Nobuo Uematsu

from freelance to Square

When I started out, I did music for commercials, porn movies… I would take any work that came my way. At that time I was living near Square, and an acquaintance of mine worked in the planning department. One day he came to me and said there’s this game Square is going to put out that has the sheet music, but the sound hasn’t been recorded yet. He asked me to do it, and that was how my association with Square began. After awhile Sakaguchi asked me, “Want a job?” to which I replied, “Yes!”, and so I had officially joined Square.

of loops and channels

There’s many differences between game music and other music. For example, in game music you have a limited number of voices. Right now the Super Famicom has 8 channels, but the Famicom could only use 3. And with only those 8 channels on the SFC you’ve got to create a whole world of sounds, from delicate harps to full-on orchestral sounds. That’s the biggest bottleneck.

Another issue is that different players spend a different amount of time on a given section of the game. How long will they spend in a town? How long will battles take? So on and so forth… so it isn’t like movies, where you have a predetermined amount of time to work within, from the opening to the ending credits. With video games your only recourse is to compose with loops (melodies that repeat over and over). Writing such loops isn’t difficult. But deciding on their length is challenging.

For example, say you start with an 8 bar melody. But its too short, and you haven’t expressed what you wanted to. So you add another 8 bars. Well, if you’ve gone that far, why not extend it another 8 bars? So you end up with a 24 bar melody, but now its too long, and the player has left the town before the song has ended. (laughs) There’s so many different restrictions to consider, but its also true that there’s a distinct enjoyment to be found from working within those limitations.

There’s rhythm and there’s melody, and I too really love composing writing rhythms. But when I write game music I put a heavy emphasis on melody. There’s body and soul: rhythm only reaches the body, it cannot penetrate the soul. Melodies, however, do reach one’s soul.

“the world of music”

With music, when I can’t write its utter and complete writers block. But when I can write, music comes to me with a mysterious ease. When I enter this “work mode,” songs just come out one after the other. It’s such a flood of inspiration that I may not have time to write them all down… I’ve written 20 songs in 3 weeks before.

It’s as if there’s a “world of music” that exists, and a pipeline is suddenly connected between it and me. When I listen later to the things I wrote during such periods, they always sound good to me. During that time even someone like me becomes a genius, but just as suddenly it will stop. When that happens, there’s nothing I can do. I can only wait. (laughs)

I think its important to hold on to your interests and curiosity in this world, no matter what you do. When I was in elementary school I wanted to be an Olympic athelete and I practiced Kendou… my life took a major detour from that dream, but it wasn’t a waste. People can become what they want to be. So long as you don’t give up, things will turn out OK.