you feel that including these electronic instruments on tracks like "Prelude" was an important thematic component of the album?
After the demo process, the tunes for remix were chosen by Nobuo San, I guess to show the range of the work he has done for the FF series. I suppose it was natural that even the earlier themes would be part of this selection.
I personally have never played any of the FF game series. This music is known and loved by literally millions of fans, so while remixing, I was very conscious of respecting the composer's original intentions. It was an interesting challenge to try to highlight or accentuate such iconic musical themes. As the tracks were developing, it was important to respect the original sound source and context.
Q. Some contemporary videogame musicians dismiss the music of 8-bit systems as mere bleeps and bloops, though retro revivals such as Rockman 9 are challenging that conception. What are your thoughts on videogame music of that period, having made an album that retains these instruments?
The challenge of early VGM was that you may have had only 3 or 4 voices to play with...people can still hum those tunes today, which points toward the fact that the composers knew what they were doing, and made the best of the technology available to them at the time. Music is music. Dynamic range, timbre, contrast...these themes are timeless. The sounds we are using today will one day seem dated. The music that will stand the test of time will be the same as ever; music that is written by composers who understand melody, harmony, rhythm and the most important element; expressing an idea that makes the piece work.
Q. Mambo de Chocobo appeared on the 1994 arranged album Final Fantasy Mix, among the most adventurous of the early arranged videogame albums. Can you tell us about when you first heard the song and where you felt the mambo style could be expanded upon for the Final Fantasy Remix album?
Well, that is an interesting track. Again, it was Nobuo san who chose this track, and I think he wanted the remix to be as big and comical and crazy as possible. Matt was in London when he was remixing Mambo de Chocobo. I was relaying messages from meetings with Nobuo san and Ogawa san..."More percussion!"..."More guiro! More timbales! More claves!"...and I think Matt did a good job of sending it completely over the top!
Q. How familiar are you with the Final Fantasy games? Have you played them all, or do you primarily listen to the music?
I was aware of the FF series, and I have friends who are real fanatics. I have never played any of the games, and I wasn't overly familiar with the music. My bass player friend Philippe Wauquaire knew Nobuo san from many years before, and after we had been introduced, I did some research.
When I proposed to try some remixing, I had no preconceived notions of the original context for the score, which in hindsight, gave me a lot of freedom. When I started to listen to the music in terms of interpreting the harmony and working out counter melodies, I quickly got an appreciation for the complexity of the scoring, and the sophistication of the composition.
Q. At what point did you introduce the idea of the album to Nobuo Uematsu? How much input did he have as the director of the project?
Nobuo san invited Philippe, myself and Matt to his home (for a wonderful dinner cooked by Mrs.Uematsu). We talked about music, listened to some tunes, and at the end of the evening, I gambled on asking Nobuo if he would let us try to remix some of his work. He send some CDs to my studio, and I put together remixes of "Liberi Fatali", "Blue Fields", "Balamb Garden" and "Martial Law". Matt did a remix of "Under Her Control". I sent those five tracks through to Uematsu san. Nobuo is of course very busy, but a few weeks after sending, we were invited to dinner, and Nobuo proposed a remix CD on the spot. It was a big surprise, and more than I had hoped for..."Blue Fields" and "Liberi Fatali" actually ended up on the EP and the CD!
From that point onwards, Ogawa san and Uematsu san listened to every remix, and gave very constructive feedback along the way. I'm used to dealing with advertising people and visual artists, who tend to relate to music in quite abstract terms, but Nobuo is great to work with, because all of his advice is direct, and given in musical terms.
Q. Are you more interested with Final Fantasy Remix in conjuring up memories of the games, or creating an atmosphere that suits the ambiance of nightlife venues like bars and nightclubs?
Hopefully somewhere between the two. This project is primarily aimed at the fans. Having said that, during the production process, although it was important to be true to the original music, when choosing sounds for the "electronic" side of the remix, the aim was to be as contemporary as possible. This is quite a juxtaposition, but I feel it works really well in a lot of places on the album.
Q. Can you tell us a little about rehearsing the live performance with the Black Mages in Yokohama to promote the album? Have you noticed anything from their participation together as a group that has informed your own process?
I have met the Black Mages a few times now. They are all really nice guys, very professional. I rehearsed with them a week before the show. They were very encouraging. In terms of the way they rehearse as a band, they have the hallmarks of professionalism in that they come prepared, they nail all the transitions and tricky passages (of which there are quite a few!), and there is no time wasted. It is the same way I was taught to rehearse ensembles, and it definitely works for them. I think I would say that in general, Japanese musicians do pay a lot of attention to detail, and are quite perfectionist in their approach, which is great.
Q. The live concert of Darkness and Starlight at the Yokohama Blitz sold out well in advance of the event. Did it turn out as you had expected?
The show was great. It was amazing to see such a variety of musicians - chorus, opera singers, a string ensemble...amazing! In terms of the remix material, this was only a twenty minute debut promotional set, but the enthusiasm of the crowd was overwhelming. So thanks to all the fans, and see you next time!
Thank you for joining us for this discussion on the process behind Final Fantasy Remix.
No problem. Thanks!