Fafner in the Azure Composer Interview: Tsuneyoshi Saito | ‘An Orchestral Chain Reaction’

The following is an official translation of an interview conducted with composer Tsuneyoshi Saito regarding his work on the mecha anime franchise Fafner in the Azure. It was published in the liner notes of the now out-of-print soundtrack album ‘NO WHERE’, released by Geneon for the North American market.

The music composed and produced for Fafner in the Azure presents an unique viewpoint on the international traffics of anime production: Saito opted to record the soundtrack for the anime series abroad with the renowned Polish orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, for what he refers to be a willfully classical compositional process, and thus providing Fafner in the Azure with a sonic experience that references the symphonic scope of a Star Wars score.

(Note: the interview also featured producer Go Nakanishi from King Records.)


Exposition: Regarding the Initial Stage

The first special feature for the soundtrack ‘Fafner in the Azure’ is a full orchestral performance. What were the circumstances that led to this type of music production?

Saito: At the first meeting, we all agreed on a classical theme using an orchestra. Until that point, I was planning on using normal robotic music for the battle scenes. Since we decided on using an orchestra, I used it for all the score cues. I wanted to make classical music, not pop music. The word ‘orche‘ (orchestra) caused a chain reaction on what type of music I would create. Director Nobuyoshi Habara requested that I used an orchestra by some means or another.

I heard you aimed it to be like a Hollywood movie soundtrack rather than an anime soundtrack.

Saito: The soundtracks for anime are often created with a generalised technique that the type of music for a particular scene is already determined, so there’s not much difference between composers. I did not want to use this technique. I wanted to do something with a stronger impact. Since I was going to use an orchestra, I suggested that we record overseas. Surprisingly, my suggestion was openly accepted (laughs).

It seemed like the creation of the image of the music and the overseas recordings were proceeding simultaneously, was that so?

Saito: That is true. However, the pieces of music that I wrote earlier were more ‘anime-like’, so I abandoned them all.

All of them?

Saito: Yes, that’s right. I thought if I use an orchestra that is equivalent in scale to John Williams’ Star Wars, I should be capable of creating the same scale of music. This soundtrack would not be a typical anime soundtrack, but a soundtrack that is enjoyable by itself. People often divide an orchestra into small groups such as brass section, string section, soloists and piano, and have them record separately for a vivid mix. But to record a full orchestra for all of the music was the whole point of the project. I believe the music became more symphonic that way.

I feel there’s more essence of classical music that has structural beauty than of a movie soundtrack.

Saito: I intentionally wrote the music in a classical way. I used many old styles such as counterpoint, Minuette, Gigue and court dance music.

You also used traditional Eastern European rhythm.

Saito: When you pursue the sound of European music, you will reach the folk songs that are much older than church music.

In regards to elaborating musical images, after you abandoned all the previous compositions, did you create entirely new musical images from scratch?

Saito: The first compositions became sacrifices to remind me not to do something like that ever again (laughs).

Were you that confident with the change?

Saito: No, no, I wasn’t. I sort of knew what type of music would be favoured over others. I was asked to make more showy music with an orchestra through the intuition from my vast experience. However, I thought it would be better not to create such patterned music.

I see. 

Saito: Since I was working on those matters, none of the staff had a chance to listen to all the cues until we arrived in Warsaw (laughs). As a general practice, I usually give them a demo tape to show them what my expectation would be. However, since I abandoned all of the previously written music including the pieces they likes, the anime staff went to Poland without listening to a single piece of music (laughs).

Nakanishi: I had absolute confidence in Mr. Saito’s music, so I knew it would be all right.

Saito: Even if it wasn’t all right, we had already left for Warsaw, so it was beyond redemption at that point (laughs).

It sounds like you were writing the score right up until the recording session. How long did it take you to compose all the music?

Saito: I suppose about one month…When I work on a project, I create a special time schedule for it. For example, I would write a set amount of musical pieces in a certain time frame, and then take a 10-minute break. If I just set a vague plan such as creating x amount of cues in a month, I will get confused. This method is not only used for Fafner. I set up goals such as writing one piece within two hours.

That is like a prep school student…

Saito: I have to compose something everyday to meet my goals that I’ve set even if I do not want to. For example, I compose dozens of pieces at once first, and then I improve upon them later. My way is not like making one piece and work on building it right away. If my goal is to write three tracks within a day, I write three tracks, and while I am working on other tracks, I go back and improve upon the ones I’ve already written.

So, you continued that for a month.

Saito: Uh-huh.

Before starting the composition process, what kind of reference materials were given to you from Mr. Nakanishi?

Nakanishi: I gave him the first scenario, a two-minute film, and a book entitled, ‘The Art Museum of My Summer Vacation’. I requested him to use the art and scenery from the book as reference images.

Saito: The book provided to me was the most useful information. Although character and mecha designs are quite important, my imagination expands through background scenery; this is my style of composition. I changed my musical images depending on how the background looks like – whether the background is melancholic, realistic or plain. Since there were a lot of realistic and Japanese-style backgrounds this time, the various images from the book helped me in writing the music.

warsaw philharmonic_1.jpg
The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Development: Regarding the Recording Process

With regards to recording, what was the reason for choosing the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra?

Saito: I thought the Warsaw Philharmonic was cheerful, and other composers such as Masamichi Amano and Shiro Sagisu told me that the Warsaw Phil was good. I had been hoping to work with them for a long time. Also, about a month before, a good friend of mine who is a composer went to Warsaw for a recording session and told me they were so great that I should go (laughs).

Another factor was that their sound is more cheerful and more Latin than those of the Czech and Moscow orchestras, even though they’re all from Eastern Europe.

Nakanishi: The main reason was because we could rent a hall to do our recording.

Saito: That’s true. When we record a performance with an orchestra, the echos of the hall also need to be recorded. Even if we spend extra money to have an orchestra perform and record in a studio, it would not be much different from having a session in Japan. In fact, it was worthwhile to go there. Their sound is different from a Japanese orchestra, since Japanese performers tend to be more passive, while the Warsaw performers are more assertive, and the performance itself gets very passionate.

You mean the performers themselves do their own interpretation and expansion of the music?

Saito: That’s right. In that sense the conductor is the key, and we had a young conductor (editor’s note: Lukasz Borowicz) from the Warsaw Phil who did his own detailed analysis. He displayed far more than what we expected.

So, as soon as you arrived in Poland, did you start sharing your music scores to those who knew nothing about Fafner and told them your images for the music?

Saito: The scores weren’t the only way I could use to express my vision. I had expected to make changes in Poland after all. Once I heard them play, I decided to change some parts by adding or subtracting instruments. During the recording at the hall, I stationed myself in the balcony, placed to the upper right of the conductor to give my requests. I had them rehearse whole tracks one by one. If it was okay, I gave them the okay sign with my fingers, and if it isn’t exactly what I wanted, I give them a thumbs down. I was doing all this from the balcony above, so they started calling me ‘Caesar’ (laughs).

You gave them orders while looking down from the balcony?

Saito: When I called the conductor “Maestro,” he responded by by saying, “What is it, Emperor?” (laughs)

(The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.)

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