Hiroaki Yura Interview: Struggling for the Future (July 2010)
It's been a big year for Eminence. Since we spoke to them last, they have premiered A Night in Fantasia 2009, produced the image album Promise, and set up the elite composer group The Core. In addition, Eminence's orchestra and artists have recently performed on projects including The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, White Knight Chronicles, The Tower of Druaga, and Xenoblade. Despite these successes, the orchestra has nevertheless experienced grave financial problems and are currently asking for donations from their fans.
In this interview, Eminence's founder and producer Hiroaki Yura provides a frank and thorough recollection of his experiences in the last year. He particularly focuses on Eminence's major original projects this year, A Night in Fantasia 2009, Promise, and Destiny - Promised Legacy. He subsequently elaborates on founding The Core and mentions two early successes for the group. Finally, he reveals that Eminence has many plans for the future, but they very much depend on their finances.
Interview Subject: Hiroaki Yura
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening
Chris: Hiroaki Yura, many thanks for speaking to us today. Eminence's largest project recently was A Night in Fantasia 2009. Could you please share your memories of this event? What made it so special and momentous?
Hiroaki Yura: Hi Chris, it's a great honour for me to be able to speak to you again.
Well, the way I would love to show what made A Night in Fantasia 2009 so special and momentous is by asking all of you readers to attend the concert. However, now that the concert is over, I obviously can't do that. I nevertheless hope the album release provides a lasting testament to at least some of what was achieved on that night.
I can't really be fair on the memories we've had with this project, as there are tonnes. Like so many, it'd be so unfair to the memories I couldn't recount right now as there are so many I'd be afraid I'd leave some out. But that again, would defeat the purpose of this interview so I'd list them as best I can:
- The masterful insights of Kow Otani
- A major change in colour palette brought by Cris Velasco and Inon Zur
- The enthusiasm and ambitions of Wataru Hokoyama
- And finally but definitely not the least, the will and the strengths of Eminence musicians
Chris: A Night in Fantasia 2009 blended music from Western games, Japanese games, and various animes into one concert. How well do you think this expansive approach worked? Do you have any particular favourites from the evening?
Hiroaki Yura: Firstly, I think I need to point out my mistakes. But before I do, I need to put out a disclaimer as I am changing my approach to taking interviews and being more honest and open to everything; this keep things simple so I can lead a much happier life without being nagged by my PR staff who want to make everything sound like Wonderland. It's war out there in the front lines and it doesn't get grittier than what we experience at Eminence.
I'm not your typical "Video game concert producer". I'm a highly trained classical violinist, an international musician, and a music supervisor. I am very bad at marketing myself, and all I love doing besides my work is to talk about what I'm passionate about: Music. So if I talk about how bad I am and how annoyed I was about something, please don't think we're terrible. We're not as terrible as how I make out to be. Actually most people love us so much that we get requests to play all around the world. In addition, we have the highest recognition as an orchestra that specialises in video game, anime, and film music concerts on the Internet. We're also not a cover band that only plays music recorded and done by someone else — we ACTUALLY perform the real thing.
OK enough preamble, here it is. I think I screwed up. WHY?
1) I invited too many guests
2) I selected too much music
3) The concert was way too long, by about 90 minutes.
However, yes I did have some favourites. In particular, "The Unsung War" and the Shadow of the Colossus suite. The latter especially offers sounds completely different to those featured on any other video game concert. I think it's also fascinating that Kow Otani created such an expansive suite without relying on any action themes.
Chris: The majority of the arrangements for A Night in Fantasia 2009, as well as your productions since, were handled by Imagine. What resulted in the union between Eminence and Imagine? Do you respect the compositions and arrangements of the members of Imagine?
Hiroaki Yura: Absolutely. I do respect the compositions and arrangements of the members of Imagine. Actually, Imagine and Eminence Symphony Orchestra is such an integral part in the Music Production Industry in Japan that we can't really be split at all. I actually have a desk at Imagine's office in Tokyo, although I don't strictly work for them, but the partnership is to an extent that all businesses relating to Eminence must go through Imagine.
The union between the two organisations started with Kow Otani as I very much respect him as a person and as a musician. In addition, three of its most senior musicians — Hayato Matsuo, Shiro Hamaguchi, and, of course, Otani himself — now form a leading part of my elite composer group, The Core, as I will discuss further below.
I mean look at all the other great video game concert, most recently Symphonic Fantasies. If there is one Video Game concert producer I respect, it's Thomas Boecker. Thomas knows his music and how to present it. He also uses Hamaguchi for arrangements doesn't he? I can't wait to hear his next concert!
Chris: You received a two disc recording dedicated to A Night in Fantasia 2009. Could you summarise what consumers should expect from this release? Given it has been delayed several times, when should we anticipate the album to finally be released?
Hiroaki Yura: The album is a live recording of a selection of the finest performances from the night. There are two CDs and a DVD in this package. The first disc is a video disc featuring seven tracks, including extended suites recounting Gears of War 2, Afrika, and, of course, Shadow of the Colossus. The second disc is completely dedicated to anime music and includes favourites from Studio Ghibli and several other animation studios. Finally, there is a DVD recording featuring special performances from the night, including Chiaki Takahashi's guest appearance from The iDOLM@STER.
I apologise for the considerably delays in the album release. The delay was due to copyright and also we received more orders than anticipated. There are a lot of complications due to copyright and mechanical licensing, so we wanted to make sure we follow the right steps to make sure that we can continue producing what we all love. The good news is these issues were eventually resolved and we were able to produce a fully-fledged product that is now available at Eminence's online shop.
Chris: You also expanded Shiro Hamaguchi's Soul Calibur Suite from A Night in Fantasia 2009 into a three movement symphony. What inspired you to give special treatment to this series and what do you think the full orchestra brought to the music? Do you regret that a fully-fledged album wasn't possible?
Hiroaki Yura: The special edition of the Soul Calibur Suite on iTunes was fully produced by myself. I inspired the album after Eminence's experiences recording the major themes for Soul Calibur IV back in 2008. Contrary to common belief, we didn't "expand" on the performance A Night in Fantasia 2009. Instead it was always intended as a three movement symphony and we just played the third movement at the concert before releasing the album on iTunes.
This suite features a selection of themes from the Soul Calibur series. Soul Calibur is a series which has featured a lot of synthetic material and I just wanted to show great it would sound without the use of electronic elements. I think the melodic material was great, and it really deserved a full make over by a top orchestrator such as Shiro Hamaguchi.
I have no regrets about not being able to create a full fledged album. I believe it was complete with the current three movement format and an iTunes distribution format was convenient. Maybe later, we might work on a second symphony but we'll see!
Chris: Also this year, you have recorded Promise, an image album dedicated to Makoto Shinkai's animated films. Could you elaborate how this special project was inspired and what you aimed to achieve?
Hiroaki Yura: Inspiration totally came from Tenmon-san's music. We performed one of his scores during our US tour to Otakon in 2008. I wanted to make a proper rendition of a fully arranged instrumental album dedicated to the works they created as I am also a big fan of their works as well.
What we wanted to achieve? For Comix Wave Films to realise the potential of how powerful music can be with the right people working on it. This album will hopefully result in more collaborations between Makoto Shinkai, Tenmon, and Eminence in the future.
Chris: In contrast to the symphonic A Night in Fantasia 2009, Promise is entirely dedicated to performances from small ensembles and solo instruments. What do you think this intimate approach offered to Tenmon's music? How did the studio recordings of the album compare with your live performances of the music during live events at Tokyo and Perth.
Hiroaki Yura: I felt that a full orchestra wouldn't fit the Promise album. There is a time and place for such large ensemble. Makoto Shinkai's works do not fit such settings, but rather a more intimate approach, given most of his work dwells on inner thoughts and deep emotions. The main instrumentalists were section leaders and the solo piano and guitar. The people we use at Eminence is one of the best the world can offer, and we're extremely proud of what we've managed to create.
Yes, Eminence performed music from Promise at several live events, including a promotional concert at Tokyo and our own production Destiny - Promised Legacy in Perth. In terms of comparisons between the live and studio music, I don't really know what else to say: the music is the same, the expressions are the same, just the people are different. I guess everybody's response to music is different, but our efforts to perform wherever we are remain the same.
Chris: In addition to performances from Promise, Destiny - Promised Legacy also featured a range of other titles. Could you discuss more about the concept and items of this concert? Is it the successor to your previous Destiny and Passion events or something entirely new?
Hiroaki Yura: As the name implies, Destiny - Promised Legacy was a successor to previous chamber music events offered by Eminence in Melbourne and Sydney. The concert was really a mix and match. Perth never heard Eminence live before, so we brought in music from Passion and previous Destiny concerts, as well as new music.
I guess about a quarter of the concert was dedicated to Mitsuda-san's music as he was our featured guest composer present at the concert. Promise was something new which we put in. I think we had some fabulous response from the crowds as a result of good selections and effective treatment of them.
Chris: You also attended a string concert dedicated to the Haruhi Suzumiya in Japan. What are your memories of this event? Were you prominently involved in this production, given the arrangements were handled by Shiro Hamaguchi and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Philip Chu?
Hiroaki Yura: Initially, we weren't involved in the production and therefore had no direct influence on selections, arrangements, and such. However, members of Eminence did significantly influence the performances. I gave in a lot of musical and non-musical input, since I've experienced a lot of the running of concerts and know how to make them enjoyable for listener
The inside jokes for fans which you can check out by watching the DVD of the performance were my idea. For example, Minori Chihara dressed up as Yuki and giving the starring inferno to Phil for him to conduct with... or Aya Hirano kicking Phil on to stage... does this all sound like I'm trying to pick on Phil!? Anyway, it's all good.
Chris: On behalf of the same series, you recently recorded The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. What do you think the full orchestra brought to Satoru Kosaki's music? Having recently seen the movie, were you pleased with the final results?
Hiroaki Yura: Yes we were very pleased with what we did with The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. I think the music was arranged very well to suit the film. The film now has deep colour which only an orchestra can bring and hopefully it will amplify the emotions expressed by the talented voice actors.
Chris: You also reunited with Hitoshi Sakimoto to record the animes The Tower of Druaga. How did your experiences on this anime compare with Romeo X Juliet? Is there any reason why you didn't handle the recordings for the Valkyria Chronicles animation as well?
Hiroaki Yura: I should clarify Eminence performed the music of The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk, but we didn't have any direct involvement in the music for the The Tower of Druaga: The Sword of Uruk... though maybe Hitoshi rinsed and repeated some of our recordings for the second season. You'd have to check with Hitoshi Sakimoto as to why we weren't involved in the Valkyria Chronicles animation. Maybe he opted for the cheaper government funded orchestras in Eastern Europe.
I still believe he still has a lot to learn about orchestral sounds and live recordings. The use of a good "experienced" orchestrator and arrangers is really the key to a successful symphonic soundtrack. It was nevertheless an honour to be involved in many of his game and anime soundtrack productions.
Chris: Eminence were also involved in two ending themes this year, on behalf of Xenoblade and White Knight Chronicles: Awakening of Light and Darkness. Could you elaborate on these productions?
Hiroaki Yura: Yes, Eminence worked in the realms of vocal music on both of these projects. For Xenoblade, Eminence's vocalist Sarah Àlainn was specially selected by composer Yasunori Mitsuda following an auditioning process. I thought she did a wonderful job and brought a very unique aura to the theme. White Knight Chronicles: Awakening of Light and Darkness featured performances by the Eminence Symphonic Choir under my coordination.
Chris: Eminence has recently announced The Core, a group of composers that will collaborate with Eminence on a range of projects. Could you provide more details on this group?
Hiroaki Yura: The Core is a dream-team of composers that I put together from East and West. Although The Core is not part of the Eminence organisation, you can expect spectacular collaborations in the future on games, animes, and beyond. The initial members of this group are:
- Hiroki Kikuta: The much-loved composer of the legendary Mana series, Koudelka, and Soukaigi known for his individualistic style and stylistic versatility.
- Shiro Hamaguchi: The man behind so many beloved arrangements of Final Fantasy music, including "Liberi Fatali", and anime soundtracks such as One Piece.
- Kow Otani: The symphonic samurai himself. With a diverse history in music, anything from Godzilla movies to anime to playing keyboard in a Jpop band, Otani is constantly pushing new boundaries.
- Cris Velasco: With a touch for the grandiose and the epic, Kratos simply wouldn't be the God of War if not for Velasco's contributions to the series soundtracks.
- Hayato Matsuo: Although he has contributed solidly to various games and animes, it was his recent orchestral arrangement of Chrono Cross that showed the fans of Eminence just what he is capable of.
- Inon Zur: Prince of Persia, Crysis, Dragon Age: Origins. Need I say more? I recently managed his work on the soundtrack for Ace Combat: Joint Assault for NBGI.
With so much talent brought to the table, there are obviously many great things are just around the corner... I'll talk about one such collaboration at the end of the interview.
Chris: Evidently, it's been a big year for Eminence. Are you proud of what you have accomplished? What have been the defining moments for you?
Hiroaki Yura: I'm not sure about being proud anymore, as I'm constantly doing new projects. In the beginning, we were proud and boasted on every little thing we do, but now we're more concerned about how can we better ourselves every time — how can we avoid succumbing to not being able to present the best we ever can.
Sure, I was pretty proud so-to-speak about Haruhi... maybe there were some personal feelings about being involved with the producers, voice artists, and arrangers. However, I really believe Eminence is not really about Eminence anymore. It's all about the music.
Chris: Listeners would appreciate a glimpse of what lies ahead for Eminence. Do you anticipate 2010 will continue be a major year, featuring new recordings and concerts? Do you have any specific details on upcoming projects? Many thanks for your time and best wishes for the future.
Hiroaki Yura: Ha, you know the drills. People who do the "real" work can't talk about anything. I don't know Chris, but you seem to be pressing questions about the future in the hopes that one day we'll open our mouths to some NDA restricted contents! Remember, we kept Diablo III and Xenoblade a secret, and we will continue to keep things disclosed as long as we promise!
That said, there is an upcoming project that many readers might be interested in. Through his work with The Core, Hiroki Kikuta will be composing the opening theme song for this year's Otakon, which will accompany an original video. Called "Shackles of Night", it will feature lyrics by Sarah Àlainn and will be sung by Shihori. This song and several others will be available on CD at the end of the month through the Eminence Online Store.
While I can't comment on anything else we're doing, I guess most readers here would be astonished and happy to know what we are doing. Don't worry, we'll continue to do what we do best as long as we can financially survive. And the best you shall all get from us!
For more information on Eminence's upcoming projects, namely The Core, Otakon 2010, and the newly announced Passion - Twilight Destiny, look out for an interview with the two Hiros to be published early next month.