This is post 4 (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: Going back to the orchestra from Melee, I was really torn over what to do for the whole conductor situation. There were a couple of others things that weren’t going well too, and I agonized over the decision for 2 to 3 weeks, I think? There was a brief moment where I thought, “We’re going to record in Tokyo, and use an orchestra that’s based in Tokyo, so why are we bringing in a conductor from Nagoya?” But in the end, we went with Mr. Taizo Takemoto, and even now I think we made the right choice.
Sakurai: He was another amazing guy.
Sakai: And he knows a lot about games.
Sakurai: He has a lot of energy, and he’s very positive. Someone worthy of respect.
Sakai: I remember him saying, “I’m so glad I can work on a video game!” His joy was infectious made us happy as well.
Sakurai: Yes, I agree. Oh, I’ll say this for the readers: not every song in Melee is performed by an orchestra, just a select number, maybe I should write that list down somewhere.
Andou: Will people be able to differentiate between the orchestra and MIDI songs?
Sakurai: They won’t! They won’t be able to. In particular…
Sakai: Green Greens! You’d think that’s an orchestra, right? That’s Mr. Andou’s piece.
Sakurai: In the end, the sound staff, the four people here, wrote the score for the orchestra.
Sakai: Yes, we split up the work between the four of us. Mr. Sakurai, you said this in an interview with a gaming magazine already, but having a sound staff of five people at one company, having four of these people dedicated to working on one game, Melee, and then having those four write a score for an orchestra? That’s unprecedented, I really think it is.
Ikegami: Wrote the score, had no choice but to write the score…
Sakai: I looked at your portion of score just now, but it was well written.
Ikegami: If it is, it’s all because of you.
Sakai: I’d like to make this clear, I didn’t add a single note to Mr. Ikegami or Mr. Andou’s score.
Andou: But without Mr. Sakai’s advice….
Ikegami: We all though he was so reliable and helpful.
Sakai: Well, I’m pretty sure you are the ones who actually wrote it.
Ikegami and Andou: Well…we did (laughs).
Sakai: The countermelody on the “Fountain of Dreams” is something only Mr. Ikegami could written, and I think it’s really good.
Andou: I think that’s a very Ikegami piece of music too.
Ikegami: Really? But at first it was a piece that Mr. Sakai wrote.
Sakai: You used the rhythm of the piano part that I wrote, but I don’t write melodies like that. So the fact that you were able to expand that, isn’t that a testament to your skill?
Ikegami: I worried that it would be more work for you, though.
Sakurai: I think that in regards to the orchestra, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t have to do a lot of work.
Sakai: You actually collapsed after the orchestra finished recording.
Sakurai: The day after, I was put on an IV at the hospital…I feel like people might make assumptions if I don’t clear up what happened, so I’ll talk about it. I was visualizing the opening movie in my head, and listening to the orchestra perform in the studio. I was checking whether the music and visuals aligned, going “this matches, this is off, this is right, this is wrong,” in real time, and I was concentrating very hard. Because the movie would have to be edited according to my notes, I had to make snap judgments every moment about how to make adjustments when the music and visuals didn’t line up just right, and it was exhausting.
Although I can’t deny that I was already overworked and fatigued.
movie would have to be edited: the opening movie was edited to match the music. When the orchestra was recording this piece, the visuals were already being worked on to some extent.
Sakai: I still think it’s a miracle that we were able to finish that recording in only four hours. That was my first time working in a studio with an orchestra, and making decisions about what sounded okay, what wasn’t acceptable, and having to re-record, planning out how long things would take, all of that was really hard.
Sakurai: It is, isn’t it. The storyboards for the opening cinematic where actually set to the version of the song that Mr.Ando wrote, so that version is still stuck in my head. I could hum the entire thing right now.
Andou: That’s the same for me as well.
Sakurai: Matching visual cues to auditory ones is something you have to really focus on, so the piece tends to get burned into your brain.
Ikegami: So there must have been a fair number of versions of the opening song.
Sakurai: No, just two– Mr. Andou’s and Mr. Sakai’s.
Ikegami: I remember being told to compose an opening song too…
Andou: Oh, yes. As a reference piece, kind of.
Sakurai: I did say an “opening-like piece.” At the time the opening cinematic wasn’t set in stone, so I had to talk like, “and right here, I think this character should show up like this…”
Ikegami: Right, and I said “We should have some scat singing in here, like a jazz band.”
Sakurai: And at the time I said “I want to have a chorus, or a song,” but apparently no one took that seriously (laughs).
I want to have a chorus, or a song: there is a chorus in the Opening song, as well as in Pokémon Stadium’s theme.
Ikegami: Well, we weren’t planning on using an orchestra at first. When you said chorus, did mean more along the lines of having vocals, a song like that?
Sakurai: Until then, we had something where the visuals and the sound didn’t really match, but I wanted the visuals and the sound to match, and sound authoritative.
Sakai: What I’m about to say, I’m not trying to praise myself or anything. For me, before I’d hear opening songs written by famous composers, and they didn’t really feel quite right. I wasn’t sure if it was because they were famous people and busy, or because they weren’t really invested in video games.
Sakurai: I think it’s probably the latter. They aren’t as dedicated to it, or they don’t get into it fully. But I guess it’s pretty rare for the director to really be involved in so many different areas of the game, like I am.
involved in so many different areas of the game: the animation was handled by other companies, but Mr. Sakurai directed and storyboarded the opening movie.
Ikegami: For you, the problem might be getting into it too much.
Sakurai: I’m sorry! (laughs)
Sakai: I think that no matter how famous the composer was, you’d keep saying “Fix this! Fix it!” (laughs)
Ikegami: What I really like about your advice is that you make me do things that I’ve never done before in my work. For example, we had to do the final sound edit. Normally, someone who does sound editing for movies or animation would do that, but Mr. Sakurai said “it’s a song from a game, so a video game person should do the sound editing,” and it gave me a lot of confidence.
Sakurai: Working on it made my heart race. We were using a lot of money, and it was work that I had no experience in. But we were making something new, so not having any experience in it is kind of obvious. For some reason, every game I make is on new hardware. I wonder why? I guess it’s fine (laughs).
Sakai: But when we finished editing, you were so excited, saying talking about how you got to use corporate money to try new things…
Ikegami: If you can’t find small moments of enjoyment in your work, then you won’t be able to keep going.
Andou: But there’s a lot you can learn from watching sound editors for film or other areas. You can watch how they think, what areas they put their efforts into.
Ikegami: I think that people who work in games, oftentimes they seem to lack confidence. Like they’ve internalized this belief that “games are below movies.” But I think we should approach things in a more forward-thinking manner. We’ve passed the point where we can say “it’s only a game, so this is fine.” Nowadays, we’re competing with movies, or music.
Sakai: I remember talking to a sound effects artist, and he said to me “but video games are so far ahead!” And at the meeting for the orchestra, someone said to me “there aren’t a lot of jobs in TV or movies for orchestras right now. There’s probably more work in video games now.” So maybe video games have pulled ahead.
Andou: Well, it’s not really about who’s in first. It’s more, you watch a professional sound mixer at work, and it’s impressive, but I also think “in a video game, you would do that differently.” So people who are mixing an album are trying to make a different sound. That’s why it’s better to have people who work on games making the sound for games, I suppose.