Hiroki Ogawa And The Path To Dog Ear Records

By Jeriaska . November 14, 2008 . 10:35pm

Hiroki Ogawa is the director of Nobuo Uematsu’s recording studio Dog Ear Records. Together with the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy orchestral concert, he has traveled outside Japan and encountered firsthand the enthusiasm that international audiences have for Uematsu’s videogame music. Now more than ever, the director says, the staff of Dog Ear Records feels compelled to broaden the music label’s focus to overseas territories. “The studio is physically located in Japan,” he says, “but all of us sense there is this passion from outside the country that we want to respond to. I’m very grateful for the enjoyment and support there.”


Since Dog Ear Records opened its blog, the director has written posts in both Japanese and English under the handle “wappa.” Recently three of the company’s albums have been released internationally through iTunes: saru monkey breaks, Anata wo Yurusanai Original Soundtrack and KALAYCILAR. The artist behind the latter album will be performing on November 24 at a live event in Tokyo, which was announced by the studio’s director through an online video. The intimate venue in Daikan-yama will accommodate only a hundred or so visitors. “This time we are challenging ourselves to put on a live event,” Ogawa says of the Dog Ear showcase. “Eventually, I want to make this a concert series, so that listeners will experience this music not just through CD releases and downloadable mp3s, but through performances.”


Organizing the live event is just the latest in a series of efforts by the music studio to connect on a personal level with listeners. In addition to his work as a blogger, Ogawa participates in a podcast called “Inu Mimi Radio.” The show is produced without a script and is organized spontaneously whenever studio members have time to get together and talk about their work. “We don’t think too much ahead of time about the program, since we want to preserve the live quality of the conversation,” says the director. He adds, “People love to listen to Nobuo Uematsu.” Even predating Inu Mimi, the composer of Final Fantasy and Blue Dragon had a regular radio series that streamed from the Square Enix Music website. For Dog Ear Records’ show, nine episodes have been recorded so far with guests including The Black Mages contributors Kenichiro Fukui, Michio Okamiya, and Arata Hanyuda.



Hiroki Ogawa first encountered the composer of Final Fantasy three years ago, prior to E3. His experience organizing studio events for orchestral performances was sought after in helping to coordinate a three-minute video clip announcing the release of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey in Western territories. He was required to coordinate with the arranger, guitarist, percussionists and other musicians. Later he was asked back to help organize an orchestral concert in Yokohama called “VOICES: Music from Final Fantasy.”


The organizers were also interested in the idea of including a Doo-Wop medley, so Ogawa got in touch with a group that later became known as the Moogles. Musician Shiro Hamaguchi had been handling arrangements previously on such live albums as “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec: Final Fantasy VIII.” For “VOICES,” Uematsu chose to add several challenging new pieces, including “Prima Vista” (FF9), “Distant Worlds” (FF11), “Kiss Me Good-Bye” (FF12), and “Prelude” (FF1), which were intended for a smaller sized ensemble. Producer Kensuke Matsushita found arranger Sachiko Miyano, who set about expanding these pieces to complement the size of a full orchestra. That was Ogawa’s first time working closely with Square Enix, and the Yokohama concert was a tremendous success.


Following “VOICES,” Square Enix embarked upon the remake of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS. Ogawa received a request to coordinate with the orchestra for the background music that plays during the introductory full-motion video. Again having the opportunity to work with Uematsu and Matsushita at Square Enix, it was at that time that the composer made his plans known about starting a new record label. Ogawa was asked to join the company, an event that took place just over two years ago.




Ogawa’s familiarity with videogame music stretches far back. He and his older brother both grew up on the Famicom, Japan’s Nintendo Entertainment System. “Role-playing games were not multi-player back then,” he recalls, “and since I was the younger brother, I sat down and watched while he played Dragon Quest.” It was not until the release of the Nintendo Game Boy that he himself had the chance to play. His first role-playing game, he says, was Final Fantasy Legend, called Makaitoushi-Saga in Japan. “I’ve been listening to Uematsu’s music since then,” he says. “The main theme for Makaitoushi-Saga was arranged for the orchestra at this year’s Press Start Concert. It was really something to hear it again.”


For Ogawa, Final Fantasy IV remains the most memorable game of the series, and of role-playing games as a whole. “When I was in Junior High School, my brother became too busy studying for exams to play videogames,” he says. “Finally, it was my turn.” The Super Famicom had just been released and it was his first experience with an RPG on a home console. “The realtime battle system was exciting. The music wsas incredible.”


However, years passed before it became clear that the musician would follow a career path that had him working together with the creators of videogame soundtracks. After high school, the musician played keyboard in a band, studying composing and arranging at music school for several years. Upon graduating, he found a job working in sales at an advertising company, but it had little to do with his training, and he gave up the position. For five years, prior to encountering Square Enix, he worked as a music coordinator, arranging for recording sessions and finding performers, such as guitarists or string sections, that would complement a given budget.



Today, as director of Dog Ear Records, Ogawa is spending more time considering digital downloads as a venue for music projects. “CD releases experience long delays outside of Japan,” he says. “They are oftentimes expensive, which is why many albums are denied an international release. By making them available online we can deliver the music anywhere, regardless of location.” At the same time, the company places importance in having physical copies available for purchase because the compression process takes something away from the quality of music when converted into the mp3 format. Ideally, he believes the online mp3s could serve as a sample for listeners to decide whether ultimately they are interested in purchasing the music on compact disc.


As for the latest release, KALAYCILAR has sparked curiosity among those who follow the studio because it is the least directly related to the games industry. Anata wo Yurusanai was an interactive novel for the PSP, and monkey breaks is an original album by Ian Hartley, an arranger of Final Fantasy Remix. Many might wonder what led to the release of the piano album. “The first time I heard this music was five years ago,” Ogawa explains. “Since then I’ve often thought back on it. Even before I was involved in a record label, I had the idea that KALAYCILAR ought to be produced and released. Now that I’m where I am today, it seemed like the thing to do.” Ogawa believes that while the album is not a game soundtrack that there are certain similarities to Uematsu’s music. It is traditional, but challenging to perform; it has unique characteristics that appeal to diverse musical sensibilities.


Ogawa brought an old recording of Egusa’s music to Uematsu one day, and the musician liked the idea of turning it into an official release. “Uematsu loves ELP,” says the director, referring to the 70′s prog rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer. “Egusa, like Uematsu, started studying the piano at age five when he first saw an ELP concert.” As has been the case before, a shared appreciation of progressive rock led to a musical partnership with Nobuo Uematsu. The album took approximately a year to create and now retails on iTunes for three dollars, or about a dollar per track. “The pianist on Anata wo Yurusanai‘s five jazz standards is Egusa’s father,” Ogawa adds. “Believe it or not, we’re witnessing a father and son musical combination with the release of KALAYCILAR.”



Images courtesy of Dog Ear Records and Square Enix. Translation by Ryojiro Sato. Photo credit: Jeriaska/ Siliconera.

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