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   Sound Test - Interview with Dennis Martin  

Dennis Martin, a fifth generation New York native, is a composer, music producer, programmer, arranger, re-mixer, and keyboardist. He attended New York University where he studied Computer Music and Composition. He co-founded the NY Dance label HipBone Records, where he composed & produced many releases in all genres of dance music. Dennis has recently scored the music for two television dramas for two major Japanese TV networks. One of which has received a prestigious award for best soundtrack in a TV drama. He has also recently completed composing and programming the music for SONY Computer Entertainment's latest PlayStation title; "The Legend Of Dragoon". Dennis is currently working on many USA and Japanese projects that include, artist CDs, video games, and re-mixes; all of which vary in musical style.

Credits Include: Blue Bird Syndrome - T.V. Soundtrack; TV Asahi, SONY Music Rasen - T.V. Soundtrack; Fuji Television, Pony Canyon The Legend Of Dragoon - Playstation Soundtrack; SONY Music Cubic U - Utada Hikaru - "I'll Be Stronger"; Re-Mix So Shimizu - "Blood"; Polystar TUBA - "Theme From The Underground Bowling Alley"; Vinylmania Jazz Records Speak Easy Jazz Vol. I - TUBA - "Trip Mix"; Moonshine Records N'dshea - "City Got Soul"; HipBone Records Street Jazz Vol. I - London Kills Me - TUBA - "Dirty Jazz Mix"; Step 2 Records, SONY Envelope - "Hear My Answer"; I Records TUBA - "Back To the One" - Vinylmania Jazz Records Slide 5 - Rhode Trip ( Mixer); Ubiquity Records Speak Easy Jazz Vol. 2 - TUBA - "Back To the One"; Moonshine Records Double Drums - "Beats & Grooves Vol. I"; HipBone Records Richard Worth (Groove Collective) - "No Reason"; Vinylmania Jazz Records Glenn Turner - "I Need A Lover"; Vinylmania Jazz Records Noel Mckoy (James Taylor Quartet), Re-Mix; Indochina Records Richard Worth (Groove Collective) - "Stone Monkey"; Freeze Records New Tenor Conclave - "Pommes Grease"; Vinylmania Jazz Records Skins, Metal & Wood - "Beats & Grooves Vol. II"; HipBone Records .......and many others.

Legend of Dragoon        


Jeff Davis: First and foremost, thanks for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule. When and how did you get into music (composition, production, etc.)?
Dennis Martin: Well, I got interested in music during High School. Jam sessions with friends, school jazz band, etc. I started writing my own songs even before I could actually play an instrument. After being in so many bands and recording projects I just developed a love for sound creation and all the cool technology that is used to make music these days. Producing was just a natural progression for me.

JD: In terms of musical training -- are you self-taught or did you go through any academic training/music theory?
DM: I did study music at New York University. But I feel that the skills that are most valuable to me have been either self taught or learned from observing people that I respect do their thing. I rely heavily on technology (computers, synthesizers, etc.) and that was primarily self taught.

JD: What kind of music related gear, hardware/software do you use?
DM: I have a Mac based Hard Disc recording setup. I mostly use Digital Performer for sequencing and recording. I often use ProTools as well while in the studio. I like to combine electronics with live playing and the computer lets me do that very easily. I have a bunch of synthesizers. I love analog synths! I guess my most valuable piece is my EMU E4 Sampler. The machine is amazing - great filters. But with all the digital stuff I still try to create an organic sound. Music that breathes. Without the amazing musicianship of my friends and colleagues with whom I work, my music would not have life.

JD: Given your inauguration to the RPG world with Legend of Dragoon, most RPGamers aren't completely familiar with your background. What kinds of projects have you been involved in and in which media? Has your work been relegated to music composition, or are you also involved in producing, arranging, etc.?
DM: Well, I have a pretty diverse resume (see credits). Basically; Producer, Composer, Arranger, Keyboardist, Programmer. That's a mouthful but they are all really tied together. In the past couple of years I have been spending a lot of time in Japan. Last year I scored two television dramas there. One was called "Rasen" for Fuji TV. The other was called "Blue Bird Syndrome" (translated). But these were new undertakings for me. It was totally different from making records. I would consider myself a record producer/songwriter. Styles include dance, rock, jazz, pop, drum & bass, etc. I will be starting a new band in Japan with virtuoso violinist Toshihiro Nakanishi. He is one of the most amazing musicians I have ever worked with. He played on both of the dramas that I scored. The project will be very interesting, mixing string arrangements - with dance and ethnic beats - and improvisation. No title yet.

JD: Legend of Dragoon is Sony Computer Entertainment's first major foray into the genre, complete with high budget, and state of the art audio and visuals. How did you get involved with such a monumental project? Even more astounding is that they chose an American composer, a field where Japanese composers traditionally have dominated. What are your thoughts on this?
DM: Fist of all, I am very honored to have worked with such an amazing and talented team. They definitely had their pick of composers and I am grateful that they chose me to be a part. I had never composed for game music before and was not sure what I was getting myself into. I had to learn quick! Without knowing anything about the game, I submitted 2 demos of what I thought sounded like game music. The first one ended up being the music for the first introduction movie that you see. The second one was not accepted with the same enthusiasm. As far as me being American, I guess they were looking for a different twist. I have noticed that a lot of game music sounds like game music. I tried, whenever possible, to go somewhere else. Since I live in New York, we communicated via email, mp3, and fedex. When I had other work in Tokyo (which was quite often), we would have meetings with the Director, Musical Supervisor, Sound Designer and Graphic Designers. They would show me bits of the game in its infancy. It was amazing to see it develop!!

JD: How was your experience with Legend of Dragoon compared to your past projects? Did Sony give you carte blanche or enough freedom?
DM: It doesn't compare at all with my other projects. Composing for an RPG video game is a unique undertaking. The beginning was a bit rough. It took some time for me to get in sync with what the Director and Sound Team's vision was. But they were patient. Eventually we came up with a direction. They had definite ideas of what they wanted for each scene, but were flexible enough to accept some new ones. I think there was give and take on both sides. That's what working as a team is about.

JD: Most game music is usually done after the game is completed, to which the composer is either asked to play bits of the game, or is shown artwork/movies/cg work/story boards and/or a script. With Legend of Dragoon what was the process like? And since you live stateside did you have to commute to Japan or did you have to work there during the project?
DM: I think I answered part of this question already. I worked off of artwork and storyboards. Like I said, when I went to Japan I did get to see some movies, graphics and game play. For every scene (and there were many) they would send me 5 or 6 color print outs. Sometimes they were prints right off the game, and other times they were artist pencil sketches. They would also send a brief description of the situation and a note on what they were thinking as far as music.

JD: You also worked with an additional composer, Takeo Miratsu, did you not? What was that like? Since the work essentially was split, how much of the music were you assigned to do?
DM: Believe it or not, I have never met Mr. Miratsu. The game was so large (4 CDs) that for me to do it all by myself, which was the original plan, was not realistic. I am not sure what the split is but I think that I did about 70% or so of the music. It also gave them the opportunity to have a composer close at hand, since Mr. Miratsu lives in Japan. Our styles are definitely different. I guess it gave some them some additional colors to work with.

JD: How long was the given timetable in order to finish the Legend of Dragoon soundtrack? Did you find this a hindrance?
DM: We would work with mini deadlines; A, B, C, etc. I think it went up to H or I. Each deadline had about 8-10 songs that needed to be completed. I was working on other projects at the same time so sometimes it got a bit crazy. But I got through it.

JD: Speaking of hindrances...How do you feel about videogame/PSX sound hardware? Did it stifle you at all?
DM: In a word; YES! I was very limited on the types of sounds that I was able to use. Sounds that are too long (like a sweep or LFO), are a big no no. Also no sustain pedal messages. That was hard for me to get used to at first. It is really amazing what the sound team does with the music after I hand in the data. They cut and chop and resample and resequence all in an effort to squeeze a ton of data on the discs. The graphics and movies take up huge amounts of space. I am hopeful that the new hardware will allow for full quality CD audio throughout. On the main theme song, I did get to use live musicians, and the song is full CD quality.

JD: The album's music touches on several genres from celtic to techno to classical, was this due to your own personal style or did Sony ask for a given style?
DM: I think it was a mix of there ideas, mine and Mr. Miratsu's. Sometimes they would request a style and other times they would just describe a mood that they were hoping to capture.

JD: Which of your songs in the album are you most proud of? Of note -- my favorite one is the vocal song "If You Still Believe" that plays in the introduction and the ending, the piano theme song that plays in the Opening CG movie, not to mention the ones heavily reliant on piano pieces. Were you in charge of any of these?
Dm: Yes, those were my pieces. I guess that I am most proud of the vocal theme "If You Still Believe." I recorded the string section and guitars in Tokyo, and then came back to NY and did the bass, percussion, sax and vocals. We mixed it in NYC. I think that song fits well into the vibe of the game and can also stand on its own. The opening CG Movie music is that first demo that I handed in; in it's original form.

JD: On a side note, who sang the vocal to that song? She's amazing!
DM: Her name is Elsa and I agree she is amazing. I am producing a project with her now. So look out for her!!

JD: Were you at all involved with the separate album to Legend of Dragoon? I noticed there were some songs in the game that aren't in the album.
DM: I was not involved at all with choosing which songs appeared on the CD. I was a bit surprised that they don't use the original recordings and choose to use the actual game audio. I guess the listeners want to hear it as it appears in the game.

JD: Do you play any videogames? Did you play any of Legend of Dragoon?
DM:
I don't really play games. I did a bit to research. I did play the game but I must admit that I have a bunch of memory cards so that I can jump around.

JD: Aside from the Legend of Dragoon album, do you have any other works that are readily available?
DM:
Right now the soundtracks from the TV dramas are available on CD.

JD: Which is your favorite music genre to work in (CDs, Videogames, TV, etc.)?
DM:
I enjoy any project that is challenging and allows for creative exploration. Lately I have been concentration on songwriting and artist production.

JD: Do you have any plans to do anymore game music?
DM:
I would be delighted to work on another game but have no plans as of yet.

JD: The question begs asking, with all the rumors of a sequel to Legend of Dragoon floating around. Do you know anything about Legend of Dragoon 2, or could tell us anything? Assuming such a project is in the works and given your success with Legend of Dragoon, I am sure I speak for our informed music aficionados -- that we hope that you would be in charge of it again, just as other RPG flagships have a principal musician, so should this one.
DM: All I have heard is that some new character sketches are in existence. I would be very happy to get a chance to work on the sequel.

JD: Music buffs and composers alike usually have favorite musicians that they either love listening to or whose music has influenced them profoundly. Who do you listen to or admire musically? Do you have a preference in terms of music you listen to?
DM: I listen to a wide range of music. If I had to list a few influences I would say The Beatles, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, John Coltrane.........did I say The Beatles?

JD: Besides music, do you have any other hobbies/passions?
DM: Just recently started playing golf. Music is a lot easier!

JD: Last, but certainly not least. Many of our readers are aspiring musicians. Do you have any advice you can give to anyone who wants to compose music professionally?
DM:
It's hard to give advice without sounding to preachy. But the best advice that I think I could give is to be diverse. The media world is moving fast and technology even faster. There will be many new opportunities for composers. Being able to work in many types of situations and having the ability to compose in many styles will be a big asset to have.

JD: Mr. Martin it has been a distinct pleasure. You are a credit to the industry. Thank you.
DM: Thanks for the kind words and for supporting game music and Legend Of Dragoon.


On behalf of RPGamer, we'd like to Thank Mr. Martin for his interview. For those who are interested, Legend of Dragoon for the Playstation is readily available in most stores. And for those interested in Legend of Dragoon OST, it can be purchased at your favorite gamemusic import store or online stores such as Gamemusic.com or GameExpress.com.

 

  Interview by Jeff Davis


 

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