[Continuing his 'Sound Current' series for GameSetWatch, Jeriaska catches up with the director of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu's Dog Ear Records label to discuss the company's diverse set of video game and related soundtracks, from piano versions of game music classics through spinoff projects and solo albums.]

Currently on shelves in record stores in Japan, Dog Ear Records' two most recent releases are Nobuo Uematsu's Ten Short Stories and Pia-Com I, short for "Piano Meets Computer Games."

Performed by Keita Egusa, Pia-Com I marks the first installment of a series of solo piano albums. The collection arranges individual tracks from Final Fantasy II, Mappy, Elevator Action and Mother (the Famicom predecessor to Earthbound).

Hiroki Ogawa, director of Dog Ear Records, has been involved in planning recordings for Final Fantasy XIV, the animated series Guin Saga, and orchestral arrangements of Final Fantasy found on the album CELLYTHM: Those Who Distorted. In this interview coinciding with the release of Nobuo Uematsu's Ten Short Stories in Japan, Ogawa and Egusa offer their perspectives on the making of Dog Ear Records albums.

Ogawa-san, in your work at Dog Ear Records, what kind of jobs do you oversee?

To put it simply, I handle whatever work is not taken by Uematsu-san and Matsushita-san. As director, I am managing CD design, along with the production of game soundtracks. Those are the kinds of roles I'm serving in.

On August 2, Famitsu presented Press Start, a concert of live videogame music. For the encore performance, "To Zanarkand" from Final Fantasy X was performed by Egusa-san. Did you have the chance to see it?

Yes, I did. Dog Ear Records has released a CD by Egusa-san, and so we have worked together closely. However, his performing with the orchestra then was not something we planned for in any way. I was surprised to see him at the piano and to hear that he would play "To Zanarkand." As someone who has worked with Uematsu-san, it was a total surprise when I heard. I asked someone to cover for me at the booth. The hall was so large and the sound so moving... I was very glad to hear it.

On the Dog Ear Records homepage it's been announced that Uematsu will be composing for Final Fantasy XIV. Can you tell us more about his involvement in the highly anticipated MMORPG?

Hiroki Ogawa: There's a lot I can't say at the moment. Square Enix is planning announcements. The last time Uematsu was composing for the series, in terms of writing all the music himself, I had not yet started working in this field. I was familiar with the soundtracks as a player. Now to be involved as a member of the staff, it's a source of tremendous satisfaction. At the same time I feel the pressures of being responsible for working on a series with a long and involved history.

A lot of people are excited about Final Fantasy XIV and Uematsu's involvement as composer. Do you feel pressure to meet their expectations?

Yes, I would say that is accurate. The pressure on me is nothing compared with Uematsu. I observe he's pouring his feelings into it as he works on each of the songs for the game. Of course he's barreling ahead with the score, but not without thinking deeply about each song.

Similar races inhabit the world of Final Fantasy XIV when compared with Final Fantasy XI, though their names have changed slightly. In working on the musical themes for the game, will there be a conscious connection to Final Fantasy XI?

In truth, only Uematsu knows for sure. In terms of what I observe in recording sessions the concern is for creating something altogether new. In listening to Uematsu's previous scores there's always some new element that emerges. I think there will be surprises in the main theme and also in the storyline. Naturally there will be novel components, but that's what everyone expects from Uematsu on a Final Fantasy series installment.

Recently the animated television series Guin Saga has featured a soundtrack composed by Uematsu. In terms of Dog Ear Records' involvement, how did you contribute to the soundtrack album?

Once the music for the series had been completed, a CD soundtrack was released by Aniplex Records, who published the albums for Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Aniplex was the publisher and Dog Ear Records was responsible for the overall production.

In approaching the sound of Guin Saga, were there any features you wished to emphasize?

Yes, well this is only my personal impression, but the world of Guin Saga is vast. The use of the orchestra is meant to underscore this. There are also sampled instruments on the score and making those two work together naturally was arranger Narita-san's job. We were working on the mixing tirelessly, not even stopping for New Years'.

The most recent release from Dog Ear Records is Nobuo Uematsu's Ten Short Stories, which includes a song that the composer began writing many years ago. Would you please tell us a little about it?

This song originated when Uematsu was in Junior High, and was the first he ever composed. Only two verses were written at that time, and he's completing it at fifty. That was the idea behind the entire project. Seeing as other songs are in the works, we are considering an English-language version. The track will be available online overseas, and we would like people to understand the lyrics.

The first song ever composed by Uematsu-san will be released at 50?

Yes, that's right. We have until March 20 to finish before he turns 51, and plans are for ten songs total.


Dog Ear Records video interview (Part One of Two)

Egusa-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion on the subject of your recent music release. Dog Ear Records has previously published your solo album KALAYCILAR. How would you describe Ogawa-san's role in this process?

There's a short answer and a long answer to that question, but let me explain it to you in some detail. Many of the ideas that went into the title track of KALAYCILAR were in my mind around the time that I first heard Bela Bartok's "Microcosmos" in college. I actually remember thinking at the time that this would make for some great game music. That led me to seek out a lot of folk songs originating from Bartok's birthplace of Hungary, just to get a better sense of their motifs. I thought that one of these days I would try arranging one of these folk songs in my own style.

In 2000, I joined a band performing Turkish and Arabic music. There I encountered a Turkish folk song called "Kalaycilar." We were performing in a very standard Turkish style, but having been reminded of my experience listening to Bartok's "Microcosmos," I went ahead and wrote an arrangement for the band that was reflective of my memories from college. Those are the origins of the album KALAYCILAR.

This Turkish folk song is performed at auspicious events, like wedding ceremonies. I had the opportunity to play this piece at Ogawa-san's wedding, and he fell in love with it. Uematsu-san had the chance to hear the recording, and that's how it was decided that this would be released on the Dog Ear Records label.

It became necessary during the course of releasing the album that two further tracks be recorded. For that reason, I arranged a Moroccan folk song called "Aisha." It's become a favorite of Ogawa-san's as well. In addition to this, after considering a number of prospects, I decided on adding a more popular selection, an arrangement of "Simoon" by the Yellow Magic Orchestra. It turned out to be a remarkably smooth process with few complications.

Earlier this year you performed on the piano at the Press Start Symphony of Games Concert, which we reported on for several articles on this website. What was your experience playing famous themes from videogames together with the Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra?

It was an extremely exciting experience. The skills of multiple arrangers were vying for the attention of the audience, while the source material has a deep meaning to so many who play videogames. The choice of songs on the set list and their presentation amounted to the highest form of fan service you can imagine.

I think you can't help but feel a sense of whimsy in hearing a musical performance comprised of songs originating on computers, involving none other than a full orchestra. It was a lot of fun. It's the kind of event that I think is not only interesting to those immersed in the culture of games, but even those who feel a bit alienated by it. It's just an immensely enjoyable concert by any standards.

Your father performed on the soundtrack to Anata wo Yurusanai for the PSP. Are games something that the two of you are able to enjoy together?

My father belongs to a generation that primarily missed out on the joys of videogames -- (he's 70). When I was a kid we played board games together... primarily shogi, Othello and baseball pinball. This might be stretching the meaning of "gaming," but if there was anyone who taught me how to enjoy its pleasures in the larger sense, it was my father.

Pia-com is an album that takes a variety of classic game themes and arranges them for the piano. When you were younger, did you ever experiment with performing such arrangements?

I certainly did! I was in elementary school when Space Invaders became all the rage. In music class during the break I would sneak over to a piano in the corner and play music from the game for my classmates. This was how I discovered that performing music for others could be a source of enjoyment, and that set me on the course toward my present-day occupation.

How did you go about choosing the track list?

Mappy is one that I've had the chance to perform live previously on several occasions. When the concept for this album first came under discussion at Dog Ear Records, this was one of the tracks whose background music I sent in as a demo. As soon as they heard it they said, "This is it!" Also, a cover of "Snowman" was one of the candidates I was considering for KALAYCILAR. That was the result of taking a look at "Eight Melodies" from Mother, which was requested by director Ogawa-san.

At Press Start you played "To Zanarkand," which is Uematsu's opening theme from Final Fantasy X. You're also arranging one of his tracks from Final Fantasy II for Pia-Com. How would you describe the experience of working with the composer?

The moment I begin to play any music by Uematsu, I immediately am given a very particular sense of that world, a mysterious sensation. I've also performed at the Distant Worlds concert and it's given me the chance to become familiar with a number of his songs. The rendition of "To Zanarkand" that took place at Press Start was not my arrangement, but it did involve a lengthy piano solo at the outset. You could say there's a certain pressure involved in playing solo in a sold out concert, but it was a great relief to hear that I lived up to the audience's expectations.


Dog Ear Records video interview (Part 2 of 2)

[This article is available in Japanese on Game Design Current. It can be read in French in two parts on Squaremusic: [ Part One ] [Part Two]. Cellythm, Pia-Com I and Nobuo Uematsu's Ten Short Stories can be imported from Amazon.co.jp. Interview conducted by Miyu and Jeriaska. Images courtesy of Dog Ear Records. Photos by Jeriaska.]