Interview: Creating the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses with Jason Michael Paul
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is making its way to Australia and for the first time, coming to New Zealand as well! One show in Melbourne is already sold out and Perth and Auckland won’t be too far behind.
Before they make their trip to Australia we had a phone interview with the producer of the symphony, Jason Michael Paul from Jason Michael Paul Productions. He’s the man responsible for all the Zelda Symphony’s we’ve been lucky enough to have and graciously gave us some time to talk to him about it how it came to be and what’ll be in this new show.
Make sure to check back in a couple days as we’ll an awesome Zelda Symphony competition going live.
Vooks: Thanks for talking to us, first up how do you get into something like being the producer of a symphony for The Legend of Zelda music?
Jason: I got involved with this when I started working in the video game industry. I was working with PlayStation and Squaresoft and it was around the time when they wanted to merge Square and Enix to become the RPG powerhouse with Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. So they asked me to produce the first ever stateside video game music concert and that was where this kind of production began, in May of 2004.
Prior to that I was working with PlayStation and doing a lot of work for them, in addition to Square. I was also working with world-class artists such as Luciano Pavarotti and The Three Tenors. I had worked with Elton John, Outkast, The Foo Fighters, Beck and a lot of other artists at a pretty young age. So I was kind of kind of marinating these ideas and I was also spending a lot of time in Japan — travelling, working, learning the culture, learning the language and really becoming immersed in Japanese culture and it sparked all these kind of ideas. When I saw the music of Final Fantasy videos that they were doing there, and I actually went to a Dragon Quest concert that was conducted and, of course, being composed by Koichi Sugiyama. That’s was really where it came very clear to me that this is something that I think would do really well. Then the opportunity presented itself when the principles of Square North America asked me to do the show for them – that’s where it began.
Vooks: Safe to say you’ve been doing this a while then?
Jason: A little bit yeah, I’m going on going on thirteen years that I’ve been doing video game music concerts all over the world so that’s a long time.
Vooks: So you’ve got a busy schedule for the next 6 months, darting all over the world, how big of a crew do you take with you and is it like a road trip or do you get time to check things out?
Jason: I work with the pretty tight crew, really tight crew. It’s really just the three of us, myself, my technical director and pretty much the guy who puts all the shots, the nuts-and-bolts and organises all the elements, orchestra, the video, camera work and lighting. Then, of course, the conductor, usually they’re the ones, who run the show – it’s their show. That’s really it, that’s all we travel with so when we come to these cities we, of course, want to explore and take it all in but the priority is obviously the show, but any additional time we like to explore and be exposed to everything the cities have to offer.
Vooks: So the last time the Zelda Symphony was here was in 2013 for the 25th Anniversary concerts in Sydney and since then there have been some new Zelda games released, will we be hearing things from Breath of the Wild, for example?
Jason: Oh the show that you saw in Sydney is not the same show you’ll see now, it’s totally different! In fact, I would say that only 20% of the show is the same from when you last saw it. We have a new movement from Skyward Sword and we’ve gone from four movements to five. Now that we know the timeline with Skyward Sword being released its part of the first movement now.
We have new arrangements from Breath of the Wild, which are just awesome and we have incorporated a lot of the elements from the gameplay, a lot of sound effects and cool things for that. We have Twilight Princess HD since that’s been released now. I mean where do I begin! We have an updated overture which, is amazing and also includes Breath of the Wild now. We have a new intermezzo which is just it’ll make you cry, I mean it’s ridiculous.
We’ve got all the updates, for all the games, if they’ve been released then they’ve been updated in the program.
Vooks: Anything for A Link Between Worlds?
JP: Yes, Of course! We have a real nice arrangement that’s been done and takes you through Hyrule and Lorule that’s just beautifully done.
Vooks: So working with Nintendo to create or take tunes are anywhere from the 8bit era to the 16bit era and create a symphony from them, how does Nintendo help out with that?
Jason: We have a really good working process; it starts conceptually with the music and we work with producers and our arrangers and we kind of map it out. Then once we have created the arrangement and we get the approval from Nintendo or the disapproval or the comments, we fix them, after that, we lay the edit to it. We lay it down, edit the video to the arrangement and then submit that Nintendo as well. We submit these directly to series producer Mr Anouma and Mr Kondo the music director, so it definitely goes to the people that are involved with the game which is pretty awesome.
The next step is we take it our guy who builds our clicks and what he does is he takes the edit and music and will lay the streamers and the clicks so that Steven, my technical director, can send that to the conductor on a little monitor, a very discreet monitor that we have on stage for her to see and then that is basically what will drive the orchestra who is also on the click and that’s how we’re able to keep the show so tight.
What we do that’s unique about our performance and our show is that we like to highlight the musicians as well. We intersperse the gameplay footage, FMVs and the testimonials from Mr Miyamoto, Mr Kondo and Mr Aonuma with video from our cameras of the musicians. So for example, if there’s a piccolo or flute solo we’re able to pick that up, or piano or the harpist; there are two harpists on these pieces actually and we’re able to focus in one and cut in and out using a very Zelda is the border for these cameras. It’s cool, just a real tight production.
Vooks: So Breath of the Wild has more a subtle soundtrack, there are only a few big themes in the game. You mentioned you were going to incorporate some of the atmosphere from the game instead?
Jason: It’s definitely something that I wanted to do anyway at some point and I always had thought about the idea of doing sound effects within the venue, in a concert environment. So obviously with Breath of the Wild coming out it really allowed us to do and with that, we’ve been really been able to mimic the sounds, like the ducks, the wind or the grass blowing in the wind. Those natural sounds, that make the exploration in Breath of the Wild so awesome we’re able to really encapsulate those within a live concert environment. Of course, there’s also a music element to which plays so beautifully with the sound elements. I’m really excited for the pieces to be performed every night, we’ve had such a good response, it’s really nice.
Vooks: Are there any other Nintendo franchises you think you would want to do this to or perhaps an all-Nintendo show?
JP: (laughs) Of course, it’s all on Nintendo! I’ve already presented these ideas for years and years. Now so hopefully I’ll get my shot to be able to do that and hopefully I’ve done the Legend of Zelda franchise justice enough to be to be handed the torch to be able to do that because the idea of creating a Nintendo All Star concert is definitely something I would love to do. It would basically be all of Nintendo’s IP being presented all in one concert, it would be phenomenal.
Vooks: One final question, does a normal symphony goer, appreciate or go to listen to video game music? Is it an old vs new thing in the community?
JP: Yeah that’s something I’m trying to dispel. My goal as a producer and my team is to create a concert that can be appreciated by all people, not just the Legend of Zelda or not just video game music fans. The idea is to gain mainstream acceptance for something that has been more or less a niche, I’m trying to get away from that. My goal is to make a concert a that can be appreciated by all. I think we’ve been chipping away at that throughout my 13 years. When I first started this it was really a stuffy environment, these orchestras were saying something like, one of the most famous quotes by a musician with the LA Phil saying that this is Muzak or elevator music. That always stuck with me, because that quote was in the Los Angeles Times one of the biggest papers in the US. So from that point on I always wanted to be like “No, that’s not muzak, that’s not elevator music, it’s real music and needs to be respected as such.”
What I like to tell people is that it’s the soundtrack of my generation and that’s why I take such pride and put so much careful attention into every performance.
One thing I will want to tell you is that one of the things that are my signature about my shows is that I’ve never ever compromised anything artistic or the size of the orchestra, it’s always the same size, our choir is always the same size, it’s never ever not been that. A lot of times these types of productions they can be scaled down to almost nothing and then what they’ll start doing is put on background tracks and they’re just using a PA and it’s basically a Milli Vanilli. You’re never ever going to see that with my show, you’ll never have to worry about that.
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses arrives in Auckland first on August 14th, then zips all the way over to Perth for August 24th, then up to Singapore for August 26th and then all the way back to Melbourne for September 3rd. Tickets are on sale now.
This audio interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Thanks to Jason for his time.