Interview With

Jeron Moore and Chad Seiter

Arranging Metroid for orchestra
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Jeron Moore and Chad Seiter took time out of their busy schedule to discuss their involvement in PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. We focus on their brand new Metroid arrangement which is to debut at Benaroya Hall, Seattle on the 21st  June 2011 and we also discuss their passion for PLAY!, their work and their fond memories of Metroid and their plans for the future.

SS:  To start us off guys, please tell us more about yourselves, your roles at PLAY! and how you both got involved in the project.

JM: Hey Shinesparkers! I’m Jeron Moore and I’m the producer for PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. Chad Seiter is the gentleman responsible for most of our new tent pole arrangements, including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania and Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI. I originally became involved w/ PLAY! during its 2006 premiere debut in Chicago as a result of my friendship and professional relationship with composer Jeremy Soule. It was an exciting thing going to an event that celebrated video game music in the way that PLAY! was promising. The anticipation was just silly – all of the biggest names in video game music were actually there, in the flesh: Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo, Yasunori Mitsuda, Akira Yamoaka, Michiru Yamane, Yoko Shimomura, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, Yuzo Koshiro, Angela Aki, Jeremy Soule, Jason Hayes, Marty O’Donnell & Michael Salvatori, gosh I know I’m missing a few more – but you get the idea.

As an orchestral music enthusiast and an avid gamer and fan of video game music, the show delivered in spades. It still ranks as one of the memorable nights I think I’ve had at a symphonic concert venue. I came on board as the show’s full- time producer in May 2009. Our performance earlier this year with the Dayton Philharmonic marked the beginning of an influx in new arrangements, and this initiative will be totally apparent in Seattle w/ the premiere of a new program on June 21st and 22nd with the Seattle Symphony. PLAY! in 2011 and beyond is a brand new, exciting show that, in my opinion, really represents the passion and hard work of our entire team. If you’ve seen PLAY! before, it’s time to come back. You’re in for a treat.

SS: For those of us who may not have heard about the symphony before, please give us some background information about the project and the team involved.

JM: PLAY! A Video Game Symphony takes music from some of the most venerable and well known franchises in the video game industry and gives it the royal orchestral spotlight. When we present the music to the audience, we focus on the composers and musicians themselves and let the music speak for itself – pure and faithful performances led by our Music Director and Principle Conductor, Andy Brick. Andy has a fair amount of experience working in the video game industry and brings a fun, playful and always respectful approach to the music when interacting with both the orchestra and the audience.

Backstage we’ve got one of the most experienced live video directors for music events pulling all the strings: Anthony Pagano. He’s the man behind the curtain. Anthony balances the delicate give and take pouring from the 3 giant screens, showcasing thoughtfully edited moments from the games themselves with live shots of the conductor, orchestra, choir and instrument solos as they perform the music. It’s all really magical as it unfolds before of you.

SS: PLAY! has covered a wide range of video games since it began in May 2006. Where did the idea originate from for the team to create a piece of music based on the Metroid franchise, and why has it taken this long for it to be included in the program?

JM: Great questions! You know, when pulling a concert like this together, there are a million awesome ideas. “What would this sound like performed live by an orchestra?” “Ohhh – that hasn’t been done.” “But wait, I’ve always wanted to hear this.” As much as I’d love to produce a video game music concert on the scale of, say Wagner’s 4-night-long Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle), you’ve got to boil it down to what you feel is the best, most appealing selection, while also managing to fit that into a reasonable program length (approx. 45 minutes on either side of the intermission). The short answer on why PLAY! is only now doing Metroid: we just hadn’t gotten to it yet.

When I came on board in 2009, Metroid was one of the obvious titles missing from our catalog. Being a huge Nintendo geek, it was simply a must-have for me. Recollecting back to when I was 13 or 14, I’d discovered the amazing Orchestral Game Music Concert albums performed and recorded in Tokyo. There was a Super Metroid arrangement on the 4th volume that really opened my eyes to what Metroid music could sound like in an orchestral setting. If memory serves, the medley included Theme of Samus Aran, Samus Aran – Galactic Warrior, Brinstar 1, Brinstar 2, and the Ending. It covered a lot of classic stuff. At the time, there’s no way I’d know that I’d have the opportunity to produce my own version. When Executive Producer Jason Michael Paul and I invited Chad Seiter onto the team, Metroid was one of the first on our list to do.

SS: Metroid has a wide range of memorable and well loved music. How was it decided which themes would make it into the final arrangement? Were there any difficult choices that had to be taken on which themes made it and which themes didn’t?

JM: This was extremely difficult. When we started outlining our ideas for the new arrangement, we were trying to cram everything from the first game, to Super Metroid, to Retro’s Prime series. I think you could focus a whole concert alone on the music from Metroid, so of course there’s always that day in the process when you wake up and realize, “Okay, time to make some hard choices.” Between the two of us, Chad is the one who obsessively played Super Metroid as a kid. Being that he’s the one putting all the notes down on the page, struggling through the process of reworking themes and putting it all into a context that makes sense in under 7 minutes, I left it up to him to take our initial selection and cull it down and shape it into something that ultimately worked.

At the end of the day, we wanted to tell a Super Metroid story. It’s the game we both still put on a pedestal as the defining Metroid game of our childhood. With that in mind, we hope to bring you into some of the excitement, adrenaline, horror and intensity that Samus must have felt, going up against all of the monsters and craziness she’s faced throughout her adventure. It’s a pulse-pounding onslaught of musical awesomeness that grabs you and doesn’t let go until its huge, final heroic resolution. I don’t want to say what themes made it in and which didn’t, but I think people dig it. I certainly do.

CS: First off, Super Metroid is easily within my top 5 favorite games of all time. The new Metroid suite essentially tells the story of Super Metroid. I basically treated it as though I were writing a Hollywood film score. I started at the beginning and worked my way through the events of the story, before I ended it with the big fight with Mother Brain. I have always wanted to do a big Hollywood arrangement for Super Metroid, and I hope the audience enjoys the film score approach.

SS: Were there any challenges that you both faced when putting the arrangement together?

JM: I can’t say there was a whole lot of challenge pulling this together. That’s not just a testament to Chad’s talent, but also hopefully speaks to our enthusiasm and familiarity with the music from the Metroid franchise. If you’re anything like us, it’s not unusual to bust out whistling the Brinstar or Lower Norfair melodies while picking up a gallon of milk from the grocery store. When you’re in love with the material like we are, creating something like the new Metroid arrangement becomes more of a delight than a chore.

SS: Aside from Metroid, what else will video game fans have to look forward to in this upcoming concert?

JM: A lot! We’re premiering brand new, never-before-heard arrangements of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda (also arranged by Chad Seiter), as well as music from blockbuster contemporary titles Halo: Reach and Dragon Age 2 – all created especially for PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. We’ve also got new arrangements of Castlevania and Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI, first performed in March at the show w/ the Dayton Philharmonic in Dayton, OH. I’m really looking forward to hearing these again – they were incredible.

SS: Video game concerts such as Video Games Live have had worldwide success and Symphonic Game Music Concerts (Symphonische Spielemusikkonzerte) has been award winning. What makes PLAY! stand out from the rest?

JM: I haven’t been to the Symphonische Spielemusikkonzerte shows, but I have attended Video Games Live a number of times. Video Games Live is a terrific show and I consider both Tommy and Jack friends and colleagues. I think what helps PLAY! stand apart is its own unique approach to showcasing the music from video games, focusing on the music as art and honoring the talent behind what makes all of this music so great. An opinion shared across the board internally on the PLAY! team is a passion and desire to bring children, teenagers, college students, adults, parents and grandparents back into the concert hall.

Whether you’re a seasoned symphony subscriber or have never seen a live symphonic orchestra perform, we are enthusiastic about sharing the magic of this rare medium where story, art, interactivity, passion, nostalgia and amazing music all converge. There’s an energy in the audience that’s contagious and exhilarating. It’s really unlike anything you’ve ever seen or would expect.

SS: PLAY! has worked with some of the most famous names in Video game music such as Koji Kondo (Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda), Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (Virtua Fighter 2), Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill, No More Heroes 2) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy). What is it like to work with such talent and what has the team learned through working with a variety of different people over the years?

JM: We’re honored and thrilled to work with these artists – they are rock stars in their field. The biggest thing we continue to take away from this experience is that video game music is an ever-growing phenomenon, and the composers you mentioned, as well as so many others, have an unending amount of love and passion for what they do. It’s really rewarding having the opportunity to bring that to the concert hall for audiences to experience and enjoy.

SS: Jeron, as a producer who has worked on a variety of different projects, what has been the high point of your career so far and what are your goals for the future?

JM: Wow, a hard question to answer. PLAY! is certainly one of those points, working with amazingly talented individuals like Chad Seiter, Jason Michael Paul, Andy Brick and Anthony Pagano, not to mention the composers we get to work with and the properties we get to represent. We’ve got a great team and I’m very proud of the work we do together. My past work includes varying roles on the development teams for 3D Realms produced Prey and Duke Nukem Forever, as well as an enduring collaboration w/ composer Jeremy Soule and his company, Artistry Entertainment – all of which have been invaluable experiences.

Goals for the future? A continuing initiative to bring video game music into classy, prestigious venues with performances by world-class orchestras and choirs. It’s an exhilarating and humbling experience, seeing upwards of 80-100 musicians come together on a stage to perform beautiful, exciting and complex music with emotion and precision.

SS: Chad, you have worked on movies such as The Incredibles as a score assistant and Star Trek providing additional orchestrations. How has working on PLAY! compared to working in cinema and what experience have you taken from your previous work to this current project?

CS: Well, as a kid I grew up playing video games, but I loved film just as much. I feel like I come from two distinct worlds. As a result, I would always play these games wondering what it would be like if they were epic blockbuster movies. When it came time to do these PLAY! arrangements, they really came together quickly as it seemed as though I’d been thinking about it my entire life! I feel like what I’ve written is both cinematic and exciting, but still faithful to their original counterparts. It’s what a film lover would love in video games, and what a gamer loves in film. I think audiences are really going to love it.

SS: In August this year, Metroid will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. Tell us about some of your fondest memories with Metroid that you’ve had over the years.

JM: My first experience with Metroid was with the original on the NES. It’s crazy to think about the visuals of that game – how basic they were compared to what we see today, but the creepy sparseness of the environments, the music, the creatures, that sense of being the only “good guy” on a planet full of monsters – it was intense and scary at the age of 6 or 7! As a child, my crazy imagination exaggerated a lot of the drama, but that feeling of trepidation (and rush of excitement) every time I’d blow out my NES cartridge and pop it into the console will always be something I associated with the Metroid titles.

CS: I’ll never forget the first time I played Super Metroid. My dad had just bought a new van which had a TV in it (rare at the time, not by today’s standards!) – we were going on a vacation to Michigan’s upper peninsula, a 9 hour drive. We stopped at a video game store and I saw a used copy of Super Metroid. I had never even heard of it but it looked awesome. My dad got it for me (which was rare that he would buy me a game) and I spent the entire drive furiously playing through it. After that, I was a Metroid convert and have since played through all the Metroid games 100,000 times.

SS: What do you think the future holds for Metroid?

JM: Your guess is as good as mine! With all of the anticipation and excitement surrounding the Wii U, I can only begin to imagine what the next Metroid titles will be like.

SS: PLAY! has a live CD and DVD release for previous performances. Are there any plans to release these upcoming arrangements for people to purchase in the future?

JM: There are no current plans to record a new album at this time, but you can bet it’s on our mind. However, the Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert will have a full album release.

SS: What’s next for you guys?

JM & CS: We’re happy to announce that we’re working very hard on The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert with Jason Michael Paul Productions, Inc. and Nintendo. It fundamentally works like PLAY! – but with Zelda music! Details are coming soon, but the worldwide debut launches in October. Keep your eyes open for more details!

SS: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us guys, it’s very much appreciated. Do you have any closing comments you would both like to make?

JM: We’d just like to thank you for approaching us and taking the time to ask us these questions. We’re really excited about the new Metroid arrangement, and we sincerely hope it delivers on its promise. It was made by Metroid fans for Metroid fans, so consider this as PLAY!’s gift to you.

We would like to thank Jeron and Chad for taking the time to speak to us and wish them the very best of luck with their PLAY! Symphony concerts and The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concerts. For more information be sure to check out the official PLAY! website.

© 2011 Darren Kerwin, Jeron Moore and Chad Seiter
Interviewed 14th June 2011