1 - How were you approached by Funimation Productions to compose for
Dragonball Z? Did they want you to base your work off either the previous dub
score, or that of the Japanese version?
Funimation approached me because of my reputation as a composer. We started in a way that I
became familiar with the Japanese music, and then I got familiar with the music they'd
used previously for the English version. I watched about 3 or 4 videos of each to get a
feel for the styles before we got started, and from there I started getting some creative
direction as far as how they wanted me to react to the series musically. It was kind of
like "Well, you've gotta have a little bit of continuity but you've also got to step out
and improve the dubbed score." They still wanted to have a continuity of sound, and yet
have the music be more expressive.
Jon: Had you heard of the show before you got started?
Yeah, I had, so I thought it was pretty cool getting a call to work on it. Obviously if they'd wanted it to sound like the Japanese music they wouldn't have needed me. It was kind of like, here's what was done, but we need music that appeals to a western audience, ergo a western market place.
2 - How long does it take to produce the music for a single episode of DBZ?
It varies. It's hard to place an amount of time on it. Some of them go faster than others, but I get a whole season done in about a year's time. A lot of factors go into it, like creating a new theme. Every scene, every image, and every action within a scene gets onto an edit list that I create, and those are all locked to time code numbers. We then use those things to help choreograph what's going to happen in the music. Plus, there's listening to the dialogue, paying attention to the plot, each character, and what's going on in the story. I compose for each episode after the voices have been recorded, because otherwise it'd be insane, guessing what's going on. You obviously have to know what's going on in order to be able to make the music. I've actually contributed a third to half of the sound effects in the episodes as well. There's a Japanese track of sound effects that's integrated into the episodes, and then there are the sound effects that have been added here.
3 - What kind of music are you into, personally?
Oh gosh, I have a really collective experience both with the music I enjoy and the music I have written. There's not really a specific genre I come back to the most. I know about as much as you can know about 2,000 years of musical history, so having studied different styles at college as well. What's cool about music is that you can pick different kinds of music to give you different kinds of feelings, and so I like that. It's like, if I go into a Greek restaurant, it's kind of fun if you're listening to Greek music. It's like "Oh cool, I'm eating Greek food and I'm listening to Greek music." If I'm home trying to relax away from work, it's something more mellow. If it's at work, which is play for me, it's basically "what kind of music do you need for this particular project that you're working on."
4 - How do you approach DBZ when you go about composing for it? Do you try to
treat it as composing for a kid's show, a movie, or do you try to capture the
feel of the Japanese version?
I try to capture the feeling of the story. I treat it like a feature film. There are some places where it sounds more like it's for kids, but that's probably because there's kids goofing around in that particular scene. I think of it more like a feature kind of a thing because it's an epic and it's so long. It's definitely like a mega feature film, especially because the stories don't get tied up in one episode, they continually move forward, so I try to do things that unify an entire saga.
5 - Dragonball Z being obviously an Asian show (Martial arts, Kanji, eastern
beliefs, etc.), do you ever try to reflect that in the instruments you
choose, or are you asked to stay in the rock/techno zone for the "mass
Well, again it's trying to do something for a Western audience, and I guess you could label
that as the "mass audience" if you need to, but you know, it's a Western audience kind of a
thing. To a degree, I can see how the characters parallel things in their fighting and
training and stuff like that with martial arts training, but over all there's also a bigger
picture of the show, that you can almost leave that detail behind, and still have the broader
plot lines and relationships that are going on in the show, and have those take over instead.
So musically, there maybe some times when some of the instruments are chosen to help reflect
that cultural merging that I'm trying to do, but at the same time I'm not trying to
necessarily merge Eastern and Western music and have them fuse together. I don't know if
you've ever listened to Chinese/Western music, or Japanese/Western music, but it's two
completely different kinds of sound, and I wasn't going after anything like that which
was fused. Pretty much staying in the "rock/techno zone"...I wouldn't have limited it
to that at all because of the standpoint that there's a lot of grander scope, like
orchestral kinds of music in there as well. Then there's other kinds of vocal kind of
sounds at times, so there's a wide pallet of stuff that's going on. At times there's
percussion driven kinds of things that even go beyond, or are not necessarily rock based.
Like there's some native drum and world beat kind of stuff going on as well, for example.
I feel kind of bad for the people who are purists, being angry about me attempting to
portray this to a Western audience, because I enjoy watching all versions of the show.
I enjoy watching the Spanish version, I enjoy watching the original Japanese version which
I see on the International channel, and for me it's like enjoying a very cool cartoon saga
that's been a part of my life for over 3 years. I can enjoy it on any one of those levels
and in any one of it's translations, so it's sad to me that someone would want to limit
themselves to just one particular version and none of the others. For me it's like, this
is very cool, and now I get to watch it in a bunch of different languages, and I get to see
a bunch of different treatments on the story. That's neat.
It's like right now, you watch a Christmas Carol on television, and you've got Patrick
Stewart, and he does a great job, but I also like to watch the 1934 version and the version
in between. I even like the the idea of turning a book into a feature, like with Lord of
the Rings, it's like "Hooray! This is gonna be so cool." I can't wait to watch that this
weekend, and I wish I could have been there, doing the score. Just wasn't in the timing
though. Getting back on topic though, I look at it more as glass half full that there are
different versions of DBZ.
6 - Are you ever instructed to downplay the emotion in scenes? At times it seems as though
when you're "on a roll," so to speak, you tend to break whatever tension you
were building with some other notes to lessen the impact of what's going on.
Yeah, sometimes if you're not too careful, I mean, music can really drive a scene. It can tell your emotions, what's going on, and there's even been some times where I've had to rewrite things because they got so intense, because the visuals were so intense, and one of the events that comes to mind when you ask this question is Mr. Shuu when he's beating on Gohan. That was a hard one for Cartoon Network, so we had to talk in a conversation with the director, and we had to go in a different direction, because the visuals were so brutal. It was like "Ok, we've got to lighten this up somehow, because it's too brutal a subject matter."
Jon: As far as toning it down musically for the edited version to allow it to be shown,
some would argue that that's all good and well, but there's also an unedited version, so why not
try to retain all of the impact for the non televised version?
I'd be happy to score five different versions, but it would become impractical. I'm only given so much time to produce the score for each episode and season. There's lots of places I can think of where what you're describing took place. I have to be too careful not to overwhelm. There's definitely requests like "We need a release of tension right here." Sometimes there's also spots like where, in a joke segment, a lot of times they like to have the jokes highlighted it, but then there's the times when it gains some irony if you let the joke play by itself. I can also answer that question with another question. Another example is when Ginyu is sucking the aura Goku's aura by changing spirits with him, and you watch that and you see a bunch of flashing lights, and their essences go back and forth, but until you have something filling that in emotionally, other than the yelling and screaming, you only get about 10% of the emotion. The rest of the emotion comes from what the music's telling you. If you go over the top, I suppose you make the fight scenes more of a fight, and then you've got the whole thing about how people might be reacting to it, so it's the eb and flow of the emotions.
Click here to listen to "Heroic Trunks"