Kenichi Tokoi on Sonic Channel Creators Interview:
For the 14th Creators Interview, we will introduce Kenichi Tokoi, the Sound Director of Sonic and the Secret Rings!
This time, we would like to ask questions to Mr. Tokoi, the Sound Director of Sonic and the Secret Rings (referred to as Secret Rings below) released on March 15, 2007. First of all, could you please explain what kind of tasks you have taken charge of?
This time, as a sound director, I carried out the direction as far as the detailed parts like the artists’ booking, budgeting, and schedule adjustment related to recording in addition to the sound’s overall plan, quality, and schedule management.
As for the production, while the music was created by two people including myself as well, the incidental music was produced by two people, the sound effects around the stages and event clips by five people, and the sound effects of party games by one person.
In order to make the finished sound effects into sounds with intensity, I did things like performing the mastering (quality, balance adjustment) in all the waveforms. And like an engineer, I also carried out such tasks as the recording of vocal and sound effects, and the mixdown of the movies for shows and publicities. This time, I had many experiences of shutting myself up in the studio anyhow, so there were a lot of solitary tasks. (Laughs)
In what kind of circumstances you turned out handling Sonic and the Secret Rings?
“Would you like to do the Wii-version Sonic?” I received the question from my boss at the beginning of February in 2006. I was happy because I wanted to try to do the development of the new console. When I visited the development team right away, the stage Sand Oasis has already been produced with the system in which Sonic runs automatically with the remote held horizontally in hands, so I was surprised by that. It is because I did not think it would be made so far. I got started on the production of this game immediately.
If you had any sound concept theme and the like of this title, could you please let us hear them?
“To be clad in wild fire and smash with explosive speed.” I was told of that Sonic image from Director Ogawa, so I made that into keyword and variously worked it out, thinking, Well, would the sound also be something wrong with the same image? And when I read the scenario, there was “a core strength of smashing the situation and the world that have ended up changing” in Sonic. I am already interested in the approach like the “smash of structure” that punk rock has for this in a flash. I thought of expressing the music that has strong spirit. Merely looking at the changes won’t do. If he didn’t smash it, he wouldn’t return. I have taken an interest in such spirituality and tackled it.
The Arabic music, which is also the stage setting this time, was very important too. The invitation of Le Club Bachraf, the leading people of Arabic music, was very big. I personally consider Arabic music as very passionate music. In contrast to the “smashing” approach of punk, it has an enfolding feeling, is gentle and very delicate. Suffice it to say, it’s affectionate music. So I produced it, thinking that these two kinds of music must help each other and keeping in mind the smooth merging of these interiors.
The opening theme song Seven Rings in Hands is fantastic too! If you had the secret story of production and the like, could you tell us about them?
I have thought about it since the beginning of production that I wanted artists who can express the music of “the strong spirit of smashing the world that has ended up changing” to cooperate with me and got in touch with NY-based production Beat On Beat’s Mr. Atsushi “Sushi” Kosugi whom I receive cooperation from for many years. I was looking for a unique singer who has husky voice in addition to being full of expressiveness and yet can sing the two kinds of songs—uptempo and slow ballad—so the vocal was not easily found as a matter of course at the beginning. The people with the voice I wanted only live in London.
Meanwhile, the person that the bassist Mr. Will Lee could introduce me was Mr. Steve Conte. I was quite surprised. Mr. Steve Conte is a famous person in Japan’s anime, but it is because he is currently active as a guitarist of New York Dolls above all. (Let me say in passing that speaking of New York Dolls, they are also known for having affected the London punks greatly and for the fact that the ones copying them were Pistols.) I never thought that I could request him who is perfect for the image so far, therefore I would love to ask him the favor and had him contact me. He happened to be in the middle of performing a UK tour, but I heard that he would return to NY for a planned recording and I was really lucky that it matched my schedule as well.
It was so cool that I, as well as Kumatani, ended up getting goosebumps due to his voices that we heard in the first attempt of the recording. And thinking that Mr. Dave Darlington, who had helped me on the occasion of performing the recording and mix of the ending theme in the movie Jam Films produced by SEGA previously, worked as the engineer for me, I am really grateful of being able to attend the very professional field.
How much time should you spend in producing a piece? Could you tell us the procedure and the like of making the music?
This really depends on the case. Sometimes there are pieces which I fully packaged until the mixes in two days and sometimes there are things which took a few weeks. The more time it takes, the more I will end up mixing it and losing the goodness of music, so I will definitely keep it in mind to produce simple music, program it in a synthesizer directly, and value things like inspiration received at the beginning for what I have come up with. Receiving the materials which are possible to prepare in the game’s progress status is also very important in expanding the image.
If it is my own production procedure, I will thoroughly make a demo in the order such as rhythm, bass, melody, and quality chord. If it is accompanied singing, I will end up singing with “La-la-la” and try to put in something in which the synth or guitar will become some essence for the quality chord too. At the point when this demo is produced, I will carry out the arrangement keeping the modification in mind as well while the producer and director confirm the direction.
Here, the mainly used instruments will be decided and the rough mix will finish after I do things like determining the replacement parts in recording. For the rest, it will be completed after I go through the recording and mixdown, finalize the entire fully packaged music, and do the mastering. I really do not have time to have a peace of mind until the very end.
Let the Speed Mend It. (Speed heals everything.) After I saw the translation, it struck home for this as well. It is a piece exactly suitable for Sonic, isn’t it!?
I am happy when you can say like that. This music is the one produced for the stage Sand Oasis and became the debut in the game show called E3 in America. This time, I request Mr. Runblebee for all the lyrics.
Here, he came to SEGA’s studio, watched the actual gameplay clips, discussed it until quite the deep part, and then produced it. His great point is that he is very positive and I have immense trust in him because he is the possessor of the very cooperative and warm heart that he shows me his ideas unreservedly as well.
Especially in the stage music that I compose with vocal song, I have been wanting to also make it have the role of a book that constructs the story in the lyrics, so I remember that I was very impressed looking at the finished lyrics. I think that his poetry hits the deep part and is very skillful.
By the way, Mr. Runblebee is a native half Japanese as well as half English, so it would be an unrealizable task if I lost the communication with him because he did things like gathering all the detailed nuances of the language.
Which music do you like most yourself? Do you have anything like that? And could you tell us if you also had the reason and the like?
I have things in which all are deeply moving, but for the listing by stage music, I have two. They are The Palace That Was Found and How It Started.
For the former, the lyrics “Who is gonna rock the place” continue, but the historic old castle is occupied by Erazor Djinn, and the machinery and this current situation that ended up transforming…. Actually, the strong wish of all those beings wanting to break it down is concentrated. The part “If truly free be stopped never through all that’s happening” which is also in the beginning is my most favorite. At the part “Let’s be present remaining strong,” I feel the pain for only the willpower even if one were present without being able to do anything.
And How It Started is also the music of continuing to cry out, having the warning that one would end up becoming a monster like the manipulated giant fire djinn Ifrit if going on to be carried away by the spirit’s weakness, which also exists in everyone. It is because I want to head towards the positive for everything.
In advancing the project, what was the toughest?
The balance of SE (sound effects) and BGM was difficult. At the beginning when undertaking it, I intended to carry out dynamic range (the design with wide intonation) like a movie, but there are also many objects that Sonic passes through and I renewed the idea after wanting to produce the SE showily.
It was more effective to have also shown the BGM with a heavy impact, so I felt that the cinematic rendition was, on the contrary, not effective anymore. As a result, I was secluding myself in the studio and intently adjusting it in each aspect until it is sensible. The whooole time. Many times until the wildness appears. (Laughs)
During the progress of the project, what kind of things were you happy about?
This is what I always think, that in the process in which the game was finished from phase to phase, the time when it transformed into something appealing to emotion is also what I am happiest about, and it is a moment when I can think I am glad to have done it. In that sense, I think the task of being able to express those especially in the event scenes was very big. This is thanks to all the staff members who were responsible for it! In constructing a story, I think that it is important to express the spirit with sound no matter what kind of situation it is, so it is the best when it is done, isn’t it?
Could you please tell us the triggers, motives, and the like of joining SEGA?
At the beginning, I entered a completely different profession. I appeared in a live house the whole time regularly and also had an offer from a recording company, but there were many cases in which the band didn’t easily go well. Even after I quit all those, I was working as a company employee while making music beside that. How I wished I could make a living with this.
When I read my favorite music magazine at such time, “Game Creator, Sound Creator Recruitment” was one page, so…. I did not even bear ideas about the job of game sound at all, so the feeling of having it done was great.
I like games as well but also wanted to turn music into my career above all, and I made five pieces allll at once in one week by saying, “I must submit these right away!” They were also sung by my friend, who was an international student. Then I joined the company after passing through the interview, but for me, the energy in that one week is an unforgettable memory even now.
And how was it after joining SEGA? At that time, what kind of tasks had you been wanting to do?
When I observed after joining, there were full of people writing amazing compositions around, so sure enough, I was just anxious among such amazing people, thinking whether I could do it. It is because there were parts that I had made in a self-satisfied manner previously.
I turned out making music immediately after joining the company, but the one that I made first was one of the pieces of Daytona USA Circuit Edition. I also liked SEGA Rally myself at that time, so I was glad I could make the music of a racing game. To me, it was a commemorable title in which I was able to know the importance of game sound.
Since about when was the encounter between you and music? Are your parents also people who were familiar with music?
It was a family unrelated to music at all. But saying I want to play the piano from myself during kindergarten was the beginning, and I was absorbing myself in music during childhood anyhow. While performing in a brass band, I had piano lessons after returning, and I performed in choir on Sundays. I was always touching music.
I became aware of synth during junior and senior high school. It’s because I had been totally influenced by YMO after all, and because the pose of playing the synth was cool. My parents bought me a Yamaha DX-7 synth and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s timbre ROM, and I was absorbed in them.
After reaching university, I started to attend more than one band. I took charge in synth and bass, and was active in the activities like live house and event in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In parallel with these, it is the time of carrying out the recording at home for the first time, doing things like making my favorite music. It is an era when the computers still costed up to a million yen, so I got a loan as much as two million yen for all the equipment. It was excessive, wasn’t it?
It was an era when the technique called sampling collage was cool, so I followed suit and did the sampling. Looking for the materials such as jazzlike sax phrase and old-fashioned rhythm was interesting. I think I’d stored them so well with floppies. (Laughs) Now is the good era when I can complete it with a computer, but I think owning equipment at that time was a test. It was so expensive that one could buy a new car, the capacity was just a little, the timbre was not varied like now, and there were also many cases where I must create them from scratch. If I did not master the equipment thoroughly, I could not make the music I wanted to make, so the expression called “clinging to the music” might be correct, mightn’t it? (Laughs)
After graduation, I feel that I had chosen a job in which I could properly take my time. It was a high-paying job, so it is also the time when I changed the music equipment firmly and completely there. At that time, I had the opportunity of touching the professional field somehow, doing things like being able to participate in a compilation album and experiencing the recording, so I think that the awareness of wanting to become a professional after all rose here.
Currently, what kind of tasks are you doing?
I am handling Sonic Team’s title consecutively. There are things still unannounced as well and I cannot tell in detail, but I am already trying to approach the music production in the middle stage. I will join the recording in July and am quite hurrying through it now, but it has been finished as something very good. Please look forward to it!
Among the tasks so far, what leaves you the best impression?
I have participated in the music of Sonic series for many years, but Sonic and the Secret Rings this time was a different image, so the impression is quite strong. It’s because it is very dark … or rather, there were many stages with tension. If I made it with my nature completely, it would end up becoming soulful, bright image like funk, R&B, and gospel, so it could not relax one’s attention.
If it is other than Sonic and the Secret Rings, it will be Phantasy Star Online Episode III: C.A.R.D. Revolution after all. It was also my first direction, and everything was full of my firsts. The task of being able to carry out the orchestra’s live recording abroad was great as well, so above all, I was happy to be able to compose the music which appeals to emotions with harmony that the very orchestra performs.
The theme song at this time is also the one full of memories. The singing of the soprano Chris was too delicate and ended up being covered in the orchestra, so he gave up on one occasion, but as a revenge, he rerecorded it in Poland again together with the conductor Mr. Amano’s own tasks. After the first recording, he practiced the singing as hard as he could. In one shot, I was charmed by his mysterious singing voice which is very full of confidence. It’s because he was that thing—angel.
Inside the Sonic series, which character do you like the most? Please tell us the reason, too.
This would be Knuckles after all, wouldn’t this!? It’s because I made his theme songs in Sonic Adventure series. He is my very nostalgic partner, too. Also being very tough, he has comedic element as well contrary to his stubbornness. There is a covered point in myself somehow, too. (Laughs) I like his such naiveness.
What is Sonic to you?
Hmm … I wonder what he is….
He is not someone like a drudge and does everything smoothly and completely, so I wonder if he is a being like an apprentice, who ends up rushing out to the world without having any hesitation. As for me who is a worrier, it is an area that I really want to learn.
Finally, may I request your brief comment to everyone who is visiting Sonic Channel?
Really thank you to the people who have played Sonic and the Secret Rings and who have listened to the soundtrack Seven Rings in Hand. I would be happy if you could enjoy them forever. And also to the people who have not yet experienced them but are interested because of having read this article, I hope that you could obtain the game and soundtrack by all means.
Please support Sonic even from now on!