Spicing up Zelda Symphony: An interview with Chad Seiter

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Chiptunes don’t translate to a vast orchestral piece as easily as one might think.

Performing a videogame composition once and then looping it for another go may be passable in some venues, but in the case of an orchestra playing the widely cherished The Legend of Zelda series soundtracks, there needs to be an added level of pizzaz to spice it all up. With The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, this includes selecting tracks that best represent specific games and tying them into a movement that tells that game’s story.

Producers Jeron Moore and Jason Michael Paul have spoken passionately about the formation of the show, so it only seemed fitting to continue along and talk to Chad Seiter, the symphony’s orchestrator. You might know his name from some of his film and TV composing work for Lost, Fringe and this year’s Star Trek game.

So, with two previous Zelda Symphony concert viewings under my belt and a third having occurred this past Aug. 10 at the NJPAC in Newark, NJ, I set out to interview Seiter to talk Zelda arrangements, underrated game soundtracks and his recent work with OverClocked ReMix.

And for the impressions of someone witnessing the show for the first time, check out Maxwell’s write-up here.

Patrick: Hey Chad, thanks for sitting down with us and chatting with us about what you do here for Zelda Symphony. So I wanted to start with, how’d you go about arranging music for these types of shows?

Chad: Well how did I get started or…?

P: How about both, how you got started and how you formed Zelda Symphony.

C: Well I’m a composer first and foremost. I worked on a lot of projects with this guy Michael Giacchino who was my mentor and I’ve always been into arrangements and things and he kind of got me going with film and TV and I got tons of orchestra experience from him. So it came time where it just felt like a natural thing to do to just start professionally doing these arrangements. I’ve been growing up doing them since I was a kid, taking Final Fantasy tunes and Zelda tunes and just all these different games and doing that, and so this is kind of like the culmination of all those years with different people together running it.

P: And how do the song selections work? Are you pretty much the brains behind the setlists?

C: No, Jeron and I work together. We worked together on that early on and we created this massive Excel document that musically lays out the story of all the Zelda games and each game has its own sheet and it’s massive. And we have links to YouTube videos. Just, tons of research went into this and it just kept growing and growing. And from there we found all the songs we liked and then we started whittling it down because it was a lot of music.

P: A lot of music to choose from, I imagine.

DSC_0121_1C: Yeah. And the show itself has about 90 minutes of music and so to whittle all that music down to 90 minutes is actually quite a difficult task. I [would] love to go on a tangent of “Dark World” for six minutes but I just can’t. So we just kind of had to pick favorites and then it would be like a combination, and I would say, “Oh I like this one,” and Jeron would be like, “yeah… but it doesn’t really affect the story so much.” And he’d say, “Oh I like this one,” and I’d say, “Oh this one’s not really going to translate to the orchestra as well” and things like that. And we negotiated and came to the structure of the music itself through that.

P: Are there any other kinds of obstacles when it comes to arranging these pieces?

C: You know, these were done with synthesizers and sometimes they’re not–to convert them to live instruments is a bit of an art, [because you have] to make sure that these are playable. That is the most difficult part of it. Not that they’re bad, they’re just different and the approach to it is different so to get that working perfectly is probably the most difficult part, and to get everything to sit in its place [given that] they also had technical limitations back then. So you could only play so many voices at once on your synthesizer, on your hardware on the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo for example. So you gotta kind of fill it out and give it some counterpoint and some different kind of musical concepts…

P: Embellishments.

C: Yeah, yeah. Some spice, some seasoning.

P: This isn’t very much Zelda-related but recently OverClocked Remix came out with “Balance and Ruin,” Final Fantasy VI, and you’re involved with that, you did one piece on it, “Terra’s Theme.” So how’d you get attached to the project and why “Terra’s Theme?”

DSC_0027C: Well I’ve always loved “Terra’s Theme” and I’ve done six arrangements of it in my lifetime. I always would do it and then a new musical evolution would happen for me. I just got smarter and I would say, “you know, I could do better.” And so every couple of years I would say, “I could do better” and I’d redo it. And so Jeron was a producer on a concert series called “Play!” and he asked me if I wanted to do a bunch of arrangements for it and I said “sure,” and one of them I wanted to do was “Terra’s Theme” because I [was] finally getting an orchestra. I did it and it became the closing act and it went over really well and [ended the show subtly]. I don’t like ending shows on a big note, I like ending them on a small note. So from there, I had done and it was just sitting there when it wasn’t being performed and I was writing the music to this game that came out called Star Trek, which came out with Digital Extremes and Paramount [Pictures] and Namco and I had a gigantic orchestra for it. I had 120 musicians. It was the biggest orchestra a videogame has ever seen actually.

P: Made some history there.

C: Yeah. I took it and reorchestrated it for this massive, massive orchestra and the photos of it are on my website, you can see the orchestra and everything. It was just a sea of strings and so I wanted to do that and I wrote Andrew [Aversa] over at OC ReMix and asked, “would you have a place for this ‘Terra’s Theme’ arrangement I did? I’m recording it today.” And so he said, “Yeah, I want it. Let’s do it.” We recorded it and I sent it over to him.

P: What would you say is the most underrated soundtrack out there? One you feel hasn’t gotten an orchestral classical arrangement and that you wish should?

C: Well that’s a tough question. I feel like everything at some point has received some treatment. I would like Castlevania to receive more legitimate attention.

P: Like it’s own set show. Gotcha.

C: I’ve always, you know, Final Fantasy, I’ve always been a fan of but they’ve been doing a lot of live shows for a while now. “Distant Worlds” is a show but also the games have orchestra in them too now. I love actually the score [from] Xenosaga and Xenogears by Yasunori Mitsuda. I’ve always loved those scores and in fact, he did do an arrange album, recently. In the past year or two and he didn’t really advertise it and he recorded it with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and it’s on iTunes actually.

P: Going to check that out actually. That’s great. So to top it all off, what’s your favorite Zelda piece and why?

C: What’s my favorite Zelda piece and why…I would say that my favorite is “Ballad of the Wind Fish” of which I did massive treatment.

DSC_0019P: For the show.

C: Yeah. You’ll hear it tonight. It’s a very simple piece and I’ve really embellished it into a big orchestral grandiose treatment.

P: You have a big attachment to Link’s Awakening?

C: I do really like Link’s Awakening. I just, I don’t know, I really like the vibe of the game and I like the simplicity of it. I just think the delivery is really interesting in such a small package too as it were and also my favorite Zelda game is A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening is like “yay, more of that.”

P: Nice connection between the two.  Thanks for sitting down with us Chad.

C: Thanks guys.

 —

(Special thanks to Damian Kulikowski for his photography of the event. You can check out more photos of the show at his website.)

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Author: Patrick Kulikowski View all posts by
Patrick Kulikowski is a Rutgers University graduate with aspirations of joining the game industry. I have a strong love of games and their music. When not serving as Associate Editor for Pixelitis,net and a writer for Game Music Online, you'll see him working on a game music drum cover project entitled "VGdrum" and managing his Breath of Fire Facebook and Twitter fan pages.

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