VG Tribune

Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy Interview

January 9, 2012 / 5:51 PM

By: Matthew Williams

The exclusive interviews keep on coming! On top of interviewing Masashi Hamauzu (Composer behind Final Fantasy XIII), I was given the opportunity to also speak to Arnie Roth (Conductor behind the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy tour) and Susan Calloway (pop singer, most known for her work on the theme song to Final Fantasy XIV – Answers). Arnie and Susan both had much to say during the interview. My friends Adam Riddell and Elora Davis also were present during this interview, so their names are included throughout the dialogue.

The full interview can be read in its entirety by clicking the link below.

Stay tuned for more updates and the latest trends in the gaming industry. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter (@M_I_Williams) to chat more, VGTribuners!

Roth: It’s a bit of a challenge finding and designing the program so that it would be different, yet still doing all the classics that people always want to hear – it’s always a bit of a puzzle to construct these things. I don’t want to disappoint any of the fans, yet we want to do new things as well – I think fans want to hear that. For instance, this year we’re doing Dancing Mad here (Houston), which is very exciting – we don’t do that very often. There’s lots of other things – we’re doing a segment of Final Fantasy XIII, Items….Susan (Calloway) is singing Answers. She is actually the voice in Final Fantasy XIV of that piece, and so that is fantastic that we are able to do that here. We have the orchestra, the chorus, and Susan so we can do it! We don’t always have all the pieces together at each one of the concerts. There are lots of things we’re planning that are brand new…Clash on the Big Bridge, that’s another new arrangement…there’s just a whole list of things (chuckles).

Riddell: What’s your favorite?

Roth (Laughing): We get asked that question all the time, and it’s really tough. I can’t pick one…there are times where I think the small, intimate, beautifully structured piece is the one that means the most to me, like in Aerith’s Theme. There are other times where I can’t get enough of say…One Winged Angel. It’s too hard to choose that.

Riddell: Did you play all the games?

Roth: I have played a little bit of Final Fantasy VII. The thing is that I have found over the years…not only with Distant Worlds, but with Play (a video game symphony) – in conducting all these video game concerts…I always find it much more efficient and useful and I learn more working directly with the composers. Getting their audio tracks that they worked on…they will send me formative scores that…just showing me different ways that it can be used before I write a new arrangement of it or before we do it live. Working for Koji KondoAkira YamaokaMartin O’Donnell,Jason Hayes…whatever it might be, this is much more efficient for me, rather than you know how many hours you have to play the game in order to get to some of those music themes. This is much better use of my time, and I can prepare better and most of the time, you have to understand that these composers, when they wrote the original themes, it had to be cut up into all kinds of different 30 and 45 second loops. They often times didn’t write the full, complete opus right off the bat…they might have written just one melody and various points, and then put this thing together as a four minute or five minute piece. It existed in different fragments and pieces…and trying to make it one cohesive whole can be difficult and challenging. Working with the composers directly is the best way to accomplish that, I think.

Williams: Awesome! Now, you all mention that you work with other various video game concerts and orchestral music. Have you all had a chance to work with Tommy Talarico for Video Games Live…Susan, have you sang in any pieces there?

Calloway (Laughing): No, I am pretty exclusive to this game.

Roth: No, as a matter of fact, I actually helped Tommy and Jack get the very first Video Games Live performance generated/created in Los Angeles at Hollywood Hall. So I was actually out there for it and helped them with that. But no, I am not involved with that at all – just helping and assembling scores/putting things together for them. The reality is that Video Games Live is a different animal than Distant Worlds. We are a totally, 100% live concert experience. Video Games Live will often times perform at various places with just 20 musicians, maybe like 6 singers and is playing a lot of synchronized tracks out to people. I think it’s great and there is a place for all this stuff…I think there is a place for Video Games Live, and a place forDistant Worlds, and a place for everything else. But, we’re (Distant Worlds) not trying to be something else. I can’t perform Distant Worlds with 25 or 30 musicians – it’s not possible. These scores don’t permit that – we would have to rewrite all the scores down to something else. There’s no backing tracks – this is totally live concert experience. I think (Video Games Live) having battle scenes on stage and all kinds of other things…it’s all great stuff. But it’s just not what this (Distant Worlds) is.

I think that the Final Fantasy fans are perhaps a little bit different as my experience. They are unbelievably into the music of the game compared to other video game series. There’s great main themes for HaloWorld of WarcraftKingdom HeartsZeldaMario…I love playing all of them. But the reality is most of them there is one single theme (that’re popular). With Final Fantasy…I couldn’t possibly conduct all the music ofFinal Fantasy in a WEEK if I did a different concert every night. Hundreds of thousands of hours of different scores…and we’re still adding scores! Literally every month, we’re adding – tonight in Houston we’re playing Dancing Mad – the complete (pipe organ and chorus). We don’t do it that often. There has to be the right elements on this. As I said we’re doing Answers from Final Fantasy XIV…We’re doing a lot of the songs because we have Susan here. That’s another aspect of Uematsu’s book of scores here that he likes to do these orchestrated songs for closing credits or main titles…so we’re able to do more of them. Suteki Da NeMelodies of LifeKiss Me Goodbye – we have the real deal here with Susan Calloway and we don’t always have that. So when she’s here, I am able to program that…and that makes this concert a lot different from last year in Houston. I could go on…but the point is that we have 2 or 3 different nights worth of material where if we didn’t repeat anything, we still that amount of material and we can still keep going. It’s an endless book (Final Fantasy). AND next December 2012 is 25 years, that’s the anniversary!

Williams: I am looking forward to that series!

Roth (Laughing): Well, let me know if you come up with an idea for me for the 25th anniversary concert…because I’m still searching for what would be appropriate for that. They’re (Square Enix) going to be out at our LA concert and Susan is going to be there by the way…September 9th and 10th.

Williams: I’ll make a trip out there.

Roth: And I have some very exciting news about Los Angeles…I don’t why I’m telling you this (laughs). I wasn’t going to announce this until Monday…but it’s too late and I’m going to say it. And you’re the FIRST to here this. It’s breaking news, but…

Riddell (Laughing): Should I turn this off (the camera).

Roth (Laughing): No it’s ok. We have a special guest coming to LA – THE Sakaguchi (Hironobu Sakaguchi) will be there. He’s only been to oneFinal Fantasy concert, and that was our concert in May…in Krakow. All of a sudden I got an email saying we was coming to LA. There will be a big announcement on Monday…so you just got the scoop now.

Williams: Well thank you for sharing that – I’m very excited. So you all have been involved with the gaming industry for a while. Susan, I know that you  have done a lot of work with movie and TV shows. Your music has appeared in One Tree Hill. How did you get involved with Distant Worlds – How did you meet Arnie, Nobuo, etc.?

Calloway (Laughing): Oh, I was just at a grocery store one day…

Williams (Laughing): I wish it were that easy!

Calloway: I knew Arnie because I did a lot of session work up in Chicago and we met that way. I know that he was working on an audio CD and he hired me for that. We had worked together on some other things that were unrelated to gaming.

Roth: I thought she was exactly the right voice for those pieces we were recording. That was Distant Worlds IMemora De La Stona

Calloway: Was it just that one (song)?

Roth: Just that one. Then on Distant Worlds II…but that’s where it started.

Calloway: Yea, that’s where it started it and it was going well. I came (performed) to a couple of live shows and the fans seemed to like what I was bringing to it which was nice. They could have been like…’No, Calloway get rid of her!’ (chuckles). But they seemed to be alright with that…it’s been an evolution. Then Nobuo liked my voice and he asked me to work on Final Fantasy’s Answers (the theme song for FF XIV). That was the first time I actually sang in a game – I was really honored that he wanted to include me in that.

Williams: How did that conversation come about – did he just contact you?

Calloway: Well it was all through Arnie, since it is through his company. But I was flattered that he wanted me to sing that piece, because that’s like being a part of history at that point. You’re ‘in the game’ (chuckles).

Roth: That is a part of Nobuo – he actually has a place where he likes to go with pop music and he’s always told me many times that he finds it difficult to find the right kind of pop voice in Japan often for a lot of these songs. Angela Aki is one example of a person that was the right voice forKiss Me GoodbyeEyes On Me, etc. When I introduced him (Nobuo) to Susan within our first recording, he loved the voice right away, which eventually it led to recording Answers.

Calloway: Right, it took time. As it (time) evolved, you do one thing and you try other things afterwards. So it’s been great – it’s been a real pleasure to be involved with these guys. Arnie is amazing and so is Nobuo. They’re both really talented, and working with the live orchestra has been amazing. It’s been very different that my own pop music. But it’s great– good music is good music.

About the author /

Matthew, a graduate from Texas Christian University, now works as a Senior Digital Analytics Consultant for Ernst & Young. With a passion for video games (mostly retro and survival horror) and data, Matthew is pursuing a career in game analytics.

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