By Jeriaska . August 16, 2008 . 9:22pm
Ian Hartley is a Tokyo-based DJ hailing from London who publishes drum'n'bass, acid jazz and electronica mixes through his independent label, kikaizuki. He and Matt Baggiani have collaborated under the group name Ante on Final Fantasy Remix, an album featuring club style arrangements of songs from eight different Final Fantasy games. The project was directed by series composer Nobuo Uematsu and selections were featured in a live performance together at The Black Mages Darkness and Starlight concert to promote the album.
In a rare move for Square Enix, Final Fantasy Remix is available now simultaneously on compact disks and through digital distribution on iTunes. An EP featuring "Blue Fields," "Liberi Fatali" and "Prelude" went on sale online July 18, followed by the full release this week. Ian's solo album "saru monkey breaks" will be debuting in English-language territories soon via Dog Ear Records and iTunes. Here, he shares some of his experiences on the making of the album and performing as a DJ in Tokyo.
Siliconera: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Final Fantasy Remix.
Ian Hartley: No problem. My pleasure!
Siliconera: How long have you been performing music in Japan and when did you start your own label, kikaizuki?
Ian Hartley: I've been living and working in Japan since 2000. So that's 8 years now. I love Japan! I started kikaizuki in 2002, as an umbrella for various musical projects I was working on.
Siliconera: Can you tell us a little about the process of working together with Matt Baggiani on Ante projects? Do you each have particular strengths that you bring to the collaboration?
Ian Hartley: My background is as an instrumentalist – I play guitar, bass and keyboards. Matt's background is in sound engineering and production. We worked separately on the tracks for this production, but there was some crossover in the initial stages.
Siliconera: What manner of trials and tribulations must a DJ endure before performing in well-known clubs like WOMB in Shibuya?
Ian Hartley: I came to DJing after years of playing in bands and ensembles. I still play with bands, and I consider myself a musician who happens to DJ. When I started producing dance tracks, promoters started to ask me to DJ at events. I did some music to promote the FIFA world cup in 2006, and that raised my profile a little…but I don't really consider music to be full of trials and tribulations. I always try to remember that we "play" music, and that a party is supposed to be a PARTY! Going to parties, networking with other promoters, producers, and DJs…it is usually all good fun.
Ian Hartley: I was pushing this project forward from Autumn 2006. I handed Uematsu san the demos in Spring 2007. He was excited, and I was really happy when he decided to set the remix project in motion.
Ian Hartley: I was aware of the FF series, and I have friends who are real fanatics. I have never played any of the games, and I wasn't overly familiar with the music. My bass player friend Philippe Wauquaire knew Nobuo san from many years before, and after we had been introduced, I did some research.
When I proposed to try some remixing, I had no preconceived notions of the original context for the score, which in hindsight, gave me a lot of freedom. When I started to listen to the music in terms of interpreting the harmony and working out counter melodies, I quickly got an appreciation for the complexity of the scoring, and the sophistication of the composition.
Ian Hartley: Nobuo san invited Philippe, myself and Matt to his home (for a wonderful dinner cooked by Mrs.Uematsu). We talked about music, listened to some tunes, and at the end of the evening, I gambled on asking Nobuo if he would let us try to remix some of his work. He sent some CDs to my studio, and I put together remixes of "Liberi Fatali", "Blue Fields", "Balamb Garden" and "Martial Law". Matt did a remix of "Under Her Control". I sent those five tracks through to Uematsu san. Nobuo is of course very busy, but a few weeks after sending, we were invited to dinner again, and Nobuo proposed a remix CD on the spot. It was a big surprise, and more than I had hoped for…"Blue Fields" and "Liberi Fatali" actually ended up on the EP and the CD!
From that point onwards, Ogawa san and Uematsu san listened to every remix, and gave very constructive feedback along the way. I'm used to dealing with advertising people and visual artists, who tend to relate to music in quite abstract terms, but Nobuo is great to work with, because all of his advice is direct, and given in musical terms.
Ian Hartley: After the demo process, the tunes for remix were chosen by Nobuo San, I guess to show the range of the work he has done for the FF series. I suppose it was natural that even the earlier themes would be part of this selection.
I personally have never played any of the FF game series. This music is known and loved by literally millions of fans, so while remixing, I was very conscious of respecting the composer's original intentions. It was an interesting challenge to try to highlight or accentuate such iconic musical themes. As the tracks were developing, it was important to respect the original sound source and context.
Siliconera: Some contemporary videogame musicians dismiss the music of 8-bit systems. What are your thoughts on videogame music of that period, having made an album that retains these instruments in several tracks?
Ian Hartley: The challenge of early VGM was that you may have had only 3 or 4 voices to play with…people can still hum those tunes today, which points toward the fact that the composers knew what they were doing, and made the best of the technology available to them at the time. Music is music. Dynamic range, timbre, contrast…these themes are timeless. The sounds we are using today will one day seem dated. The music that will stand the test of time will be the same as ever; music that is written by composers who understand melody, harmony, rhythm and the most important element; expressing an idea that makes the piece work.
Siliconera: "Mambo de Chocobo" appeared on the 1994 arranged album Final Fantasy Mix. Can you tell us about where you felt the mambo style could be expanded upon for the Final Fantasy Remix album?
Ian Hartley: Well, that is an interesting track. Again, it was Nobuo san who chose this track, and I think he wanted the remix to be as big and comical and crazy as possible. Matt was in London when he was remixing Mambo de Chocobo. I was relaying messages from meetings with Nobuo san and Ogawa san…"More percussion!"…"More guiro! More timbales! More claves!"…and I think Matt did a good job of sending it completely over the top!
Siliconera: Are you more interested with Final Fantasy Remix in conjuring up memories of the games, or creating an atmosphere that suits the ambiance of nightlife venues like bars and clubs?
Ian Hartley: Hopefully somewhere between the two. This project is primarily aimed at the fans. Having said that, during the production process, although it was important to be true to the original music, when choosing sounds for the "electronic" side of the remix, the aim was to be as contemporary as possible. This is quite a juxtaposition, but I feel it works really well in a lot of places on the album.
Ian Hartley: I think it was always on the table to do a digital release alongside the CD, but these decisions were not really my responsibility in terms of this project.
Siliconera: The strobe-effect bomb of the jacket cover has grabbed the attention of quite a few people. Did you have any input into the design?
Ian Hartley: I wish I could say that I did, because it is very cool! But I can't take any credit for that design.
Siliconera: Can you tell us a little about rehearsing the live performance with the Black Mages in Yokohama to promote the album? Have you noticed anything from their participation together as a group that has informed your own process?
Ian Hartley: I have met the Black Mages a few times now. They are all really nice guys, very professional. I rehearsed with them a week before the show. They were very encouraging. In terms of the way they rehearse as a band, they have the hallmarks of professionalism in that they come prepared, they nail all the transitions and tricky passages (of which there are quite a few!), and there is no time wasted. It is the same way I was taught to rehearse ensembles, and it definitely works for them. I think I would say that in general, Japanese musicians do pay a lot of attention to detail, and are quite perfectionist in their approach, which is great.
Ian Hartley: The show was great. It was amazing to see such a variety of musicians — chorus, opera singers, a string ensemble…amazing! In terms of the remix material, this was only a twenty minute debut promotional set, but the enthusiasm of the crowd was overwhelming. So, thanks to all the fans, and see you next time!
For more about the music of Ian Hartley, visit kikaizuki.com. The release "saru monkey breaks" is being distributed by Nobuo Uematsu's label Dog Ear Records via i-Tunes. Images courtesy of Square Enix.
saru mini site:
Final Fantasy Remix CD Release: