Noriyuki Iwadare Interview: An Incredible Year (January 2010)
Noriyuki Iwadare has had an incredible year. He has brought the Grandia and Lunar series into the modern age with two highly emotional scores. In addition, he has been extensively involved with game and concert development for the Phoenix Wright series. Away from the public eye, his work has also been featured in dating simulators, shooter arranged productions, original vocal albums, and endless independent productions.
Since Noriyuki Iwadare has been extensively interviewed in the past, we felt it would be best to focus on his recent works in this interview, specifically those spanning from Autumn 2008 to December 2009. He discusses all his recent productions in detail and offers an exclusive insight into the music of Grandia Online, Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star, and Gyakuten Kenji.
Interview Subject: Noriyuki Iwadare
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Translation & Localisation: Shota Nakama
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Noriyuki Iwadare, thank you for talking to us today. The past year has been a significant highlight in your career with many high-profile game projects and acclaimed musical scores. How does it feel to be at the centre of the industry once again? Are you happy that you are able to once again be involved in major series like Grandia and Lunar?
Noriyuki Iwadare: It is just happened to be the year of many releases of my work. My work pace has not changed much, and I don't really feel like I "returned" to the centre of the industry. However, I certainly feel like I was writing music every day last year.
Grandia and Lunar are very precious titles for me and I love them both. I was very happy to be involved in those franchises once again, and I thought I was given an opportunity to understand myself more.
Chris: After many delays, the MMORPG Grandia Online has finally been released. We'd be interested in you discussing the project in as much detail as you are prepared to. First of all, could you discuss your history on this project and at what point you wrote music for it? How did you adapt the tone of the score towards the online setting?
Noriyuki Iwadare: It took a while since the first announcement of the game, but I am glad that it finally came out. Among the main staff members, I was the only one who has worked with the series consistently since the original, so that is kind of how I got involved with the project.
Maybe the first piece I wrote for the game says 2005 on its info, so it has been over four years already. There are about 30 pieces we didn't use because the specifications of the game were modified so many times. If Grandia Online grows more, those might get heard eventually?
In terms of the writing process, players spend more time at the same places on online games. Thus I tried making pieces longer with more developments to avoid them being dull. In addition, I am always conscious about the "Grandia" sound when composing for the series.
Chris: Listeners are curious about how the technological freedom of today's consoles has influenced your approach for Grandia Online. What technology did you use to produce the score? Should we expect to hear streamed performances from orchestras and soloists?
Noriyuki Iwadare: I think the technological advancements of MIDI instruments and plugins are such a great thing. The sounds you had to struggle making before can be created pretty easily now. It's just like letting your ideas for the sound flow directly.
When I compose melodies, I still use a pencil and paper while doodling on the piano or guitar. Other times I take a walk and sing some melodies to figure out what works. When I make arrangements, I normally work things out on the piano. However I usually have a clear image of what sound I intend to go for at that stage.
For Grandia Online, I tried mixing real instruments with MIDI instruments and plugins as much as I can. For example, I recorded myself playing the guitar, trombone, and many other instruments. After all, it is always better to record actual instruments to express little tiny nuances. I don't think people will ever stop recording live instruments even though the technology is going to improve even more.
Chris: Given this background, let's focus in on the highlights of Grandia Online. In your opinion, which instrumental tracks are particularly defining moments of the score and why? Could you also please discuss the vocal themes for the game?
Noriyuki Iwadare: I love them all for their individual qualities. However, I would choose the theme tune if I were to pick one instrumental highlight. I like the arrangement from the original Grandia as well. The battle theme was also really fun to compose.
For the vocal themes, I asked Kaori Kawasumi to perform the vocals once again. This time we did the choir part by multi-tracking, and she also sung a solo piece in Portuguese. I think these songs, featuring such a beautiful voice, will reach deep within the hearts of most people. Personally, I was really sucked in during the recording sessions.
Chris: While your dating simulation works do not receive the same attention as your Grandia works in the West, they are popular with a niche audience and True Fortune was especially acclaimed. Why did you choose a more elaborate approach on this score compared to those of the True Love Story series? What do you think technological innovations brought to the title?
Noriyuki Iwadare: Unlike the True Love Story series, True Fortune is a game for girls. The timeline of True Love Story was set to approximately 10 years back from now, so we were aiming for a bit of an nostalgic feel. As a result, I think there are more nostalgic pieces on these titles.
On the other hand, True Fortune was set to the current time period, and I was trying to figure out how the music can be accepted by girls today. As a result, I would say it is more my thoughts about the setting difference, rather than the technology that influenced the musical direction of this production.
Chris: Your Amagami Original Soundtrack also received high praise from your followers. Would you agree this score is your most subtle dating simulation score?
Noriyuki Iwadare: In addition to the high quality MIDI, I recorded myself playing instruments even more on Amagami. Perhaps instruments like the acoustic guitar created a more mild and rounded sound for the title. Maybe that is because I was really caring about little details and made the music slowly but surely.
Chris: What inspired the decision to include a full sound version and retro sound version in the soundtrack release?
Noriyuki Iwadare: The request to include the full version and retro version came from Takayama-san, the character designer of Amagami. He is a big fan of the SEGA Genesis and asked me if I can make a version with its sound, so I made the retro version.
Yet, it was really hard to recreate the environment because I did not have the computer NEC PC-8801 nor the development kit Moonlight C.M.I from back then. Somehow I managed to get the equipment and the dev kit to be able to work on it, but then the MIDI converter did not work so well. At last I ended up inputting one note at a time while looking at the data of the full version that I had made earlier. One piece a day. It was really pain in the neck, but it was very fun and exciting nevertheless.
Chris: Last autumn, you returned to the Ace Attorney series to perform two more concerts. What was it like to revisit the experience of Gyakuten Meets Orchestra at these events? How did you adapt the concerts to be unique compared to the first performance (new suites, new souvenirs)?
Noriyuki Iwadare: The last Gyakuten Saiban Orchestra Concert in spring was sold out in just a half hour after the tickets went on sale. That was totally unexpected, and the concert was a huge success. I had a meeting with the concert staff to figure out the next move since there was a lot of demand for more. Then we booked the hall and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and that is how we made the fall concert came about. I believe that this happened all because of the passion of the fans.
We thought it wouldn't be good to perform just the same pieces, so we did a survey to see when fans said "I wanna hear that!". We made the new pieces based on the favourites. Other than that, we actually recorded some Gyakuten Kenji music that came with its limited edition as a bonus CD at the time. I was making new in-game music and orchestrations simultaneously, so making these scores was very tough. But I guess I got used to it. I think I made some high quality works in a very short time.
For the merchandise, I unfortunately do not know anything about them since I was not there to sell them. [Editor's Note: A Commemorative Souvenir CD was given away at the Autumn Concerts. It featured the two vocal themes featured on the souvenir given away at the first concert. In addition, it feature two exclusive performances by Noriyuki Iwadare on a special music box, called the Kanadeon.]
Chris: On a related note, did you have any involvement in the series' musical?
Noriyuki Iwadare: Gyakuten Saiban made its debut as a musical by collaborating with Takarazuka Kagekidan, a renowned theater organization in Japan. I only contributed the orchestral scores to the production and was not involved anything otherwise. I went to see the show on the second day and it was very interesting to witness. The adaptation was really exact to the game plot and, for example, they used videos and sound effects that were the same as the game. The performers do the "Objection!" pose to start the encore, which has kind of become a tradition of the show.
Chris: This year, you also led the score for Gyakuten Kenji. Given the title is dedicated to Miles Edgeworth rather than Phoenix Wright, how did your approach on this title differ from Gyakuten Saiban 3? Given you were assisted by Yasuko Yamada on this project, fans were wondering the extent of your role and which pieces you were responsible for?
Noriyuki Iwadare: The main character of Gyakuten Kenji was Reiji Mitsurugi, so I created new materials based on the motifs from his theme that I had made before. I had to really think how I am going to approach this, though. Then I made the decision of using mainly using the piano, both because the game is about "Black and White" and because I wanted to make something that sounds nice. Also for the new function in the game, Logic, I pictured what is in Reiji's mind and composed very clear, yet mysterious music.
I believe I made more than half of the whole soundtrack. I cannot really point out what pieces I composed exactly, but please listen to the music and guess which ones are Iwadare music!
Chris: For the PSP's Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star, you re-arranged and re-recorded all the music from Lunar: The Silver Star. How did you remake this classic score for the new generation and how does the music compare with previous adaptations? What highlights should listeners expect from the vocal and instrumental themes?
Noriyuki Iwadare: First of all, Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star features the music from Lunar: Silver Star Story, not Lunar: The Silver Star. Even though they are kind of similar, they have different game scenarios and music.
Well, it is true that we re-arranged and re-recorded the music from such an old game from over 10 years ago. First I started considering how I was going to arrange the music. The original music was made for built-in sounds, so the task was to not change the impressions the pieces create, but to enrich their quality.
Then for the recording, I tried to record as many instruments on my own due to the lower budget limit. I bought and practiced the ocarina, recorded the guitar and trombone, and whatnot. I did my best to do whatever I could do to improve the quality of the music. For the North American version, we also re-arranged and re-recorded the music for the cutscenes, so please check that out.
Chris: Earlier this year, your music from Growlanser was featured in its PSP remake. How do you feel your music for this game complemented this RPG? Did you have a direct role in the remake and, if so, how do your scores for the PlayStation and PSP versions differ?
Noriyuki Iwadare: The big difference from the PlayStation version is that we added some new scenarios as well as new music. Other than that, we re-mastered to make the sound better.
In terms of implementation, Growlanser is pretty well made and uses music effectively. The music changes in the game, as if to reflect the player's feelings, often to uplifting effect. Thus I was very conscious about the context of each piece while composing. Please take a listen to that.
Chris: Thanks to Egg Music, many of your older scores for the Langrisser series and Mega Drive games are available for legal download. What are your feelings about having these soundtracks commemorated so many years? Could you guide listeners through what to expect from these releases?
Noriyuki Iwadare: So many projects that I was involved with are now available to download from Egg Music. The Japanese game companies are pretty tight about licensing and are usually not collaborative on something like this. However, this happened because of the great people from Egg Music, who made so much effort when negotiating with the companies.
These recordings that are recorded purely from such old consoles represent my history. I am very happy that the music will be heard again like this, and I appreciate it so much.
Chris: Moving on to two collaborative productions, you have arranged music for two of Cave's arranged albums. Could you detail your approach to both of these arrangements? How did creating an ending arrangement for Ketsui compare with creating an opening arrangement for Mushihimesama Futari?
Noriyuki Iwadare: I worked on the ending theme of Ketsui first. The original was really well made, so I just added a new component to it, which is "sorrow". The introduction of the piece expresses emotions, such as crying out for the inevitable battles and regrets, yet you must go on to protect loved ones. I personally oppose wars for any reason, though.
I started by watching the scene of awakening in the forest for the opening of Mushihimesama Futari. I started arranging while really caring about the uplifting feel of the beginning of an adventure. I also enjoyed playing and recording the guitar and organ parts for this arrangement.
It was kind of difficult to make both tracks five minutes long because the originals were about 16 bars long. Also you don't really know how others will arrange when it comes to a collaboration like this, so it is usually difficult and nerve wrecking. However, despite the differences in approach from each composer, I am very happy that we all had a lot of fun making the albums.
Chris: Finally, you have contributed compositions and arrangements to Haruka Shimotsuki's vocal album Griotte no Nemuri Hime. What were the underlying concepts behind this album and to what extent is it a successor to Tindharia no Tane? What was it like collaborating with Haruka Shimotsuki and the three other game composers this time around?
Noriyuki Iwadare: Griotte no Nemuri Hime has the same concept as its predecessor, Tindharia no Tane. We created the language of 'Aria' for both albums and we also aimed to create the feel of a musical RPG.
This time, five musicians were involved in composing and arranging the album, including Shimotsuki-san. Everyone understood their role, so the whole composing process went smoothly. I worked particularly on the orchestral pieces, following the tradition of Tindharia no Tane.
The vocal recording was really hard. The choir was multi-tracked and there were over 60 tracks for some music. It was time consuming and we had to be really tough. The recording sessions felt as if we were doing some gruelling sports, and we kept saying things like "Hang in there!", "Almost there!", and so on.
Last November in Tokyo, there was a concert featuring all the music from Tindharia no Tane and some pieces from Griotte no Nemuri Hime. It was such an amazing concert and they decided to release it on DVD. I really hope that people will watch it.
Chris: Thank you so much for this discussion, Iwadare-san. Now that 2009 is over, what are your plans for the New Year? Also, is there anything you would like to say to your fans around the world?
Noriyuki Iwadare: There were so many releases in 2009 from the projects that I worked for. In addition to what we've discussed, I did so many other things like writing music for Tokyo Disneyland Resort, a musical for children, conducting a choir, and teaching a brass band. I have received so many messages from the people who heard those works of mine. I am very thankful for that.
There are plans for working on some games in 2010, and also there are some that I have begun working for already. I am preparing myself to challenge more new stuff. I will create great music this year, so please support me everyone. Thank you all!!
Many thanks to Shota Nakama for translating this interview. Thank you also to Noriyuki Iwadare for his detailed and insightful responses. We'd also like to congratulate Noriyuki Iwadare for being named the webmaster's Artist of the Year for his incredible efforts throughout 2009.