An anime convention was held a couple weeks ago not far from where I live. While I admit cosplay/anime aren't taking up my time like the sweet sweet nectar of video games are, I stood in line for two hours to get a one-day pass for a Q&A panel with Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu is the composer of nearly all music in the Final Fantasy series, and a very popular composer of other games in the industry.
All of the conversation below is verbatim from Uematsu's translator.
The questions asked are written as exact to speech as possible without mentioning names given. Also, I've chosen to relay exactly as the translator spoke. Please notice that her words are spoken in third person for Uematsu.
Q: I was curious, what inspired you start composing music?
As kid he really really enjoyed music, and he knew he would be in some kind of music related field. Even if it wasn't composer if he was just a record store keeper it would have been fine.
Q: [Are] there any game series that you wanted to compose for but haven't?
What with different video games there are a lot of great composers, so probably not anything, he enjoys listening to the music and playing the game as it is.
Q What do you do when you get stuck with music? Is there anything in particular to get past that block?
So uh, he drinks, he goes to sleep.
Q Which of the Final Fantasy games is your favorite, both in terms of game and music?
So this is a question he gets asked a lot (in these kind of panels). It's a hard question for him to answer, since he likes all of them. But if he definitely had to pick one over everything else, it would be [Final Fantasy] 6.
Q What's your personal favorite project you've ever worked on?
He kind of likes doing whatever he's doing at that point. He's gonna be doing what he likes doing at that specific time, whether it's Final Fantasy or whether he was doing Black Mages, when he was doing it he enjoyed it. So it's hard to pick.
So depending on what he's doing, whether it's the Distant Worlds concert work he's not actually playing, he's kind of sitting on the side, or whether it's performing with his band and actually out there doing things, or when it's composing and he's sitting at home in his computer. Everything is kind of interesting and enjoyable in and of itself.
Q When you make music, what sources do you get before you actually start making music? Is the game mostly complete by the time, or do you have character descriptions, images, early on?
He kinda starts [...] at the beginning of the video game development. The story, the scenario, the art has been kind of decided already so he gets to see that and really take inspiration from that. But past that, the video game develops and he's kind of composing at the same time.
Q I was wondering what advice you had to give aspiring musicians and composers?
More than anything listen to a lot of music. It's kind of like a foreign language you're constantly learning new words and new ways to do things. Music is the same. So, just, you know, whether it's jazz, whether it's classical, just listen to a lot of it.
Q You have one of the most interesting uses of half steps ever in music. I'd just like to know when and how you discovered that use of that element?
He says you're always wanting to use different things as you're composing music, some things just start to sound the same. So he's trying to do different things, strange things with his music, that's one of the things that he likes.
Q When you start a new piece, what is it that you first think about? Do you think about... the setting, or are you thinking about chord structure? What is it that you start with with a new piece?
Typically he starts by reading the scenario and the story behind whatever he's going to start composing. Especially in times where he doesn't have much time to do it he actually reads a scenario and at the same time is thinking about how the music is going to go kind of in parallel.
Of course when he's composing it's something that you can't really force at the same time. He's sitting there and he's really trying to make himself do it but sometimes it just doesn't happen. So that instinct is to shut his computer, turn it all off, going out drinking, come back, and go again.
So there was one time when he was sitting there and trying really really hard to compose a song and make something but no matter what he did it just wasn't happening. So what he did was shut off everything and went to go take a bath. So he goes into the bath, takes off all his clothes, and he's completely ready to go in, then he got it. So he turned back and made the song happen.
So if you're ever composing music and reach a stopping point, get naked.
Q What are some of inspirations or favorite composers or artists? (It doesn't have to necessarily be from another video game.) Anyone, anything?
So he's saying if he tried to list them all now he'd still be talking tomorrow. But you know if he had to pick something he grew up in the 70s, he's really influenced by that generation of music. Particularly The Beatles, pop, jazz and rock classic and everything as well as Elton John and Stevie Wonder.
In the follow-up article, find out how Uematsu feels about the changing systems in regards to music, about animals, growing up in the 70s and which of his pieces of music he's most proud of.