Famitsu.com have posted an article containing an interview with Yoko Shimomura, the composer of the Kingdom Hearts series, and the sound team for Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX. The article coincides with the appearance of the title in the March 14 issue of Famitsu Weekly, and reveals a lot of behind-the-scenes information about the work that went into the audio remastering for HD 1.5 ReMIX. Shimomura also discusses what she might do for the possible, upcoming HD 2.5 ReMIX. goldpanner has translated the article, and thanks to her, it can be read below. Enjoy!
Presenting an interview with some of the individuals involved in the sound of Kingdom Hearts -HD 1.5 ReMIX- for PS3: Composer Yoko Shimomura, Square Enix synthesizer operators Keiji Kawamori and Hirosato Noda, TaQ from ongaq, responsible for strings arrangement and recording, and Yusaku Tsuchiya from gaQdan, ongaq's specialty recording orchestra responsible for the musical performance.
The music of Yoko Shimomura, played anew on live instruments!
The three titles that make up the first section of the story of Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts (hereon KH) series, KH Final Mix, KH Re:Chain of Memories and KH 3582 Days have been remastered in HD and offered on the PS3 in one title as KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX- (released 14th Mar 2013). To go with the HD remastering, some of the music for this title has been re-recorded with live instruments.
Famitsu.com conducted an interview with composer Yoko Shimomura, Square Enix synthesizer operators Keiji Kawamori and Hirosato Noda, TaQ from ongaq, responsible for strings arrangement and recording, and Yusaku Tsuchiya from gaQdan, ongaq's specialty recording orchestra responsible for the musical performance, in which we heard episodes that occurred during recording and their thoughts on the KH series.
---Firstly, please each of you tell us your role in KH 1.5.
Shimomura: I stood in on the recording of the re-recorded tracks, and directed the musical performances. Plus, I was in charge of checking the mixed tracks.
Kawamori: I was in charge of planning the re-recording and track mixing.
Noda: I worked on mixing the recorded music with other instruments, just like Kawamori.
TaQ: I... was in charge of giving people courage (laughs). I'm not sure how to explain the details of my role, now that it's done... My main jobs specifically were taking the tracks that Ms Shimomura had written and arranging them into sheet music for live instruments, and managing the progress of recording.
Tsuchiya: As the orchestra's concertmaster, my responsibility was focused on the musical performances.
(*concertmaster: the person who takes care of the orchestra. Typically this role is filled by the leader of the first violin section.)
---We know that gaQdan is a specialty recording orchestra, but what exactly is a specialty recording orchestra?
TaQ: My goal with gaQdan is to offer something like what Netprint does with postcards, but as an orchestra service. Today's game consoles have high specs that allow orchestral music to be used as-is. However, on old game consoles, the number of useable sounds were limited. What was implemented on those consoles was the crystallised efforts of composers who had to use their ingenuity to work within 4-bit or 16-bit limitations.
---Compared to orchestral music, there are overwhelmingly few sounds, aren't there?
TaQ: Yes. See, with an orchestra, you have about forty parts altogether, woodwind and brass and such, playing sounds at once. Because of this, to perform music created for old games with an orchestra, you must increase the number of sounds while trying to hold the integrity of the piece.
---As non-professionals, we can't imagine how you would go about 'increasing the number of sounds'.
TaQ: I am sure that even among pros there would be many unfamiliar with orchestration and who wouldn't know how to start. That's why I wanted to make the gaQdan recording service something that people could use with ease, even if they didn't have all the complicated knowledge. There's a service called 'Netprint' where you can send pictures you drew or photos you took and they will print picture postcards for you, right? The idea behind our establishment was along those lines... that if you sent music to ongaq, even if it was not made for orchestra use, we would record it with an orchestra for you. I believe that we put that idea into reality with KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-.
---How interesting. Now then, could you please tell us the details behind how you came to be re-recording the music for KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-?
Kawamori: About two seconds after I heard they'd decided to make KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-, it popped into my head that I wanted to remake the music in our current style, too. Well, those old tracks made with the built-in tone generator (*when the BGM plays using a synthesiser program created within the performance range of the gaming console) still sound amazing even now, despite the restrictions under which they were created. I had the privilege of working with Ms Shimomura on KH Birth by Sleep, which adopted audio streaming (*when pre-recorded music is played as BGM. Rich tones can be reproduced without much depending on the capacities of the console). I thought that if we made use of our know-how from that in KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-, then we could allow the fans to enjoy the music all over again just like they would be enjoying the new HD picture.
Shimomura: It all started with talks happening somewhere without me (laughs).
Kawamori: That was when I invited the unaware Ms Shimomura to a lunch meeting to propose that we remake the music.
---Ms Shimomura, what did you think when you heard what Mr Kawamori had to say?
Shimomura: I said, since we're doing it, let me do whatever I can. I thought, 'hm, this lunch is expensive' (laughs).
---(Laughs). In all, how many tracks did you remake for this title?
Kawamori: Practically everything from KH Final Mix. We also recorded a selection from KH Re:Chain of Memories and KH 358/2 Days.
TaQ: I first heard from Mr Kawamori that there were 66 tracks, and even as I was gasping about that number, it steadily increased (laughs).
Shimomura: There were more tracks than I thought in KH Final Mix, see. There were versions of the same song but organised differently, or with the intro cut.
Noda: We'd start up the PS2 ROM to check, wouldn't we?
Kawamori: Yes, stressing out over which version was used in which scene.
---And so, why did you commission gaQdan to record the stringed instruments?
Kawamori: I had struck up an acquaintance with TaQ some time before, and when I came to be re-recording the music for KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-, I remembered seeing an interview in Famitsu on his work on Crimson Shroud... so, I said to him, there are a lot of tracks, but how do you feel about doing it?
TaQ: I immediately replied that I'd do it, but to be completely honest here, I thought that 66 tracks had to be impossible (laughs). Recording took place in a huge hall in the Tokyo Metropolitan area around September 2012, and since of course the hall had to be unavailable for long periods just when we needed it, we had to finish recording in one day and that was that. We had to be out of the hall by 9:30pm, but by the time it was 7:30pm we hadn't even finished recording half...
Shimomura: You're saying it with a smile now, TaQ, but on the day you scared me. Your smile started fading away... (laughs).
TaQ: The orchestra members were running out of breath, and conversations stopped (laughs).
Shimomura: But, the orchestra members were so dedicated.
Tsuchiya: That's the difficult thing about orchestral recording. All the instrument sounds are recorded in one go at the same time, so you can't just go in after and replace one instrument or add a layer. It was a severe spot that required the orchestra members to play for twelve hours with no mistakes. But, since the hall had great acoustics, and some members of gaQdan were KH fans who started getting excited as they recognised songs, the orchestra members were very passionate.
TaQ: The moment when the musicians became one entity to finish the last few... I don't think I'll forget it as long as I live.
Shimomura: Every minute was precious, to the point where nobody even went to the toilet.
TaQ: When we finished, I was so overcome with emotion that I started applauding.
Shimomura: I wondered if perhaps the remaining time would stress them out and affect their performance, and if so, whether I should give up on a few songs and have them focus on the ones we were up to... but, in the end, thanks to all of their tremendous focuses, they were able to record for me every single song I had requested.
---Noda, Kawamori, Shimomura, what was it like listening to the musical performance?
Noda: I was astonished at what they managed to do in so little time. They gave a convincing and high quality performance.
Kawamori: With electronic music you have to make fine adjustments in order to have it sound as though it were live, but we were able to use the music that was performed for us as it was, so... it made our lives easier (laughs). I am so grateful that they performed that many tracks for us.
Shimomura: I am sure that for the past ten years, gamers have carried strong impressions of the original tracks. Seeing as the old tracks do have the characteristic power of the built-in tone generator, I hate being told that by using live instruments the 'music is nicer but it lost its punch'. With this title, without me even asking, gaQdan treated the image from the original song with utmost care, so I am very happy.
Tsuchiya: Seeing as the original built-in tone generator music was so cool, we kept in mind to not lose that punch with our performance.
TaQ: In RPGs, the battle music is probably what you hear the most often. Battle music is often written loaded with staccato phrases to raise tension for the player, I believe. But, orchestra instruments are not designed to burst out strong, loud sounds by nature. Because of this, if you perform using the pure classical playing style, it will sound nice, but it won't have that aggressive feel. As I actually personally started with electronic music, I investigated with gaQdan into how to bring out that aggressive feel on stringed instruments. There are ways of playing that bring colour into the sound, and ways of playing that bring out a sensation of speed... we built experience with many variations of play styles.
Tsuchiya: I am happy that we were able to use the results of that research in this title. Putting it into practice meant we consciously changed our ways of playing depending on the song.
TaQ: With battle music, you really need that bold rock-guitar nuance, so we boosted the number of people playing middle and low register instruments. A normal orchestra will have the most people in the first violin section, but this time, since we knew that the melody would be carried by the flutes and such, we decided we didn't need to increase the number of violins.
Shimomura: The performance we received could be perfectly described as a 'version upgrade' for everyone. Even the methods of recording were innovative.
TaQ: We started our arrangement work by grouping the tracks in the same key and the tracks that would give the musicians similar emotions. We listened to those nearly 70 tracks over and over again to sort them into groups of tracks we could perform consecutively. With that much music to do, we had no time to waste on resting and re-preparing after finishing one performance before starting the next recording. There were instances where we played about 16 tracks consecutively.
Tsuchiya: There were also instances where we played for 30 minutes straight. Though there were about 70 tracks, in practice I worked with them like five long tracks.
---So, thanks to that solution, the performers were able to stay in good spirits while playing for over ten hours?
Shimomura: We had many proposals over how to go about recording for a whole day without wasting time or people losing spirit.
TaQ: As you might expect, after that sort of hardship, we ended up with great music. You can definitely make great music electronically, but in the end, when musicians pour their emotions into a performance, you can be sure that their music will have the setting unfolding before your eyes. KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX- looks so beautiful, so when the music flows with the scenes, I believe that gamer's hearts will be moved.
---Did Shimomura have any requests regarding the musical performance?
Tsuchiya: Ms Shimomura was particular about the tightness and vehemence of the bass. She didn't want to lose the vehemence of the electronic version.
Shimomura: I tried to get it across making noises, like, 'make it sound like ksssh ksssh'.
Tsuchiya: But when you said 'kssh' out loud like that, we could hear the way it resounded back in the hall, so we understood what sort of sound you were looking for.
---It's easier to convey things that way then explaining it theoretically, then.
Shimomura: Also, when I am writing music, I imagine the person playing the instrument. When we were recording, I was making gestures like I was playing, like, 'I want this part to feel like they're so into it that they're leaning forwards playing. That sort of feeling...' but, since I was a bit far away from where everyone was performing, they said 'sorry, we can't see you' (laughs).
---So when you are composing, you don't only think of sounds, you think of pictures.
Shimomura: I can't play the violin, so it's just my image of it (laughs). There are powerful images that stuck in my head of amazing solos I've seen concertmasters playing at concerts, that sort of thing. Sometimes, I write music hoping that somebody would play my music like that.
---A question for TaQ and Tsuchiya. What do you think is characteristic of Shimomura's music?
TaQ: She has characteristic scales. For example, 3-3-3-2... and, that bass string rhythm. Like, duhkuh-dun, duhkuh-dun,duhkuh-dun. After spending my entire time on this job analysing the written music for Ms Shimomura's tracks, I feel like I was slowly becoming able to write Shimomura melodies myself (laughs).
Tsuchiya: That bass strings rhythm is so striking, it still comes back into my head sometimes.
Shimomura: Back in those days there was a limited number of tones, and there weren't more than two channels to delineate the string instruments. So, the parts an orchestra would organise into first violin, second violin, viola, cello and double bass, I had to make with two channels. I tried my best to create something that felt close, thinking the whole time about how I really would have wanted it to be expressed on stringed instruments (laughs). And so, I did things like just having those two tracks repeat a simple rhythm, and I think I made a weird sort of progress on a lot of points.
TaQ: I think it was originally composed with concepts like 'this is orchestral' and 'this is chamber music'. Before writing music for games, an image of the sound is usually bouncing around inside your head. Upon receiving Ms Shimomura's sheet music, I spent some time thinking about the image each track was written with.
Shimomura: TaQ checked in with me many times to make sure that the image in his head matched the one in mine, but every time he asked, his arrangements were exactly right.
---By the way, which piece was the most difficult to perform?
Tsuchiya: First I'll just say that they were difficult in general (laughs). The gummi ship song, and... then, this one. The one with the difficult rhythm that went dan-da-dadada-dadadadadadadada... I was delirious when I played it, the name won't come to me (laughs).
Shimomura: I think you mean The Deep End. I'm sorry I made the rhythm so hard to play (laughs).
---Can you tell us about any episode that left an impression on you from during recording?
Kawamori: On the day of recording, it was a lovely clear morning. But then as the day turned to afternoon, right when everyone was getting desperate about how there was no time, outside it started pouring with rain.
---It's like the rain was a symbol of your feelings (laughs).
Kawamori: I did think, a mood like this and rain like this... and when we finished recording, it cleared up again. I was surprised, it really was as though the weather was reflecting how our recording went.
Shimomura: I was surprised realising it must have rained when I saw that the ground was wet.
---Now, after the recording work with gaQdan, how did work on mixing go?
Noda: It went pretty smoothly for me, because I received the sounds already mixed to an extent.
Shimomura: I was always asking you to do one more thing at the final mix checks. I'm sorry for everything (laughs).
Kawamori: That's the way it always goes (laughs).
Shimomura: I think, it's such a tiny thing, I probably shouldn't say anything, but then I go and say it. It's because I know how it feels to regret not asking for a part to be corrected, and once it's out in the world, being like 'aww I wish I'd asked about that one note'.
Kawamori: During the stage where we put the sounds together, the track is still fuzzy in my head, but through Ms Shimomura's direction, when I listen to the final product, I think, it really did become KH music, didn't it. It feels like it has the KH seal stamped on it.
---Did listening to the music from ten years ago bring back memories?
Shimomura: It really is like, has it already been ten years? Is it still only ten years? When I listen to the music, I have so many flashbacks... like, 'it was so hard to get this song okayed' and such (laughs). And, sometimes my impression of the song has changed since the old days, like when I think 'this song is even cooler than I thought it was!' There's both nostalgia and new discoveries. As there were no plans to make the first KH into a series, we made it this far thanks to everyone's support and love. It's amazing that that game from ten years ago has been born again with a makeover, and I am incredibly happy that I have been able to be involved in these works.
---If KH -HD 2.5 ReMIX- were to come out, would you re-record the music?
Shimomura: KH2 uses the built-in tone generator too. In the KH series, the battle music and field music cross-fade so we had to include the data of both battle and field tracks compressed to what would originally be the memory of one track. I was so glad that we could use live music this time... If KH -HD 2.5 ReMIX- comes out, there's no way I'd just leave the built-in tone generator in as is (laughs). I couldn't betray everyone's expectations like that. There are around 100 tracks, though...
---Sounds like recording would be even more difficult (laughs).
Shimomura: In KH2 I used strings purposefully in many tracks, such as wanting the violins to build steadily when the music for the last boss starts, which I think it would be beautiful done with live instruments.
---We are sure that the fans would be very happy to hear the music of KH2 performed with live instruments. Well then, please give us a final word and message for our readers.
Kawamori: Starting with gaQdan, so many people participated in recording for KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX-. I believe that their feelings are expressed in the music that they participated in so passionately, everyone. Please make sure you hear it.
Noda: I would love for people to play the game and compare the difference they can hear between the sound in this title and the sound from the days of the PS2. I think the sound is now very powerful, so please enjoy it.
Tsuchiya: I was only directly involved in KH -HD 1.5 ReMIX- for the twelve hours that I performed, but, I wonder if perhaps in those twelve hours I was able to put in what has been passed down through the KH series so far. I hope you enjoy it.
TaQ: This job was a challenge for all members of gaQdan. The first track, with such a short recording time... If someone had said, 'we can't do this, can we?' then we would have crumbled. But instead everyone involved in the project was thinking first and foremost that we wanted to make something great, so we were able to face the challenge with optimism. I will never forget that day of recording. That one day was only a tiny piece of the overall game development period, but we crammed it with far more than one day's worth of our best effort. So, I would be very happy if everyone who plays the game thinks our music is interesting.
Shimomura: So much has been said already now (laughs)... With this title, I recommend all the tracks, but among them, there is one in particular I would love for people to look out for. The music that plays at the end of KH 358/2 Days, Vector to the Heavens, was a track that many people told me they loved, and it has been re-recorded. Beginning with a performance by pianist Benyamin Nuss, it is an extremely lovely track, and I hope everyone enjoys listening to it.