STARBURST: How did you initially come to be involved with the Zelda Symphony?
Jason Michael Paul: I was the one that Nintendo approached when they thinking about doing a Zelda Symphony. They asked me to produce a segment at the E3 press event as part of the 25th anniversary of Zelda showcase they were putting on. They were looking at a lot of ways to celebrate the franchise, and they thought that the most memorable way would be to create a musical from it. That was really the kick-off.
I had been working with Nintendo for some time, going back to Play: A Video Game Symphony, so I had forged a relationship with them then, having Koji Kondo perform at my concerts on piano, and participating in that way. So, I had a really good relationship – they had a lot of trust in me – and so, obviously, when the 25th anniversary rolled around, they called me up. The rest of this is kind of just a spin-off of that.
It seems that a lot of these symphonic concerts started out as audio-visual mixtapes, but have really progressed to being more specifically themed.
I disagree. When I first started doing video game concerts with the likes of Final Fantasy, I was sticking very true to the format that my colleagues in Japan and Europe were doing, which was a truly symphonic playback, devoted to a single franchise... Then, what I did was move away from that format and started presenting more within a program.
I’d say that my greatest success has come in the single-program format – as in, a single brand – because it’s an easier idea for people to understand, which is why I think that there’s a greater success with something like the Zelda Symphony as opposed to Play: A Video Game Symphony or RePlay: A Symphony of Heroes – it just takes more explaining.
Considering Japan, that makes perfect sense – video game music over there has always been afforded a respect it took time to receive everywhere else.
Well, yeah – it was always regarded as a powerful medium. It’s one that the Japanese culture can’t ignore. A lot of the cartoons and video games that we experienced in the United States, they’ve been celebrated in that country since the beginning. Mario, of course. Dragon Quest – that’s one that the composer, Koichi Sugiyama, had been producing concerts with just the visuals for years and years. He was really the first to do it. That’s in Japan. Of course, in Europe, Thomas Böcker was doing the European game concerts. He was producing symphonic concerts.
When I did the first in the United States with Final Fantasy, I combined it with the video aspect that no-one was really doing at the time, and that’s really how I put my fingerprints on it: really combining it in that way, and putting the multimedia aspect to it and trying to sync up the visuals to it; putting a story to it, based on the games at that time. That’s pretty much what we did with Zelda, except we created a four-movement symphony that is performed as part of the concert.
That’s actually one of the things we are really curious about: what are the challenges of syncing such a large group of musicians to a visual medium in a live setting?
Well, the concerts have gotten better and more evolved, because the visuals are more timely. It’s evolved quite a bit – we have new technology that allows us to keep in sync. There are wireless click tracks that I’ve developed, so our technologies and our abilities to make the concert a more compelling and more complete retelling have just really gotten intense.
We perform our music with a 66-piece orchestra and a 24-voice choir, and the charts are done masterfully by A-list Hollywood composers and arrangers. It’s just how I treat the scores and my concerts. Given my background – I have a lot of experience doing these concerts, as well as classical concerts that reach beyond video games, like Luciano Pavarotti and the Three Tenors that are very highbrow events. That’s what my idea is: I try to create that kind of highbrow event where hopefully, it’s an elevated event, like when you’d go see a symphony perform a Beethoven or Brahms program.
What’s it like taking some of that early music – some of it thirty years old, at this point – and orchestrating it for a symphonic orchestra, versus some of the more modern pieces with their greater complexity?
Obviously, when the music was composed, it wasn’t ever intended to be performed by a choir or conducted. It was always intended to just be the blips and bleeps of a video game on an 8-bit or 16-bit console. So now, as video games have evolved, they’ve been treated more and more like films and film scores. Now, you have video game companies creating original scores and writing and arranging music.
Nobody was even thinking about it back then, unless you’re someone like Koichi Sugiyama, as I said, with Dragon Quest or even Nobuo Uematsu – he was surely thinking about these thing. It’s just been a natural evolution. It’s no different than someone taking these scores that were written for orchestras and performing them with rock bands – you’re creating different arrangements.
ZELDA SYMPHONY OF THE GODDESSES MASTER QUEST plays in the UK on the following dates:
Birmingham, Symphony Hall October 9th
Manchester Bridgewater Hall October 13th
Glasgow Clyde Auditorium October 20th
Tickets are available now from all usual outlets
Worldwide dates and tickets for ZELDA SYMPHONY OF THE GODDESSES MASTER QUEST can be found at zelda-symphony.com.