[Now that Final Fantasy music supremo Nobuo Uematsu has a Japanese record label, Dog Ear Records, GameSetWatch contributor Jeriaska catches up with label boss HIroki Ogawa to discuss cello quartet Final Fantasy remixes, Uematu's plans, and more.]

Hiroki Ogawa is the director of Dog Ear Records, the record label founded by Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu. Updating the company’s DERBLOG weblog in both English and Japanese under the pseudonym "Wappa," he has participated in the organization of live performances of the music of Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon and The Black Mages.

Dog Ear Records has sought to foster familiarity between listeners and musicians by organizing music events in the Tokyo area. The second edition of their performance and meet-and-greet event, called Shinzoku Kaigi, took place recently and included the appearance of CELLYTHM.

A quartet of cellists, the group performs impassioned arrangements of Final Fantasy tunes such as Gilgamesh’s character theme “Battle on the Big Bridge” and “Those Who Fight Further” from Final Fantasy VII - samples of the music are available on their official website in WMA form.

In addition to publishing an album of music by CELLYTHM, Dog Ear Records released an EP this month on iTunes worldwide from Uematsu’s new project “NOBIYO Uematsu and the Dog Ears.” Ogawa is currently working together with Aniplex Records on preparing the soundtrack for the animated series Guin Saga, featuring over fifty original themes by Uematsu.

In this interview, Ogawa discusses the company’s new music projects, their current foray into the territory of televised animation and their album of cello-remixed videogame songs:

Among the projects by Dog Ear Records, a DVD of The Black Mages' Darkness and Starlight concert has gone on sale recently in Japan. What were some of the major challenges organizing the rock concert?

Hiroki Ogawa, Director of Dog Ear Records: For the concert, music from the opera scene from Final Fantasy VI was included. There were some twenty actors on stage, which was very unusual. Previously there were just the Mages in front of the audience. We could only rehearse in a small studio with everyone packed together, so the day of the concert was the first time everyone was on stage together.

The opera went successfully, despite these challenges. You can tell by watching the encore "Neo EXDEATH" that the musicians were really pumped to pull it off.

The DVD is all-regions, making it easy to import. Are there any plans on distributing the the product outside of Japan?

I'm not certain about the DVD, but I would like to discuss it. I’m always asked about it when I visit other countries for the Distant Worlds tour.

What are some of the primary differences you would point to between concerts like "The Black Mages: Darkness and Starlight" and the Shinzoku Kaigi events?

The Black Mages concerts keep to tight schedules and the audience's attention is fixed on what is happening on stage. The Shinzoku Kaigi events have a warmer atmosphere. For this reason, we allow for not keeping to the schedule: the event was planned for two hours, but went nearly thirty minutes over.

The feeling of these gatherings changes depending on the audience, and that’s the whole point of organizing them. It allows for the opportunity to communicate with the audience directly, going as far as lining up and shaking hands afterward.

The term Shinzoku Kaigi suggests a kind of family gathering. How would you describe the motivations underlying the event series?

The first Shinzoku Kaigi was held in November of last year in Daikanyama, [a district of the ward of Shibuya, Tokyo]. The concert hall's capacity seated about one hundred people, though this time around we were expecting 250 to show up at DUO in Shibuya.

The meeting serves as both a promotional event for the artists who have created music distributed by our label and as a memorable occasion for those who listen to the records. As far as participants, they included Suika Yonezawa, a vocalist whose music was debuted on iTunes. Also, Manami Kiyota is known for her participation on Final Fantasy Song Book Mahoroba.

Following these performances, CELLYTHM played. There was also a discussion led by Tsutomu Narita, an arranger on Guin Saga. At the end of the event, there was a presentation by Michio Okamiya and Kenichiro Fukui from The Black Mages.

The original soundtrack for Guin Saga is being prepared for a June 24 release. Is this a different kind of project for Dog Ear Records because it is an animated series?

Uematsu's music for Guin Saga has turned out very well. Of course the major difference between games and animation is that in the former the music loops. For example, in a game a song will start when you set foot inside a village, but the game creators have no control over when you leave the village, so the music is constructed to continue playing indefinitely. On the other hand, in anime, the production side has minute control over the timing. For this reason the fundamental process behind making music for games and anime is quite different.

How did it come about that Dog Ear Records partnered with Aniplex on the soundtrack album?

We received a request from [Henry] Goto at Aniplex, a producer of Guin Saga. He was already determined to find the perfect composer for the project and one day heard the battle theme from Lost Odyssey playing at the Aniplex office. He found out it was by "Nobuo Uematsu" of Final Fantasy and decided that this was the perfect sound for the project.

You write blog entries for the Dog Ear Records website under the name Wappa. Is there a general difference in the duties you conduct as Wappa and as Ogawa-san?

This is sort of meaningless information, but you know how in Japanese people like to put “ppa” and “cchi” at the end of nicknames? Well, at a previous job I became known as "Ogawappa." That's all there is to it.

I think I am known both as "Wappa" and "Ogawa." Maybe some people think they are two separate individuals. (laughs) Well, there’s a story behind this. Back when I first started work at the company, for organizational purposes we considered dividing the duties of taking customer calls from writing the company blog. I used two names for these two separate duties for the company. These days more people know me as "Wappa," and I'm hoping more people outside of Japan will come to know me as Wappa, too. (laughs)

You previously mentioned CELLYTHM. The cello is not normally associated with hard rock, but many of their pieces are adapted from The Black Mages. How was it determined that this quartet was right for hard rock arrangements of music from the Square Enix game series?

CELLYTHM began when we were considering the opening act for The Black Mages Darkness and Starlight concert. Ante [of Final Fantasy Remix] was already planning an appearance, but one additional group was required.

Uematsu had previously heard Apocalyptica, a Finnish heavy metal band that consists of three cellists and a drummer. He liked this sound and thereby got the idea of finding a cello ensemble. The composer loves the wide range of the cello and its similarities to the sound of the human voice. The idea was to find four women who could play rock material on cello, covering The Black Mages and some other 70's and 80's rock songs.

One of the main criteria was the ability to play aggressively to an extent many classically trained musicians might not be used to. Eventually we settled on one male and three female members of the group. In the opening act of The Black Mages concert they played three arranged songs from Final Fantasy.

Who was responsible for arranging the music from The Black Mages for the cello?

For the concert, all arrangement was done by CELLYTHM. For their album, Cellythm - Those Who Distorted, the arrangement was done by L.Gallardo of Anata wo Yurusanai, Narita of Guin Saga and Okamiya of The Black Mages.

Will the album be available on iTunes like many of Dog Ear Records' previous releases?

We have been discussing that as a possibility recently. It is always a priority of ours to distribute music outside of Japan.

What can you tell us about "NOBIYO" Uematsu and the Dog Ears, the future project currently on the horizon for Dog Ear Records?

This is a lighthearted album, which is currently set to include a composition with original lyrics that Uematsu wrote in junior high school. With work there is not always the opportunity to do exactly what you want to do, so for this project Uematsu is writing the music he wants to write.

The album is meant to be accessible to younger listeners, and the composer is following the style of his early composition for the entirety of the album. We are currently in the preparatory stage, but one track composed recently ["Here comes Conga Boy"] is completed and on iTunes.

This is 100% what Uematsu wants to do now. He has been writing videogame music for over twenty years, and this kind of project becomes especially meaningful after years of hard work, so I think he’s really enjoying this project in particular.

[Images courtesy of Aniplex Records and Dog Ear Records. This article is available in French on Squaremusic and in Italian on Gamesource.it. Translation by Ryojiro Sato. Photos by Jeriaska]