Announcing: TERRA MAGICA

Hello. This is Saori Kobayashi. Right now, I'm hard at work on the solo album Brave Wave and I announced last year at BitSummit MMXIV in Kyoto. I'm creating this new album to symbolize my gratitude to people all around the world who listen to my music. The name of this album is TERRA MAGICA.

Much of my past music has accompanied visuals of video games. I'd be asked by the director of the game to transform these visuals into what is ostensibly their "audio-equivalent." This music is then fed this into a story that's also been written ahead of time. When it comes to video game music, a world has been established for players to become immersed in, even before they have a chance to listen to the music.

TERRA MAGICA is the complete opposite of what I've been involved with in the past. For my solo album, the music takes precedence over any story or imagery, allowing listeners to visualize a world that only I have created. I hope to create an album whose music will inspire listeners and give them complete control over what they see in realm of their own imaginations. 

I personally enjoy fantasy games and RPGs; worlds where dragons soar across the sky, and cosmos where a vast bed of planets lie scattered across... these images are my fantasies. What are yours? I hope that when people listen to my solo album, they conjure up their own worlds like I do as I compose with Brave Wave. 

I still need a little bit more time to complete this album, especially since I'm in Paris for Japan Expo in July, but I sincerely hope you're looking forward to it!

Journey: A design exploration with Natalie Hanke

We released our first solo record today. Journey by AKANE is available now on our store, and will be available shortly on iTunes, Amazon, Google, and other services. You can listen to the entire album as many times as you like before buying it — so go ahead!

We had a tough deadline for producing the album, as we wanted to debut it at EGX (Eurogamer's expo in London) on September 25th, and also have it ready for AKANE's live show on September 29th. We realized later in the production that we wouldn't be able to design the album internally, and I had to find a solution pretty quick as the deadline loomed over our heads. Enter, Natalie Hanke.

I came across Natalie's work when both Cory Schmitz and Paul Veer recommended her to me. I loved what she did with Distance and decided she's the right choice for the style and aesthetics of AKANE. I especially loved her emphasis on clean and minimal design, often type-based and bold.

This is the first concept that Natalie made, which remains a personal favorite of mine:

Kobayashi-san and Takahashi-san thought it was a bit too clean, as AKANE, to them, is imperfect and chaotic. Going from that, Natalie experimented with new designs accordingly:

With a few interesting choices:

And liberations:

That's a lot of design that we had to wade through. The AKANE girls liked where Natalie went with the organic flower look, and wanted further exploration of the first cover. Natalie worked more, bringing a mix of hydrangea and sasanqua flowers:

Then upon further examination, Natalie decided it was better if both front- and back-covers were inverted-looking, as the contrast between orange (on the disc, and booklet pages) and pink would be just right. This resulted in the following backgrounds:

And there you have it:

The delicate mix of orange, pink, and black throughout the physical package looks pleasing to the eye and really gorgeous. We wrapped the whole design process in less than a month, which is a great achievement, and a testament to Natalie's craftsmanship under such tension and pressure. Having to communicate in Japanese to the AKANE ladies and then bringing that back to Natalie (and vice versa), I'm surprised at how fast we were able to finish the project.

I decided it would be better to differentiate between the physical and digital editions, thus giving a crimson/orange finish to the digital version and leaving the physical package with its unique pink outlook.

I'm proud of Brave Wave's first solo record, and I hope you'll end up enjoying it more after this brief talk about its design and designer. Head over to the store, play the album, and enjoy this unique neo-folklore sound from the heart of Tokyo.

Reflecting on World 1-2

One year ago this month, in May of 2013, World 1-2 was released to what seemed to me as a roaring plaudit. It felt good. Partly because I had no expectations and I was simply having fun with what we created together — I just wanted to get out of my own bubble and see what people would think of this weird gigantic album that I made solely by emailing people and asking for permission.

It's quite liberating to make something without prior experience in the field nor how things work, as intimidating as that could be.  It made me smile to see World 1-2 winning a Best Remix Album award from VGMO, in a category that included Nobuo Uematsu, Square Enix, Capcom, and others. That was a nice surprise because the album wasn't aspiring to be anything other than itself: a project that kind of celebrates video game music and its immense diversity, by highlighting forgotten composers and brave remixers . I do realize that it shook things up and introduced new ideas and approaches, if I may say so myself, and I admire that people seem to get it when it comes to its purpose and intent. It was entirely made with pure love and child-like excitement, and that struck a chord with many. It certainly makes me happy.

Looking back at it, World 1-2 was a people's album. I think. Lots of remixes, relatable video game art, an easy narrative to grasp onto (despite the intimidating track list). If you're a fan of video games, it's not hard to enjoy the album. There's at least a handful of tracks you'd love instantly, and that'll make you work your way through it.

I've been moving away from its formula ever since and I wonder if that would resonate with people more. I mean, it's not easily relatable and I understand that.  Starting with In Flux, I'm more interested in exploring new themes and weird ideas that seem super interesting to me, but are probably a bit more between the lines to people who aren't very invested in what I do with the label. No more mega remix albums like World 1-2 (except for client jobs) — only new ideas and initiatives. I still have one foot in the making side and another in the fan side, so I'm not totally absorbed with what I'm making yet; I'm not lost in my own sphere. I don't think that'll happen soon as well, because work doesn't exist in a vacuum, and delighting people is a very important goal to me: I care about making people delightful and excited with the stuff I make. But, I guess, my ego doesn't want to repeat the same trick. World 1-2 was novel; repeating it would be counter to the potential of my ability as a maker, and the broad range of ideas that Brave Wave is able to give birth to.

I guess I'm thinking out loud. Well, in any case, please look forward to the few albums we're gonna be releasing in the next few months. I've been working day and night on Brave Wave and I'm very excited to let people finally hear the new stuff we're all working on. Keiji Yamagishi (of Ninja Gaiden) has been working on his album for a full year now. That's crazy. We're trying to implement so many things and that pushed us back a bit. But that's the album I've been waiting for all my life, the album that I waited for Keiji to make since first playing Captain Tsubasa 2 on my Famicom, and for that I'm giving it my utmost will and dedication. We all are. But let's talk about that some other time, when we have more to show you.

Thanks for sticking with us.

From Saori: Working with Brave Wave

Hello, this is Saori Kobayashi. I worked at Sega for 4 years, and then became a freelance music composer working on games,  song arrangements, educational music arrangement, song composition, piano teaching and other music-related jobs. In 2003, I formed my own band unit, AKANE, which I’ve been earnestly doing since then.

Recently, I’ve been working with Brave Wave Productions and making music with them. This relationship originated when I was working on the music for Crimson Dragon on Xbox One. I knew people from the dev team since my days working on Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta. The director of Orta was one of them, and he introduced me to another person who had been at Land Ho (co-dev of Crimson Dragon) Alex, who is now Brave Wave’s CEO.

In the summer of 2013, Alex introduced me to the director of Koopa Soundworks (now Brave Wave), Mohammed. I heard that he wanted to get in touch with me because I had done the soundtracks for Panzer Dragoon and wanted me to make a new song, and Alex was kind enough to translate. This project ended up being the album In Flux. Mohammed showed me the concept of the album, which I found very appealing, and was happy to work with him.

That was a tough time of year for me, but I was able to make a song I was satisfied with called Shattered Moon. Mohammed and Alex were very happy with what I created. And after that, somehow they came to me with talks of creating a solo album without me even asking. This was something to welcome.

I’ve been involved in game music for a long time, and I hear that people from outside Japan are supportive of my work as well. Working with Brave Wave allows me to make music aimed at those audiences, widen my horizons and get in touch with those people directly. This is quite an exciting thing to be a part of, and I’m moved by how wonderful this all is. I am really thankful to Brave Wave for this opportunity.

By the way, my band, AKANE, is also in the middle of making a new album. We are doing our best, so I hope Brave Wave staff and listeners enjoy what we create. For the time being, you can listen to a snippet of Pirika from our next album, previewed earlier by Mohammed in this blog.

I’m looking forward to connecting more with listeners from outside of Japan. Thank you so much!

A Conversation with Saori Kobayashi

My good friend and CEO of Brave Wave, Alex Aniel, recently quit his job to focus his time and energy on what we do here at the label. We've been squeezing time since 2012 but we finally decided that one of us has to quit his job and attend to Brave Wave's daily operations. Seeing as he lives in Japan and around our friends and composers, Alex took a huge leap of faith and is partaking in a new chapter for us — and himself — with a set of new goals and opportunities. So, what does attending to Brave Wave means exactly? Well, for one, our meetings with our Japanese friends and composers don't have to be set for late at night — Alex just came back from an energizing meeting with Saori Kobayashi (of Panzer Dragoon) and Yumiko Takahashi (of Suikoden), one of many more to come. We're working with Kobayashi-san on two different albums, and currently neck-deep into helping her finish her band's 2nd album.

We had the pleasure to have a compact conversation with Kobayashi-san about her history as a composer for Sega and her plans for the future with us. I'll leave you now with Alex and Kobayashi-san!

Saori Kobayashi on stage

Alexander Aniel: Hello, Kobayashi-san. Thank you for agreeing to speak with us today about your background. Can you please introduce yourself?

Saori Kobayashi: Hello. I am Saori Kobayashi.I’m from Yokohama. I’m a pianist and composer and graduated from Musashino Acaemia Musicae, where I majored in music. I worked at Sega from 1994 to 1998 before becoming a freelance musician and forming a band called AKANE with Yumiko Takahashi (of Suikoden). I worked on Panzer Dragoon Saga and Orta, as well as Crimson Dragon and other titles.

Alex: Indeed, fans in the West do know you for the Panzer Dragoon games. You became involved beginning with Panzer Dragoon Saga. How did you end up joining this project?

Saori: The development team at Sega was looking for people who were interested in composing for the game. At the time, I was eager to do soundtrack for an RPG, and I really admired the world that the series Director Yukio Futatsugi had created with the first two games. So I asked to compose for the game and they let me do it.

Alex: The main theme of Panzer Dragoon Saga is quite memorable. What was it like to write it?

Saori: Actually, I have a funny story about that. I created a few different songs that I was thinking of using as the main theme, but it was hard to pick. One day, when I had to decide what that theme would be, a coworker of mine told me that we would go drinking in 30 minutes, so I should finish up my work and get ready. So, I ended up composing the theme before leaving work that day as I had no other choice but to finish the song and go out drinking. (laughs)

Alex: You mentioned experimenting with multiple theme songs. What became of the other ones?

Saori: I have decided to bring back one of them for my next album with Brave Wave for my band, AKANE. It is called Pirika. When the album comes out in September 2014, please listen to it!

Alex: Can you talk a bit about Panzer Dragoon Orta and your involvement in that game?

Saori: Sure. I had actually left Sega already, so I was working with them again as a freelance composer. Thus, I actually had less material to work with in terms of trying to come up with the soundtrack. Plus, I had never done a shooter title before and wasn’t so sure how it would turn out, but I was happy with the result.

Alex: You’ve done a few games since then, and the most recent was Crimson Dragon.

Saori: Yes, I was asked to do Crimson Dragon as well. Like I mentioned earlier, I really admire the game worlds that Futatsugi-san creates, so I was only too eager to compose for the game. My rendition of the main theme is also going into the next AKANE album, and I recently performed it live at BitSummit in Kyoto last March. The video is up on YouTube! (laughs)

Alex: Please tell me a little bit about AKANE.

Saori: I am a member of AKANE alongside Yumiko Takahashi, who is known as the vocalist of Suikoden. Takahashi-san was a fan of my work for Panzer Dragoon Saga, and after we were introduced to each other, I asked her to do the vocals for Panzer Dragoon Orta. In 2003, we formed AKANE as Takahashi-san just asked me to do so. (laughs) We were active until 2011, and then we went on hiatus as we were busy. But we’re ready to make a comeback, and BitSummit was just the beginning. We look forward to working with Brave Wave on our next album that will come out this year.

Alex: What do you hope to achieve by working with Brave Wave?

Saori: We are very interested in connecting with fans from outside of Japan. It’s an honor for non-Japanese listeners to enjoy our very Japanese-inspired music, so I look forward to the people Brave Wave can connect us with!

Alex: Can you tell us about your upcoming solo album?

Saori: I am definitely making it, thanks to Brave Wave and their interest in my work. It is an honor to be working with you. I don’t have details right now, and I want to focus on the next AKANE album first, but please look forward to it!

Saori Kobayashi x Brave Wave

Alex: Thank you for your time, Kobayashi-san!

Saori Kobayashi: My pleasure. Thank you too. Let’s talk again sometime!

Miyajima EP, coming soon

We're currently working on a Japanese Bandcamp account for Brave Wave. Sadly, Bandcamp doesn't offer a native Japanese interface for Japanese customers, which means some of the text on the Japanese Bandcamp will still be in English. But everything editable will be presented in Japanese.

It's not only to give our Japanese listeners a sense of place and understanding when buying, but also to offer a better way to deliver physical products: our main Bandcamp store ships from the US, while the new Japanese store will be shipping items from Tokyo, which means saving an upward of $14 on shipping. Alex recently quit his job so he could focus his attention and time on Brave Wave, and this is one of the things he'll be taking care of: shipping our physical items to our Japanese friends. This also means that the Japanese store will have a number of signed CDs exclusively there, eventually, and that excites me. I always wanted to sell signed CDs but couldn't do it for various reasons, and now we're one step closer.

So, Miyajima.

Miyajima EP

We're going to release Miyajima EP as a way to celebrate the launch of our coming-soon Japanese store. Some of these songs were intended for World 1-2 and a few for In Flux. My vision for both albums was shifting regularly, and eventually I ended up with tracks that were fun and good but didn't fit the image and style I was shooting for with In Flux. So, in a way, these are In Flux B-sides; tracks that were done in the production period but didn't make it through. I figured it's a good occasion to release them to our listeners and let them enjoy a slightly different side of Brave Wave.

Miyajima is a 6-tracks EP with music by Eirik Suhrke (of Spelunky), Souleye (of VVVVVV), halc (of OverClocked ReMix), Benjamin Briggs, Andi Bissig, and Insert Rupee. Here's one full track to preview now: