This is post 3 (of 8) in a series of translation posts taken from a roundtable on the Japanese Melee site. In addition to Sakurai, the participants are Shogo Sakai and Hirokazu Ando (both involved in music), and Tadashi Ikegami (the SFX guy).
Sakai: On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, I came to Yamanashi for a meeting with the orchestra. But at the time, we were in this weird limbo situation where the boss hadn’t decided whether or not to use a live orchestra yet.
Andou: Our boss was, how do I put this– reluctant to have a live orchestra, and I remember Mr. Sakai had to meet with him to try to convince him otherwise.
Sakurai: Yes, yes. I even said at one point that I would cover the expenses myself, that’s how dire the situation was. Back then it was one step forward…one step back.
Ikegami: Because Mr. Sakurai said that, we decided that we needed an orchestra no matter what, and the next we went to go tell our boss that, and he said, “Well, if you’re all going to work together on it, that’s fine.” It was a very rapid development.
Sakai: On the other hand, I thought that my job wasn’t going to be to compose new songs, but to arrange Mr. Andou’s pieces for an orchestra. When did we decide that I was going to be composing songs?
Andou: For the opening music, that was February 14th, I think. I was working and Mr. Sakurai came by to listen to what I had. His face grew stern, he said, “well, then,” and it was decided that Mr. Sakai would compose that song.
Sakai: Right. And after that I was very determined, but my resolve broke after around three days. Until the second day, I was busy finding a studio, contacting audio engineers, picking out the musicians for the orchestra, and I hadn’t heard a single note from Mr. Andou’s pieces. But then I looked at Mr. Andou’s compositions, and the tempo was just crazy. Every measure, or sometimes even every beat, the tempo would change. This isn’t good, I thought, and so I called Mr. Andou to protest (laughs). To explain it, it would be like if you had a car going 150km/hour, and then once that car crossed a specific line, it immediately had to go 120km/hour, it’s just not possible. You can slow down gradually, and hit 120km/hour right as you cross that line. But what Mr. Andou had written would have required immediate tempo changes like that, and I thought that wouldn’t be doable for a human orchestra.
Sakurai: Well, when you’ve been making video games for a long time, you end up picking up a lot of esoteric knowledge here and there, and you just assume that sort of stuff can be done easily…
Sakai: Well, it’s definitely doable by a computer, but I just thought humans wouldn’t be able to handle it. So what I did was, I thought, we need to give up on Mr. Andou’s music. If I made the musicians play Mr. Andou’s composition, these 16th notes, they wouldn’t expect to go from 150km/hr to 120km/hr so suddenly, so I made the song very simple, with only half notes and quarter notes. Very easy, phrases that are playable at any tempo.
So if anyone listens to the the opening song and thinks the tempo seems unstable, well, I don’t think there will be very many of you, but if you tried to clap along with the tempo, I don’t think you’d get it once out of ten tries.
And I needed to coordinate fifty musicians, so I kept that in mind while writing the score. What we really lucked out on was that the orchestra, the New Japan Philharmonic, had done scores for other things, so they were really good at matching timings. The truth is, on that April 1st recording session at the studio, if things didn’t work out, I had around five or six backup plans.
Sakurai: Getaway plans (laughs).
Sakai: Right, I thought of escape routes too (laughs). And that day, a company called Hustle Copy was in charge of printing out the sheet music, their CEO was worried and came to meet me. He said, “If recording doesn’t work out, do you want our staff to be ready to print out rewrites?”
And when recording for the opening song ended, he came up to me and said, “I’m glad everything worked out for you.” I really felt that I’d managed to complete a difficult task. If a normal person had come to observe the recording session, it might not have seemed that difficult, and when you turn on your Gamecube and listen to the song in the opening, it might not seem difficult either, but I thought it was a really tough job.
Sakurai: I first learned of Mr. Sakai’s experience working with an orchestra at Kouichi Sugiyama’s “Orchestral Game Music Concert 5.”
Sakai: Wait, did you buy a ticket for that?
Sakurai: No, I received an invitation from one of the staff.
Sakai: Oh, I gave that invitation to that staff member. So that’s really when our paths first crossed (laughs). I should talk about the whole story of this concert, then. At the time I was working for a company called Data East, and was composing for a game called Glory of Heracles. I received a phone called from Kouichi Sugiyama, and he said, “You’re Sakai, the one who’s composing for Glory of Heracles? Your music is really great, so I want to perform it at our next concert.” And I said, “Please do, thank you,” but we talked more and was told that it would be performed by an orchestra. I’d wanted to conduct an orchestra for a long time, so I said, “If I can arrange and conduct the piece, then it’s okay.” And he was very accommodating, and I thought, “what a generous guy.” And so I ended up at the Shibuya Public Hall for the first time, arranging and conducting my piece for an orchestra for the first time. And Mr. Sakurai just happened to be at that event. The invitation you received was one I gave to HAL Labs.
Sakurai: Someone at work said, “There’s this concert, you want to go?” And I ended up going. Well, there was also the fact that the first piece was a collection of songs from Kirby Super Deluxe. There was also a second chance meeting, while you were working. For some reason, I was listening to a demo tape of music you had made for MOTHER 3 with Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Itoi. And I thought, “Wow, Mr. Sakai is working hard, even though he has his job at Data East.” Then, somehow, you were at HAL Labs, and we were working together (laughs). But because you had some experience with orchestras you got the job, and this game was a nice opportunity for you start working with a full orchestra.
Sakai: November two years ago, we did a small MOTHER 3 chamber music concert. At the time discussions about the Kirby anime were ongoing, so I was thinking that if Kirby was going to appear on television, I might get the conductor job for that.
small MOTHER 3 chamber music concert: after MOTHER 3 was cancelled, using a very small-scale orchestra, we performed a small live performance, inviting only the key players who were involved. It was a very secret, clandestine operation.
Sakurai: If you think about it, getting this job was really the best outcome you could have hoped for.