KHI Site Staff
- Dec 24, 2007
- Reykjav?k, Iceland
Our staff here at KHInsider had the pleasure of interviewing both creator & producer Shota Nakama and sound engineer Falk Au Yeong of the Video Game Orchestra & SoundtRec Boston, the group responsible for the re-orchestrated soundtrack in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts -HD 2.5 ReMIX- on the PlayStation 3.
Shota & Falk were able to talk to us about the recording process for the HD remaster, amusing moments from the days they spent in the studio, the VGO's past & current projects, as well as their inspiring origin as an orchestra. We hope you all enjoy!
- For those who are unfamiliar with VGO, please tell us about the origins of the group! What inspired you to found the orchestra, and what goals did you want to achieve with it?
SN: My name is Shota Nakama, the creator and producer of Video Game Orchestra. I do pretty much everything from planning shows, arranging our music, play the guitar on stage and so on.
The group originates in a sudden spark of this idea that came into my head - performing video game music live “in the way I like”. I gathered a bunch of friends next day, booked a venue and did a show next month. That is where it all started. At first I was only able to organize a small ensemble, but gradually it grew as our concerts started getting more and more popular. By the time we did the 3rd show, although still smaller in number, the format was pretty much complete: Rock band, orchestra and choir. From then on, we did many shows at large events like PAX and things started taking off.
I would say our accomplishments are building something from nothing and being loved by fans. It is just such a great feeling! Also working with my favorite games like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts was really amazing. I am definitely thankful for my team and fans for making it all happen.
Anyway, going back to the inception of the group… Looking back, I think it was a natural choice for me to create VGO because I lived my childhood in Japan during the golden time of NES and SNES. That is when all the great games came out and I loved playing them and listening to the music.
FAY: I'm Falk, and I mostly handle the engineering side of things. I started getting involved in VGO early last year as Shota steered the vision of VGO towards including recordings and soundtrack production.
- Have you only been recording video game music these past years? Can you tell us why, and also whether you’re going to stay recording for the video game industry or if you’re branching out?
SN: So far the majority of our recording gigs came from the video game industry. I think that is definitely because of the connections I have in the industry through VGO. I am not really limiting our, SoundtRec’s, focus solely on video games, so in short, yes we are branching out. We actually just wrapped up the last recording session for the second season of a Japanese TV show.
FAY: In fact, the first thing Shota called me up for was to facilitate several small recording sessions for a TV series in Japan!
- VGO's earlier work consisted of covers for series like FINAL FANTASY, KINGDOM HEARTS & CHRONO TRIGGER, but did you ever imagine that you would all one day be working on these very games with Square Enix staff?
SN: Haha, I had never expected it at all. I was seeing myself doing bigger shows and rocking out more audience, but actually working on the games that influenced me so much...just think about how many people get to work on those series. Not that many! I gladly accept the fact that has happened.
- As the producer of VGO, what were you tasked with for the recording of KH 2.5?
SN: My tasks for this recording project was to communicate with SQEX because I am the only one who speaks Japanese in our team, orchestrate the music, conduct the recording and oversee the mixing until it is all done. Yes it was quite a lot of work!
- What was the mood like in the recording studio on the first day of the project?
SN: Just like when we did Lightning Returns, the atmosphere in the studio was full of excitement and joy. Of course Falk and I are always concerned that some technical hiccups might happen, but as far as the recording room goes, I remember some musicians going nuts when we informed them what game we are recording the music of. We take care of the stuff so the musicians can have fun and play well.
FAY: It was tense! There had been a lot of preparation up to that point. Big recording sessions are never easy to run, and on the first day your mind is always full of everything that could go wrong. Not because we're worrywarts, but you always need to have a backup plan for any problem, technical, practical or otherwise, that can arise.
- The HD 1.5 ReMIX soundtrack was done by the team at gaQdan. How did you feel when VGO was approached for HD 2.5 ReMIX? Did you feel any pressure and/or excitement at following after their work for such a critically acclaimed franchise?
SN: I actually did not get to play HD 1.5 ReMIX and Falk told me about gaQdan after we got the KH2.5 gig. Even so, I was not really feeling a pressure at all. I was very confident that we could deliver something that could surpass their expectations, which we certainly did.
FAY: For my side, I am a huge music/rhythm game fanatic, and I've religiously followed bemani and specifically Beatmania IIDX. So naturally, I am familiar with the work of TaQ (Taku Sakakibara) who operates ongaq and gaQdan. The soundtrack for HD 1.5 ReMIX was one of the high points of the remaster for me, and naturally gaQdan left us with very big shoes to fill! Nevertheless, I am sure, based on all the work we have done, that the soundtrack for HD 2.5 ReMIX will continue elevating the musical expectations of the franchise to the next level, especially as we ramp up to the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts 3!
- How long did it take to record the music for HD 2.5 ReMIX? We learned that the team working on the HD 1.5 ReMIX soundtrack only had about two days to work on it! Hopefully you were allowed more time than that?
SN: The entire recording process took about 15 hours in a span of 2.5 days, coincidentally. Thanks to our amazing musicians, we were able to comfortably finish recording 54 songs in such a short period.
FAY: Funnily enough, when we were in the planning stages of this, my reaction was very similar to gaQdan's reaction; when Shota told us the amount of music my first response was "They want us to record HOW MANY tracks?" However, as we were very confident in the capability of our musicians, we went full bore with it and completed everything with some time to spare.
- What kind of direction did you take with the newly recorded music? How does the re-orchestrated music compare to the original?
SN: One request we got from SQEX was not to go too far with arranging. They wanted to retain the feel of the original music. I am not sure if that made anything easier because I had to constantly fight against my inner musical devil tempting me to change things.
FAY: One thing I can say from a technical point of view is that both the arrangements and the mixing take advantage of many audio techniques that would have been outright impossible or otherwise very costly to pull off in the PSF2 format that the original game used. That being said, especially with the constant communication with and supervision of Yoko Shimomura, rather than replacing the original compositions, we wanted to honor the intention of the original compositions, while exceeding the technological limits of the time.
- What instruments did you feel were more prominent or the highlights throughout the soundtrack?
SN: I think this is quite obvious to the Yoko Shimomura fans. You cannot emphasize the piano and strings enough when it comes to her music. The piano is prominently featured throughout the soundtrack.
- If you’re allowed to tell us about Yoko Shimomura’s and Square Enix’s involvement in the recording process, can you tell us about their requests and communication with you?
SN: We had them monitor all the sessions in real-time via VOIP. I was conducting the recording and they would comment on things as we keep recording. Thankfully they trusted us and let us do our job. Everything went very smoothly from the beginning to the end.
Michael McClure, the VGO's first chair double bass, with Yoko Shimomura on Skype.
- How did this experience compare to your past projects?
SN: I felt a lot more comfortable this time around because we learned so much from the past recording sessions so we were really prepared. The actual amount of work was more than what we have done in the past, but throughout the process I found we were way more efficient than before. It is nice to be able to realize that.
FAY: This time around, the entire process was a much closer collaboration with the developer and composer. For 2.5, not only did we record the music, but we were also involved in the mixing of a good fraction of the soundtrack, which was a very involved effort. Overall, it was a lot more work!
- Can you tell us about any of the hardships you faced while working on the music?
SN: Orchestrating 54 pieces in a very short time as well as in a limited environment. I was traveling a lot so sometimes I had to open up my laptop with a small MIDI controller working on scores on a plane.
FAY: Mixing was many sleepless nights for me! Especially towards the deadline... One thing that was constantly on my mind was honoring the original versions while bringing the sound up to modern standards. Nostalgia is quite a significant factor in fans of the music in Square Enix games, and no less so for all the memorable melodies of Kingdom Hearts. Sometimes an updated, richer, sound recorded with live instruments is at odds with the much simpler sounds from the PS2 version and it's difficult finding just the right balance between the two.
- Do you have any unforgetable or humorous memories from recording the soundtrack you’d like to share with us?
FAY: When we were recording the Atlantica music, and Donald started singing, some of the faces of the string players out in the live room were priceless. Thankfully they are all amazing musicians and didn't drop a beat. It was a really good take.
SN: Falk says it all. The Donald voice caught one of the players by a surprise, and he was lost for the entire take. His stand partner was pointing on the sheet music with her bow trying to let him know where we are but she herself was also trying not to laugh. I held it barely but there were so many moments like that during the sessions.
- Are any of you fans of the KINGDOM HEARTS series? If so, how did you get into the series and what are your opinions about it?
SN: I did play KH1 and KH2 and finished them all. I also played the ones on handheld but I never saw the ending… such a shame! Honestly the game play was a bit too easy for me because I was raised with vicious NES games that the current generation would just go AVGN on. However I thought the whole concept was really cool as I love seeing Japanese companies collaborating with western companies, and Dearly Beloved on the title screen totally killed me even before I hit the start button.
FAY: I'm a huge fan of the series. I have always thought that eastern and western game development were two very different things, and had a lot to learn from each other. When Kingdom Hearts first got announced and it was literally "HOLY COW, SQUARE ENIX IS MAKING A GAME WITH DISNEY CHARACTERS!" and I got the first game right away. Of course, the whimsical story really took off with KH2 and all the other games and following along with the overarching narrative has been an amazing experience as a fan.
- Finally, anything you’d like to share with your fans?
SN: To our fans, I would like to inform a few things that are coming up! First of all, we are going to be having a Boston concert on October 2nd at Berklee Performance Center. This is our Live at Symphony Hall CD release party as well as our pre-Taiwan tour celebration, and yes, we are having our Taiwan debut concert on October 11th! Our core group is flying there and performing with a local orchestra and choir there. We are really excited about this, and we will make sure to record the show!
Anyways for the Boston show, please visit our new site,www.vgo-online.com, to check out the details. We tried to keep the ticket prices, $8 to $23, as low as possible so everyone can come and enjoy our show. We will have the director of D4 and Deadly Premonition, Swery, as a guest at the concert. Our Live at Symphony Hall CD will be sold there, too. Please come say hi!
Those interested in the re-orchestrated music for Kingdom Hearts -HD 2.5 ReMIX- can listen to it on the upcoming album which will be available through the Japanese Square Enix Online eStore, or through the music selection sample album that will be available with the collectors edition of Kingdom Hearts -HD 2.5 ReMIX- which releases this October in Japan.
Be sure to follow Kingdom Hearts Insider on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for the latest updates on all things Kingdom Hearts!