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Interview with Kingdom Hearts composer Yoko Shimomura
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We announced back in April that Square-Enix had released drammatica, an unprecedented orchestral “best of” album featuring the works of composer Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts, Seiken Densetsu series).  As promised, we have arranged an interview with Yoko Shimomura regarding the project, and have gleaned some enlightening insights as to how the project came about and Shimomura-san’s feelings about orchestral music in general.  We also discuss music creation on the PlayStation 3 and the camaraderie that exists among game music composers in Japan, so join us for this exciting interview with renowned composer Yoko Shimomura.

M4G: drammatica is a collection of your compositions from various games arranged, performed, and recorded by an orchestra.  This is a massive, unprecedented project, so please tell us some background information about how it came to be.
Yoko Shimomura: The notion came up of doing a project that put the spotlight on a composer, as the majority of soundtracks are based on game titles, and at that moment, I myself just happened to be wanting to do some kind of commemorative project.  So, I received the proposal to do a 20th anniversary best album.

M4G: What went into the song selection process?  As a huge fan of your work on Legend of Mana, I was happy to see a quarter of the tracks devoted to it, but what thought went into choosing each song and the proportion devoted to each title?
Yoko Shimomura: Legend of Mana is a title that, I am very pleased to say, continues to receive a lot positive feedback even today, despite being a nearly 10 year old work.  With it also having so many songs musically well-suited for orchestration, it received a hefty four tracks.  As for the thought process that went into the song selection, I wrote this in the album liner notes:

1. Songs that seem to be, and to which I am extremely honored, popular among game players
2. Songs that are well-suited for orchestration
3. Songs that I, myself, wanted to hear performed by a live orchestra (songs that haven't been performed live before)

I narrowed them down based on these three criteria.  Due to various circumstances, there were some titles that unfortunately had be left out of the recording process.  Furthermore, because this is a Square-Enix produced album, it only includes music from my Square ~ Square-Enix era.

M4G: Tell us about the recording process.  Was this your first time working with an orchestra?  How much input did you have both in creating the arrangements and in guiding the orchestra on recording days?
Yoko Shimomura: I've worked with an orchestra a number of times in the past.  The Kingdom Hearts Staff Roll, for example, was performed by an orchestra and recorded in a hall similar to this one.
As for the production process, basically, I carried out the arrangement in my own production environment and handed the data over to Kameoka-san, the orchestrator, who I then had create the orchestration, as well as the sheet music.  Therefore, the construction of the music and such was left completely as I had arranged it.  I was very meticulous with Kameoka-san, saying things like, "You are absolutely forbidden to change this part."  I'm a little worried she thought I was a nag. (laughs)  I also stood in on the recordings, naturally, and even made some very minute requests during the final mixing stages.

M4G: Having worked extensively with an orchestra on this album, how do you think drammatica has changed you as a composer?  Do you perhaps write music with the thought in mind that it may be performed some day?  Will you seek out projects in the future that give you the budget to work with an orchestra, or are you still satisfied with the current generation of consoles?
Yoko Shimomura: I have always been a fan of classical music, and I love orchestral music, so I don't think anything has changed for me as a composer with this project.  I am, however, extremely honored to have had my music performed by a such a spectacular orchestra.  If I think back to when I first started composing music for games, this would seem like a dream.  Therefore, and not to take anything for granted, I must humbly admit that I would love to write music that could be performed by an orchestra again some day. (laughs)

Concerning how I write music, I don't believe I compose with any particular consciousness that it might be performed by a live orchestra some day.  I want to make music that is genuinely appropriate for its particular place and time, so I wouldn't want to set limitations on myself by thinking, "This could very well be performed by an orchestra..."   Being able to work with a live orchestra is something I truly enjoy, but it doesn't mean I plan to seek out projects with a budget for doing so.  It's more like, if a project happens to have the budget to work with an orchestra and I am allowed to, then by all means, I'd be honored.  There are also times when I'm told, "We'd love to do a live recording of this song!"

The sound quality of current generation game hardware is pretty advanced, so it's ideal if we can utilize streaming.  However, in the case of internal sound chips and the Nintendo DS's sound source and such, that of course requires a lot of clever devising and manipulation.  This devising and manipulation can be fun at times too.

M4G: Has the release of drammatica made you consider a concert series of your own?
Yoko Shimomura: We have some fantastic sheet music created by the hand of our orchestrator, Kameoka-san, so if the opportunity were to arise, I would love to try doing a concert.  The impact of a live performance is quite different, and the reaction from the audience could be felt first hand.

M4G: You have participated on numerous arrangement albums over the years (Street Fighter Tribute Album, Rogue Galaxy Premium Arrange, etc.) that include arrangements by many of your colleagues in the game music industry.  Describe your experience working on these albums and the relationships that exist among game composers in Japan.  Do you feel that game composers in Japan get more respect than do game composers outside of Japan?
Yoko Shimomura: By going freelance and receiving the opportunity to participate in various jobs, I definitely feel I've been able to make a lot of new acquaintances and that the world has opened up for me.  Everyone is so much fun.  We get together for drinks and things unrelated to work.  But even though the world has opened up, it is a small world after all (laughs), and there are times when you'll unexpectedly meet a person and be like, "What?  Hey, let's have a drink sometime."  Then once you actually meet again it's like, "Well hey, let's work together sometime." 

In response to whether game composers in Japan get more respect than do game composers outside of Japan...that's a bit of a difficult question...  I think there exists a lot of excellent game music out there, whether it be in Japan or in other countries.

M4G: In closing, any thoughts on composing music for the PlayStation 3?
Yoko Shimomura: With the PlayStation 2, sound production was mainly based on the internal sound chip, not streaming, so it was a constant battle with memory and limitations, such as the number of sound channels.  With the PlayStation 3, I'm expecting to have it sound the way I please, without limitations.

M4G: Ms. Shimomura, thank you very much for your time.  We look forward to your future projects.
Yoko Shimomura: It was my pleasure!  I'll do my best in the future.  Thank you very much.

Official drammatica website:

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Music4Games Staff
Translated by Justin Pfeiffer.

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