Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy

On the night of July 10th, 2009, Dreams came true. At the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA the Seattle Symphony decided to hold a Distant Worlds concert. For those of you that don't know what Distant Worlds is, it's a concert performed by professional orchestras across the globe playing various pieces from the Final Fantasy series. They have gone to many places already including Singapore, Stockholm, Taipei and the upcoming San Francisco performance which is on July 18th, 2009 at the Davies Symphony Hall. For those of you who know me or have read my first blog on here know what a big Final Fantasy fan I am. I have also mentioned in my first blog about how Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of Final Fantasy, is my hero and I would love to meet him. Well, the chance came by after reading news of Nobuo Uematsu will be attending the Distant Worlds concert in Seattle. It was 2 weeks before the concert and I instantly needed to go. A good friend and I figured out our money, got gas, and on Friday started driving to the city.

When we finally got to Seattle we parked the car and headed in to the big Benaroya Hall. As I walked in, people were everywhere in semi-formal clothing and the occasional someone with a moogle hat or an FF plushie of some sort. Final Fantasy was in the air and I was on cloud nine. The doors open and we went in to take our seats. The inside was 3 levels high (I was on the orchestra floor) and the room was instantly packed. Made me even more thankful I was able to get tickets in time. As we waited I could hear the orchestra tuning their instruments and getting prepared. Hearing glimpses of Aerith's Theme and To Zanarkand already had me at the edge of my seat. As the concert started, Nobuo Uematsu himself walked out on to the stage and bowed to the audience. Everyone stood and cheered in praise of him. I was taken back, I wasn't expecting to see him right away! After that pleasant surprise the conductor, Arnie Roth, came out to get things started. The spotlight was on the Choral and the Final Fantasy VIII logo flashed across the screen. A huge smile grew across my face for they were singing/playing Liberi Fatali. Images from the game played with Squall Leonhart and Seifer Almasy fighting added with scenes of Rinoa Heartilly and the antagonist Sorceress Edea. A great way to start off the concert! After, Roth said his welcomes and told us what we were in for tonight. The next song they played was To Zanarkand from Final Fantasy X. I have to say, this was probably the most beautiful version I have heard of this piece. Although I like this piece a lot and have always found it hauntingly beautiful it didn't really stand out to me. But this performance totally changed my view. I was literally brought to tears on this one. Scenes of Tidus and Yuna was just absolutely wonderful. The screen cleared and then we saw FFVIII game play! The whole crowd chuckled for we knew it was random battle time. Don't Be Afraid was epic! There was so much power behind it. I definitely felt the energy from the performance. What came afterwards is something very dear to my heart, Aerith's Theme. First, Aerith Gainsborough happens to be my favorite video game character ever so to hear her theme performed by a professional orchestra live is absolutely breathtaking. Combine that with scenes with Aerith and you have a moved Chibi Ma. Are you ready to get old school? Medley I-III was awesome! It had it all, town songs, battle, chocobo themes, etc. Definitely can bring up anyone's mood. For Final Fantasy V, you had acoustic with a mix of Amano art. Very well done! I do wish they showed some FFV game play but in the end, lovely. Vamo alla Flamenco was fun and lively! Good pick from Final Fantasy IX. FFIX also is my favorite Final Fantasy so I wish they had other song picks but this works.

Here's my favorite from the concert, Love Grows from Final Fantasy VIII. I'm a total hopeless romantic and a big fan of Squall and Rinoa so to hear the main love theme made a very content moogle here. Okay, not a big fan of Final Fantasy XI but great song none the less! Ronfaure gave you the big adventure feeling as it should! To end part one, they played the Final Fantasy Main Theme. Need I say more? This song is a staple to a FF concert. To not have it would be outrageous. Off into part 2 they had to make a few changes unfortunately. They went straight into FFVII: Opening-Bombing Mission, good pick to open the second half! Fisherman's Horizon from FFVIII afterwards was wonderful as always. Another FFXI, Memoro de la Stono was big, deep, and just enjoyable. The Man with the Machine Gun from FFVIII was great and Swing de Chocobo was hilarious. Now here’s the sad part for me, they had to cut out Theme of Love from FFIV. This song happens to be one of my most favorite FF songs so i was disappointed to not hear it. Opera-Maria and Draco from FFVI was gorgeous. It was sung by Angela Niederloh, Stephen Rumph and Michael Delos. To finish off the concert was Terra's Theme from FFVI. Another favorite, done wonderfully! As the credits for the concert played the crowd cheered and clapped (especially for Tetsuya Nomura, Yoshitaka Amano and of course Nobuo Uematsu).
In conclusion, this concert was something to remember. Listening and watching made me realize how Uematsu's work has brought so many different kinds of people together. That not only gamers but others outside are starting to appreciate it for it is. These masterpieces need to be known and acknowledge and it was!! The Meet and Greet with Nobuo Uematsu at the end was what really meant something to me. Nobuo has been a hero of mine since I was 13 years old. His music has inspired me, motivated me, and is the reason why I know the piano today. I never thought I would ever get to meet him. Yet there I was shaking his hand. Nobuo Uematsu is so nice and polite. He's down to earth and treats his fans so well. I am so thankful I got to meet him. Something I will remember for the rest of my life. Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this concert, fantastic music, spirited audience, and a legend to meet and memories to share. This is a chance that shouldn't be missed.

Golden State Pops Orchestra performs VideoGame Soundtracks Loaded... Ready... Play! concert review

A fascinating but largely under advertised orchestral show took place in San Pedro, California this past Saturday May 16th. The 2 hour show was performed by the Golden State Pops Orchestra alongside the Southern California Master Chorale. On top of this, many of the songs were Orchestrated by the original composers of the music. We had Christopher Tin conducting his amazing track Baba Yetu from Civilization IV, Wataru Hokoyama conducting his self titled theme from upcoming game Afrika, and many more.

The night kicked off early with a short Q and A session with Russell Brower (composer for World of Warcraft) and Laura Karpman (composer for Everquest II and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom). They discussed things like how they got their start in the business, how it is to compose songs for games as opposed to movies, and some of the favorite jobs they have had the chance to work on.

After that the orchestra came out and started tuning their instruments. A quick glance around the room showed that there were not too many people compared to the size of the venue. Unfortunate because it was definitely a night to remember a I will try to detail below. So the lights faded, Conductor Steven Allen Fox introduced himself and spoke a bit about the venue, the orchestra, and about gaming music and how it has changed over the years and that many people still have a hard time believing it has come so far. He then turned to the orchestra and began the first song.

Bounty Hunter from the game Advent Rising kicked off the show. Originally composed by Tommy Tallarico (of Video Games Live) and Michael Richard Plowman. The piece kicked off the night well, and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the evening. The song also seemed a homage to Tallarico and everything he has done for VGM with Video Games Live.

The following song, composed and conducted by Wataru Hokoyama, is the title theme Afrika from the upcoming PS3 game Afrika. As you can imagine, the song took us on an adventure through the fields and jungles of the African continent. This lead into another track from another as yet to be released title, Red Faction Guerrilla. The song, aptly titled Red Faction Guerrilla Suite was an impressive war like theme style composition which led through a path of moods both excited and somber.

Composer Laura Karpman was in attendance for the concert to see her composition O'er Thai Landis from Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom performed by both the GSPO along with the Southern California Master Chorale. The song was a softer theme, but the inclusion of the choir definitely brought the concert into a new stride.

Next up was a big highlight of the concert. The first song to really make use of the enormous screen above the orchestra, which so far had gone practically unused. The End Begins (To Rock) from the God of War II soundtrack, and later the Guitar Hero III game, composed and conducted by Gerard Marino. The very rocking version of the track was very impressive and was accompanied by an on screen GH performance! You can see for yourself below as I was lucky enough to get a good chunk of footage from the song.

Another highlight of the concert for me was the rendition of Baba Yetu from Civilization IV. I have never played Civ IV before (and probably never will) But Composer Christopher Tin really makes some phenomenal music which can even be enjoyed completely outside of the context of the game. Another highlight was that Chris Tin was in attendance at the concert and conducted his own piece of work. Luckily he also had someone record the footage which you can check out on his Youtube page.

After the intermission we were met by Christopher Lennertz conducting music from two soundtracks he composed. First up was the Main Title from PS3 game Warhawk, followed by Gun Suite from the game Gun. Main Title is a daunting war theme that matches the dog fighting theme of Warhawk, while Gun Suite seems to evoke the wild west by adding a guitar, dulcimer, and fiddle to the orchestral mix of instruments to good effect.

Steve Allen Fox returned to the stage after this to perform what may arguably be the most well known music in the entire show. Fox arranged and conducted a medley of songs from Final Fantasy, The Oath & Aeris' Theme, both composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Coming into the show I knew that there would be some Final Fantasy tunes, but I was glad to see some lesser used works from the series performed. The medley started with The Oath from FFVIII and blended amazingly well into Aeris' Theme from FFVII. I was able to record footage from this piece of the performance as well, so you can enjoy that below.

This piece was followed by what may be the highlight of the show for me. If you know me, you know I am a huge fan of flOw. Austin Wintory, composer of flOw, was in attendance to introduce and conduct the specially arranged song for the concert. The song is known as The World of flOw. Seeing an indie game like flOw, with it's ambient laid back gameplay presented alongside some high production, high profile games was definitely a treat. The large screen was used again for this song, and showed footage of flow alongside the Orchestra and Choir. I also had the chance to record this song, and definitely recommend you give it a listen!

At this point Wataru Hokoyama came back on stage to perform another piece from the upcoming game Afrika. This time we were greeted by the song Savanna, another large majestic theme from the game. The whole show wrapped up with Steve Allen Fox taking the stage for the final time to conduct the Main Title from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, which was composed by Russell Brower, who was also in attendance in the crowd. It was a phenomenal and epic song to end the night on. The show went out with a bang with this sweeping ten minute song that went from epic, to tragic, to epic again.

With that the concert concluded, and to many standing applause as well. The concert was a really fun experience and it was a bit disappointing that there was not a larger attendance. It was understandable though as the show was not heavily promoted and even I wasn't informed of it until about a week before the show, by my friend AppleMonkey, who stumbled across the news on accident. The venue was amazing though, the indoor theater made for an intimate and relaxing atmosphere. It was a pleasure to get to see so many of the composers have the chance to conduct their own songs live, which I think was the real highlight of the show and what I think most set it apart from other VG concerts.

From what I understand this was the second time the Golden State Pops Orchestra has done a show dedicated to video games, and I definitely hope they do another one sooner than later, as I was definitely impressed with the whole thing!

Also have to mention, special thanks to my pal AppleMonkey for actually informing me about the concert and driving us down to the event!

I Fight Dragons concert review and video interview: We should all Fight Dragons…

Recently my pal Brian from 8-Bit Revenge had the lucky opportunity to go see the amazing NES Rockers I Fight Dragons at a recent concert. He was kind enough to write a review of the show for GM4A, not to mention a video interview with the band alongside 8BR mate Callan! Read on to learn all about the show, and hopefully the group is coming to a town near you soon!

At first glance I Fight Dragons may seem like just another mild-mannered NESRock band plodding along the usual course of having fun making music. But if you look closely, behind those charming mild mannered alter egos lays a group of NESRock super heroes waiting to strike. A band wholly dedicated to not only making amazing music but grabbing the world by the hand and taking them on a trip to places they haven’t yet dared to dream of.

From their exceptionally well written lyrics to the pop-sensible blend of chiptune and what alternative rock should be, all the way down to their stage antics I Fight Dragons put on simply one hell of a show. IFD takes time to charm the crowd with something that everyone regardless of age, gender, or personal habits can relate to but all the while exposing them to a new and exciting method of making music. This is accomplished with the use of both retro and new age game controllers coupled with everything that you would expect to see from an alternative rock band.

It is very seldom that I can say with honesty that an event I have been to has been so overwhelming that it has left me struggling for proper adjectives to describe it. Despite that the most common method of describing anything these days is to refer to it as “epic” it truly seems to be the only word that fits. However seeing as the word “epic” is indeed overused these days I shall take this little bit of time to try and expand upon that for you.

Imagine yourself standing in a venue, lights down and a band on stage. The lead singer stands, back to the crowd in what appears to be nothing more than your average white shirt, tie, and the standard issue journalist glasses. A digital voice introduces the band slowly at first and then simply states “This is I Fight Dragons” at which point the band turns around and, as though a light switch was flipped, the energy pulsates from them. Then during the break down of the first song our mild mannered band lead transforms into super hero mode as the bassist runs insanely around the stage. All at once the all questions as to why they are wearing super hero logos are completely gone. Dancing around the stage, in the crowd, and when things get hairy and a mistake is made (like an un-cooperating computer) they compensate by simply singing a Zelda medley while Wonder Woman holds up speech bubbles asking for help, freedom, and of course beer. As if that wasn’t enough, a few moments later you are treated to the entire band taking a few moments to dance on a very well altered Track and Field pad and then finally achieving a crescendo with a power glove inspired orchestration of pure unabashed chiptune goodness.

All of this and more is what a concert with I Fight Dragons is like. It’s hard to encapsulate in mere words the energy from both the band and crowd. To make matters even more difficult for this actual mild mannered journalist the very sound of IFD is hard to describe. Seeing them perform live is a veritable monument to their actual level of professionalism. While performing songs like Heads up, Hearts Down there were moments I wasn’t sure if I was still in a bar on the north side of Chicago or in my car cruising with friends. The quality of the music only changed in the aspect that it was more enjoyable and, if possible, more energetic. So it’s with this in mind that I state: Should you get a chance to see I Fight Dragons perform live that you run, not walk, to the venue and take part in a show that you are not likely to soon, if ever, to forget. To find out when their upcoming shows are and where they’re being held make sure to check out either their website: ifightdragons.com or their MySpace: myspace.com/ifightdragons Go now! Join the fight against the Hidarites!


Thanks a ton to Brian from 8 Bit Revenge for doing a great write up and interview. Also thanks to I Fight Dragons for their time. Be sure to check them out at ifightdragons.com! The photos in the article are all taken from their Flickr page.