Otakon 2011: Uematsu Nobuo panel

Nobuo Uematsu is one of the most celebrated composers in the video game field. He has achieved global recognition for his work on the FINAL FANTASY series that has been performed by world-class orchestras around the world. Nobuo Uematsu has been recognized as a major contributor in the increasing appreciation and awareness of video game music. A prime example is the FINAL FANTASY VIII theme song, “Eyes on Me, composed and produced by him. His song featured Hong Kong pop star Faye Wong and sold a record 400,000 copies. It also won “Song of the Year (Western Music)” at the 14th Annual Japan Gold Disc Awards in 1999, which was the first time in history that music from a video game had attained this illustrious honor. The music from the game series has grown to such notoriety, Nobuo Uematsu was named as one of the “Innovators” in Time Magazine’s Time 100: the Next Wave Music feature.

Mr Uematsu appears by special arrangement with Distant Worlds and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.~Otakon guest info

Arnie Roth, the conductor for Distant Worlds was also in attendence. He appeared next to Uematsu Nobuo and introduced him to the cheers of the crowds.

    Roth: Welcome! I’m Arnie Roth and I have someone special sitting next to me here, Nobuo Uematsu! We’re in town of course to see you first and foremost. And we have a concert tomorrow night with the Baltimore Symphony at the Meyerhoff for all the music for Final Fantasy from all versions of Final Fantasy will be played all night. We would love to see all of you there.

Those who asked ‘good questions’ will be given tickets for Uemtasu-san’s autograph line (which cost $20 for Tohaku charity.) Due to the length of the line that is forming even during this panel, the audience was forewarned that there might not be a chance for autographs beyond the ticket holders and those already on line now. As such, chaos occurred when they announced the Q&A line. When things finally settled down, the Q&A began. Even with Roth in attendance, this was an Uematsu panel and he answered all questions…sometimes understanding the question even before the interpreter spoke.

    Q: Concerning your project, ‘Earthbound Papas’, the CD is being released this year. Are there more plans for future cd releases for that project?
    A: The second CD will be out next spring in 2012 and I hope that this project will also do music for a video game.

    Q: You’re doing a concert here tomorrow as well as concert in Los Angeles. What is it like touring the US and how is it different then performing in Japan?
    A: Since I’m Japanese, I have a general grip of what kind of reaction I can expect from a Japanese audience so I’m always nervous about how an American audience will react to Final Fantasy music. But I’m always happy to see the audience enjoy the concert. I’m happy about it.

    Q: Other than ‘Earthbound Papas’, do you have any projects currently in the works or ideas floating in your head for new cds?
    A: This is an inspiration that I just got yesterday. I love doing orchestra and rock bands are great too but live performance requires alot of logistics. So what can I do to do a one-man-gig? Well, I can do karaoke. So if I can have a background band preprogramed, I can play keyboard to that and do a small gig. I will do that within a year in Japan.

    Q: Thank you for being such an inspiration that video game music is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a genre. Out of the songs that you have composed, which one is the most meaningful to you?
    A: All my pieces are my creation, my children, I can’t play favorites, I love them all.

    Q: How has composing music changed from the 8bit era to today?
    A: In terms of composing the melody and the harmony, it’s still the same effort. But what’s different is that you can use different instruments and you can use studio recordings and put that directly into the game. Things are actually easier today.

    Q: What is your favorite video game soundtrack outside of Square Enix which is not your work and why?
    A: The Professor Layton series, is it available? *audience resounds with a ‘Yes!* I very much love the music from the Professor Layton series.

    Q: Do you have a favorite beer in the US?
    A: Samuel Adams. *audience cheers*

    Q: Have you ever wanted to do anything else besides music? Did you ever had a second goal before becoming a composer?
    A: I wanted to become a pro wrestler. *audience cheers*

    Q: Did you ever expect that your video game music would expand into Distant Worlds and the Black Mages? Do you have anything else planned for the future?
    A: I never thought that video game music would take off like this. I still feel like I’m in a dream that I’m here in front of everyone. But if I could forecast what is going on in the video game industry, I would a rich man.

    Q: Have you ever cosplayed?
    A: I never cosplayed, but in the Black Mages rock band, I have wore the Black Mages outfit. *audience cheers*

    Q: Which do you like? Coke or Pepsi?
    A: Both.

    Q: Listening to your music throughout the years for Final Fantasy, what drew me to it was how it drew an emotional response from me. What kind of music draws an emotional response for you? Video game or otherwise?
    A: That would be film scores from old European movies. Those would be my favorite.

    Q: *began with a list of games Uematsu-san have scored* What was the whole thought process with the Chrono series? How did you feel working on them?
    A: The main composer for the Chrono series was Yasunori Mitsuda, but he worked too hard and collapsed so I was called in as a relief aid. So most of the music is actually his, I just helped out a bit. True story. *audience laughs*

    Q: All the music you write, the music you compose take everybody on a journey. When you’re composing, do you write, more for the ideas of the story itself, or do you write for the characters and bring them to life?
    A: Which one? *pauses in thought* Both.

    Q: Outside of video games, have there been any new and upcoming composers for movies or making cds for their own that you have been impressed or inspired by?
    A: I haven’t had the chance to listen to comtempory music too much. I have been listening to alot of older jazz and classical music. The only contemporary music that I listen to recently was Lady Gaga. *audience laughs*

    Q: As a Gamestop manager, I have seen the last few years that people have gone from Final Fantasy where everything was about the music, gameplay and story to games like Call of Duty. What do you want to say to the fans who still see the finer things in games, they still go and listen for the soundtrack and follow the story?
    A: It’s very difficult to have a grasp of what’s popular in contemporary times, but I say that it’s not healthy to insist on something to be always the same. You need change and in a culture that doesn’t change is only destined for extinction. So you need to keep up with the times and go along with them.

It may not be something that the fans of Final Fantasy want to hear, but it’s an interesting piece of truth. Also, the comment of people who play RPGs turning to first person shooters is a strange one, especially coming from a Gamestop manager. There is a rare mixture of those who play both strategy games and RPGs, but the assumption that fans have forego the RPG genre for shooters is an exaggeration. But I have digressed from the Q&A….

    Q: How long does it normally take to make one piece of music?
    A: It depends on the piece, but if it is a short one, I have done 50 min. for one piece. Sometimes, it can take as long as a week.

    Q: Who is your favorite musician or composer?
    A: I have lots. For rock music, its an ordinary answer, but the Beatles is always wonderful. As for classical composers, I bring up Tchaikovsky.

    Q: Why didn’t you end up following your dream of becoming a wrestler? You look like a man of strong physique.
    A: Well, I’m small. Maybe if I imigrated to Mexico. *audience applauds*

    Q: As many songs you have written over the years, I have been curious, prior to the development of different Final Fantasy games, were there any songs that you already written that you thought it would be perfect to fit into the game?
    A: *immediately* Mmmm…no.

    Q: Out of all the games you composed for, did you play any of them? Which one was your favorite?
    A: I played all the video games that I worked on. I’m fond of all of them, but if I were to come up with a favorite, I have the toughest time with Final Fantasy VI so I guess *audience cheers drowning out rest of answer*

    Q: What inspires you to keep going, to keep making music that millions of fans around the world just love?
    A: It’s hard to describe. Perhaps I’m thinking to myself, that even if I come with something that I think is great, somewhere I think that I can do even better and that’s probably what keeps me going.

    Q: When you recreate some of your songs, ‘Battle on the Big Bridge’ in Final Fantasy XII as well as many others, is that more or less challenging for you?
    A: Its fun work, but its just not me. When the works are done, there is another who does the arrangements. They put their own input in so it’s not a stale as a one-person job. It enhances the works so that’s good.

    Q: Out of all the works that you compose, which one you would say was the most difficult or the most tedious or the most time consuming to come up with?
    A: The most difficult and time consuing was ‘One Wing Angel’. *audience applauds* Not tedious though. There wasn’t a piece that was tedious to compose.

    Q: Considering the variety of natures of mediums and arrangements that you have played and composed, which was your favorite of arrangements or medium to use? The style as a soloist or a full orchestra?
    A: They’re all fun. They all come in different flavors.

    Q: Of the music you composed for Final Fantasy, has there been any piece that caught you off guard or surprised you in the amount of popularity it gained over others?
    A: *thinks in silence* Chocobo. *audience laughs*

    Q: Any upcoming projects with the Black Mages? Any chance of a possible US tour?
    A: The Black Mages is no longer active. Two of the members have left and we are now, Earthbound Papas since Square Enix owns the name to Black Mages so we can’t use it. So please support ‘Earthbound Papas’.

    Q: Can you remember the first piece you ever wrote? Do you have an opinion on Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts?
    A: I can’t answer your second question since I’m not familiar with the bands, but I do remember the first piece I composed. It’s included in the cd that I released March of last year, 2010. It’s a collection of children music. I included the piece that I composed when I was 10 years old. *audience awwws*

    Q: You mentioned earlier that you played a few Final Fantasy games. Do you have a favorite character?
    A: Since I wrote the character music for all of them, I have much fondness for them. There is one girl that dies almost immediately and that would Aerith.

    Q: Since we’re in Maryland, do you like crabs?
    A: Ah…yes, I do like them! *audience applauds*

    Q: What is your inspiration for the music of Final Fantasy VII, especially the main theme song?
    A: I was coming up with the Japanese notion of what kind of boonie town America would have. What kind of music would go along with a boonie town in America and that’s what I came up with.

    Q: When you work with different musical arrangers like in The Last Story, do you get to choose who arranges it? Or does the publisher chooses?
    A: I choose them.

Next came the most epic suggestion of this epic panel….

    Q: Can you whistle the Final Fantasy fanfare for us? *audience applauds*

Uematsu-san obliges and whistles perfectly to the cheers of the crowds. This will be the ultimate ringtone for all Final Fantasy fans.

    Q: How exactly did you start your career in music? Was there anything that particularly motivated music?
    A: I always loved music and wanted the career in the music field even if it they weren’t for me. So that was my motivation. My first job was a soundtrack for a porn film. *audience laughs*

    Q: Over the course of the games you composed music for, you pretty much covered the entire spectrum of different musical genres. Do you have favorite type of music you like writing and one you like listening to?
    A: I love progressive rock because you put any genre of music into it.

    Q: If you were a superhero, what would be your superhero power?
    A: *thinks so hard that the placed his hands on his head to the laughter of the fans* So many…just one? To never grow old.

That being the last question, everyone gave Uematsu-san a standing ovation.