Noriyuki Kamikura Interview: Eclectic Arranged Albums (March 2013)
Noriyuki Kamikura is one of the most successful artists to recently join the games industry. He worked for several years at Basiscape, working on everything from rock-flavoured fighting scores, to anime orchestrations, to electronic and jazz remixes. Becoming a freelancer in 2011, Kamikura has worked closely with iconic developer Falcom on a range of project even joining the jdk Band and has led lavish tribute albums to beloved series (Ys, Etrian Odyssey, Evangelion).
In this interview, we focus on Kamikura's career since becoming a freelancer. He discusses his approach to creating game scores and gives special details on his recent arranged album productions. The artist goes on to discuss what it is like to contribute to the productions of one of the most iconic RPG developers. This interview wouldn't have possible without Miyu of Blue Chee's, who kindly translated everything. We are deeply thankful.
Interview Subject: Noriyuki Kamikura
Interviewer: Don Kotowski
Translation & Localisation: Miyu
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Don Kotowski
Don: Hi Kamikura-san. Thank you very much for taking your time to speak with us today. In 2011, you left Basiscape to become a freelance composer. What inspired your decision to leave the company?
Noriyuki Kamikura: Thank you for taking the time too. The reason I decided to become a freelancer was to embrace new opportunities. I thought it would be nice to meet new people from different backgrounds I had this vision of working with them to produce something exciting. Whether that entailed composing game soundtracks, performing in a band, producing arranged albums, or anything else, it all appealed to me.
Don: While at Basiscape, you contributed to a variety of scores and styles. How would you say your approach to composition differs between your more organic scores (e.g. Opoona, Oboromuramasa) versus more electronic ones (e.g. DoDonPachi Dai-Fukkatsu Black Label, Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2)? Although you are a very versatile composer and arranger, you often produce jazz-oriented arrangements these days. Would you say that this was a strong focus in your development as a composer?
Noriyuki Kamikura: When I compose for a game, I think the most important thing for me is to make soundtracks that fit. The style/genre of music isn't on my mind very much when I start composing for the game. Instead, I read the storylines and look at the artworks to gain a deep understanding of the game, and then I try to make music that helps to put together the final product.
You're correct that I've always liked listening to jazz/fusion oriented music and it is a big influence on me. But that doesn't mean I intend to compose that way when I start to compose for a soundtrack I don't just think "okay, I'm going for jazz this time!". Maybe while I'm brainstorming, the essence of jazz naturally comes out. I do enjoy the sound of saxophone, so I've used the instrument often in my recent compositions.
Don: Your first major release on going freelance was Piano Burst Kakusei, an album dedicated to the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Have you always had a fondness for the music in the series? And could you talk about the decision to make a big band jazz arrange album? In particular, would you mind discussing some of the more unexpected arrangements, such as those by classical composers Bach and Beethoven?
Noriyuki Kamikura: A friend of mine who is a guitarist introduced me a music producer and the producer asked me if I wanted to make an arrange album of Evangelion. I personally like Eva very much so there was no reason for me to say no. Making it a big band jazz arrange was the producer's idea. I've always wanted to arrange big band jazz styled music, so it was a blast working on the album.
As for the classical music, I'm honored you said it was unexpected. Thank you so much! Just following the melody lines was not interesting enough for me. The producer told me that I could arrange the way I like, so I tried to make something unexpected yet exciting to listen to.
Don: Even before you left Basiscape, you also served as sound director for Etrian Odyssey III's arrange version. Could you describe your approach to your arrangements as well as the overall goal for the entire arrange album?
Noriyuki Kamikura: The concept I made for this arrange album is to "respect the original version". On the first loop, I tried to avoid changing the code and melody from the original version. My idea was "if the original FM sound is replaced by the real instruments, it would be like this!" Then after the first loop is over, I started to add elaborations or asked each arrangers to incorporate their own colors.
Don: As a freelancer, you once again served this role for the Etrian Odyssey IV arranged album. How would you say your approach differed from the previous album, especially since the music for the original score was already utilizing full instrumentation?
Noriyuki Kamikura: As you had mentioned, the original soundtrack already utilised full instrumentation, so I thought over and over about how to approach this album while under pressure. Then I finally ended up with this idea "it wouldn't mean much if I arrange in the same direction as the original."
So I resolved to do some unique things that only an arrange album can do. That's the reason I decided to incorporate vocalized tracks too.
Don: How did you go about assembling the team of arrangers for the album, which included Masashi Hamauzu, Falcom veterans Ryo Yonemitsu and Yukihiro Jindo, as well as chiptune artist KPLECRAFT?
Noriyuki Kamikura: I discussed this in the liner notes too, but the productions of Masashi Hamauzu and Ryo Yonemitsu are major reasons why I decided to step into the world of game music in the first place.I thought it would be a blast to work with them on this album while serving as the director of this album. I gave it a shot and asked them to participate, thinking they might say no. It turned out that they readily accepted my request. I was so happy about this.I've always wanted to work with the other arrangers on the album too. KPLECRAFT was actually my classmate in university and I've been a fan of his 8bit arranges for some time. As for Jindo-san, I met him while working with Falcom and admire his orchestral arrangements. As for the two vocalists, Haruka Shimotsuki and Anemone from blue chee's, I've always like their voices. All the musicians that performed for the album were awesome too. I think the album turned out to be full of variety and volume.
Don: This album also represented the debut of c.l.o.u.d., a unit that comprises yourself and Toshiharu Okajima. What would you say the overall goal for this duo would be? Do you see the duo composing for video games in the near future or acting more as an original music duo with occasional contributions to the video game world?
Noriyuki Kamikura: Toshiharu Okajima is a senior of mine from my university days. He and I have always said "it'll be fun to form a duo" together. I've always like Okaji's drumming, composition, and arrangements, so I thought it'd be amazing if we could work together to create something fun. The release of the Sekaiju no MeiQ 4 Super Arrange Version was perfect timing and we decided to join forces on the album as "c.l.o.u.d."
Not only will "c.l.o.u.d." be composing for video games; we will also producing for other artists and playing in live events. We're preparing our website and all, so please look forward to upcoming news.
Don: Since leaving Basiscape, you have worked extensively with Falcom, serving as a member of Falcom's jdk Band as well as contributing to both arranger, both on arrange albums as well as recently released games. Could you talk about how this collaboration came about?
Noriyuki Kamikura: This also came as a result of Toshiharu Okajima, who is a drummer for Falcom's jdk Band. After I left Basiscape, he called me on the phone and said "Falcom's jdk Band is looking for a keyboardist, do you want to join?" And the rest is history. I have since performed as a keyboardist for their band across their live and studio productions.
As a result of such performances, Falcom's staff members also asked me if I would work on their games too. Since then, I have composed and arranged for a range of Falcom games, including the newly released Nayuta no Kiseki, The Legend of Heroes: Zero no Kiseki Evolution, and Ys: Foliage Ocean in Celceta.
Don: Speaking of arrange albums, you recently contributed to arrange albums dedicated to the "Hoshi no Arika" theme song, as well as an arrange album dedicated to various boss themes from Falcom's history. Could you describe your approach to your arrangements for both of these albums?
Noriyuki Kamikura: For Hoshi no Arika Zanmai, the original song is superb, so I thought any sort of arrangement would work well. Whereas I speeded up the song and gave a pop influence on the House / Dance music arrange "beat", I slowed things down with "bossa nova" and tried to make things suitable for a holiday afternoon. I asked Anemone from blue chee's to perform the vocals and translate the lyrics into English. It ended up becoming my personal favourite her voice and the lyrics fit the song so well.
As for Boss Zanmai, I started arranging the pieces under the concept of "arranging each song in the way I want to listen as I were an audience!" From the many boss themes featured in Falcom soundtracks, I picked the ones that I personally have the strongest memories of. I'm especially happy to release "Evil Shaman" arrange to everyone, given I've always had the idea of this arrangement, ever since the release of the original soundtrack.
Don Thank you once again for your time Kamikura-san. Is there anything you would like to tell your fans around the world? Lastly, are you able to divulge any details about any projects that you have worked on or are working on at the moment?
Noriyuki Kamikura: Thank you very much for all the audiences that are listening to my music. I'll try my best to keep composing songs you may enjoy, so please look forward to it. Thank you for all your support!
As for some release information, I recently wrote music for the following CDs: Ys Zamai, Falcom jdk Band Diva Kanako sings Vol. 1, Falcom jdk Band Diva Kanako sings Vol. 2. These albums were pre-released at the end of 2012 and will be able through Falcom's shop in February. In addition, I worked on the theme song "Angelic Sky" for the social game Waguruma. The single will be released on February 27 this year.