What was your inspiration for arranging and composing music?
“I grew up with the NES and 8bit music, which was very limited at the time. When I went to college, I wanted to start enhancing the music with real instruments. I asked myself ‘how can I make this better without changing it?’ A lot of my pieces stick to the source material, instead of changing genres.”
What is your favorite game and game soundtrack?
“You may have heard of a little series called Castlevania. It just turned thirty not too long ago. When I was younger, I really liked old monster movies, so I was very interested in the game since you fought different monsters. The games sometimes change composers for each one. For instance, Castlevania IV has a lot of baroque and pianoforte, which sounds different from the traditional piano used in a game like Symphony of the Night. Every stage has a unique sound in SotN, with rock, hip-hop, and piano used. The old games had similar instruments with limited hardware, but became more iconic with the medleys. It’s a lot different from something like Zelda, where you’re guaranteed to get a similar sound each time. In Castlevania, you don’t really know what to expect.”
What was the last game you played that had a big impact on you?
“Lost Odyssey has music that drives me to tears. In the game you find these scrolls that you can read to get additional story. While you’re reading, music plays that takes you on a journey. The game really just made me want to keep reading, but sometimes the music was so sad that I would feel discouraged from playing more.”
What is your favorite piece you have arranged?
“I do love my Castlevania medley, but I feel it needs some work. Lately, my favorite has been ‘Clash on the Big Bridge.’ Everyone really enjoys playing it and it really stood out at our last concert.”
How long have you been arranging for? Was it something that you always wanted to do?
“When I was growing up in Ecuador, my dad had an old reed organ that took a long time to build up sound. I used to press different chords to try and make music. At the time, gaming wasn’t really a thing. When I came to the US, the NES music really inspired me. My dad got me a Casio keyboard, so I used to try to play Nintendo music on it. In grammar school, my music teacher would play the Super Mario theme on the piano, which helped inspire me too. When I got a computer in college, I began arranging for real and used Noteworthy Composer, which I still use today. I started with Mega Man and Castlevania, and then moved onto different RPGs on the Super Nintendo. Now, I don’t need to use samples anymore since MGSO can perform the music! I’m really proud of that.”
What’s the process like when arranging? What is the hardest part? What is your favorite part?
“I’ve always learned to play by ear, but had music teachers help me read when scoring music. Back in the day, I had a lot of plug-ins that could isolate voices and then mimic the sound on a keyboard. It trained my ear to pick up tempo changes and dynamics. I could then use that as a framework. The hardest part is hearing individual parts in each tune. I use a wave editor to notice the lengths of waves to get each part in a measure for each instrument. Some pieces take a very long time if the waves are difficult to pick up on.”
Is there an instrument you wish you could learn to play?
“I want to learn guitar. I have no idea how it works, but I always wanted to learn it. I have about ten cousins that are efficient at guitar, but I have no idea how to play it! I don’t own one either, but would love to get one.”
What is your advice for upcoming video game composers and arrangers?
“If you’re going to be doing video game composing, I’ve noticed it’s very important to develop a motif, one key idea to repeat. For instance, in a game like Super Mario Galaxy, the same few notes appear in many songs on the soundtrack. There’s also ‘Terra’s theme’ in Final Fantasy 6, which is used a lot throughout the game in different songs. It’s a lot easier to tie everything together in a song if you make motifs first. When arranging, do something you really like if you can; something you’ll have a lot of fun with and learn from it. If someone asks you to arrange a piece you aren’t familiar with, try to find the parts you like the most from your first listen and start with that.”
What is your dream arrangement you’d like to work on?
“I want to do an orchestral arrangement of ‘Dancing Mad’ from Final Fantasy 6. I haven’t heard a completely orchestral version done, even from the Distant Worlds Final Fantasy Concert. I would also like to do a Zelda mash-up of the overworked themes, with A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, Spirit Tracks, and the original Zelda. I’m also looking into a Bowser medley, with the airship armada theme from Super Mario Galaxy, Bowser’s road from Super Mario 64, the castle theme from Super Mario World, and the Super Mario Galaxy 2 final Bowser battle theme.”
If you could meet one videogame composer, who would it be?
“I actually met the composer for the original Castlevania and Mega Man X3, Kinuyo Yamashita, but I would also like to meet the modern Castlevania, and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night composer, Michiru Yamane. I’ve also met Nobuo Uematsu at one of the Distant Worlds concerts as well.”