Jeron Moore Interview: Producer of Symphony of the Goddesses (February 2013)
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses developed into a fully-fledged, multi-city orchestral concert tour over the past year. Building on the series' anniversary concerts, the four-movement symphony format has proven a particular success, giving attendees the opportunity to fully relive their experiences of each game.
Jeron Moore is the producer and creative director of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses and its predecessor The Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary Symphony. With a background in film studies, the artist worked for two years supervising audio and video production at game developer 3D Realms. His other achievements include the marketing of Jeremy Soule's DirectSong service, a long-running role on PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, and, most recently, guiding the Twilight Symphony project.
Jeron Moore sat down with Julius Acero before the San Jose showing of Symphony of the Goddesses. He talks about his background in producing, how the concerts developed to became such a huge success, and gives a taste of his future plans.
Interview Subject: Jeron Moore
Interviewer: Julius Acero
Editor: Julius Acero, Chris Greening
Coordination: Julius Acero
Julius: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today, and thank you especially for making The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses happen. First of all, could tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into game music?
Jeron Moore: I just have fun making things. When I grew up, I wanted to be a filmmaker a director or producer and I'm still kind of coasting towards that goal. I'm a huge movie fan and I love film scores. Of course, that love naturally extended to video game music at well, which has a lot in common with film scores, except with an interactive component.
My three loves that I've always kind of touted are Zelda, Star Trek, and James Bond. (laughs) If I had to be stranded on a desert island, I'd want a game or a movie from each of those properties. The music from all three of those properties have been very influential, very iconic. But more so than following a particular franchise, I started latching onto the idea, "Well, OK, what is it that I like about this?" And that's when I started to realize "Oh, this is written by Jerry Goldsmith", or "Oh this is written by John Williams", or Michael Kamen, or Koji Kondo, and so forth and so on. So, I started gravitating towards listening to the scores they would write,whether I was interested in the movie or not. And, I have a handful of scores from Jerry Goldsmith movies that I have never seen. I got to know these scores backwards and forwards. In doing so, I became more of a fan of the works of composers as individuals, musically.
I'm a big gamer and have loved video game music for years. In fact, one of my first soundtracks, and my first video game soundtrack, period, was a cassette tape that my mum got me. It had Castlevania, Simon's Quest, and Contra on it, and I still have that. (Laughs). But yeah, I just love this stuff, just like you!
Julius: How were you first introduced to The Legend of Zelda?
Jeron Moore: I was six or seven years old. It was Christmas time and I drove up from Texas to one of my cousin's houses in Oklahoma City. He had this game that we just dying to show me. We were both avid Nintendo fans, and he was playing on his Nintendo and he said "Man, come check out Zelda!" I saw him put the gold cartridge into the console and that was like magic in itself I thought "What are you putting in there? What is this like... golden thing? How do you do that?" Cause Mario was just a plain old grey cartridge.
So, he was playing, showing me where he was. He was at the very end of the game, about ready to beat Ganon. And I think he got up to get food, and put the controller in my hand, saying "Try it!" There I was playing it, and I hadn't realized you had to hold the start button and use a second controller in order to save it... and I ended up losing all his progress. And he had to sit in a corner for the rest of the day until he could chill out, because he was livid with me! And, of course, looking back on that game, I totally empathize with him, because that's a hard game. I think Aonuma-san has gone on record of saying that it's a hard game, and maybe he's beaten it now, but I think at one point he said that he couldn't beat it. (Laughs) Like, he just got too frustrated.
Julius: I couldn't beat it without using a guide. And I keep hearing that Zelda II is the hardest Zelda ever, so I haven't even touched it. (laughs)
Jeron Moore: (laughs) I actually think Majora's Mask is probably the hardest Zelda ever!
Julius: How did this collaboration with Nintendo come to be? Could you please describe how it has been working with Nintendo?
Jeron Moore: Working with Nintendo has just been absolute dream. They're just as enthusiastic and as excited about the project as our team is. They're all about quality, consistency, upholding the regality of the brand, and making sure that it's honored in the most respectful and faithful way possible. Of course, my team particularly myself and Chad Seiter, the arranger of the symphony were huge Zelda fans. So we share that same enthusiasm and desire to uphold the franchise. The two of us, along with Jason Michael Paul, brought Eímear Noone onboard, and we all just want to do the best job we can.
By teaming together, Nintendo felt like they could trust us with the franchise. Keep in mind that they don't normally produce concerts just like they don't make movies though they have licensed music from their games to concerts in the past. This was the first time they had someone approach them with an idea they wanted to pursue. And so, we got lucky there: just kind of kindred spirits. It's been really easy working with Nintendo, because they have trust in what we're doing.
Julius: The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert premiered last year. How did that concert transition into this world-tour?
Jeron Moore: Well, we were actually planning Symphony of the Goddesses before the 25th Anniversary Symphony, and it was this production that we initially pitched to Nintendo. It all came together serendipitously. We weren't aiming for the 25th Anniversary, it just coincided. When we realized the timing, we were just like, "Oh, that's kind of funny." But Nintendo didn't think it was funny they thought it was a really cool opportunity.
Unbeknownst to us, Kondo-san had been in the planning phases of something he wanted to do, which was only going to be in Tokyo. It was going to be a one-time thing, and I think they were going to stream it. We came to them with a full plan, and had taken a lot of things into consideration that they hadn't even done yet. I think it just instilled a lot of faith in them and they said, "OK, we'll look at this Symphony of the Goddesses thing, but before we do that, we want you to do this." And it went from being one concert in Tokyo to three, in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London. Instead of streaming the Tokyo show, they put the budget from that towards the recording which ended up doing that was kind of gifted to the fans of the Zelda-verse. (laughs)
I originally came up with the name Symphony of the Goddesses, and Nintendo at first didn't want to give us that name. They actually came back and said, "It's too powerful." And we waited it out, and I didn't know what else to call it. I had a few alternatives, but I was kind of at a loss, and then after the success of the 25th Anniversary Symphony, we were trying button things up and get ready for the launch of the show, they gave us permission and said, "No, it's OK. You can do that." And I was like, "Whew! Good." Cause that was the first idea that came to my mind, and it fit like a glove. I can't imagine this show being called anything else.
Julius: Speaking of which, how did the four-movement, classical symphony format come about?
Jeron Moore: That was something Chad and I kind of arrived at. When we sat down, it was clear that storytelling was what was really important to us. Another component to that was bringing a disparate audience you know, kids, parents, grandparents, people who may not necessarily come to see video game music, or come see a symphony or an orchestra into the concert hall and bring them all under one roof, to appreciate something like this. And so we thought, "What if we kind of took a classical approach to the programming?" And it just sort of evolved, and it just made sense to go that way with it. So I think it was Chad who said, "Let's do a four movement symphony." And I went, "Done. I know what the four movements are." And I just said, "It's Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and A Link to the Past. In that order."
Julius: And strangely enough, it forms up the Zelda timeline...
Jeron Moore: Well, it was intended to be that way. Funnily enough, we pitched that format before they had released the Hyrule Historia. But Nintendo didn't correct it at all, they just let us keep going, and that was just like their silent acknowledgment that "You know, yeah, that's OK. That works." The placement of A Link to the Past at the end stood out... and it was also kind of just me seeing if they were paying attention. "This is a weird choice, I'm going to put this at the end and see if they say anything. And if they don't then that confirms a few things for me." (laughs)
Julius: Another thing I wanted to mention was that you snuck in a really obscure "Triforce Room Theme" into the overall structure of the concert. It shows up in a bunch of places, even where it doesn't belong, but it works so well! And I wanted to ask, how did that come about?
Jeron Moore: So, Chad and I came to an idea back when we decided to do a four movement symphony. We decided that telling the story of the franchise versus just having a random collection of hits, or popular pieces, was paramount, and that was the guiding light of the development of the show. There's a piece called The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, and it's an epic, huge opera, and like a multi-day event. It tells the hero's journey, in a story of Gods and mortals. From a musical standpoint, it represented what we wanted to do, and of course, it's kind of hard to compete with that piece, but it was inspiration from a programing standpoint. And then, that got me thinking, and I went back and watched one of the movies I grew up with Clash of the Titans, the old version, where the gods of Mount Olympus moved around the chess pieces and would make something happen down on Earth that reflects the manipulation that they caused.
And you know, without geeking out too much, that feels like Farore, Nayru, and Din do, because they're kind of consistently referenced through every game, since Ocarina of Time. Of course in A Link to the Past, they're referred to as Gods, but in the Triforce chamber the "Essence of the Triforce" talks to Link, and if you do some generalization and sort of forgive some of the details, that was them speaking through the Triforce. So, we basically had to come up with a theme for the goddesses, because they're ever-present, and we wanted to hint at their omnipresent being throughout the franchise. It didn't make sense to make something new we needed to draw from something that Kondo-san and his team had already created, and that was the theme that made the most sense. Chad found a way to very skillfully weave that theme throughout the pieces.
Julius: What other elements did you feel you needed to include in the symphony? What makes Zelda, Zelda, for you?
Jeron Moore: Well, the "Main Theme", of course. Really though, it's all about the characters and their themes for me. The main theme kind of becomes Link's theme, up until Twilight Princess, where he sort of got a theme that was a component of "Hyrule Field" for that game. And I say that, because whenever you were fighting a boss in that game, and you were winning or you were attacking, you would get that theme. That to me this is how a character theme works. When Luke Skywalker is about to do something epic, you hear the "Force Theme" and you attach those melodies to those characters and their bravest moments, or most trying moments. So yeah, there's that, and "Zelda's Theme", "Midna's Theme", and "Ganon's Theme" of course. Just those themes are the things that make Zelda what it is. Or at least, it's a very critical part of its identity.
Julius: I noticed some singing from the choir to represent some of these themes. What are they singing?
Jeron Moore: For the most part, it's actually a made up language, placed in syllabus to better support the music. Some of it is Sanskrit though, similar to what John Williams did in Episode I's "Duel of the Fates".
Julius: Moving on, what would you say is your favorite Zelda game?
Jeron Moore: I have three, I think... A Link to the Past, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. And I have a hard time deciding the order between them, because they're all so good.
Julius: Those are coincidentally the three that I was introduced to Zelda with. I started with A Link to the Past on the Game Boy Advance and I just remember going through the game and then beating it at the end and thinking, "Wow, I accomplished something!" You get that beautiful end credits music, which... they're playing right now in rehearsals (laughs). And it starts off really soft and you feel that growth, that maturity of the journey, and then it suddenly transforms into the Zelda main theme and you're just like, "Oh my gosh, this is truly something epic!" It was the first time I experienced that in a video game. The Wind Waker, on the other hand, I rented it, started it, got to the Forsaken Fortress level, and then I didn't know what to do after that!
Jeron Moore: Really? (laughs) I love The Wind Waker. The thing I remember the most was just being completely blown away by the graphics. I wasn't one of the ones that asked, "What's with this cel-shaded stuff?" I actually liked it. At first, I was like "Where are they going with this?" But, once I popped it into the GameCube, it had me. The other thing I remember, funnily enough, is the physics on the Moblin spears, with the tassels. I loved beating them and picking up their spears, and just like waving those things around, because I had never seen anything quite like it in a game
Julius: And Twilight Princess just took it to another level that I wasn't expecting. And being the launch title for the Wii and staying up until midnight and waiting for it come out, and then going home and playing it...
Jeron Moore: Yeah, I think I was up until 4 or 5 am...
Julius: It was just fantastic. And the Midna character just made that game for me.
Jeron Moore: Yeah, she's still even beyond Fi from Skyward Sword my favorite support character.
Julius: Oh Fi...
Jeron Moore: Yeah... oh Fi... (laughs). We won't talk about Navi...
Julius: What other games appeal to you?
Jeron Moore: I'm a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, though not particularly to the same degree I am to Zelda. I feel like I get lost in Final Fantasy more, like they're almost too big at times. Even when I was a kid, they were hard to get through and I wasn't all that committed...
Julius: I still haven't gotten through the original Final Fantasy. (laughs)
Jeron Moore: Yeah, and it's tough! I mean, I have them on my DS on my iPhone, so I'm trying! I have Final Fantasy XIII still on my PS3 that I've only gotten so far into. It's like "Final Fantasy! Final Fantasy! Final Fantasy!" and then it's like... "Final Fantasy... Final... Fantasy..." (laughs) Like, I just can't... New Game! And you know, being an adult gamer, and growing up, I just want smaller experiences.
My best friend is Jeremy Soule, who does the music for the Elder Scrolls games. Yet I haven't even beaten Skyrim yet. And that's been out as long as Skyward Sword has been. I did beat Skyward Sword, because I knew that was finite experience, you can get through it and kind of gauge where you are as you keep going. And Skyrim... I think I have like 80 hours into that game, and I've only done a few things from the main quest. I've spent all my time doing these other things, that I just stumble across. Sidequests! The game is just chockfull of sidequests. And you kind of feel like, "I'm finding all this stuff on my own. I don't need no stinkin' main quest!" I'm kind of building my own experience. And that's also why I'm like, "I can't do MMOs." I can't. I just think people who play MMOs don't play as many single player games. If they do, I don't know how they have time for anything else!
Julius: Are there any other video game franchises you'd like to work with in the near future?
Jeron Moore: There's just so many. I'd love to work with Jeremy on some of the stuff he's done, so yeah, maybe the Elder Scrolls series. I also think that there are a lot of Nintendo franchises that'd be fun to work with and explore. I can't wait to hear some Kid Icarus onstage, or maybe some Star Fox.
Julius: That new Kid Icarus: Uprising soundtrack was amazing!
Jeron Moore: It's awesome! I just imported the three disc album. There's a lot of other stuff out there, maybe even some Konami and Capcom. For PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, Chad and I did a cool Metroid arrangement, which was really neat. And then, he has a suite from Mega Man 2, which no one's ever heard, and it's awesome! We kept on asking "What if we did this? What if we did that?" He also did a really cool arrangement of "Terra's Theme" from Final Fantasy VI that we perform at PLAY! And it's really neat. There are so many possibilities.
Julius: Do you think video games have advanced a long way, in an artistic form? Where do you think the industry, game music soundtracks, and the overall industry will go from here?
Jeron Moore: It has definitely evolved, at least from a technical standpoint. As for a creative standpoint, while what we're able to do has expanded and become greater in scope, the artist behind it is now able to do what they've always wanted to.
And now we're in a time where technology is allowing us to do more, more, and more. Now it's no longer really a matter of "how many instruments does this hardware support?", because we're recording live orchestras for video games now. What's more, we have these really awesome sample libraries that can like emulate the sound of a symphony or of orchestra, to a very realistic degree. And the orchestra itself is not the only tool. There are some great electronic scores. Retro is back in and it's awesome. We've spent enough time at this point doing really awesome high-quality recording of orchestras, so we're going back to where it all began, and we've even seen some really cool fusion between the two, which is neat. I think they tried to do some of that in Wreck-It-Ralph, where they have an orchestra, but they also have this 8-bit back beat and it's really cool.
Yeah, it's definitely evolved. But at the end of the day, it's all about the end user experience and just putting together something that's memorable. That hasn't changed. I think, considering all the various components that go into making a video game from making a story, to designing animations, to writing music the collective desire to make an experience that is memorable and fun and worthwhile. That hasn't evolved. That's just gotten better with age. A good game is a good game.
Julius: As both a gamer and someone who is deeply interested in music and the arts, I find that game music is highly moving and incredibly important. Do you find that concerts, for instance, can be easy entry points for gamers and non-gamers to discover the symphony or gaming itself?
Jeron Moore: Yeah totally! If anything, during the past year that I've seen, there has been the persisting notion that people walk in and we're just breaking down walls of perception. People who have never seen a symphony concert in their lives, kids, and even adults are coming into the concert hall with their minds open, and getting some culture. On the flipside, as I mentioned earlier, we have parents and grandparents coming in, even girlfriends and whoever else that may not necessarily have a connection to the game, but they're there for one reason or another, and they're minds are also opened, their perceptions are expanded.
And you know, the energy, the excitement, and the laughter the whole spectrum of emotion is infectious. And whether you really understand what's going on-screen or not, you're getting feedback from everyone around you, and you're kind of along for the ride. Everyone walks out with something. I haven't seen anybody leave regretting their time. Which has been really rewarding.
Julius: Something else I wanted to ask, one of the unique things about Symphony of the Goddesses is how you took the visual scenes from the game, and told the visual story along with the musical story you're creating. How did that directorial vision come about, and was it similar to making say, a "Zelda movie"?
Jeron Moore: No, but it certainly was fun! Being a filmmaker, and someone who loves telling stories visually, it was a lot of fun to be able to tell these stories that I grew up with and played through. Doing it in this way, and pairing it with the orchestra, was particularly satisfying.
But really, it was taking the stories and laying them out conceptually on paper, and then giving all those details associated with that: emotions, melodies, what's happening during the scene, who's in jeopardy, what the stakes are, what the focus is. I would hand them over to Chad, who would arrange it based on my notes, and I would come back in and put the visuals on top of the story I gave him. And so, there's a little kind of inception going on with it (laughs). But it was a cool process.
Julius: Beyond the contextual experience, you have released a partial recording of the 25th Anniversary Concert. Could you tell us more about making the recording?
Jeron Moore: I don't think that could've turned out any better. It was such a cool opportunity to get to produce that recording with Chad, Jason, and Eímear, and we even hired one of my idols, Bruce Botnick, a recording engineer who worked for a film composer I grew up listening to, Jerry Goldsmith. He worked on a ton of stuff: Star Trek, Gremlins, Poltergeist, The Mummy, I could go on. (laughs)
I managed to get to know Jerry Goldsmith a bit while I was in college I got to attend some of his scoring sessions in Los Angeles. And, that's how I got to know Bruce, but there wasn't a reason for us to get together at that time. Years later after graduating, I had worked in the video game industry and been through the school of hard knocks at 3D Realms and the Duke Nukem... you know, extravaganza (laughs), which I'll always treasure. And then I saw Bruce at a commemorative concert for Jerry Goldsmith, and I just went up to him and reintroduced myself, and he recognized me. I said, "Bruce, I have a video game thing that I really want to approach you about later. Is it something you'd be interested in?" And he's like, "Yeah!"
And so, when it kind of congealed and we knew what we were going to do, Chad and I approached him... Chad and I are big Jerry Goldsmith geeks, and we actually kind of used his work as sort of a cinematic prism through which to put Koji Kondo's compositions through. So, if you're a really keen listener and know Jerry Goldsmith's work, listening to Zelda onstage will make you snicker a bit in a couple of spots. There are some stylistic things we kind of snuck in there. (laughs)
Julius: Is there the possibility we'll see a fully-fledged CD or DVD release?
Jeron Moore: I don't know. That's something we're working on, but as of right now, no.
Julius: Bringing us towards the close, what is your favorite piece from the concert?
Jeron Moore: Aw, geez. That's hard. I have so many. I love all the Ganon battles. I love the ones from A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time... I like them all actually. I have something I like about all of them. I love the "Lost Woods" part from Ocarina of Time too.
Julius: The way you contrasted the "Title Theme" to "Hyrule Field", and then you went to the "Lost Woods Theme", is just such a beautiful moment in the concert, because you go through so many emotional highs and lows. But you really get a feeling for Ocarina of Time in a nutshell. It's great.
Jeron Moore: Yeah, and that was kind of a challenge to figure out how to put it "in a nutshell", and still walk away and feel like you got something out of it. So, I mean these are ten to twelve minute pieces, and at one point, and it still exists and we would love to perform an eighteen minute version of "Movement III - Twilight Princess", which is really cool, I mean, there's a lot of stuff in there that it'd be awesome to hear, but then we'd have to get rid of "Gerudo Valley" or "Windfish", or one of the other pieces that's on the program.
Julius: (spoilers) That "Majora's Mask Suite" at the very end...
Jeron Moore: (laughs) It's going to be painful, because going into a Season 2 show, we're going to be excising all the material from left and right of four movements and populating the program with new work, which means... "Majora's Mask" will probably fall off the list.
Julius: Which I guess this is a good time to mention it, what other plans do you have for the second season?
Jeron Moore: We're still working on it, but I mean, the Zelda music catalogue is so rich, and there's so much. And it was important for us, for Symphony of the Goddesses? where it stands now to be as strong as we could make it and we approached it with the mindset of, if we're only going to do this once, if we don't get renewed for another year, and if this is the only time you get to see the show, we want you to experience these themes. Season 2 is going to allow us to explore some of the more obscure pieces. There's a lot of stuff that people want to hear, like "Dragon Roost Island", which we incorporated on the "25th Anniversary Medley" performed at the anniversary concerts and featured on the disc. But I think it would be fun to do version of that in place of "Gerudo Valley," because I think that song has just as large a following.
Julius: They're very similar! They reflect the different ethnicities of the Zelda universe.
Jeron Moore: Yeah! There's a lot of different stuff. I'd love to do "Climbing Tal Tal Heights" from Link's Awakening. In fact, I'd love to do a cool suite from that entire game similar to what we have for Majora's Mask. I mean, there's a lot of stuff there. The town theme is just awesome. The overworld theme is the "Main Theme", but it changes and it has some cool deviations which would cool to hear live with an orchestra. There's this fear that this is stuff everyone's heard before, but I think the fans want to hear it. And that's where Chad and I have to follow our hearts and just have faith that it will be well received. And before the notes hit the stands, for the orchestra, they'd have to be signed off by Koji Kondo. And we may be working on incorporating some music from the most recent title... Skyward Sword.
Julius: And what do you think of the Zelda fanbase, and this "universe" you've been working with?
Jeron Moore: They're my peeps! I love every single person out in that audience! It's awesome, it's like a giant family getting together. And, it's really cool making new friends all the time. It's also a huge honour to bring Koji Kondo and his team's work, and all the hard work that Eiji Aonuma and Miyamoto-san have done bringing it to them in this way And I'm glad that people are just humbled and I'm glad people are just having a good time. After all, that's what it's for.
Julius: Lastly, for all the fans, non-fans, music lovers, and concert goers out there, what can they expect going into The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses?
Jeron Moore: Whether you know anything about Zelda, or not, you can expect to just have your ears and eyes open to something that's fun, memorable, adventurous, and magical. It's everything we, as Zelda fans, love about Zelda, put into a form that's accessible to everyone, and so... if you want to convert anyone to the series, bring them to this show! (laughs) This is it!
Julius: Thank you so much for your time, and I'll see you in the show!
Jeron Moore: No problem! For sure!